The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/27/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
8:48 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everybody. You can read the paperwork we just handed out in a minute. Let me just get started. Thank you for coming this morning. I have with me today Dan Pfeiffer, the President’s Director of Communications, as well as Bob Bauer, the President’s White House Counsel, who will have a few things to say about the documents we handed to you today. And then we'll take your questions. I remind you this is off camera and only pen and pad, not for audio. And I give you Dan Pfeiffer.
MR. PFEIFFER: Thanks, Jay. What you have in front of you now is a packet of papers that includes the President’s long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii, the original birth certificate that the President requested and we posted online in 2008, and then the correspondence between the President’s counsel and the Hawaii State Department of Health that led to the release of those documents.
If you would just give me a minute to -- indulge me a second to walk through a little of the history here, since all of you weren't around in 2008 when we originally released the President’s birth certificate, I will do that. And then Bob Bauer will walk through the timeline of how we acquired these documents.
In 2008, in response to media inquiries, the President’s campaign requested his birth certificate from the state of Hawaii. We received that document; we posted it on the website. That document was then inspected by independent fact checkers, who came to the campaign headquarters and inspected the document -- independent fact checkers did, and declared that it was proof positive that the President was born in Hawaii.
To be clear, the document we presented on the President’s website in 2008 is his birth certificate. It is the piece of paper that every Hawaiian receives when they contact the state to request a birth certificate. It is the birth certificate they take to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get their driver’s license and that they take to the federal government to get their passport. It is the legally recognized document.
That essentially -- for those of you who followed the campaign closely know that solved the issue. We didn’t spend any time talking about this after that. There may have been some very fringe discussion out there, but as a campaign issue it was settled and it was --
Q When you posted this did you post the other side of it where the signature is?
MR. PFEIFFER: Yes.
Q Because it is not here and that's been an issue.
MR. PFEIFFER: We posted both sides and when it was looked at it was looked at by -- the fact checkers came to headquarters and actually examined the document we had.
That settled the issue. In recent weeks, the issue has risen again as some folks have begun raising a question about the original -- about the long-form birth certificate you now have in front of you. And Bob will explain why -- the extraordinary steps we had to take to receive that and the legal restraints that are in place there.
But it became an issue again. And it went to -- essentially the discussion transcended from the nether regions of the Internet into mainstream political debate in this country. It became something that when both Republicans and Democrats were talking to the media they were asked about. It was a constant discussion on mainstream news organizations. And the President believed that it was becoming a distraction from the major issues we're having in this country.
And he was particularly struck by the fact that right after the Republicans released their budget framework and the President released his, we were prepared to have a very important, very vigorous debate in this country about the future of the country, the direction we’re going to take, how we’re doing to deal with very important issues like education, Medicare, how we’re going to deal with taxes in this country. And that should -- that’s the debate we should be having yet.
What was really dominating a lot of discussion was this fake controversy, essentially, a sideshow, that was distracting from this real issue. And an example of that would be when major Democrats and Republicans went onto mainstream news organizations to talk about their budget plans -- including the President -- they were asked about this. They were asked about what they thought about the controversy. They were asked if they believed the President was born in the United States. And it was really a distraction.
That really struck the President, led him to ask his counsel to look into whether we could ask the state of Hawaii to release the long-form certificate, which is not something they generally do. And he did that despite the fact that it probably was not in his long-term -- it would have been in his -- probably in his long-term political interests to allow this birther debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party for months to come. But he thought even though it might have been good politics, he thought it was bad for the country. And so he asked counsel to look into this.
And now I’ll have Bob explain that, and then we’ll take your questions.
MR. CARNEY: I just want to -- sorry, I meant to mention at the top, as some of you may have seen, the President will be coming to the briefing room at 9:45 a.m., making a brief statement about this -- not taking questions, but just wanted to let you know.
MR. PFEIFFER: And he will use this as an opportunity to make a larger point about what this debate says about our politics.
Go ahead, Bob.
MR. BAUER: Early last week the decision was made to review the legal basis for seeking a waiver from the longstanding prohibition in the state Department of Health on releasing the long-form birth certificate. And so we undertook a legal analysis and determined a waiver request could be made that we had the grounds upon which to make that request.
And by Thursday of last week, I spoke to private counsel to the President and asked her to contact the State Department of Health and to have a conversation about any requirements, further requirements, that they thought we had to satisfy to lodge that waiver request. She had that conversation with the state Department of Health on Thursday -- counsel in question is Judy Corley at the law firm of Perkins Coie, and you have a copy of the letter she subsequently sent to the department with the President’s written request.
The department outlined the requirements for the President to make this request. He signed a letter making that request on Friday afternoon upon returning from the West Coast. And private counsel forwarded his written request -- written, signed request -- along with a letter from counsel, to the state Department of Health on Friday.
The department, as I understood it, after reviewing the law and reviewing the grounds asserted in the request, came to the conclusion that a waiver could be appropriately granted. We were advised that the long-form birth certificate could be copied and made available to us as early as Monday, April 25th -- the day before yesterday. And we made arrangements for counsel to travel to Honolulu to pick it up and it was returned to the White House yesterday afternoon.
Let me emphasize again, there is a specific statute that governs access to and inspection of vital records in the state of Hawaii. The birth certificate that we posted online is, in fact, and always has been, and remains, the legal birth certificate of the President that would be used for all legal purposes that any resident of Hawaii would want to use a birth certificate for.
However, there is legal authority in the department to make exceptions to the general policy on not releasing the long-form birth certificate. The policy in question, by the way, on non-release has been in effect since the mid-1980s, I understand. So while I cannot tell you what the entire history of exceptions has been, it is a limited one. This is one of very few that I understand have been granted for the reasons set out in private counsel’s letter.
MR. PFEIFFER: We'll be happy to take some questions.
Q I guess I just want to make sure that we’re clear on this. Even though this one says “certificate of live birth” on here, this is different than the other certificate of live birth that we’ve seen?
MR. PFEIFFER: Yes. The second page there is the one that was posted on the Internet.
MR. PFEIFFER: And that is a copy of the one that has been kept at the Hawaii Department of Health.
Q Okay. And this is the one that would be referred to -- that people have been asking for that is the birth certificate?
MR. PFEIFFER: They are both -- the second one is the birth certificate. The one on the top is what is referred to as the long-form birth certificate. As you can see -- and Bob can walk you through it -- it contains some additional information that is not on the second page, which was the birth certificate which was released during the campaign.
If you could just explain the difference.
MR. BAUER: There’s a difference between a certificate and a certification. The certification is simply a verification of certain information that’s in the original birth certificate. The birth certificate, as you can see, has signatures at the bottom from the attending physician, the local registrar, who essentially oversees the maintenance of the records. It contains some additional information also -- that is to say, the original birth certificate -- it contains some additional information like the ages of the parents, birthplaces, residence, street address, the name of the hospital.
The core information that’s required for legal purposes and that is put into the actual certification that’s a computer-generated document, which we posted in 2008, that information is abstracted, if you will, from the original birth certificate, put into the computerized short-form certification, and made available to Hawaiian residents at their request.
So the long form, which is a certificate, has more information, but the short form has the information that’s legally sufficient for all the relevant purposes.
Q This first one has never been released publicly, correct?
MR. BAUER: That’s correct. It is in a bound volume in the records at the state Department of Health in Hawaii.
Q Bob, can you explain why President Obama let this drag on for four years? Was it Donald Trump that prompted you to issue this?
MR. BAUER: I’ll let Dan --
MR. PFEIFFER: Sure.
Q I know you expected that question, right? (Laughter.)
MR. PFEIFFER: He even said you would be the one who would ask it. (Laughter.)
I don’t think this dragged on for four years because this was a resolved -- for those of you who remember the campaign, this issue was resolved in 2008. And it has not been an issue, none of you have asked about it, called about it, reported on it until the last few weeks.
And as I said earlier, it probably would have been -- a lot of the pundits out there have talked about the fact that this whole birther debate has been really bad for the Republican Party and would probably be good for the President politically. But despite that, the President, as I said, was struck by how this was crowding out the debate, particularly around the budget, on important issues, and was an example of the sort of sideshows that our politics focuses on instead of the real challenges that we have to confront as a country.
And so that’s why he made this decision now, because it became an issue that transcended sort of this -- it essentially was something that was talked about, as I said, from the nether regions of the Internet onto mainstream network newscasts. In fact, Jay has been asked about this just yesterday in this room.
Q So I guess the implication is that you did get political advantage by having not released this until today, over the course of the last four years?
MR. PFEIFFER: There has been -- no one that I can recall actually asked us to -- we were asked to release the President’s birth certificate in 2008. We did that. And then no one -- it never -- up until a few weeks ago, there was never an issue about that that wasn’t the birth certificate from any credible individual or media outlet. And it hasn’t been until -- I mean, Jay was asked about this yesterday --
Q When you say that, you mean certification -- you released the certification?
MR. PFEIFFER: When any Hawaiian wants -- requests their birth certificate because they want to get a driver’s license, they want to get a passport, they do exactly what the President did in 2008. And that’s what that is. And we released that. And that’s what any Hawaiian would do to release their birth certificate. And that was good enough for everyone until very recently this became a question again. And so the President made this decision. He’ll talk to you more about his thinking on that.
Q And this is going to sound -- I mean, you can just anticipate what people are going to -- remain unconvinced. They’re going to say that this is just a photocopy of a piece of paper, you could have typed anything in there. Will the actual certificate be on display or viewable at any -- (laughter.)
Q Will the President be holding it?
MR. PFEIFFER: He will not, and I will not leave it here for him to do so. But it will -- the State Department of Health in Hawaii will obviously attest that that is a -- what they have on file. As Bob said, it’s in a book in Hawaii.
MR. BAUER: And you’ll see the letter from the director of the Health Department that states that she oversaw the copy and is attesting to --
Q But do you understand that this could quiet the conspiracy theorists?
MR. PFEIFFER: There will always be some selection of people who will believe something, and that's not the issue. The issue is that this is not a discussion that is just happening among conspiracy theorists. It’s happening here in this room; it’s happening on all of the networks. And it’s something that, as I said, every major political figure of both parties who’s actually out trying to talk about real issues is asked about this by the media. And so the President decided to release this. And I'll leave it to others to decide whether there’s still -- there will be some who still have a different -- have a conspiracy about this.
Q You’ve got two certified copies, according to this study. You have these physical --
MR. PFEIFFER: Yes. I showed you one. Just one.
Q You showed us a photocopy of one.
MR. PFEIFFER: No, I showed you --
Q Does that have a stamp?
MR. PFEIFFER: It has a seal on it.
Q Why does this rise to the level of a presidential statement?
MR. PFEIFFER: The President -- this in itself -- when you hear the President I think you’ll understand the point he’s making. That will be in not too long.
Q Did the President change his own mind about this? In other words, was he advocating during the campaign let’s just put it out there and get it over with, or was this an internal shift in thinking based -- in other words, was it the President who steadfastly during the campaign said this is ridiculous, I don't want to give this any more ground, and has now changed his mind? Or is this the --
MR. PFEIFFER: Let’s be very clear. You were there for the campaign. There was never a question about the original birth certificate during the campaign. It was a settled issue. I was there for the original decision to release the birth certificate. I was there when we posted it online. I'm not sure I even knew there was an original one that was different than the one we posted online because it wasn’t an issue. So it wasn’t like -- let’s be very clear. We were asked for the President’s birth certificate in 2008; we released the President’s birth certificate; and it was done. That was it.
And so there hasn’t been a discussion about this other document for years. It’s only been in the last few weeks. And so to your second question, the President decided to do this and he'll talk about this when he gets here -- decided to do it at the timeline that Bob laid out because it was a -- this was a sideshow that was distracting from the real challenges that we're facing.
It’s not just a sideshow for him; it’s a sideshow for our entire politics that have become focused on this.
Q Not to give Donald Trump more publicity than he has, but is he the person who sort of -- sort of that bridge between what you're calling a fringe and the mainstream? Do you think that he’s the reason why this tripped the switch to a level where you now have to deal with something you thought was dealt with?
MR. PFEIFFER: It’s not for me to say why mainstream media organizations began to cover this debate. They’ll have to answer that for themselves.
Q How concerned were you about running against Donald Trump in a general election?
MR. PFEIFFER: I'd refer any questions on the election to the campaign.
Q Can you address the reports of Petraeus to the CIA and DOD --
MR. PFEIFFER: You get points for that, Carol. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I don't have -- but you’ll be disappointed to learn that I don't have a personnel announcement for you. The President will be addressing this -- questions about personnel tomorrow.
Q Dan, was there a debate about whether or not this deserved being discussed by the White House, whether or not -- and I'm going back to the birth certificate. I lose points, I understand. But was there debate about whether or not this was worthy of the White House?
MR. PFEIFFER: The point I'd make is that we weren't the ones who -- we're not the first ones to bring this up in this room. Jay has been asked questions about this; the President has been asked about it in media interviews. And so that wasn’t a decision that we made, and the President made the decision to do this and he made the decision to -- and when he comes down here this morning he'll talk to you about why he thinks there’s an important point to be made here.
Q Getting back to the personnel announcements, does the President understand that these announcements have been made and sourced satisfactorily for most news organizations before he speaks up and he’s not letting his White House corroborate?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a comment on that for you, Bill. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, this is such BS. It’s all out there and you guys are -- okay, the President is going to talk about this tomorrow so we can't say anything.
MR. CARNEY: Bill, you're free to make phone calls everywhere you can. I'm just saying that we don't have a personnel announcement for you today.
Q And he'll tomorrow, he'll cover all the aforementioned switches?
MR. CARNEY: We'll have a personnel announcement tomorrow.
Q Jay, yesterday you talked about failsafe triggers as sort of a positive alternative to spending cuts. I'm wondering if the White House has any openness to including that, because it’s a White House proposal, including that in any legislation that would raise the debt ceiling limit.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we've said very clearly, and I think Secretary Geithner said it eloquently yesterday, it is a dangerous, risky idea to hold hostage any other -- hold hostage, rather, raising the debt ceiling, a vote on raising the debt ceiling, to any other piece of legislation. The commitment this President has to moving aggressively towards a comprehensive deficit reduction plan is clear. It will be clear again when the Vice President convenes a meeting, bipartisan, bicameral meeting, next week. And he hopes that progress will be made on that very quickly.
In terms of negotiating what that would look like, I think the negotiators should do that, led by the Vice President, Republicans and Democrats together. But again, explicitly linking or holding hostage the absolute necessity of raising the debt ceiling to any other piece of legislation and declaring that we'll tank the U.S. economy and perhaps the global economy if we don't get this specific thing that we want, I think is a dangerous and unprecedented thing to do.
And we're confident, remain confident, that the leaders of both parties in Congress, as well as the President, will agree with the President, as I have said many times, that we do not have an alternative to raising the debt ceiling because, as many have said, outside observers, economists and businessmen and women, the impact of that would be calamitous at best.
Q So even though it’s your own proposal that you guys endorsed you don't want to see it as part of the final package?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not negotiating individual pieces of a package that we hope Republicans and Democrats can come together around from this podium. But again, we believe it’s essential to -- the President believes -- that's one of the reasons why we're doing this right now -- we believe that these are big debates that need to be had. They can be contentious, argumentative, serious, comprehensive, detailed, because they’re important; they’re all about America’s future. And they’re about visions of this country and where we're going that need to be debated. And this debate was being crowded out in many ways by a sideshow.
And he looks forward to having a debate on the real issues that Americans want us to talk about -- long-term economic plans, deficit reduction, investments in the kinds of things that will help this economy grow and create jobs, dealing with our energy needs, a long-term energy plan. These are all issues that have been sidetracked at least in the public debate by some of the issues that we're talking about this morning.
Q Is there a concern that more and more people were actually starting to believe its sideshow -- I mean, people have been asking about --
MR. CARNEY: I will let the President speak for himself, but what Dan was saying and I think is important is that the issue here is that the President feels that this was bad for the country; that it’s not healthy for our political debate, when we have so many important issues that Americans care about, that affect their lives, to be drawn into sideshows about fallacies that have been disproven with the full weight of a legal document for several years.
So, again, as Dan said, and a lot of political pundits have said, you could say that it would be good politics, smart politics, for the President to let this play out. He cares more about what’s good for the country. He wants the debate on the issues. He wants the focus on the issues that Americans care about.
Q Jay, the President yesterday said that he had been talking to oil exporters about increasing output. Who specifically has he been talking --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I said -- I want to clarify. I said several times I believe from this podium when asked questions about our overall handling of the issue of high gas prices that we've had conversations with oil-producing states and allies and those conversations continue. I don't have specific “the President spoke with this leader or other government officials spoke with others,” but those are ongoing conversations that, of course, we would be having in a situation like this.
Q Do you guys have any comment on the NATO soldiers that were killed in Afghanistan and any confirmation on whether there were Americans?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything for you on that this morning.
Q Just quickly, back on the birth certificate, yesterday you said this was a settled issue. So --
MR. CARNEY: Well, as Dan said, again, it has been a settled issue.
MR. PFEIFFER: From a factual point of view, it’s absolutely a settled issue. But the fact that it was a settled issue did not keep it from becoming a major part of the political discussion in this town for the last several weeks here. So there’s absolutely no question that what the President released in 2008 was his birth certificate and answered that question, and many of your organizations have done excellent reporting which proved that to be the case. But it continued; the President thought it was a sideshow and chose to take this step today for the reasons Bob laid out.
Q Aside from the policy distractions that was presented, did you have some concern because it was sort of reaching back into the mainstream news coverage that this could become a factor in the 2012 election with centrist voters?
MR. PFEIFFER: No.
Q Just to clarify what this document is --
MR. PFEIFFER: This is the -- the letter first and the two certified copies -- this is one of those. This is the same thing you have a copy of as the first page of your packet.
Q How did it get here?
MR. PFEIFFER: As Bob said, it arrived by plane -- the President’s personal counsel went to Hawaii and brought it back and we got it last night.
Q Last night?
MR. PFEIFFER: Last night.
Q What time?
MR. PFEIFFER: Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Q When did you decide to do this gaggle?
MR. PFEIFFER: What’s that?
Q When was this gaggle put on -- when was this planned?
MR. PFEIFFER: Whatever time you received your guidance suggesting that it would be “this time tomorrow morning.”
Q Are these letters supposed to demonstrate the legal steps that were involved in releasing it to the White House counsel?
MR. BAUER: The letters that you have, the personal request from the President, along with the accompanying letter from private counsel, is merely meant to document the legal path to getting the waiver of that policy so we could get the long-form certificate.
Q The waiver of Hawaii state government policy?
MR. BAUER: Right. The non-release of the long-form certificate, which has been in effect since the 1980s -- a natural question would have been, well, what did you do to obtain the waiver, and those letters represent the request.
Q Well, isn’t it true that anybody who was born in Hawaii can write this letter? I mean, that's all there is to the waiver process?
MR. BAUER: No. Let me just explain once again because I also noticed, by the way, in one report already the wrong certificate was actually posted on the website. The certificate with the signatures at the bottom -- and that's a key difference between the short form and the long form -- the long form has signatures at the bottom from the attending physician, the local registrar, and the mother, is the original birth certificate, which sits in a bound volume in the State Department of Health.
The short from is a computerized abstract, and that's the legal birth certificate we requested in 2008 and that Hawaiians are entitled to. Since the mid-1980s, the State Department of Health, for administrative reasons, only provides to people who request their birth certificate the short form. They do not provide the long form.
So in order for us to obtain the long form, we had to have a waiver. We had to actually determine that there was a legal basis for providing it, and then ask them to exercise their authority to provide us with the long form. The steps required to accomplish that were a letter from the person with the direct and vital interest -- the President -- so you have a letter from the President, and then there was an accompanying letter from counsel basically formalizing the request. So the reason we included that is that those were legal steps we took to obtain the long form by way of this waiver.
Q Do we have the letter from the President --
MR. BAUER: It’s in the packet.
Q And you went to Hawaii?
MR. BAUER: I did not go to Hawaii. The counsel, Judy Corley, who signed the -- the President’s personal counsel at Perkins Coie, Judy Corley, whose letter -- signed letter of request is in your packet, traveled to Honolulu and picked up the birth certificate.
Q A question on the situation regarding the Defense of Marriage Act. Yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder rejected attacks on Paul Clement, who is taking up defense of the statute on behalf of the U.S. House. Paul Clement has taken a lot of heat from the LGBT community for volunteering to take up defense of DOMA. Eric Holder said, “Paul Clement is a great lawyer and has done a lot of really great things for this nation. In taking on the representation -- representing Congress in connection with DOMA, I think he is doing that which lawyers do when we’re at our best. That criticism I think was very misplaced.” And Holder went on to compare the criticism of Clement to attacks on the Justice Department lawyers for their past for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Does the President share Eric Holder’s views on this?
MR. CARNEY: We do share Eric Holder’s views on this. We think -- as we said from the beginning when we talked about -- when I did from this podium -- about the decision no longer from the administration to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that we would support efforts by Congress if they so chose to defend it. And so I have nothing to add to the Attorney General’s comments.
Q Following Monday’s Af-Pak Situation Room meeting, what is the President’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan? And does he think that July drawdown is still on?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s policy, which included the beginning of a transition -- beginning of a drawdown of American troops, is absolutely still on track. I don’t have anything additionally from the meeting yesterday beyond what we’ve said. But the policy remains as it was.
MR. EARNEST: Jay, we should wrap it up here.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Last one, yes.
Q Given the comments of the Pakistani official quoted in the Wall Street Journal, is Pakistan still a U.S. ally, and to what extent?
MR. CARNEY: Pakistan is still a U.S. ally.
END 9:18 A.M. EDT