The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/12/2011

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:52 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is here to meet with the President.  You will be seeing them both fairly soon. 

And if I could just note, this is a momentous visit because, as you know, the Iraq war -- a war that we've been engaged in for 8 and a half years -- is over.  And after eight and a half years of sacrifice, America's war in Iraq is coming to an end.  Since President Obama took office, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have been removed from Iraq and hundreds of bases have been shut down.  In the next two weeks the final U.S. forces will cross the border.  For the first time in over eight years no U.S. troops will be preparing to deploy to Iraq.  We will have no bases in Iraq.  The war is over and the troops are coming home.

We honor all Americans who have served in Iraq.  Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice there; thousands more have been wounded.  Over a million have served, and their families have sacrificed.  Under tough circumstances, our troops and civilians have fulfilled every mission.  As we end the war, we pay tribute to these Americans who have sacrificed so much.

I will keep it to that so we can get to questions. 

Yes, Jim.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  The House Republican proposal to extend the payroll tax includes pay-fors and offsets that freeze federal pay.  You said on Friday that that would result in cuts to programs like education and energy.  Now, the President agreed to about a trillion dollars in cuts in the budget act this summer.  Wouldn't that result in cuts to programs like education and energy?  And are you raising those hypothetically, or can you point specifically to programs that would --

MR. CARNEY:  What I understand is in the Republican proposal you're talking about -- they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come.  And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result, but by violating the caps that were written into the Budget Control Act, by violating the agreement and lowering the spending caps, there is no other way to do it.  The result would be cuts in non-defense discretionary programs, education, and clean energy, veterans programs.  That's the effect of their proposal.

And that's wrong for a number of reasons, beginning with the abrogation of the deal that Republicans and Democrats made and the President signed into law just a few short months ago.  It's the perfect example of the kind of chicanery that you get in Washington where your word is no longer your word just a few months later if it's not politically expedient.  So --

Q    But they specify how you reach those cuts through the pay freezes.

MR. CARNEY:  But they lower the caps -- the pay freeze is only part of it.  They lower the caps and there's no other way to do it and certainly no other way that they would do it than forcing these other reductions.  So that's just not the right way to go about this, because you do not want to harm the very middle-class Americans and working Americans through this provision that you're trying to help by extending a payroll tax cut and ensuring that their taxes don't go up in a mere 19 days, 13 hours, 3 minutes and 42 seconds.

So we continue to hope that we can make progress on this.  As you all have seen, there's been steady movement by Republicans on, first, very lukewarm or non-support for the payroll tax cut extension, then lukewarm support.  And gradually, we’re getting more and more positive support from Republicans.  So we expect that -- or we hope that this will result in a deal that is fair, and that ensures that Americans do not have their taxes go up on January 1.

Q    This is a completely different subject.  President Medvedev has ordered an investigation of allegations surrounding last week’s parliamentary elections in Russia.  What’s the U.S.
-- the White House’s reaction to that?  And what’s the feeling about the fact that tens of thousands of people were able to demonstrate peacefully without any kind of interference by security forces over the weekend?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll take the second part of your question first.  The demonstrations that occurred in Moscow and in many other Russian cities last Saturday represent a very positive sign to all those who support the democratic process.  Russian government authorities allowed the demonstrations to take place and refrained from interfering in them.  Russian demonstrators abided by the law and held peaceful meetings.  Both the Russian government and society leaders seemed to be looking for a dialogue. 

We are encouraged -- to go to your other point -- by President Medvedev’s commitment to this have the central election commission investigate all election violations, and we welcome what appears to be a new era of tolerance for the freedom of assembly.   

Q    I’m sorry, just real quick on payroll tax cut.  Republicans are pointing out this morning that Dan Boren, the conservative Democrat from Oklahoma, is agreeing with you that the payroll tax cut should be extended, but is saying they should include the pipeline in there because that’s the art of the compromise.  The Republicans want the pipeline in there, the President wants the payroll tax cut extension, he wants the unemployment extension, et cetera.  So the President’s on  60 Minutes last night talking about how Republicans won’t meet him halfway.  Why not listen to a conservative Democrat who’s saying, meet the Republicans halfway?

MR. CARNEY:  What I love about your question is that it shines such a bright light on the highly politicized nature of Republican support -- lukewarm support -- for a tax cut for 160 million Americans.  They’re basically saying, we should do -- we’re doing a favor to you, President Obama, by voting for this payroll tax cut extension; otherwise, we wouldn’t do it.  If we don't get our political scalp, if we don't get to include ideological issues in the budget, then we won’t do it -- which I think is pretty alarming as a message to constituents of Republican members of the Senate and the House, because they used to be --

Q    But it was a Democrat --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I mean, a Democrat endorsing --

Q    -- saying he wanted --

MR. CARNEY:  I get that you found -- I get that the Republicans found a Democrat to endorse their point of view here. But the point of view here is essentially suggesting that there is a political tradeoff to be had that extending tax cuts for middle-class and working Americans should only occur in return for a political gift or an ideological item that some Republicans are insisting on. 

And I think we all need to step back and say, what happened to Republican support for tax cuts?  They're so passionate about it when it comes to defending extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest earners.  They're so passionate about the apparently unfindable job creators who would be affected by a surtax on millionaires and billionaires.  But when it comes to most Americans who get a paycheck, who need that extra 1,000 bucks, or 1,550 bucks next year to make ends meet, they're like, well, not so much, unless I get this. 

Q    But didn't you have to do that over the debt ceiling?  The President wanted to extend the debt ceiling, Republicans wanted to cut spending, and you came to a deal.  You came to a deal.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, the -- this is about an issue that is supposed to be item number one in Republican political parlance, which is, we are for tax cuts.  That's one.  Two, if you want to go back there, you're saying that Democrats are -- President Obama wanted to extend the debt ceiling -- what, are you suggesting Republicans didn't?  Because that's a novel -- well, some didn't.  They were willing to see the United States have its --

Q    They were on record as doing that, yes.

MR. CARNEY:  -- the full faith and credit of the United States government --

Q    They said that over and over.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, not -- I mean, some elements of the Republican Party did.  So, I mean, again, you're framing it in a way that I don't think is particularly flattering in terms of the motivations.  And I'll let that stand as it is. 

But we simply disagree.  It is not the right thing to do to take that approach.  And if that is the approach that is taken, then I think there's going to be a lot of explaining that needs to be done to Americans around the country as to why their taxes are going up on January 1st.

Yes.  Welcome back, by the way.

Q    Thank you.  We've heard a lot of talk about building a durable friendship, an enduring partnership.  Can you talk just a little bit about what the strategic partnership will look like between the U.S. and Iraq, and whether -- how much monetary aid and for how long will be part of this?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't have any specific proposals or initiatives to lay out, but it is absolutely the case that our relationship with Iraq will remain strong; that the intensity of our engagement at the economic, diplomatic, cultural, educational, as well as security levels will remain strong; and we will have a significant presence in Iraq.

We have invested an enormous amount in Iraq’s future, we have had so many Americans sacrifice so much for the future of that country that it is very much in our interest to maintain a positive relationship with Iraq and to build on what is a very strong foundation in that relationship.  But it will be a relationship between two sovereign nations, and it will be a relationship similar to the kinds that we have with other countries around the globe.

As for specifics in terms of the nature of the programs and things that we might have and that we might engage in with Iraq, I’ll leave that to others for later.

Yes.

Q    Can you elaborate on that significant presence?  And is there any possibility at all on whether U.S. troops will return as trainers at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the State Department has specifics in terms of what the civilian presence will be going forward in Iraq, so I would refer to them in terms of the size of the civilian presence.  And we have always said that we would welcome a continuing security relationship with Iraq.  What is the case is we will not have bases -- we do not have bases there, and we are removing all of our troops from Iraq.

Now, we do have security relationships with countries that involve training and things like that, but that is distinct from what we’re seeing happen now, which is the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to end the war responsibly and to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

Let me go to Peter.

Q    Thank you.  Will the President be talking to -- is the President talking to al-Maliki about cracking down on his political opponents, about the importance of a democratic foundation?  How secure is the administration in believing that there is a democratic foundation that’s being left behind as the U.S. leaves?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, politics is always a topic of discussion between the President and the Prime Minister, as well as our conversations with Iraqi leaders at other levels, including with the Vice President, who, as you know, has spent a great deal of time on this issue for the last nearly three years.

What is the case is that while no one would argue that the system has been perfected in Iraq, it is simply true that politics has broken out in Iraq, and that, by and large, political decisions are brought to -- or, rather, that the parties in Iraq -- and by parties, I don’t just mean political parties -- but that people come to the table to work out their political differences peacefully rather than through force.  And that was a major change from 2007, 2008 -- 2006, 2007, 2008, in terms of how the different political parties and the different segments of society worked out their differences.  And we very much believe that the Iraqis can continue to move forward on that tremendous progress.

Q    But al-Maliki has told newspapers there and the media that -- the fledgling media there that he won’t honor the election of the people who oppose his stands, that sort thing. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t seen that.  Look, there has been steady progress and the results have been ups and downs as we’ve gone through that progress over the number of years that this administration has been overseeing American policy in Iraq. 
So we always, in our dealings with the Iraqis and both the Prime Minister and other Iraqi leaders from other parties, are always focused on the need to be democratic, to be representative, to ensure that the rights of all Iraqis are respected, and that these differences are worked out peacefully through the process.  And we will continue to press the Iraqis with that advice and that point of view as we further develop our relationship.

MR. EARNEST:  Two more, Jay. 

MR. CARNEY:  Just going to do a couple more.  Yes.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Do you expect the President and the Prime Minister to address the issue of the remaining U.S. detainee Ali Mussa Daqduq?  As you know, some Republicans are insisting that U.S. forces retain custody.

MR. CARNEY:  The discussions about that individual continue. I don't have any more information about it for you, but those discussions do continue.

Q    And also, can you react to the fact that the high court is going to look at the Arizona immigration law?

MR. CARNEY:  I did see those reports, and obviously you know the President’s position and this administration’s position.  And we look forward to arguing our point of view in that case when the time comes.

Yes, sir.

Q    As this war draws to a close, Jay, does the President think this -- the Iraq war helped or hurt the fight against al Qaeda?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that this President made clear as a candidate -- as a senator, as a candidate, what his views were and are about how we got into this war.  He certainly made the case and continues to believe it to be true that in the previous administration, that by focusing so much of our attention and resources on Iraq, that we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and in some ways in our fight against al Qaeda.

His responsibility as President has been to end this war in the best possible way, to give Iraq the best possible chance for the future and to bring American forces home, as he promised he would do.  And as we have done that, certainly you have seen in the nearly three years he’s been President, a heightened focus on al Qaeda and some success in taking the fight to al Qaeda and removing leaders of al Qaeda central from the field of battle.

He will continue that effort.  The broader narrative here about Iraq and the region will be written by historians.  Right now he’s focused on his responsibilities. 

Thank you all, very much.

END
11:09 A.M. EST

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