Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/21/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. Obviously, you heard from the President earlier today. Some of you will be heading over to hear from him again as he welcomes the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. So if, as we proceed, folks need to get up and go, I’ll understand.
I have no announcements to make, so I’ll go straight to questions. Darlene.
Q Thanks. On the VA issue, the House later today is supposed to vote on this bill that would give the Secretary more authority to fire people, et cetera. And you’ve said in the past couple of days that the White House has had some concerns with details of the bill, can you say what those concerns are?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the specifics. I know that the goal of empowering the Secretary to be able to hold folks accountable is one that we share. And we’ve also directed the Secretary -- the President has -- to make sure that he is making use, maximum use of all the tools already available to him to hold folks accountable. I know that we’re discussing with Congress this legislation and concerns that we have with it that are relatively small vis-à-vis the broader goal, which is to make sure that there’s an ability to hold folks accountable.
Is that it? No?
Q Yes. Well, I have one other question. Is there any reaction to the reports that Speaker Pelosi is considering filling the five spots on the special Benghazi committee?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we defer to the Leader. And our view has always been, and it has been not just our view but our practice, that it is appropriate to have legitimate congressional oversight. We’ve provided thousands and thousands of pages of documents, countless hours of testimony and interviews in a series of investigations by a series of committees into this issue.
So it is certainly legitimate to suspect, at least, that this new pursuit, this new investigation by House Republicans into this matter might not be divorced from politics. You might reach that conclusion when you hear, as you all have reported, that the NRCC is telling its candidates to campaign on this issue and is raising funds off of it.
But in terms of Democratic participation, we certainly defer to the Leader.
Q To go back to the VA bill for one second, you said the concerns the White House has are relatively small. So would it be fair to say then that the White House is leaning towards supporting that bill if the concerns are not great?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that we want to work with Congress on the specific concerns. I know that it’s moving in one house of the Congress now. I just don’t have an itemization of some of the issues. We do share the goal of the bill and of the bipartisan desire for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to have the power to hold people accountable.
Q Why is Denis McDonough on the Hill today meeting with lawmakers about the VA issue? And can you tell us how many he’s meeting with?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have the particulars of his schedule. The Chief of Staff is up on the Hill a lot meeting with folks on a variety of issues. So I don’t have a readout or preview of any meetings he has today.
Q Secondly, you’ve been saying that Rob Nabors is going to help Secretary Shinseki with his review. But today the President said that Rob Nabors is going to do sort of a broader, expanded review. What led to that decision to sort of go in that different direction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, he’s doing both. Rob, at the President’s request -- or rather, at the Secretary’s request, with the strong endorsement of the President, has moved over to the VA on a temporary assignment. He is assisting in the nearer-term review of the allegations surrounding the Phoenix facility and other facilities. He is also, at the President’s request, conducting a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration that provides health benefits to veterans to assess its overall operations to ensure -- so that we can find very specifically what’s working and what’s not, and through that effort find ways to improve services and improve capacities.
Q Did Secretary Shinseki offer his resignation this morning?
MR. CARNEY: I wasn’t in the meeting and I’d refer you to the VA. I think the President spoke very clearly about his high regard for General Shinseki, his service to his nation, the fact that he himself is a disabled war veteran, and his commitment to our veterans, which is fierce and powerful. He noted that General Shinseki has dedicated his energy and his passion to the effort to reduce veterans homelessness, to expand access to higher education, and to tackle the backlog in disability claims, even as we have expanded the universe of veterans who have a claim on disability benefits. So I would point you to what the President said about that. I don’t have a specific readout of the meeting.
Q And looking at what the President said, is it a fair read that he was leaving open some space for the possibility that there might need to be a change at the top at the Department of Veterans Affairs?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a fair reading -- if you look exactly at what the President said -- that he wants to see these inquiries completed to find out exactly what happened and to hold accountable anyone that he feels is responsible for mismanagement or misconduct. So the President himself spoke to this and I think that he made clear that he’s troubled by the allegations and that if those allegations prove to be true, that any misconduct, any cooking of the books or gaming of the system -- hiding wait times, for example-- should be punished, that there should be consequences.
So he made that clear to Secretary Shinseki and he eagerly awaits the results of both the Secretary’s review, and he’ll have preliminary results next week, as well as, of course, the independent inspector general’s investigation.
Q And I know we went through this yesterday and I think the day before but I just want to try again. Was he caught off guard or surprised by the allegations of the hiding of the wait times, the concealing of the wait times?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear that the issue of problems in the VA with access to health benefits has been with us as a country for a long time and has been exacerbated by the fact that we are at the backend of a more than decade-long period of war, where we’ve seen a significant increase in our veterans -- in the number of veterans and in the number of veterans who need disability benefits and health services. And that has been a challenge for the VA for a long, long time -- certainly for the past decade or more. So that’s, as he said today, the President said today, that’s not a new issue. It is part of a broader challenge that we as a nation confront when we, for national security reasons, dispatch Americans to countries a long way away to fight on our behalf and some of them come back in need of immediate health services, in need of mental health services and other forms of benefits and care -- in need of jobs, in need of higher education.
And all of those needs are very much and have been very much on the President’s mind since he ran for the Senate and ran for the President and since he took office here. And while we have made significant progress in increasing benefits to veterans, in expanding the availability of disability benefits to veterans, and in reducing veterans homelessness and expanding access to higher education, there is certainly more work to be done.
What the President talked about today that I think is worth noting is that we need to make sure that we have achievable goals set when it comes to appropriate waiting times for those seeking appointments through the VA. That process needs to be evaluated -- because as the President said, if there are goals set that are unrealistic and that creates an incentive for folks to hide truthful waiting times or cook the books, to use that phrase, that’s a problem because it obscures a problem that needs to be fixed.
Q He hasn’t heard about the cooking of the books up until --
MR. CARNEY: Jim, you heard from the President today, so I’ll just refer you to what he said.
Q And what about, just lastly, this criticism of his management style. Is he too detached from some of the nuts and bolts of running the government, running an administration -- that some of these issues catch him off guard? The website, the health care website, now this.
MR. CARNEY: I think if you look at how the President handles a challenge like the website and handles this challenge, he responds by demanding action, demanding that Americans who are counting on benefits and services, whether it’s a functioning website or benefits through the VA, that they are taken care of. And you saw that with the efforts that were undertaken to fix the website, and you’ve seen that with the efforts that are already underway to investigate the problems and allegations that have arisen here with regards to waiting times for appointments at facilities around the country. And he expects results and he holds people accountable. And when we see whether or not some of these allegations prove to be true, he will insist that misconduct, mismanagement be met with consequences.
Q Jay, can I just clarify, when the President said -- he said, I need people on the frontlines to tell me or Ric that this is a problem, and then he went on to talk about the possibility that folks intentionally withheld information. Is he saying that he specifically -- and Shinseki -- were specifically unaware of the double-booking allegations, or that there were these long wait times and that that was the problem?
MR. CARNEY: He was referring to the allegations that folks covered up long wait times and cooked the books, which is a phrase that folks are using here. And his point was that if, as I noted earlier, that if there are goals set when it comes to what the ideal wait time should be or the maximum wait time should be, and those are unachievable for whatever reason -- a shortage of doctors or capacity at a medical facility -- that ought to be noted up at the top. It shouldn’t be that folks feel that the truth should be covered up in order to meet some objective. Because the goal isn’t to meet an objective; the goal is to serve our veterans. So that’s the point he was making.
Q So just to follow up, just to make sure -- he was establishing that neither he nor the Secretary had been given any new or additional reporting on what they already understood to be a challenge to see patients on a --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to parse his words, and I certainly refer you to the VA for discussions about Secretary Shinseki and information he knows. I mean, the President spoke to this very directly. His point was the one I just made.
Q Just to follow up on a separate question, how did the President react to how Democrats did in the primaries, the returns last night?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't spoken to him about that.
Yes, sir. Welcome to the front row.
Q Just getting a test run. Given the President’s high regard for General Shinseki, why wasn’t he out here with him today? A lot of other times he’s brought Cabinet Secretaries out with him.
MR. CARNEY: In this room, I can't remember an occasion when Cabinet Secretaries have come out with him. I'm not saying there haven't been. But the President came out here to make a statement about the VA and to take a few questions about this current situation. He met, obviously, at some length with Secretary Shinseki and with Rob Nabors on this issue, and I think he spoke to his view of General Shinseki’s long and courageous service to his country and his service to our veterans.
Q So veterans and people who work for the VA who the President also had a message for today shouldn’t take anything from the fact that Shinseki wasn’t out here with him?
MR. CARNEY: My guess is that veterans care most about knowing what happened and knowing that their Commander-in-Chief is insisting on results with these inquiries and accountability once we know exactly what happened and who’s responsible for any misconduct. I think that's what most veterans, especially those who require health benefits or require disability benefits, care about.
Q And on the House bill, Jay, the group that represents people in the executive levels of the government is concerned that due process would be put out to pasture by this House bill. Is that one of your concerns?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have a list of the concerns. We share the overall goal here, which is empowering the Secretary to be able to hold folks accountable. There are tools available already that allow for folks to be held accountable, and the President has conveyed to the Secretary that he expects the Secretary to make maximum use of existing tools. And I think you’ve seen, for example, in the Phoenix office the folks who have been put on administrative leave as an example of the exercise of some of those authorities that already do exist.
Q I just want to get you to respond to some of the criticism that has come in since President Obama spoke. Reince Priebus said, “Why did President Obama wait to address this situation only to ask our veterans for more time and to offer nothing but words?” Your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: You're asking me to respond to the head of the Republican National Committee on this issue?
Q But what’s your reaction to the fact that he offered words and no action to actually fix the problem?
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused actually on action and not words. And I think there is sometimes an expectation and emphasis in Washington on rhetoric as opposed to action. The President, when he first heard about these specific allegations with regards to the Phoenix facility, directed immediately Secretary Shinseki to launch a review. He supported Secretary Shinseki’s request for an independent investigation by the inspector general. He then dispatched one of his most trusted advisors, Rob Nabors, to the VA to, in effect, be an additional set of eyes and ears on his behalf, as well as brainpower, as part of the review that Secretary Shinseki is undertaking and as part of a separate review, a broader review that Rob Nabors himself is undertaking.
And as you heard from him today, he understands and sympathizes with and shares a desire for a swift reckoning, but he also believes that it is important to gather all the facts first. And he wants those facts gathered quickly. As he noted, he expects preliminary results from Secretary Shinseki next week on his review, and then he will move forward.
So I think that's the kind of action that folks expect. But I'm glad the RNC director has weighed in.
Q Jay, as the President said himself, this is an issue he’s been talking about for quite some time, going back to when he first ran for President in 2008. Does he feel on some level that he let these veterans down?
MR. CARNEY: The President feels that it is a sacred trust as Commander-in-Chief to ensure that we are doing everything we can to assist our veterans. And as he said when he stood before you in this room and at this podium, ultimately he absolutely feels responsible when there are indications that we are not, as an administration, as a Veterans Affairs Department, doing as well as we could be or should be by our veterans.
That's why he wants it investigated. That's why he wants those who participated in misconduct to be held accountable if, in fact, that is what has happened. That's his focus.
His focus has also been since he took office and before he took this office on increasing benefits to our veterans; on launching programs that ensure that our veterans are getting, when they come back from fighting for us, opportunities to pursue higher education that they wouldn't otherwise have; that they are -- if they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, that they can make a claim for disability benefits without having the foundation of their claim doubted or questioned. And that's an approach that he believes is necessary with regards to our Vietnam War veterans when it came to exposure to Agent Orange.
Again, these are new things that have happened, new policies that have been instituted on behalf of veterans who have earned the right to these benefits and have access to them for the first time. So that's been his focus and will continue to be his focus. He’s also been focused on reducing veterans homelessness, which is I think a shame for all of us in this country when we see those who have fought and bled for us come home and face even greater obstacles than the general population to getting work. We should not tolerate that -- and he doesn’t. That's why he’s made sure that we reduce veterans homelessness.
Q Okay, just a final one. One of the ideas that has been discussed for dealing with the broader problem is allowing veterans to seek help outside of the VA for, if whatever reason, help is being delayed. Is that something that President Obama would consider?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to take the question. I think that's more a question for the VA when it comes to policies and benefits that veterans have and access they have to those benefits and through what means they would have.
I mean, I certainly think it's an interesting fact that I heard earlier today about the access to Medicaid, for example, that some veterans would have in some states, but that expansion of Medicaid has been denied by governors and legislatures. And veterans would have access to Medicaid in many of these states if their income level qualifies, but they’re being denied those benefits because those states chose not to -- have chosen not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Q Thank you, Jay. I have a question about North Korea. (Inaudible) North Korea seems to be ready to another nuclear test, sooner or later. What is the U.S. reaction about the North Korea plan for another nuclear test?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I've said I think on a couple of occasions, any violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions would be viewed very dimly by the United States, our allies, and partners around the world and in the region. And we certainly take the provocations that North Korea has systematically engaged in very seriously.
Q You talked about the President’s focus on PTSD, Agent Orange and joblessness and other problems vets suffered throughout his administration. But we’re told he was told, or his team was told during the transition that the VA’s wait times were unreliable. Did he look into that? Did someone in the White House look into that?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President of the United States -- and you were sitting there I recall -- talk about the fact that the issue of veterans having to wait too long -- in some cases at some facilities around the country for access to health benefits and services at medical facilities -- has been with us a long time. And it is a challenge that has been exacerbated by the fact that we have so many more veterans now and so many more who need the benefits that veterans’ medical facilities provide and doctors provide.
Q But that’s a different thing, Jay, than saying the VA’s wait times were unreliable.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don’t -- I know the documents you’re referring to. I don’t know the specifics. What I can say is that, from the President on down, we acknowledge that there were significant challenges -- the President talked about them as a candidate -- at the VA when it came to providing the highest level of service possible to our veterans. That’s why he made it a commitment as a candidate, and that’s why he’s made a commitment as President to increase our funding for the VA and to increase and expand access to benefits for our veterans.
But as the President said earlier today, there is more work to do. And it is intolerable, in his view, that if proven true -- that individuals may have engaged in misconduct, covered up wait times or falsified reports in a way that exacerbated existing problems by keeping from managers and senior officials at the VA the facts about wait times -- if that, in fact, proves to be true.
Q On another subject -- the Marine jailed in Mexico. What’s the President’s personal involvement in this? Is he leaving it to the State Department to try and get this guy back? Has he talked to President Peña Nieto personally about it?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the question. I haven’t had that discussion.
Q -- a report today on a Pentagon advisory panel’s recommendation that the U.S. develop its own rockets to launch military satellites rather than be dependent on Russia’s, but that it would cost up to $1.5 billion and take as long as six years to do that. Is that an effort that the White House is likely to get behind?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that recommendation. I mean, I know that there have -- within the context of Ukraine and sanctions, there have been discussions and some statements made with regards to the space program. But I haven’t seen that recommendation.
Q On principle, is this something the President would support?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think on principle we announce our support for billion-dollar programs.
Q Thanks, Jay. What’s the status of the review of deportation practices that Secretary Johnson is doing at Homeland?
MR. CARNEY: It’s ongoing, as I understand it.
Q Any timeframe at all?
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to them.
Q Can you say, is the White House involved in this review at all, or is it partitioned off?
MR. CARNEY: The White House -- the President asked Secretary Johnson to conduct the review. The President is very focused, as he spoke about, on the need to ensure that we are enforcing our laws in a way that is as humane as possible and that takes into consideration some of the issues and concerns that are associated with families being separated, for example, on the matter of deportations.
But the action on the review is being undertaken by the Secretary and DHS.
Q And so the action will come from them and it won’t come back to the White House for -- will the White House have any input into the policy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as a general matter, we have input on various issues, but the review itself is being conducted by Secretary Johnson. And I would refer you to them for updates on timing.
Q Jay, the President said “there is going to be accountability.” Does that mean that people are going to be fired for this?
MR. CARNEY: If the allegations that have been proven -- that have been made prove true, he expects people to be held accountable. And how they’re held accountable will obviously be determined. But if they prove true, he pretty much sticks to the faith that allegations need to be proven true before folks are punished for conduct, but that if they are proven true -- if people covered up wait times, engaged in other kinds of misconduct, that they ought to be held accountable and will be.
Q Is there some wavering in his support for Secretary Shinseki? It seemed less than a full-throated confidence. It seems like he’s going to want to see some results and some answers.
MR. CARNEY: The President expects results from his people that he appoints to high office. And he believes, as he cited, that Secretary Shinseki has poured his energy and his heart into his work on behalf of veterans, just as he did when he served so admirably in the military. And the President noted the progress that has occurred in terms of veterans homelessness and reduction of the disability claims and expansion of education benefits for our veterans because of the work that General Shinseki has done. But when it comes to this matter, the President wants to see the review and he wants to know what happened, and he wants to understand the management decisions that surrounded these issues and whether or not there was misconduct or mismanagement.
Q But is Secretary Shinseki on thin ice here? I mean, if he doesn’t show results on this soon, get satisfactory answers soon, are his days numbered?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think everyone in high office in an administration serves at the pleasure of the President.
Q When the President referred to the IG report and said that the IG indicated there did not seem to be a link between the wait times and veterans actually dying, was he referring to the testimony last week, or does he have new information from the IG?
MR. CARNEY: I believe he was referring to the testimony last week that we’ve talked about in this room and that others have reported on that -- again, this is independent IG investigation, and the public testimony he gave that preliminarily and as far as he got down the list of 40, as I understand it, he had not seen a link. But as the President said, that --
Q So a preliminary finding.
MR. CARNEY: -- that needs to further investigated. We don’t know what the final results of that investigation will be, and we want those results. And even if it turns out that there’s not direct link established, that doesn’t excuse some of the other conduct that’s been alleged. If that proves to be true -- if folks covered up wait times, if they falsified documents and records -- those are serious offenses and there should be accountability for them.
Q So finally, my last question is, what was the President’s reluctance in speaking out? I mean, these stories first started emerging a month ago. I know he was asked a question like three weeks ago by Ed and talked about it. But since then, the American Legion called for Shinseki to resign; that was about two weeks ago. There has been story after story. What was the President’s reluctance in coming out to speak before today?
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused on getting things done, Jon. When he first learned of these specific allegations regarding the Phoenix office, he made clear to Secretary Shinseki and to the public through that news conference and those answers that he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He endorsed the recommendation by Secretary Shinseki to have the independent inspector general conduct his own investigation into these allegations. He dispatched his very trusted and senior advisor, Rob Nabors, to the VA to add capacity to that effort in reviewing what happened and providing information back to the President so that he can make judgments about accountability.
So I think that his record demonstrates his commitment to our veterans, and what you heard from him today reflects the passion he feels on this issue.
Q But, I mean, what was his reluctance to speak out on this? Did he want to wait for these investigations to be done? Did he think it was going to be counterproductive?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I just listed to you the actions that he took.
Q I’m not talking about action. This story has been a big story. It’s been front-burner for at least a couple of weeks now. And the President hasn’t come out -- obviously, he feels very passionately about it; we heard that today. Why didn’t we hear that from him before today?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, all I can say is that you heard from him today, you heard from him on his foreign trip, and he has taken actions in the interim. And he eagerly awaits the results, both of the review that Secretary Shinseki has initiated and of the investigation of the independent IG.
Jared, then Ann. Sorry, I just talked to ABC. There are other news organizations.
Q Well, can I ask you a different question? Different subject?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, of course I’ll get to you, but I didn’t want to go ABC-ABC. Think what all the other acronyms would feel. (Laughter.)
Q We’re just acronyms to you. (Laughter.)
Q No complaints here -- radio colleague.
MR. CARNEY: There you go. All right. That’s why you’re next, Ann. Go ahead.
Q Thanks. When we’re talking about the long-form review that Rob Nabors is helping with, the President said he’s expecting that report back next month. Is that something that Rob Nabors or the White House, someone at the White House could have done after the transition or after the memo surfaced in 2010? Why is this being done now, especially in conjunction with this controversy, as opposed to having been done earlier -- a top-down White House review with results, with deliverables?
MR. CARNEY: When the President came into office he appointed Secretary Shinseki, General Shinseki, to the post at the Veterans Affairs Department. He was confirmed obviously by the Senate to hold that post. And under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership, they began tackling some of the many challenges that our veterans faced and that the VA faced in servicing -- providing services to our veterans.
What the specific review around the allegations associated with the Phoenix facility and now other facilities is meant to do and the broader review is meant to do is to assess where we are now given these allegations and what needs to be done to improve areas where we’re not performing -- where the VA is not performing at its highest level, and to build upon those areas where there have been successes and improvements in performance.
Q On a separate issue, when we’re talking about the Chinese cybercrime, does the United States anticipate retaliatory accusations made by countries, including China, when it comes to cybercrime?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on that specific question, on the cyber issue, I think that retaliation specifically would be inappropriate. The individuals charged -- and I would refer you to the Department of Justice for specifics -- were charged with violations of the law and should absolutely face those charges. This is not a political tit-for-tat situation. It is our firmly held belief that as a matter of law individuals should not and cannot steal trade secrets and there should not be government-enabled cyber theft of trade secrets for the benefit of state-run companies.
Q But there’s a door opened here, especially by charging military officials in another country. If military officials of the U.S. armed services were charged, would the United States cooperate with that kind of investigation or prosecution?
MR. CARNEY: It depends on what they’re charged with. I mean, what these individuals are charged with are practices that we do not engage in. We do not in the United States engage in intelligence gathering to benefit individual companies or businesses to help their bottom line. We don’t provide information from intelligence gathering to companies in order to benefit to give them an advantage in the marketplace or to improve their bottom line. That is activity that this country doesn’t engage in.
Q Thank you very much. On Russia, the President of Russia says that U.S. satellite intelligence should be able to show now Russian forces pulling away from the Ukraine border. Is that what the United States is seeing? The last time I think you were asked you said you had seen no movement. And have the presence of Russian forces there complicated or impacted what you expect in terms of the election this weekend -- the presidential elections?
MR. CARNEY: I can report to you, Ann, that we have seen some indications of activity on the border, but it is too early to conclude that that activity indicates a withdrawal from the border. Should this be the beginning of a withdrawal, we would welcome such an effort. But there’s a caveat attached to that. We’ve seen in the past some movement -- a battalion comes, a new battalion comes in, and you still have a huge and unprecedented presence of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, which can only serve to intimidate and destabilize Ukraine in the run-up to this very important election.
So the answer to your second question is, absolutely. We firmly believe that the deployment of Russian troops right on the border with Ukraine was meant to intimidate and potentially meant to lead to an incursion across the border. We welcome any indication that Russia has chosen a different path, but we don’t want to assume that the fact that there is some activity on the border means that that withdrawal will take place.
Q Is President Obama open to any kind of conversation with President Putin when they’re both at Normandy two weeks from now?
MR. CARNEY: We do not anticipate any bilateral meetings at Normandy. Leaders are assembling at Normandy to commemorate the heroic battles that took place there as part of D-Day and that eventually led to the end of the European War and World War II. I don’t anticipate a bilateral meeting and certainly none is scheduled.
Q I want to ask you about the unemployment extension. It has been basically five months since now about 2.7 million people have been cut off from their benefits. It appears to be a dead issue in the House. The five-month extension that passed the Senate is going nowhere. Do you have any reaction to it basically dying?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to call on Congress to provide emergency benefits to Americans who are looking for work, much as they did repeatedly at earlier stages of the recovery and during the previous administration.
It’s a shame, because these are folks who are out there looking for work and need assistance to pay their rent and to feed their families. And I think any economist can verify that that assistance has a direct and positive benefit to the economy -- an immediate benefit to the economy, because that unemployment assistance -- unemployment insurance is assistance that immediately gets funneled back into the economy and helps create jobs and drive growth. So we continue to call on Congress to take action.
Q The President has asked his supporters to call Congress to pressure House Republicans. Why hasn’t the President picked up the phone and called Speaker Boehner and asked him what it would take to get that bill on the floor?
MR. CARNEY: We don’t report out the details of every conversation the President has with leaders in Congress. I think it’s a novel supposition that Speaker Boehner would suddenly embrace the idea of extending unemployment insurance if the President would just call him and ask for it.
Q That’s not what he said. The Speaker has said repeatedly -- basically every time he’s been asked the question -- that he’s waiting for the White House and the President to make a new offer on jobs before he’ll consider an extension, and he hasn’t gotten one.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it is our view that these are benefits that ought to be extended to Americans, to millions of Americans who need them, and that there’s economic benefit to it. We do not view it as a cynical horse-trading exercise to achieve some ideological objective.
Q Thanks, Jay. It looks like Leader Pelosi has just named Democratic members to the Benghazi Select Committee. I just wanted to give you a chance, if you had anything on your podium there --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we defer to the wisdom of Leader Pelosi in making decisions. We have cooperated substantially -- and I will spare you the recitation of the documents and the committees and the interviews and the testimony -- on this matter. Others have noted that there have been multiple investigations by multiple committees, and every one of the conspiracy theories that Republicans have put forward has come undone and has never been proven.
I’m not sure why there’s -- anybody would believe that this is -- that this committee and this investigation would produce a different result. What it will do is consume Congress’s time and consume taxpayers’ money, and supposedly -- presumably because Republican political leaders have endorsed it as such, provide energy to the Republican base for political reasons -- to raise money and to campaign on. I don’t think that’s the way that most Americans view a matter like this should be addressed.
Q And just a side issue, how does the White House -- you have said before the White House cooperates with all legitimate oversight -- congressional oversight. What’s the process? Who makes the decision? What are the qualifiers and requirements for what is and what isn’t legitimate congressional oversight? How does the White House --
MR. CARNEY: There’s not, like, a blanket decision made. There are requests made and invitations proffered, and those are all evaluated accordingly, as they have been in the past.
Justin, last one.
Q I had two quick ones. The first, I wanted to take another bite at net neutrality. I know last week, both in your statement and in response to Zeke, you said you guys were going to carefully review the proposed rules. That was kind of interpreted as punting on it, but I guess I have more faith in you guys, so I was wondering -- (laughter) -- if you could detail exactly who would be leading that review, what it would entail, and whether you expect it to be done within the 120-day review period so that you guys would weigh in before the rules had --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a detailed readout of the process or how progress is evaluated. What I can tell you is that the President has been clear that he cannot support a future in which Internet service providers act as gatekeepers over who can determine what information consumers are able to access over the Internet or which innovative new companies get a shot at success.
But recognizing the challenging landscape created by the court, Chairman Wheeler’s stated goal of preserving an open Internet and the long way to go in the regulatory process, I am not and nobody else here will -- I am not going to and nobody else here will prejudge a specific path forward to achieve the President’s principles.
Q Could you take the question maybe? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we’re going to read out an internal process and how we review this. Obviously, the FCC is an independent agency, and the President has made clear what his general views are. We recognize the challenges that the court has created in the way that the Chairman and the FCC approaches these matters, but the President’s principles are clear.
Thank you all very much.
1:46 P.M. EDT
January 26, 2015
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