The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/9/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s get started. I have a quick announcement. Later this week, the President will meet at the White House with the Senate Democratic caucus on Wednesday, and the Senate Republican caucus on Thursday, to talk about the range of important issues on the legislative agenda, including the need to adopt a balanced approach in confronting the nation’s long-term deficit challenges. The President plans to meet with the House Democratic and Republican caucuses at the White House for similar discussions in the next few weeks.
And with that, I'll go to --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything on that for you right now.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple topics, please. We keep hearing about this good, cooperative relationship with Pakistan in the fallout of the bin Laden raid. But to my knowledge they’re still not making available the three wives that were taken into custody after the raid. Do you know if they plan to do that, and if not, is that something that the White House is simply willing to accept?
MR. CARNEY: Ben, the United States and Pakistan have an important, complicated relationship, as we've said. The cooperation that we've had with Pakistan has been important for years now in our fight against terrorism and terrorists, and more terrorists have been killed on Pakistani soil because of that cooperation than anywhere else in the world. And that's important to note -- which is not to say we don't have our differences, because we do. We obviously do. And those differences are frequently aired. But the fact of the matter is that relationship is important. The cooperation continues to be important for the United States in order to pursue al Qaeda and other terrorists as the war continues after the death of Osama bin Laden.
So we are in consultations with the Pakistani government at many levels about the matter you raised, Osama bin Laden’s wives, and some of the other materials that may have been collected by the Pakistanis after the commando team left. And we'll continue those conversations. We believe that it is very important to maintain the cooperative relationship with Pakistan precisely because it’s in our national security interest to do so.
Q Where do you think those conversations will lead, specifically on access to intelligence? I mean, isn’t that the essence of cooperation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we remain confident that we will continue to be able to cooperate with the Pakistani government. I don't have a specific announcement about what that cooperation will produce, but we do believe it’s important and we do believe that it will continue.
Q Does the President trust the Pakistani leaders when they say, in essence, that they’re going to do a full investigation about whether anybody was complicit in harboring bin Laden?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we have said is that we think it’s important that the Pakistanis do a full investigation. We are obviously doing a full investigation and examining some of the substantial material that our operators collected in bin Laden’s compound for evidence of the support network that must have existed to allow Osama bin Laden to continue to live in Abbottabad from so long.
I will cite Tom Donilon from his interviews yesterday, where he said he was not aware of any indication at this point that anyone in the leadership in the Pakistani government was aware, had foreknowledge of bin Laden’s presence there in Abbottabad.
But obviously this is an ongoing process. And again, it is important to remember, as complex as this relationship is, despite the differences that we have, that it remains a very important and vital relationship for the United States because of our national security interests. And that is why we continue to make the effort to cooperate with Pakistan, because it’s in our interest to do so.
Q So when they offer those assurances that there will be a full investigation, is that something that the administration believes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we believe that they will investigate it, and we hope it will be a full and complete investigation, but we are also obviously investigating, ourselves. And this is all part of a cooperative relationship that we need to have, and we have had, despite our differences in the past, and we think we will continue to have going into the future.
Q A question on one other topic. The immigration speech tomorrow the President plans to give -- can you give us a sense of whether he will be making any points that are new? Obviously he gave the big policy speech at American University. Is this a new speech or a reiteration?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there will be new elements to it and I encourage you to listen and watch, as I do Americans everywhere, because it will reflect his continued commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. We weren’t able to achieve it in the first part of this term, the President’s term, but it remains a priority of the President’s -- even though it’s hard. He takes on hard things because he believes they’re important to get done.
And hard things often mean bipartisan things. And one thing I would note is that there was substantial bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform in the past, at the highest levels of the Republican Party, including the President, George W. Bush, including Senator John McCain, the Republican Party’s nominee in 2008. So the capacity for bipartisan support for this kind of immigration reform, comprehensive reform,exists. It was -- it existed in the past; we think we can build support for it again in the future.
And the President’s speech tomorrow will be about trying to continue to build public support. And I think he will make points about the steps we’ve taken on border security, the fact that the number of border agents today is double what it was in 2004. We have tripled the number of intelligence analysts working the border. We’ve deployed unmanned aerial vehicles that now patrol the border from Texas to California. We are screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments to seize guns and money going south, even as we go after drugs coming north. So we’re seeing results.
And he will also talk about -- if I may -- the economic impact, the economic imperative of immigration reform. It is simply foolish as a matter of policy, when we think about global competition -- economic competition that we face in the 21st century, to educate some of the smartest, most creative entrepreneurial young people from around the world in our universities -- the finest in the world -- and then not let them stay to start businesses, to launch startups to create jobs here in America.
I think Mayor Bloomberg recently noted this fact, that in recent years a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the United States were founded by immigrants, leading to 450,000 jobs. We need those jobs. We need those good, high-paying, high-tech 21st century jobs. So this is another point he’ll be making.
Q Back to Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan, in his address to Parliament today, seemed more focused on what his government sees as a violation of sovereignty in the Osama bin Laden raid and not as much on the issue of getting to the bottom of whether anyone in his government was complicit in sheltering bin Laden. How concerned is the administration that these kind of recriminations may severely damage relations that are already strained? And he also warned of serious consequence if any further mission of this sort is undertaken. Is the U.S. taking that seriously and going --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously take the statements and concerns of the Pakistani government seriously, but we also do not apologize for the action that we took, that this President took. He said dating back to the campaign, if there is an opportunity to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and he is on Pakistani soil and this is the only way we can do it, do it unilaterally, he will take that chance and do it -- and he did. It’s simply beyond a doubt in his mind that he had the right and the imperative to do this.
So having said that, he -- as I’ll go back to what I said to Ben -- our relationship with Pakistan remains very important to us. Our need for cooperation remains very important. We will work with the Prime Minister and the President and other government leaders in Pakistan to work through our differences and continue the cooperation that we’ve had in the past that has led to so many successes in the fight against terrorism and terrorists.
Q And one other question on China. The President will be meeting this evening with the Chinese delegation in the U.S.-China dialogue. Will he be bringing up U.S. concerns about human rights?
MR. CARNEY: I think I saw that the Vice President and the Secretary of State brought up our concern about human rights. We have always done that within the context of our very important and broad relationship with China. And I don’t have -- I can’t see into the future in terms of what the President will say, but it’s certainly possible, even likely, that he’ll bring that up.
But he’ll also talk about the need we have for our overall strategic and economic dialogue. And one of the reasons why this group was formed was to maintain these high-level contacts in a regular -- on a regular basis, to look at all the issues that -- the bilateral issues we have between us, and to make progress on them.
And I think that speaks to the rebalancing in our foreign policy that President Obama sought when he came into office, that Tom Donilon has overseen -- both as Deputy National Security Advisor and now as National Security Advisor -- and that our whole national security team has been focused on. And the Chinese-U.S. relationship is very important and that’s what this dialogue is about.
Q If the Pakistani government does not allow the U.S. to have access to bin Laden’s wives for questioning, or to the other materials seized in the raid, will there be consequences?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to anticipate something that we hope -- we don’t anticipate happening. We will work cooperatively with the Pakistanis. We obviously are very interested in getting access to the three wives that you mentioned, as well as the information or material that the Pakistanis collected after U.S. forces left. But we are -- we’re going to have those conversations, and we hope and expect to make progress.
I don't want to anticipate something and speak to a hypothetical right now, because we think the relationship is important, the cooperation is important. We’ve had differences in the past, and overcome them, and we think we can overcome them now.
Q But just to be clear, they have yet to agree to allow the U.S. access to the --
MR. CARNEY: As far as I know. But the point is, is that there are constant and regular communications between high-level officials in both governments, the appropriate counterparts, about our need for cooperation, about the concerns from each side, and that's the kind of interchange that you would want. It’s the best way to work through differences. It’s the best way to further cooperation. And since we’re having that kind of dialogue regularly -- and this week included -- that we anticipate that we’ll continue the cooperation.
Q In terms of immigration reform, I know the President has had a number of closed-door meetings with a number of stakeholders, I suppose you call them, ranging from Governor Schwarzenegger to Eva Longoria. And given the vote-counting challenge that you have in terms of getting something through the Senate and the House, why aren’t there any individuals at these meetings with whom the President disagrees?
MR. CARNEY: Well, but the important part -- and he has been meeting with stakeholders who view comprehensive immigration reform as a necessity -- maybe not in agreement on every detail of what you put into that package and how you get there --
Q -- supporters.
MR. CARNEY: They are, but they also represent a cross-section, a broad cross-section, of America -- Republicans, Democrats, businessmen and women, NGOs, across the board. And what I think that says in building -- what a President needs to do in many cases is build public support. And one of the things he does through this public campaign -- meeting with stakeholders, giving speeches -- is try to raise the profile of an issue, communicate to the American people and members of Congress why it’s an imperative and what the positives are -- especially in this case, as I mentioned, the economic imperative, as well as the border security imperative -- to try to build the case.
And that's -- the President, using his unique abilities because of the nature of his office to communicate, can build the support you're talking about. And so meeting with stakeholders is a way of rallying supporters for comprehensive reform, asking them to go out and speak on behalf of that goal, and to try to generate some support and generate some pressure on Congress to take action.
Q I guess the question is wouldn't it be better -- if you're going to take that approach and you're not going to go directly to the Jon Kyls and John McCains of the world, but you're going to try to go to people who will influence them, why not try to win over the Governor Brewers and the Governor Martinezes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you do -- this is a process where you have meetings with stakeholders and maybe you have meetings with legislators who might be crafting legislation, if we get to that point, which we hope we will, or other elected leaders around the country further down the road. One does not preclude the other. This is an important part of the campaign to build public awareness and public support for comprehensive immigration reform -- which we have to do to make sure that it’s got the kind of momentum behind it that gets Congress’s attention.
We in Washington, you -- the government, the Congress, the White House -- are dealing with a lot of big issues and there’s a competition for attention. And to give immigration the attention it deserves, the need for immigration reform, the President gets out there and gives a speech like he gives tomorrow, and meets with stakeholders, and he'll take other steps as this process moves forward.
Q Can you explain to any Syrian Americans who are looking at what’s happening in their home country and the lack of urgency that many perceive this administration to have when it comes to this issue -- can you explain what we've done as a country or --
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q -- that has had any impact whatsoever on the behavior of the government there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, here’s the point I'll make, that you can take actions that have impact on behavior and the behavior may not change instantly. And I understand that as we all witness the historic transformation and upheaval in the region as these unpredicted events have taken place, that there’s been a desire for what’s the endpoint, what’s the closure, what -- why aren’t we doing something to make this turn out well.
And the fact is, is that we’re doing a lot of things in the case of Syria. We’ve strongly condemned the abhorrent violence that the Syrian government has used against peaceful protesters. We have, as you know, in addition to the existing sanctions against the Syrian government, instituted targeted sanctions against government officials to put pressure on them.
We’ve worked with our allies to put united pressure on the Syrian government to cease and desist. And we continue that call today. And the isolation that Syria feels will, we hope, affect its behavior.
We’ve made it abundantly clear that the Syrian government’s security crackdown will not restore stability and will not stop the demands for change. In other words, the action they’re taking is actually entirely counterproductive to the goals they seek. If they seek stability, they’re actually producing instability. The protesters are there because they want -- as they have been in many other countries, they’re demanding to be heard. They’re demanding their rights. They’re demanding a government that listens to their grievances and respects their aspirations.
And stability comes when governments do that, when they engage in a dialogue with the opposition, when they produce the kinds of political reforms that, in this case, the Syrian leadership has promised but has not delivered. We believe -- and we’ve called for this to happen. We believe the Syrian government needs to act on its words, act on its promises, and that stability will come from that.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me move through the row. Dan.
Q Back on Pakistan. Can the U.S. maintain any kind of real relationship with Pakistan if it turns out, based on all this -- computers and other equipment and information seized from the compound, if it turns out that there’s clear evidence that the government intelligence in Pakistan was helping Osama bin Laden?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's a hypothetical, Dan, because we’re obviously reviewing this intelligence, and we we’re investigating the support network that presumably existed to allow Osama bin Laden to live in Abbottabad in that compound for as long as he did.
What I’ve said and I’ll say to you is that this relationship is too important to walk away from. Our cooperation has been highly productive in the past, even when it hasn’t been the result of agreement on every issue. And it’s important for Americans to know -- and, understandably, Americans are asking some of these questions about bin Laden being found where he was found and the duration that he was there -- these are completely legitimate questions to ask, and we’re asking them as well. But they should also understand that this relationship, as complicated as it is, has produced results that have benefited American security.
And, in fact, I think the President said and others have said that while we did not inform Pakistan and Pakistan was not aware of the operation against Osama bin Laden, the overall assistance that they have provided over the last number of years helped in that mission. And that's important to recognize, as well.
Q So this is a relationship that the U.S. will never walk away from?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t say that. I’m saying that it’s too important to walk away without careful consideration. Maybe that's probably loose language that I shouldn’t use. The point is that the relationship is complicated, but it is important. It has been cooperative in the past in ways that have been very beneficial for the United States and for American security, and we look forward to continuing the relationship precisely because it’s in our national security interests to do so.
Q On Afghanistan, you said shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed that nothing had changed in terms of the timeline of the withdrawal of troops. With a few more days between --
MR. CARNEY: What I said then?
Q Yes. Has anything changed at all? Is the administration reviewing its strategies, its policy in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: No, not in the sense -- the administration -- let me back up. The administration is, of course, in the process of reviewing the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the progress that we’ve made since the surge reached its full complement. And the President will look at the recommendations from his military commanders for the beginning of that transition in July and the pace of the drawdown.
What has not changed at all is the fact that there will be the beginning of that transition. There will be the beginning of a drawdown of those troops. And what also hasn’t changed is -- in fact, it’s been reinforced by the advance of eight days ago -- is that the President’s decision to refocus the U.S. government’s attention on the AfPak region, on the fight against al Qaeda, has produced tremendous results for national security, for American security, obviously culminating most recently in the elimination of Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and the most wanted man in the world.
But prior to that, we have, through that refocus, been able to put greater pressure on al Qaeda than ever before, reducing the ranks of its leadership and forcing -- putting the squeeze on al Qaeda in a way that hadn’t been done in a long, long time, and making them weaker -- which is good, again, for the primary goal. And remember what the President’s -- the first line in terms of what the goals of his strategy were, his AfPak strategy, his Afghanistan-Pakistani strategy, announced in December of ’09, was disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda. And remember, we had an interlude for a long time between the invasion of Afghanistan and the arrival of this President in office where the focus -- the principal focus in the national security sense of the administration was on Iraq, and not on Afghanistan and not on al Qaeda central. And the shift was important in producing not just the elimination of Osama bin Laden but a lot of other clear victories in that fight.
Q So just to clarify, the beginning of the drawdown, you didn’t attach a date to that. It still remains the same --
MR. CARNEY: July 2011 -- unchanged, correct.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President, in his interview, said that we don’t know whether there might have been some people inside government who knew about -- the Pakistani government -- and then Donilon made very clear there was no indication that any one in the leadership knew. Was he in any way --
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me --
Q -- what the President said?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all. Let me just make clear what Mr. Donilon said, was that at this point he was not aware of any indication we’ve had that leaders in Pakistan had any foreknowledge of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad in that compound. And what we’re doing obviously with this treasure trove of information is exploiting it for a lot of purposes. One, obviously, looking at it in terms of potential threats, but also in terms of the support network for bin Laden. And I don’t have any updates on what either the President or the National Security Advisor said.
Q Following up on the questions about the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s speech today, his specific words were, “Pakistan reserves the right to retaliate with full force” if the United States were to engage in another unilateral action. Number one, does the administration object to that kind of threatening language? And number two, do you think -- does that apply to drone strikes in addition to this kind of unilateral action?
MR. CARNEY: Chip, all I’m going to do is return to what I was saying which is that the relationship is important. We are in communication at a variety of levels with the Pakistan government about both the operation that took place and the cooperation that we hope to get together with the Pakistanis going forward in our fight against al Qaeda and terrorism in the region.
And obviously the victims of the terrorism that is the focus of this fight are not just Americans alone; they are Pakistanis. Many Pakistanis have suffered the loss of life because of the terrorists in their midst. So this is a fight that's in the interest of both countries. And we look forward to cooperation in the future.
Q But that sounds like a threat, “retaliate with full force.” Was it -- do you deem it a threat?
MR. CARNEY: Look, obviously, Pakistan has -- is a sovereign nation, and we understand their concerns. We have made clear that given the threat that Osama bin Laden represents -- represented rather -- to the United States, given that he was the most wanted man in the world -- a mass murderer, a terrorist who continued to plot against the United States and our allies -- that the President would use whatever means necessary to ensure that we could eliminate him. And he did that.
And he did it -- look, it’s important to remember, too, the mission he undertook, the risky decision he made to deploy the commando raid option also ensured the minimal amount of collateral damage, the minimal amount of civilian casualties, which I think is an important point to note, because as we have throughout in the overall Afghanistan-Pakistan effort sought to reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage, this was very much an important aspect of the President’s decision.
Q One final question. That famous picture of the people watching, the White House staffers who were in that room, are they the only ones -- the ones in that picture, are they the only ones who knew what was going on?
MR. CARNEY: Beyond -- without getting into specifics about who -- there were others, obviously, who knew. But it was a very, very tight group for an obvious reason, as the President made clear. Most of his senior staff didn't know. And I’m not going to get into a game about who knew and who didn't -- because operational security was so important. And it really is, in this day and age of the kind of technology we have and how hard it is to keep something like that secret, it is really a remarkable testament to the fact that those individuals who did know in the administration -- I mean, in the White House, in the Defense Department, in the CIA, other agencies, understood how vital operational security was. And there were no leaks.
And this is important not like -- there are leaks every day of information and we get frustrated by it. But this had -- would have had consequences that would have been terrible, because obviously any leak would have meant that Osama bin Laden would have been on the run again and perhaps at large again for a long time. So it was -- the secrecy here, the operational security here was vital to the success of the operation.
Q Jay, polls indicate the President has gotten a political bounce from dealing with bin Laden. Would you hope to use that as you address other issues? And what other issues?
MR. CARNEY: We are -- our agenda, the President’s agenda, has not changed at all in the last eight days. This was on his agenda, very high up, getting Osama bin Laden, but there are a lot of other issues. One of the things I think I mentioned early on last week was how amazed I was by the fact that on the Monday after Osama bin Laden was eliminated, we had a meeting I was in that was policy-focused on a non-national security issue for 90 minutes with the President, and bin Laden was never mentioned -- less than 24 hours after the event.
And to me that represents -- I mean, that indicates how -- the velocity of events here, the number of high-priority and serious issues that are on the President’s agenda and the things he wants to get done. So it hasn’t changed at all.
We’ve got the Vice President doing -- working on the talks with Congress to lead to substantial further deficit reduction. And we’ve got to deal with raising the debt ceiling. We’re doing immigration reform. We’re doing a host of other issues, focusing principally on the economy and job creation. And he’s not taking his foot off the pedal on any of those issues.
Q And you wouldn’t expect bin Laden to have an impact on those things?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I leave that for you and political analysts to judge about whatever impact it might have. What I know is that he’s just continuing to go about the business that he was engaged in before the bin Laden operation. And we obviously -- I mean, we obviously think that if there’s a takeaway from it, it is the resolve that he has, the focus he brings to bear on long-term objectives, that he keeps pushing to get them done -- talking about immigration reform, keeps pushing to get it done.
And I think that that was reflected in his approach to dealing with Osama bin Laden, the fact that years had passed in the effort to find him and bring him to justice, and he made clear when he came into office that he wanted to look again at the intelligence, reinvigorate the effort, not assume that he could never be found, but quite the contrary, insist that he be found. And that kind of focus is the focus he brings to bear on the priorities that he sets.
Q On another issue, last month several dozen Republican lawmakers wrote to the President requesting assurances that the U.S. will not share sensitive missile defense technology with the Russian government. What’s his position on this? I think this is in context of the missile defense in Europe --
MR. CARNEY: Of the START Treaty or --
Q No, no, no --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that. If you want to touch base with me afterwards, we can look into it.
Q Is there new concerns inside the administration that if Pakistan couldn’t detect Osama bin Laden within their borders, that they can keep their nuclear arsenals safe?
MR. CARNEY: We obviously take the issue of nuclear proliferation very seriously. In my previous job with the Vice President, that was a focus point of his endeavors on nuclear security and nuclear proliferation, and we think that's a very important issue.
I don't see a link there, and I haven’t heard a link made internally between the issue of nuclear proliferation and security, and Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. Again, we are investigating this. We understand the Pakistani government is investigating it, and we continue with our collaborative, cooperative relationship.
Q Is it better to find if they were complicit or incompetent?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s better to find out what constituted the network, and then to assess that and move forward.
Q On immigration, when it comes to the deficit the President is doing two bipartisan meetings this week. He’s got Vice President Biden doing all these things. It seems -- we know a pattern here: When the President is serious about getting a piece of legislation passed he does all of these things. When it’s more about doing -- the timetable is much further out, we see things like he’s been doing with immigration, which is three straight political meetings in the last week, then this tomorrow. I mean, shouldn’t there be --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just -- Chuck, I just disagree. Because I don't know if you were in my office asking this, but I’m sure that three or four or five weeks ago I had a number of reporters talk to me, and I know my colleagues, about how --
Q When was that last time you talked to John Cornyn and Jon Kyl about immigration?
MR. CARNEY: Hold on a second. About how -- the President is not really serious about long-term deficit reduction and fiscal reform. He’s not going to grab the tail of that tiger. It’s too hard. Well, you know what? He is serious, and he is addressing it. And the same is true for immigration. I mean, this is -- the most valuable --
Q What would be the best evidence that he’s serious about getting something passed in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: The most valuable commodity that exists in the West Wing is the President’s time, as you know. Everybody here knows. And just look at how much time he’s dedicating to immigration reform, and that should tell you how seriously he is approaching this issue.
Again, he can’t -- unfortunately, the world we live in, a President -- just like you guys, we can’t just do one issue. Let’s just do one issue this month. Wouldn’t that be great? He’s got to do fiscal reform. He’s got to do immigration. He’s got to continue the fight against terrorism, continue with his national security issues. And immigration remains a high priority.
Q Nobody is doubting the President’s time, but it seems as if there is just -- that this is just looking -- talking to supporters, just looking to figure out a way to --
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I think I addressed this --
Q -- to talk to people who agree with this position. I understand that. But it seems that if it’s a piece of legislation -- you’re going to talk to Cornyn and Kyl, who are the two people that might be standing in the way.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we already know from the first two years, the last Congress, that there was political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, including from some places where there used to be political support. We are endeavoring to change that dynamic by rallying public support, by raising public awareness about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And again, it doesn’t preclude -- obviously, there will be a time for consultations with the lawmakers you mentioned, but just sitting in a room with some lawmakers is not going to get you any closer to that legislation than it did in the past.
So you need to -- again, the President would not be dedicating this amount of time to it if he didn't believe it was a high priority. And I think there’s no -- having covered this place through two administrations, this is the coin of the realm. The President -- you can judge how seriously the White House takes an issue by how much time the President is focusing on it. And I think that's sort of end of argument.
Q Does this have to be decided -- is it going to take a ballot box decision to push --
MR. CARNEY: I don't know. I don't know.
Q Is that what you guys are assuming or preparing for?
MR. CARNEY: I don't --
Q Preparing to have this debate played out in the ballot box?
MR. CARNEY: Robert said he’d leave me a crystal ball, but I haven’t found it yet. I don't know. I think it’s important to get done.
Q Continuing on the subject, the Republicans who are standing in the way of this right now say that the administration needs to do more to secure the border. The administration has actually done several things to secure the border, but do you think that these demands from Senators Kyl and McCain are reasonable and can be met? Or do you think that they're -- do you dismiss them?
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, I appreciate acknowledging as you did that we have done many substantial things in terms of border security. I could go through the list again, but I think they appeared earlier in this briefing. And we take border security very seriously. Comprehensive includes security as a major component, and that's part of the reform that he’s looking to achieve. But it also -- it’s not security alone.
The comprehensive nature requires that you take in all the elements and see the benefits of immigration reform, which include some of the economic things I mentioned before. I mean, Bill Gates -- the United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete. There is an economic imperative here to get this done.
Q So are you -- it sounds like what you’re saying when you say “comprehensive” includes security, is that the legislation should include a security --
MR. CARNEY: The approach we’ve always taken has included security as part of it. We don’t want to break it apart because we think it needs to move comprehensively.
Q What their argument is -- and I want to find out just a direct response to this -- is you need to do the border security first. Essentially they’re saying we don’t want to even move on anything involving the guest worker program or the path to citizenship until the border is secure.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say that prior to -- back when some leading Republican lawmakers supported immigration reform, this is what has happened since then on border security -- doubling of the number of patrol agents on the border, tripling the number of intelligence analysts working the border. That's just since we’ve been around. Deploying unmanned aerial vehicles that now patrol the border from Texas to California, and a fence that was demanded back in 2007 is now basically complete.
Now, these are substantial actions that have been taken since there was broader support for comprehensive immigration reform. So we have acted specifically on border security alone. We think that border security needs to be part of the immigration package, a comprehensive package, and we believe that we have to move forward in total.
Q So do you believe they’re moving the goalposts on this?
MR. CARNEY: I just think we need to all work together, focus on the imperative here, and get the job done that the American people want us to get done. This is a classic case of cannot do it with one party, have to do it in a bipartisan way, and it requires focus, it requires education on the issues, and persistence. And we’re providing as much of those three things as we can.
Q And just to be crystal-clear, you would say that you’ve done enough on border security. It’s time to move on --
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ll continue to work on border security, but we believe that comprehensive immigration reform should be comprehensive.
Q Jay, you said this trip tomorrow and the recent meetings the President has had were aimed at generating pressure on Congress. Bottom line here, realistically what are the odds for the DREAM Act or the --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not an odds maker or a crystal ball reader. I think that the -- what were the odds --
Q You used to be when you were over here.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I used to do that a lot. (Laughter.) And nobody --
Q What are the prospects for passage of any --
MR. CARNEY: The great thing is you could go on television and predict something, and nobody held you accountable. It was awesome. But --
Q In this pre-election year, what are the prospects for passage of any meaningful immigration?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don't know. I don't have a percentage figure for you. But I can tell you that it’s important, the President thinks it’s important. The sooner it gets done, the better for the country, for the economic reasons that I mentioned, for the security reasons that we’ve discussed. And that’s why he’s focusing on it.
What were the odds that we’d get the tax cut deal that we got? What were the odds that we’d get the kind of deficit reduction we got in the CR debate? What are the odds that we’d get the kind of agreement that we hope to get out of the negotiations being led by the Vice President? We are congenital optimists here and we think we have reason to believe that our optimism is merited.
Yes -- nothing? Mara.
Q The President has said in a couple of his immigration appearances that he’s refocusing the deportation policy away from students to criminals. Has that happened? What’s the evidence of it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have data for you, Mara. I encourage you to -- I’d refer you -- I don’t know the data, so --
Q One of the big demands of the Hispanic groups is that he’s not been --
MR. CARNEY: I understand that. I think that -- speaking broadly, because I don’t have the data in front of me, I believe that is the case, but I would encourage you to talk to DHS and ICE about the figures.
Q And in terms of tomorrow’s meeting with the debt ceiling negotiations, now that it seems like the parameters have narrowed a bit on what they’re talking about, can you give us a kind of update on what’s expected to come out of the meeting tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t -- anymore than I would have predicted a celebration of comprehensive agreement out of one meeting, I’m not going to predict that would happen out of a second meeting. But what we did see was progress. We did see I think a recognition by both -- or all sides that the issues here are important.
If you step back and look -- how do you get hard things done when you have opposing sides? Well, a major step is agreeing on the problem. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t all agree what the problem is. We agree there’s a problem. We agree we need to deal with this. Then you step back and say, well, what’s your target for solving the problem? What’s your goal? Now, the details of how you get there are complicated, you’ve got to negotiate them -- but what’s your goal? Well, we have that as well, $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years.
What are the elements that contribute to our long-term deficit and debt problem? We all, well, largely all recognize what those elements are.
Q Some of the elements are off the table.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we have also said, what the President has said and others have said, is that this is -- again, the reason why this hasn’t been resolved in so long is because it’s hard and it takes time. And it may be the case that all of these issues do not get resolved in these negotiations, but a number of them can. If we find common ground on those issues where we agree, we can achieve significant further deficit reduction -- a good thing -- and then if there are other issues that remain unresolved, we’ll deal with them when there is the environment that’s conducive to dealing with them. But we remain optimistic that significant progress can be made from these talks.
Q But I guess what I’m asking is, the fact that Medicare reform is not on the table now, is that a helpful thing or not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you mean -- I don’t know about -- obviously I’ve seen reports about what some Republican leaders have said about their specific proposal for ending Medicare as we know it or reforming Medicare in the way that we think would end Medicare -- certainly end the guarantee. How that plays out in these talks I don’t want to negotiate from here.
We obviously recognize, and have from the beginning -- the President has -- that one of the major drivers of our long-term deficit and debt problems is entitlement spending. That’s why he’s, through the Affordable Care Act, through his own budget proposals, through his broad fiscal reform plan, has addressed the need for reductions in entitlement spending. We just have a different approach because we believe that you have to maintain the Medicare guarantee for our seniors.
So what remains on and off the table is something for them to decide. What we want to see is obviously as much successful deficit reduction as we can, where we can find common ground in a way that protects our seniors, maintains the investments that are vital to continue the economic growth that we’ve seen coming out of this recession, and continue the job growth that we’ve seen as recently as Friday with a decent private sector job growth report. So those are the parameters that we’re bringing to the table.
Q What is your reaction to the Pakistani decision to leak the name of the U.S. station chief in Islamabad to the press there?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any reaction. No comment on that.
Q That is the second time in six months that that’s happened. Is there a pattern there?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any reaction or comment.
Q Did you have any reason to doubt that they put it out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jackie, I don’t have anything to say about that.
Q Does the President intend to make sure that the reward money for Osama bin Laden is given to someone who has helped find him?
MR. CARNEY: Let me step back. I mean, as far as I’m aware, no one knowledgably said, oh, Osama bin Laden is over here in Abbottabad at 5703 Green Avenue. (Laughter.) So I don’t think -- my sense is that the requirement for any kind of reward is to say that, not to accidentally, through intelligence gathering, provide information that leads to the whereabouts of somebody like that.
Q Last October the President went into the Roosevelt Room where a group of very high-ranking Pakistani delegation was there and he said, I will go to Pakistan in 2011. Do you think that is still his intention?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Tom Donilon said yesterday that we didn’t have a trip like that on the President’s schedule prior to this raid; we don’t have one now. I don’t have any scheduling updates or announcements to make about a trip.
Q Has this changed or ruined his expectation --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any announcements on that.
Q And tomorrow Air Force One will carry the President 37,000 feet over the very swollen, dangerously swollen Mississippi River. I haven’t heard you mention any briefings that the President has gotten on lives at jeopardy and a great deal of physical destruction.
MR. CARNEY: He has been regularly updated on this these terrible floods. And our thoughts are with all the families, communities, and first responders affected by the flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their many tributaries that have been threatening lives and property.
As you know, FEMA has been working closely, monitoring the ongoing flood fight along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, their tributaries, and other low-lying areas. FEMA, through its regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Denton, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, remains in close contact and coordination with our state and local partners in all of the areas affected by or potentially impacted by flooding.
On May 6th, just a few days ago, President Obama declared emergency declarations for Louisiana, which allows for emergency measures to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the designated areas. On May 4th, as you know, President Obama declared emergency -- made emergency declarations for Mississippi and Tennessee, and a major disaster declaration for Kentucky, which will allows for additional federal support.
When we flew in and out of Fort Campbell, we could even see some of the flooding still in the fields out there, and it’s obviously of grave concern to us.
Q Will he stop there --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling on that.
Let me move around the room a little bit. Stephen.
Q Could you talk about the reasoning behind the decision to release those videos of bin Laden --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- specifically the one where he was watching himself on TV? Was there an attempt to kind of undercut the image of himself that he had created and to kind of suggest that he wasn’t this great rebel leader or revolutionary?
MR. CARNEY: The point of releasing them was to prevent the release of videos in the future that would allow al Qaeda -- give al Qaeda some sort of propaganda achievement; to make the point that we got these, procured these at the compound where bin Laden was living and that we know now what he was up to. And that's why, in all cases. And beyond that, in terms of the specific video you’re referencing, I think it was just that the overall reason was what I just described.
Q Jay, I want to go back to passenger rail -- issues of passenger rail here in this country. Since 9/11 we haven’t seen passenger rails with organic or metal detection units there. What's the conversation this administration is having with the nation’s passenger rail system, as we have seen passenger rail be attacked in Spain -- in Madrid, and in the tube in London, and there are threats that we’re hearing about here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first, for details I encourage you to check with DHS. But obviously we take the issue of passenger rail safety very seriously and we have -- which is why the first bit of information the public got about the intelligence gathered in bin Laden’s compound was for DHS to put out the alert that it did, in reference to the consideration of an attack on the rail system back in February of 2010. No specific or imminent threat, but enough of a concern to put out that alert.
And we continue to work in ways, seen and unseen, to ensure that rail travel remains safe for Americans, and we are hyper-vigilant as ever, but even more so in the wake of obviously this significant mission and its success because of the potential for revenge attacks or anything like that.
Q Well, why has this nation gone so long seeing passenger rail since 2011 not have those metal detection units and stepped-up security? Why is that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there has been stepped-up security as anyone who travels by rail knows, certainly since 2001. And there are measures that are taken -- seen and unseen -- every day to improve our security -- transportation security by rail, as well as by air. I don't know anything more specific than that for you, but we are obviously very vigilant about this issue.
Q Okay. And also what about the Congressional Black Caucus meeting this week with the President -- with the full caucus membership meeting with the President, especially after they met with Daley last week? What’s that meeting about this week?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any specifics for you. I’m sure they will talk about the agenda going forward that the President has and the ideas that they have, the members have, but I don't have any specific information on that.
Q Jay, the government of Bahrain is bulldozing dozens of Shiite Muslim mosques. The President has spoken out, you’ve spoken from the podium about the governments of Libya and Syria. Why no comment on what Bahrain is doing to Shiite Muslims?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have said -- I don't have a comment specifically on the action you describe, but we obviously urge the government of Bahrain, as we have governments in the region, to engage in political dialogue with political opposition and -- peaceful political dialogue because that's the key to long-term stability. It’s the way to address the concerns and aspirations of the people in their countries, and we would urge that again. But I don't have a specific reaction.
Q I’m sorry -- you're not equating bulldozing of the mosques to political dialogue?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying that we -- just the opposite, Steve. I’m saying that we -- that the actions we would encourage governments in the region to take are entirely peaceful and non-physical and would be aimed at fostering political dialogue and reconciliation with opposition groups to ensure that the governments are more responsive and that the people’s grievances are heard.
Q A follow-up on the rail question. Chuck Schumer has a suggestion about a “do not ride” list for Amtrak. Does the White House have any take on that? I have a follow-up -- or not a follow-up, a second question.
MR. CARNEY: I hadn’t heard that. I don't have a take on it.
Q Okay. Secondly, there’s obviously been discussion of an executive order for an element of the DISCLOSE Act. Will we see any action? There’s been rumors that's going to happen soon. Are we looking at this week? Is this --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a timetable for action for you. I will remind you that this is a draft that we’ve discussed, and drafts tend to change -- or can change. More broadly, this goes back to the President’s belief that in terms of campaign finance, disclosure is very important. And it’s the best way for the American people to know who is funding political campaigns.
Q It sounds like you're going to do something then, it’s just --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have anything -- all I have said is that there is a draft. I don't know -- I don't have any announcements to make about any timing for further action on that.
Q Prime Minister Gilani’s speech would seem to indicate that the Pakistani government feels its reputation is being besmirched without anybody in the administration actually saying that right now. Do you have some understanding, does the administration have some understanding of how they might feel, especially considering what’s being said up on Capitol Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve said and others have said, we completely understand Pakistani concerns. We understand the uniqueness of an operation like this, but we make no apologies for the fact that Osama bin Laden needed to be found and brought to justice, and that's what we did.
And the President -- this was not a surprise to anyone who has followed what the President’s views are on this issue for many, many years. He said back during the campaign -- and took a lot of heat for it when he suggested that if he, as President, had actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan, he would go in and bring bin Laden to justice. And he said that repeatedly.
So I understand about the concerns. We are, as I’ve said earlier in answer to other questions, in regular and constant communication with Pakistani leaders in the government at various levels, discussing our relationship and the need for continued relationship.
Q I’m talking about the reputation of the government with a lot of implications that somebody in the government had to know where he was.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I would point you to what the National Security Advisor said yesterday, again, based on his assessment as of that interview about that issue. And in general, we obviously are interested in discovering what was involved in the support network for bin Laden, as the Pakistani government has said it is interested.
Stepping back from that, I would just say that we appreciate the support we’ve gotten from Pakistan in the past, the cooperation that we’ve had in the past in helping us take on the terrorist threat, a threat that affects both our countries. And we continue to look forward -- we look forward to continued cooperation in the future.
Q Thank you, Jay. First, I wanted to ask you to give me also Wendell’s -- it’s close to Wendell’s question about the missile defense.
MR. CARNEY: I said --
Q No, I mean, if you will be giving it to him, please give it to others, too, myself included. Second of all, I wanted to ask you if you have anything on V-Day in Europe, which is today in Russia -- May 9th, as you remember, the anniversary --
MR. CARNEY: I do. I've been to a few parades in my day. (Laughter.)
Q What was that again?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve been to a few parades on this day in the past. I don't have anything specific, except obviously that this was -- that the conclusion of the Second World War in Europe was an important achievement for both countries and all the allies.
Q And then, thirdly, the National Journal said recently that the overall cost of tracking down and eliminating bin Laden now was over $3 trillion.
MR. CARNEY: I have no idea about that estimate, but I think most Americans would feel that it was worth every penny.
Thank you very much.
1:50 P.M. EDT