The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal, 3/30/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:27 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today I have with me two special guests, here to discuss the President’s speech earlier today on America’s energy security. I have Secretary of Energy Steven Chu; I also have Heather Zichal, who is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Policy.
Secretary Chu will open with a short statement, and then the two of them can take questions from you. And why don't we address the questions that you have for them at the top, we can let them go, and I'll remain to take questions on other issues after they leave. Thanks very much. And I'll call on people once they start.
SECRETARY CHU: Thank you and good afternoon. This morning we heard the President talk about a bold, but ambitious and achievable goal to reduce our oil imports by a third by 2025. And this is a goal, although ambitious, I believe is achievable. So instead of spending a billion dollars a day to import foreign oil, this is a goal where we believe we can be investing in money and creating wealth in the United States.
To achieve this goal will require two things. It’s going to require increasing domestic production. It will also require decreasing our dependence on oil. And so, for that, let me at least tell you some of the things the administration has been doing over the past two years.
We've established an historic fuel economy standard for model years 2012-2016 for light-duty trucks and cars. And that's expected to save $1.8 billion of oil per year -- barrels of oil per year.
We've made great strides in electric vehicles. In 2009, the United States produced less than 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries, but with the investments made, we expect that we'll have battery capacity of producing up to 500,000 batteries per year. This could be 40 percent of the advanced battery world market.
We've also made great strides in battery research. A lot of the battery technology -- the latest chargeable battery technology that is now being invented in the United States is being built in the United States, and there’s going to be a huge market for these batteries.
We've made great strides in biofuels. Research being done only one or two years ago are now being designed in power plants today, and we expect this to continue. We also expect to be announcing groundbreaking plants for commercial scale -- cellulosic and advanced biorefinery plants -- in the next two years. And we've also assembled teams -- for example, at Cal Tech, there’s an energy team, a hub that would create biofuels directly from sunlight. And this is an economic way of just bypassing plants or algae or other forms of energy. So these are things that we have been doing.
Natural gas. As you all know, natural gas is -- a growing amount of natural gas, the reserves, because of the ability to frack shale rock, has been increasing. We believe that it is possible to safely and responsibly extract natural gas, and the U.S. government remains committed to that.
Electricity, the President has spoken before about electricity. Today we have roughly 40 percent of our electricity is in clean energy, if you consider the nuclear, the wind, the solar -- natural gas counting half credit.
We’ve set as a goal, the President has announced in his State of the Union, by 2035 that we would expect 80 percent of our energy to come from clean sources. This is very important because what this goal means is it unleashes a lot of the capital sitting on the sidelines for the lack of certainty that could be invested in America to create jobs, to create these new clean energies.
So these are many of the things that we’re doing today. But as I said, the bottom line message is that we feel the pain that all Americans feel on the price of gasoline today. We see what it will lead to -- as the President stressed, it’s not a short-term fix. We are going to be increasing the production of oil in the United States, but there is a global plan put forward that would say this will require a concentrated effort for years to come, but ultimately, what this is about is diversifying our supply of energy from oil into many other different sectors, and with that we can have the means to go forward.
And with that I’ll turn it over to Heather.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll go ahead and -- questions? Jim -- or Jake?
Q I'd defer to my colleague.
Q Mr. Secretary, one of the things that Republicans have seized on are comments that the President made when he was in Brasilia that the U.S. intended to become a major customer of Brazil’s oil resources. And I’m wondering, given that comment and what his intentions are to reduce reliance by a third, how do you square those two?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think, first of all, the President was, in large part, talking about partnering with Brazil in the development of their oil resources. American companies have a lot of technical expertise in drilling oil, especially deepwater oil. And so I think part of it is that this allows American companies to partner with Brazil so they can develop those resources.
But it is by no means in contradiction to decreasing our reliance on foreign oil, because we also want to increase the production of domestic oil sources, both offshore and onshore. And so this is in no way contradictory to that.
MR. CARNEY: Jake.
Q Secretary Chu, do you think that the American people need to change their behavior at all in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, or is this really just something that’s going to happen for us magically?
SECRETARY CHU: I think, given the statements over the last many, many decades, this is something that requires a concerted effort both in policy but I think in terms of the behavior. I mean, the price -- the oil shock that occurred in 2008 is something -- and now we’re beginning to live this again -- through this again in 2011.
And I think what we want to do is to take stock of what’s been happening since that time and say, look, let’s look for a long-term path on what we need to do. And again, go back to this -- increased efficiency in your personal vehicles; it means electrification, in many cases. Batteries we think -- if you asked me two years ago, could I say that there would be a mass-marketed car within the next five years where you can drive 300 miles in a car that, let’s say, you can buy without spending less than $30,000, I’d say I’m not so sure. Today, I think it’s really within grasp. I really feel that one can do this. And there are many, many companies and countries that recognize that within a short period of time, these batteries and these vehicles will become a reality.
Q So beyond more fuel-efficient vehicles, though, purchasing those, you don’t think there’s anything the American people need to do in terms of changing our behavior?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think people will automatically have to adjust. I mean, the terrible thing about the high oil prices is it comes right out of your pocketbook every week. And this is something that the administration feels very deeply and we recognize that. And that automatically does things. But in the meantime, what we want to do is say we have a plan going forward to actually give America the real long-term solutions. So it’s electric vehicles, it’s biofuels, it’s efficiency; natural gas can be a player in the transportation sector as well.
Q Is there ever any consideration given to trying to change the American -- Americans’ behavior by raising taxes on fuel? I know that’s a forbidden thing, but it seems to be the model in much of the rest of the world, and even some states do it more than others.
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think right now, I think the President’s plan was outlined and we’re going to stick to that plan. I think it’s a solid plan going forward in the future.
Q Mr. Secretary, when you took this job, did you expect that you’d be overseeing a policy that was based on so much additional drilling, given what was released today, which seems to be a lot different than let’s say the rhetoric that we heard even during the campaign and when you signed on?
SECRETARY CHU: No, I think the President has said many times that drilling -- development of the fossil fuel resources in the United States, as long as it’s part of a comprehensive plan, was part of the package. And I think that’s -- we still remain committed to that, the President remains committed to that vision.
MR. CARNEY: Chip.
Q The President said there are no quick fixes, and you’ve said that, too. But just so the American people understand this, is there anything in this whole spectrum of things that the administration is working on that would actually bring down the price of gas, or restrain the rise of the price of gas in the next year? And if not, when is the soonest any of these would have an effect on the price of gas?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, it’s very hard to predict what anything that could predict how -- the short-term price of gasoline, the short-term price of oil, how it would affect it.
Certainly if one says America is committed to further exploration, further drilling of gasoline, oil in the United States, that might have some effect, but it’s very hard to really predict what’s going on there. I think what you want to do is show that we have a plan going forward that diversifies the energy supply in transportation and give them that plan that diversifies that, so Americans have a choice. They can plug in their car to drive. They can use biofuels to drive. They can use more efficient cars, as well as oil and gas, which will be around for decades. When you have those choices, you’re no longer subject to a single source, and that actually has a very calming factor in oil markets.
MR. CARNEY: Wendell.
Q Mr. Secretary, how can you convince Americans that Republicans are wrong when some of them say the President is actually cheering on $4-a-gallon gasoline because it adds to the pressure to implement these clean energy policies?
SECRETARY CHU: I don't think anyone really would say -- look, the price of gas and oil today is so high that it’s creating such hardship to the American public and to businesses, and the recovery is fragile. And so I don't think anyone seriously can consider that anyone in public office, especially the President, would consider cheering on. We want to give Americans solutions -- solutions that will work, begin to work today, but continue to work so that two years from today if something like this should happen again, we’re not surprised. We’ll be in a better position to absorb that given that we’ll have a diversity of choices.
Q But it’s still half what they're paying in Europe.
SECRETARY CHU: I think that may be so, but again, we’ve seen -- Americans are now flocking to automobiles with much higher gas mileage, and they're voting with their feet. And as we develop better and better, more fuel-efficient cars, plug-in hybrids, other hybrids, more efficient internal combustion cars -- the Americans will vote with their feet. They see in the long term what might be happening. And I think that’s -- Americans will make the right choice.
Q Mr. Secretary, the President talked about incentives for gas and oil leases. What precisely are the incentives, and when will they come into effect?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, he spoke of spurring on gas and oil leases. I don’t know what the exact fraction is, but maybe Heather can -- but right now, there’s roughly 50 or over 50 percent of the leases that are now given out are not being explored -- maybe 70 percent of the offshore leases.
MS. ZICHAL: Through a Department of Interior report that was issues yesterday, what we learned is, for offshore leases about 70 percent, and about 50 percent onshore leases remain idle. And what we’re focused on to address that domestic production component that the President spoke today about being so important is finding new incentives to develop those idle leases.
Q What are they?
MS. ZICHAL: And so -- one of the options that the Department of Interior is exploring is looking at the terms of the lease sales, so that when a company is going out proactively and developing aggressively on their leases, there are additional opportunities we have to extend those lease sales -- so more of a carrot approach.
Q And when will it take effect? When will you decide?
MS. ZICHAL: Well, on some instances for offshore leases, we’re already implementing those. We’re working with Congress to -- we need legislation in order to do that for onshore leases. Obviously, this is part of a broad array of initiatives that the President talked about today and part of what we think is an important component of a bipartisan bill and energy policy.
Q So there’s really no date then?
MS. ZICHAL: Well, I think we’re doing the offshore component and we’re working with Congress on the onshore component.
Q Have you extended any offshore -- you said, I guess one of the incentives is extending the leases?
MS. ZICHAL: Correct. For companies that are doing due diligence to develop the leases that they currently have -- and again, this is all through the lens of, we want to make sure that when we’re going out there and companies have access to significant amounts of oil and gas -- which the Department of Interior report pointed to yesterday -- that those resources are being developed in a timely manner. And for offshore leases, there are already some measures that we have taken to make sure that that’s happening, to bring those oil and gas resources to the American people.
Q Nuclear power, Mr. Secretary, which the President talked about again today as being a required component; you’ve talked about that. Three weeks after what happened in Japan, are you convinced that TEPCO has that situation under control? And looking at the lessons for America, are you convinced that investors in America will ever look on nuclear as safe enough to build new plants?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, first, let me talk about the American nuclear reactors. We believe they are safe. The President has ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to go back and be doubly sure -- that INPO, a very strong safety group, industry group in the United States, is looking and seeing what we can do. Within the Department of Energy, we’re also adding to that.
So this terrible tragedy that happened in Japan -- one of the -- the fourth-largest earthquake in recorded history, one of the largest tsunamis, I’m sure, in recorded history -- will teach us some lessons and we will use those lessons going forward to make the current fleet of nuclear reactors safer, and we will also use those lessons to make any future reactors far safer.
And so we do this all the time whenever there’s an accident like this, whether it be an airplane, an oil rig fire, anything. We go back, we learn lessons, and we push forward and say, okay, we’re going to make it much safer.
With regard to TEPCO, I think that this is a very trying circumstance where we stand by and we’re working very hard with them in any way we can to lend assistance or technical advice. We’re not there on the ground, but we do have conversations with them -- both the NRC, the Department of Energy and others -- daily. And we are working very hard with them to mitigate any future potential risks as best we can. And so I can’t really be sure of anything since I’m here and they’re there. But, again, with regard to American reactors, we believe they are safe and as a result of this tragedy they’re going to be safer.
Q Can I follow up, Jay, on that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me get to April.
Q Secretary Chu, two issues. One, you’re talking about you feel Americans’ pain when they go to the pump. But at the same time, while you’re feeling this pain and you’re watching the pocketbook, what mechanisms are in place right now to make manufacturers not gouge a consumer when they go to buy that electric vehicle, when they go to buy that biofuel vehicle? Because at this point, those cars are much more expensive than the average-price car. So what mechanisms are in place?
SECRETARY CHU: Correct me to -- you’re talking about the gouging of highly fuel-efficient cars, for example?
Q I’m talking about hybrid cars, yes. All -- those cars that help you ride better with gas and keep your mileage low, your gas mileage low.
MS. ZICHAL: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. First and foremost, through strategic investments in both the Recovery Act and the budget, the President has made significant investments in the research and development for these new advanced technologies that we will bring cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks to American families.
And those technologies -- we’re working every day -- Secretary Chu can talk to you about what we’re doing to help bring the prices down for these technologies and what we’re doing as an administration across the board to look not only at cars and trucks, but biofuels, again, as a solution to bringing prices down.
SECRETARY CHU: But the answer to the specific question -- look, the allegations that price gouging among dealers or the allegations of price gouging at gasoline stations I think come up every now and then and we’re not really -- I personally am not really sure to the extent it’s happening. But in the end, this is very quickly self-correcting.
And let me do back to what’s been happening. In the last couple of years, in the last two years, the American car companies are bouncing back. They are offering much more fuel-efficient cars. The Americans are recognizing that those are the cars to buy. The administration has been incredibly supportive and pushing into this direction. And so when you have that growing and that supply growing, that will naturally take care of itself.
Q My second question -- following up on what Mark was asking about the risk of new -- of creating new nuclear facilities in this country. With the new -- since we’ve seen what’s happening in Japan, are there any concerns about any new buildings, any new construction for nuclear facilities that they are not located in populated areas? Is that a concern, as well, for this country?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think what has happened in the past is -- what the public doesn’t fully appreciate is many of these reactors were built, let’s say, 40, 45 years ago in places which were not so populated, and the population kind of grew up around them. And so as we go forward and site places, that will always be a consideration.
But let me also say that the newer reactors -- first, going back -- if you look at the current fleet of reactors, they are constantly being upgraded. A team of scientists and I toured one of them because it was a Mark I GE, that was a sister reactor to the one in Japan, and since they’ve been decommissioned many years, we actually can walk inside and get a feel for what was going on so that we could actually help and get a better firsthand experience about what might be possible.
Even when we were touring this decommissioned reactor, we got a good flavor for the constant upgrade of safety during the lifetime of that reactor. This will continue in all our current reactors, but in addition to that, the newer reactors that are now on the drawing boards and are being built are going to be far safer than the ones built 40 years ago. And so you -- it’s just like today’s automobiles and today’s airplanes are safer.
Q Secretary Chu, while you’re here -- I know you’re not on the ground in Japan, but you testified on the issue a couple weeks ago. Could you give us your assessment of the current situation in Japan with the reactors, what you think is going to happen in the coming days?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think the most crucial thing -- first, there are three direct reactors under distress, and we’re also worried about spent fuels in four -- spent fuels, especially the most recent one that has the hottest fuel. And so the first order of business -- and this appears to be at least now under control -- is that you keep the water in the spent fuel ponds and you keep cooling the reactors.
There has been damage, we know, in the cores of three reactors, significant damage. And we’re monitoring that situation. We’re also worried about how to keep them cool and then, in the longer term, how do you get the salt water out of those reactors and resupply them with fresh water so that you can minimize any adverse effects --for example, corrosion.
So these are the things that we’re focusing on here in the United States -- is how do you go into a long-term stable position where you can keep cooling the reactors and make sure the spent fuel ponds remain covered with water.
MR. CARNEY: Let’s just get two more for our visitors. Ann.
Q Mr. Secretary, at what point in the future would alternative fuels, biofuels surpass oil consumption in the U.S.? Would that ever happen?
SECRETARY CHU: Yes, it will. Well, actually, let me temper this with the following. Let me make it broader. It’s not only the biofuels for transportation, but I would say renewable energy in general. I mean, what the Department of Energy is focused on is to develop those technologies where the cost of electricity from photovoltaics or wind would be equal or less than the cost of new fossil fuel, whether it’s gas or coal or whatever. That again, this is something where -- the debate, for example, at the Department of Energy, we are confident the business plans of companies around the world that are solar, photovoltaic energy will drop by 50 percent before the end of this decade, we begin to look at whether it’s possible to drop it by 75 percent by the end of this decade.
Seventy-five percent is a magic number in my mind -- 70-75 percent -- because that means the cost of electricity of photovoltaics is less than the cost of new fossil energy.
Fossil fuels, similarly -- we are trying to target fossil fuels and design so that you get fossil -- biomass to replace fossil fuel, but biomass based on, for example, woody materials, based on agricultural waste like wheat straw, corn cobs -- agricultural waste, lumber waste residues -- that's very inexpensive feedstock. We are working on ways to convert that feedstock in to drop in substantive fuels -- diesel gasoline, jet fuel. Already in the laboratory, this is being done. Now, the question is, can it be made commercially viable and when.
Okay, but when you make it commercially viable, then you’re on to something very, very big because that means if it’s commercially viable without subsidy, it can begin to be a very significant part of it, because it doesn’t compete directly with food crops.
Q So is there a time in the future where oil -- when fossil fuels are not the predominant source of energy?
SECRETARY CHU: Well, I think in the next couple of decades, oil -- fossil fuels like oil and gas will be a very big part of the mixture. But in these coming years -- I can’t promise you that the transition will occur 10 years from today, 15 year from today, 20 years -- but something -- in this part of the century, I think for sure it’s going to be price competitive, okay? But it also depends a lot on the biomass capability of the world, and so that's the other complication.
MS. ZICHAL: And I think just to build on that, the point that the President made today is that if we’re serious about gas prices and we’re serious about these challenges, then we need a serious plan in order to take our country there. And that's why through the speech today he put out a new goal for oil savings. Later this afternoon, we’ll be releasing a blueprint that talks about what we need to do to diversify across the board our energy sources and how we’re going to get from A to B.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, Mark.
Q Mr. Secretary, we’ve been hearing Presidents talk about reducing dependence on foreign oil for decades. Why will this -- President Obama’s plan work when others haven’t?
SECRETARY CHU: I think technologically we’re much closer than we ever were. As I said before, I was on the scientific advisory board of a battery company before I took my present position, and if you asked me four or five years ago what’s the prospect of having a fairly inexpensive battery where you can drive 300 miles on a single charge, I would have said I don't know.
Based on what I’ve seen just in the last two years, I’d say 50 percent chance we might be testing those batteries in cars, which means it will take three or four more years to get them on the road -- because there’s a lot of safety things you have to do -- but a 50 percent probability that we’ll be testing those batteries -- a battery one-third the cost, three times the range -- and at that point, that’s mass market. It just flies off the shelf.
So it is really technology driven. If you asked me five years ago what’s the prospect of having biofuels based on cellulosic materials that could be a direct drop in subsidies, I would have said I don’t really know. But based on what’s coming out of the labs and what is now being piloted today, I’d say, well, five or 10 years. I mean, that is a little bit longer time period, but I’d be surprised if in 15 years or 20 years it’s not going to be a fraction of fuel in the United States. Why the United States? We have incredible agricultural resources in the U.S. So we’re blessed with that.
MS. ZICHAL: And again, I think to just build on that for a moment, part of the answer is looking at the two years of the -- the first two years of our administration and the actions that we’ve taken. First and foremost, the Recovery Act, we had an historic investment in clean energy development and research. Second, one of the first actions that the President took was to set a goal of 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. And we used our existing authorities in new and interesting ways through the Department of Transportation and EPA to establish the new efficiency standard that Secretary Chu was talking about. That’s 1.8 billion barrels of oil savings over the life of the program.
And across the board, we are looking at -- think about energy policy -- not about what is the role of the Department of Energy, what is the role of EPA, but how are we going to across the board use our existing authorities to bring solutions to American families and work with the Congress to find some additional bipartisan solutions.
Q But you would agree that America is still addicted to oil? (Laughter.)
MS. ZICHAL: We would agree that America certainly needs to continue producing our oil supplies. In the short term, as the President said, we have some steps we need to take, and we are going to continue to build on to increase the use of our domestic oil and gas resources. But we need a long-term plan, because as long as we don’t have a long-term plan that is legitimate to help us break our addiction, we are going to continue to be stuck to these -- in these oil price shocks.
Q Secretary Chu, do you still believe that we need European levels of gas prices, as you suggested to The Wall Street Journal in 2008?
SECRETARY CHU: No, I think there’s enough incentive today. I think, again, no one is even considering that today, given where the price of gas is. I think given the long-term prospects, I think Americans realize and the world realizes, given the demand in China, especially, and followed by India, that most of the automobiles being sold in the world -- China is the biggest market -- that increased demand going into the coming decades, with the finite resources we have, we’ll say, okay, this is the way the world is going to be.
You can’t -- as the President said, you cannot predict what’s going to happen a year from today, a month from today, in terms of prices. But he emphasized the prices are more likely to go up than go down. Given that, the handwriting is on the wall, so we’re going to diversify our supply of transportation energy, we’re going to make efficient vehicles, we become less dependent on oil for transportation. And that’s where we get our transportation security. That’s what makes it easier on the American pocketbook.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Secretary Chu. Thank you, Heather.
I’m here to take other questions on other issues if you have them. We can start back at the top here.
Q Thanks, Jay. On Libya, yesterday the President said the question the administration wants to answer is whether the Qaddafi forces are sufficiently degraded so that opposition groups don’t need to be armed. Judging from what’s going on, on the ground today, those forces are pushing back the rebel forces. So I wonder what the White House assessment is right now, and what are the issues under consideration for not assisting the rebels with arms?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I --
Q Well, if you’re making a determination whether to supply them with arms or not, what are the arguments for not supplying them with arms?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President said very clearly in one of his interviews yesterday evening that he’s not taking anything off the table -- he’s not ruling something in or ruling something out in terms of lethal assistance to the opposition.
With regard to the start of your question, we are very confident that the coalition that we are part of, that is responsible for both enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting Libyan civilians, will be capable of succeeding in its mission and pushing back Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
The broader question of assistance to the opposition is one that we’re looking at very closely. We’re coordinating with the opposition and exploring ways that we can assist them with non-lethal assistance, and we’ll look at other possibilities of assistance as we move forward.
Working with our coalition partners in the Contact Group which was stood up in London yesterday with the Secretary of State, broad number of partners involved in that effort looking at the political future of Libya and working with the opposition. And we’re examining all these issues as we work towards a Libya that has a government that answers to its people, that is chosen by its people, and is democratic and respects the rights of its citizens.
Q Given what is going on, on the ground, do you concede that he’s to some degree reasserting his authority right now militarily?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there’s a lot of ink that's been spilled on military operations in Libya, and the back-and-forth between Qaddafi’s forces and the opposition. And all I can tell you is that we remain very confident in the capacity of the NATO coalition to push the Qaddafi forces back, to protect Libyan civilians, to fulfill its mission to enforce the no-fly zone.
And there are different developments each day, but the trend we think is clear and the pressure on Qaddafi will continue -- both on his forces through the military operation and all the ways that we’ve discussed, through the measures that the United States and its international partners have taken to isolate him, to put pressure on him, to pressure those around him to realize that their days are numbered, the days of this regime are numbered, and that they may want to reconsider where they stand.
Q Jay, we’re hearing on the Hill, at least off the record, that things --
MR. CARNEY: Wait, you’re reporting something off the record here at the briefing? (Laughter.)
Q -- that budget talks are ongoing and that they're making happier noises than they are at least behind the scenes. So I wanted to get the White House’s assessment of where the budget negotiation process is now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we have said consistently through the various reports -- both on the record and off -- about the progress of negotiations, we are engaged in the negotiations. We believe that there is ample reason to be optimistic, that common ground can be found as long as all sides roll up their sleeves and get to work and realize that you’re not going to get -- no side is going to get everything it wants.
And the American people expect us to compromise. We have a system of government in place precisely for this reason, that sides with opposing views come together, work out a compromise, pass legislation that the American people believe should be passed and support. We think we can do that. We think that completing the funding for fiscal year 2011, a fiscal year that's nearly half over, should be a relatively easy task, and that the differences that separate us are not so great that we cannot find the common ground in a way that each side can feel that it accomplished something in getting it done.
Q Are you -- that's what you’ve thought from the beginning. Do you have any sense -- are you getting any feeling that maybe there’s a bit more movement and willingness for a compromise now than there has been?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't want to characterize it. Obviously, these are ongoing negotiations. And as I said in answer to a question about an entirely different subject, the dynamic changes sometimes hour by hour, day by day. But we believe that there are -- there is reason to be confident that if everyone agrees that this position won’t succeed, and this position won’t succeed, and therefore, we have to find some middle ground here, and the President has demonstrated his willingness -- put skin in the game to show that he’s willing to come more than halfway, the Democrats have shown that we’re willing to do more to cut more as long as priorities that the President believes are vital to ensuring economic growth in the future and job creation in the future are protected -- that we can then get this done and move on to other big challenges that we face.
Q What about some of those other issues? I know the line has been drawn on health care reform, Planned Parenthood, greenhouse gas regulation. But what about things like the foreign service pay, an alternate F-35 jet engine? There’s a lot of other things. Is the White House willing to move on those issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we’ve said, Tricia, very clearly and our position has not changed, is that we believe that this is an appropriations process, a budget bill that's about cutting spending and funding the government, and that that should be the focus; and that this is not the place to wage sort of debates about ideological issues or politically charged issues; that that's a way to try to derail the process instead of trying to get the train into the station and get the work done.
I’m not going to negotiate line by line what’s in that budget agreement, but our overall approach to this remains the same today as it was yesterday and last week.
Q In terms of the question of whether or not the U.S. or the coalition should arm the rebels or more closely coordinate strikes with them, have military-to-military contact, such as their military is, could you walk us through what some of the considerations are, what the debate is playing out behind closed doors?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I would make clear that there is a kind of “what problem haven’t you solved today” aspect to this, which is that in a remarkably short period of time -- as the President laid out in his speech and laid out in the interviews yesterday -- with American leadership, the international community acted, first to take dramatic, unprecedented measures through the United Nations and unilaterally in terms of non-lethal measures, sanctions to put pressure on the Qaddafi regime and isolate the Qaddafi regime, and then through U.N. Security Council 1973 to authorize all necessary means to protect the civilian population of Libya from Qaddafi’s forces and to avert what was most likely an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.
We’ve had remarkable success in achieving the goals laid out. And so in terms of the assistance provided the opposition, obviously the measures we have taken has provided great assistance to the opposition. We prevented the invasion of and sacking of Benghazi and averted likely thousands of civilian deaths in the course --
Q But the President gave a much more positive assessment of what the condition was on the ground for the rebels on Monday than exists today because the situation on the ground has changed.
MR. CARNEY: And the situation -- as I said, we’re not going to do a play-by-play of how does it look today, how does it look tomorrow. What I said in the beginning is --
Q -- going on behind closed doors, and in the name of having --
MR. CARNEY: Well, who said anything was going on behind closed doors?
Q In the name of the -- of candor and explaining to the American people what’s going on, what we’re talking about doing. You guys have been criticized for a lot of quick action that you had to take because of the immediacy of --
MR. CARNEY: After we were --
Q -- because of the immediacy --
MR. CARNEY: After we were criticized for moving too slowly -- but, yes.
Q You can -- if you’d like me to get a roomful of straw men, I can do that. But if we can have that conversation for a second, and that is, what are the -- what’s the debate? What are the issues? I’m not saying that one side is right or one side is wrong. I’m just saying, can you explain to the American people what are some of the considerations you guys are weighing?
MR. CARNEY: In terms of what? Arming --
Q In terms of more closely working with the rebels, whether it’s arming them, whether it’s more closely coordinating military strikes with them, having direct conversations with them. What are some of the competing issues?
MR. CARNEY: We have said and we continue to say this, that obviously through this very brief window of time we have worked very quickly to try to assess who the opposition is. As the President I believe said in one the interviews, that clearly not everyone in Libya who is opposed to Qaddafi is friendly to the United States. But we have been working with those leaders of the opposition who have demonstrated -- who have been vetted and who have demonstrated a commitment, at least initially, to the kinds of actions that we believe are essential, that adhere to the principles that we discussed that broadly apply as we look at the whole region and the unrest in the whole region, which is a commitment to the universal rights of their citizens, a commitment to free and fair elections, to a democratic transition, to tolerance and respect, like I said, for human rights.
So the Libyan National Council put out a statement yesterday from London, which we found to be encouraging in terms of their approach to this. And we are dealing quite closely with that opposition leadership as we make an assessment about what measures we can take going forward.
But I remind you that we’re not going to rush into anything here without carefully considering what the policy decision is, what the outcome we desire is, and how we can help most effectively. And that’s the same approach we took in making decisions about kinetic military action and supporting an international coalition through the United Nations, with support from the Arab League and other nations, to launch a military action. And that’s the approach we’ll take going forward.
Q Wait, just to follow up. What -- are you -- what are the concerns? Given that you have vetted many members of the opposition and found them, at least initially, to be on the right side of these humanitarian ideals that the President espouses and the United States stands for, what are the concerns that exist beyond what the NATO commander yesterday referred to some “flickers” of al Qaeda and Hezbollah ties among some of the rebels? What’s the worry? Is it that the U.S. then has more ownership, or NATO has more ownership of this military action? Is it just the law of unintended consequences? Is it what the U.S. went through in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- I mean, we could -- I don’t want to bore everyone here with a conversation that you and I can have. But I think these are all good questions, and I think that in some ways your questions are answers in that we carefully consider all those issues in a situation like this. And we -- the President is committed not just to quick action that can be effective to avert humanitarian catastrophe, but making the right choices for the long term, to make sure that we -- his eye is constantly on the long game here in terms of what’s in the best interest of the American people and U.S. national security interests as we move our way through this historic period of upheaval and change in the Middle East.
I mean, there is a lot to be optimistic about in terms of the change that we’re seeing -- the commitment that we’re seeing from the grassroots and on the ground to the kind of democratic ideals that we obviously hold dear and believe are universal. But we don’t want to do anything -- we want to make sure that the policy decisions we make are targeted and have the best possible chance of achieving the goal that we seek.
Q On this issue of vetting, is this process continuing so that the U.S. gets a better understanding of what the leadership structure is of the opposition, who exactly it is that you’re dealing with?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Can you explain --
MR. CARNEY: The process is continuing. I mean, just as you would expect it to continue. We have contacts with the opposition. The Contact Group that was stood up will obviously play a role in that. And it’s not just the United States. This is an international coalition -- that we are working together with our international partners on all facets of this. This is a -- but simply to say that, yes, we are continuing to discuss -- have conversations with the opposition and to evaluate the opposition and to assess what the makeup of it is there in Libya.
Q And is the administration finding anything more than just the flickers of al Qaeda or other --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll point you to what Ambassador Rice said, which is that that answer to that is no. And what’s important to remember about what we’re seeing in Libya, like what we saw in other countries, is that the motivation, the ideals, the aspirations that are expressed in these popular movements are antithetical in many ways to the -- in all ways, really -- to the purposes and ideals set forth by terrorist organizations who use violence against innocent civilians to achieve their goals are quite the contrary to the kind of protests we’ve seen in Egypt and Tunisia and other countries. In Libya we’re very much driven by the kind of ideals that are, like I said, antithetical to those who support violence to achieve their goals.
Q On Syria, the President said that the considerations that went into the U.S. involvement, engagement in Libya would not necessarily apply to Syria. So is there a strategy right now that’s being put together to address what may happen in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are obviously very closely watching the situation in Syria. We condemn the violence that has occurred there. We condemn the arrest of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and others. We call on the Syrian government to engage in the political dialogue that we have called on other governments in the region to engage in -- to refrain from violence, to begin a process of reform.
The Syrian President, as you know, gave a speech earlier today in which he talked about moving quickly on the very reforms that he promised in 2005. We urge him to do so. It’s clearly what his people are demanding. But we’re obviously paying very close attention to what’s happening in Syria and all the things I just said about the violence and the actions taken by the government, and we urge political dialogue.
Q But is the administration putting together a series of considerations specific to Syria that if they aren’t met the U.S. would be engaged, as they were in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think what the President made clear last night was that he approaches these situations with a broad set of principles, but that he does not have a cookie-cutter approach to each country. Each country is different. What’s happening in each country is different. The government -- governments can be different; the cultural situation can be different. Our interests are at the forefront of his mind as he approaches all these problems. So we do not have a set of responses that apply in reaction to a set of actions.
Q Right, I understand that. So are you putting together a “designer,” then, response for Syria at this point, depending on what may happen there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we -- I mean, I guess I could answer, yes, we have people watching Syria and analyzing what’s happening and obviously advising the President on the policy positions we’re taking, the things we’re saying publicly to the Syrian government about what we believe they should do and the President should do and engage in the political dialogue, and that will be constantly -- that will evolve as the situation evolves.
Q On Syria, are any military options on the table or being considered at this point? I mean, I know you plan for all contingencies, and all through Egypt and Libya, from very early stages, you said all options are on the table. Are all options on the table in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Chip, I think we’re not in a situation that is analogous to what we had in Libya, which is in this region is the place where obviously we did make the decision -- the President did make the decision to take action militarily. And that was a set of circumstances that in many ways are likely to be unique to Libya: the broad international coalition, the request from the Libyan opposition, the support of the Arab League, the imminent humanitarian catastrophe large-scale, the demonstration by Colonel Qaddafi of his willingness to kill his own citizens on a large scale. All those factors came together to -- were weighed by the President as he made his decision, and they in many ways were unique to Libya.
Q So as far as you know with regard to Syria, there are no military options even in the early stages of consideration?
MR. CARNEY: That's certainly the case, yes. I’m not going to predict the future, and I think the President made clear that he’s not in the business of predicting the future either, but he did make clear also last night that we do not have a singular approach to each situation.
Q Yes, in the CBS interview yesterday -- picking one at random -- the President used the expression “constant bombardment” at one point. He essentially argued that if Qaddafi wants the “constant bombardment” to stop, he’ll have to step down. Isn’t that crossing the line from using military action to protect civilians and using it to push him out?
MR. CARNEY: The constant bombardment is happening because of the threat of violence that Qaddafi’s forces pose to the population of Libya. And as we’ve seen has been discussed about developments in the last 24-36 hours that it’s not like they're laying down their arms. It’s not like Qaddafi has gone into -- circled the wagons and gone into retreat. He is clearly still trying to wreak havoc on his country and putting his own citizens in great danger.
And so the mission of the U.N. Security Council resolution is to protect the civilian population, and the constant bombardment will continue as long as that mission remains.
Q Any plans in the works, or any consideration being given to a broader kind of -- as some people have said, a Cairo II speech, to try to put all this in context? Or is that impossible given that every situation is --
I certainly would not rule out the possibility that he’ll want to address this issue sometime again in the future. I don't have -- I’m not promising that, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Q Since the President, Jay, hasn’t ruled out providing weapons to the Libyan opposition, does he believe he can do that without also providing U.S. trainers, or that providing U.S. trainers wouldn’t break his promise not to put boots on the ground there?
MR. CARNEY: The President made very clear that there will not be U.S. troops -- no boots on the ground in Libya.
Q So he believes you could possibly provide weapons without sending U.S. trainers?
MR. CARNEY: I don't see why not.
Q And does he -- does he feel that he could provide U.S. weapons and make sure none of them fall into the hands of the flickers of al Qaeda that there may be?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, you're leading me down the road of things that may happen if a decision is made that hasn’t been made.
Q What I’m actually trying to do is find out whether some things the President has said and some realities -- like weapons are stolen and sold -- actually preclude the U.S. providing --
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that there are a lot of factors that go into a decision like that, and some of the factors would be probably related to the questions that you’re asking. Obviously, we would not make a decision like that if we did not think that it was the smart way to go, and that the policy goals it would serve were achievable and outweighed the risks involved. That's how we approach all these issues.
Q For a couple of days, I’ve been asking you if we’re at war in Libya, and I don't think I’ve gotten an answer yet. I’d like to try again. Is it a war?
MR. CARNEY: Look, it is a -- obviously, it’s military action. Did we invade Libya? No. Are we -- do we have U.S. troops on the ground in Libya? No. You can call it -- it’s been a false argument that some media outlets have tried to engage about the nomenclature here. It is the use of military force in concert with our allies. Military force is inherently a risky proposition, puts men and women in harm’s way, and military -- but what it is not is in the context that we live in today, anything like a situation where you had I believe at one point 170,000-plus U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq; where you have 100,000 U.S. troops and 140,000 ISAF troops overall in Afghanistan in a prolonged engagement, a prolonged war. That is not what is happening in Libya.
The President made very clear how this is not at all like that. You can call it what you want, but it’s not analogous.
Q Jay, following up on the question on the budget, is there still a veto threat? Will the President veto anything with a rider -- anything that comes to his desk with a rider on it? Because that was the position three weeks ago.
MR. CARNEY: No, the position -- let me be clear. The position was that we do not believe that this is the proper place to insert ideologically driven agenda items or politically driven agenda items, that those debates can happen outside this process.
The appropriations process is a Byzantine and complex one. And I don't want to get into deciding what line can or cannot --
Q -- you didn't want riders, that was a veto, that you weren’t going to accept anything with a rider.
MR. CARNEY: Again, you’re trying to define -- a rider could be something that declares apple pie the favorite dessert in America. The issue here is the kind of politically charged, contentious issue that can derail this train that needs to get to the station so that the government is funded, people’s priorities are met --
Q So there’s a scenario where he signs something that has some riders in it as long as it’s not NPR and Planned Parenthood?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I’m not going to negotiate the agenda items here. His position is clear about what shouldn’t be in this. His position is clear about his willingness to cut spending significantly and predict --
Q -- his veto position -- is there any veto position on that?
MR. CARNEY: The veto position the President issued was in the statement of administration policy related to HR1 and the President’s priorities, and that stands. But I’m not going to get into negotiating specifics beyond telling you that the very issues that could derail this process are the ones that should not be in it.
Q How would you describe this compromise that has been written by Jack Lew, from what I understand, of the additional $20 billion in cuts that's on the table for Republicans to accept? Is that a beginning? Is that take or leave it? Would you just -- this new plan --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly don't think we’re in the beginning of this process.
Q No, I understand that, but is that --
MR. CARNEY: And I would simply say without addressing speculation --
Q Is that simply a floor? That position, the $20 billion?
MR. CARNEY: -- in the media about what proposals are out there and who authored them. I would say that negotiate --
Q There’s not a Jack Lew written proposal --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m just not going to address -- I’m not going to address speculation about who’s drafted proposals, what the numbers attached to them are, except that we believe there is an easily achievable compromise if both sides, all sides are willing --
Q -- that negotiating --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that we’re negotiating, we're discussing with leaders on the Hill regularly what the contours of an agreement would look like. And I think -- I can tell you that as part of that engagement -- because there seems to be occasionally questions about how engaged we are -- the Vice President spoke with Speaker Boehner yesterday; he spoke with the Senate Majority Leader yesterday; and obviously senior White House staff have been engaged in negotiations.
But I’m not going to acknowledge -- I mean, part of getting a deal --
Q The plan exists or does not exist?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that there are ideas on the table about how we get from here to there, and that good-faith negotiations can get us from here to there.
Q You’ve said a couple of times today and in previous sessions that the Qaddafi regime’s days are numbered. What evidence do we actually have that that is true?
MR. CARNEY: He’s lost legitimacy to rule in the eyes of his people; that he controls only a relatively small portion of his country; that he obviously has lost a great deal of military capacity, which is one of the means by which he was able to rule as a dictator and autocrat for all these many decades. I think his days are numbered. And I think that the regime’s days are numbered. And we are participating with our international partners in a number of measures designed to put pressure on Qaddafi that will hopefully convince him of what the rest of us know is true.
Q But isn’t it a bit of an overstatement, considering the fact that we keep seeing this seesaw battle across the desert? It’s clear that in certain places, Tripoli and Sirte, he has significant support not only from military elements but also from the civilian population. Isn’t it overstating it to say that his days are numbered? Couldn’t those days be quite a few?
MR. CARNEY: I think that, again, you can take a day-by-day breakdown and say he’s up, he’s down. The trend, we believe, since the coalition engaged militarily is clearly against him. And what is clear is that his days as leader of Libya are numbered and probably over, as Libya writ large. And we can’t predict, we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know how long Qaddafi will hold on, but we believe we can work with our partners, consult with the opposition and give them the kind of advice and assistance, non-lethal or otherwise, that can help them move this process and create a situation where the Libyan people, after a very long winter, will have a chance to choose their own leaders and decide their own future.
Q But by saying “writ large,” you do concede to some extent that he could control a substantial or reduced portion of territory --
MR. CARNEY: I concede that we cannot predict to you the day that Qaddafi will leave the country or leave power.
Q Would the President seek an approval -- a resolution of approval from Congress if he decides to give any kind of armaments or military equipment to the opposition?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a double hypothetical, so I can’t -- I just don’t know.
Q He himself said in three interviews yesterday that that kind of option is still on the table; he hasn’t ruled it out. He did not go to Congress asking specific --
MR. CARNEY: And there’s great historical precedent for not doing that.
Q I’m asking -- and maybe your answer is no -- he would not go to Congress --
MR. CARNEY: It’s not. It’s just a hypothetical that I can’t entertain because the world as it is is vexing enough.
Q Does he believe he needs that authority? That’s not a hypothetical?
MR. CARNEY: Again --
Q It’s not a hypothetical.
MR. CARNEY: -- we don’t even have the circumstance before us around which to answer that question. So I’m not going to answer it as a hypothetical.
Q Can I ask a budget --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I’ll get to you, Jared.
Q General Electric made $5 billion from its U.S. entities, $14 billion worldwide; seems to have paid little or no U.S. corporate taxes, depending on who you believe. They’re right now asking 15,000 unionized members of their workforce to accept significant cutbacks. They’ve cut their workforce in the U.S. by a fifth since 2002. Jeff Immelt is obviously the chairman -- or the head of the President’s Council on Competitiveness and Jobs. Does the White House associate itself with that type of corporate stewardship in the sense that Immelt is its leading avatar or representative to the corporate world?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that membership on the Jobs Council, as the President made clear, is not decided by agreement on every issue. It is not -- the whole point of the Jobs Council is to get outside advice, to help the President -- to generate ideas for the President to consider ways by which he can increase American competitiveness and create jobs.
In terms of the tax issue that you raised at the beginning, we had a long exchange about this the other day and I discussed at length and would ask you read that instead of having to hear me discuss it again about the President’s commitment to corporate tax reform.
Q Jay, just two questions?
MR. CARNEY: Are you working for the Post now? I can’t believe it. You moved up to the Washington Post.
Q Do we want to check everyone’s seat?
MR. CARNEY: No, go ahead, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take one.
Q I think you’ll probably want to take the follow-up. The Democrat governor of the President’s home state of Illinois, Pat Quinn, signed a bill abolishing the death penalty because, he said, “I am deeply concerned that an innocent may be executed.” Does the President still disagree with this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t heard him discuss this. I would -- his position is what it is.
Q Page 57 of “The Audacity of Hope.”
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcement to make about a change in any position of the President’s on this issue.
Q All right, he has not changed. What is the President’s opinion of the mayor-elect of Chicago’s agreement with Governor Quinn and with previous governor Republican George Ryan, who commuted 167 death sentences in Illinois?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an answer for you on that.
Q You just rather --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed the President’s opinion of the mayor-elect’s opinion of a former governor’s position --
Q Well, he likes the mayor-elect, doesn’t he?
MR. CARNEY: He does, indeed, yes.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit about --
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, Jared -- peripheral vision thing.
Q -- U.S. plans or plans with our allies in finding a place for Qaddafi if he decides -- if and when he decides to step down?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I believe the Secretary of State discussed this, maybe the President did as well in his interviews about -- some things that were -- indications we’re hearing from around Qaddafi of interest being expressed through different channels about what the future may hold, but we’re a long way from engaging in that discussion. And it’s probably not one we’d do in public from here.
Q We’re tracking those, or chasing them down if we hear those reports, though. Is that a fair conclusion?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s a fair assumption.
Q Two basic questions. One is, what is the White House stance on the Republican’s government shutdown prevention act proposal?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a detailed response except to say that we believe that instead of passing sort of nice-sounding legislation that doesn’t accomplish what can be accomplished at the negotiating table, we ought to roll up our sleeves and accomplish what can be easily be done if each side is willing to move off its starting position, make a few compromises, accept the fact that they can’t get everything they want, to reduce spending, protect but not do things that would harm our economic recovery, and then move on, get this done.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q A quick follow-up is on -- sorry about that -- on Libya. Why don’t we have a better understanding of the opposition? That’s something I haven’t understood is why.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that this is a development that’s barely a month old and it’s not that we don’t have -- we have an understanding of the opposition and we’re deepening it and developing it further.
Q Thank you.
2:32 P.M. EDT