The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/7/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:59 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello.
Q You could use it up there.
Q Marshmallow gun. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: A marshmallow gun? I would like one of those.
Q That’s awesome.
MR. CARNEY: It was, wasn’t it?
Q He doesn’t get out much, does he? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Was that -- that was a great event. You know, April, it is -- I saw him right afterwards. He loves this event, and he thinks it’s so important. And let’s just say that his remarks were -- went beyond what was on the printed page, because he feels -- he does feel so inspired by the kids and by the importance of science education and that sort of thing. So when he gave his advice to your editors about giving prominence to this event, he meant it sincerely.
Q The marshmallow did it, he got it.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. There were all sorts of fascinating things that those kids were working on.
Good afternoon. I hope you enjoyed the science fair event today at the White House. The President sure did. Before I take your questions, I wanted to give you a readout of another moment of the President’s day that the President enjoyed, which was this morning President Obama called New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin to congratulate him and the rest of the New York football Giants on their recent Super Bowl victory.
The President said that the team’s victory was a testament to Coach Coughlin’s leadership and that his team demonstrated true grit and determination.
President Obama told Coach Coughlin that he looks forward to greeting him and congratulating the team in person when they come and visit the White House, and I’m sure you’ll all be here for that. Probably even the Patriots fans among you.
Q Speak for yourself, Giants fan.
MR. CARNEY: Not a Giants fan, but it was a fun game to watch.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two topics, please. On the decision -- the President’s decision to give his approval to the Democratic super PAC, as you know, he’s on record as saying that these PACs and the way they allow money to drive elections are a threat to democracy; now he’s given his stamp to exactly that kind of organization so that the Democratic PAC can keep pace with Republican ones. And his campaign says basically these are the rules, and they stink, but if we want to compete, we got to play by them.
So I guess my point is, what is the point of taking a principled stand and campaigning against something if then you switch course and abandon it for the sake of strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ben, first of all, the President’s views of the influence of the Citizens United decision haven’t changed. He strongly opposed it, as you know. He made that clear at his State of the Union address in 2010, which got a lot of attention. And he holds those views today.
He, just as recently as this weekend, discussed, as you mentioned, the fact that he wished that Washington was doing more to reduce the influence of money in politics. The fact is, is that he has been committed to working with Congress to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in Washington, and he proposed new ideas along those lines in his State of the Union address, with regards to political reform in Congress.
On his first day in office, the President issued an executive order with some of the toughest ethics rules ever imposed on the executive branch. For the first time in history, the White House began posting visitor records online in accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download. As of December 2011, over 2 million records were posted on the website. And this is the first administration to prohibit executive branch employees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists.
This administration has done more than any in history to prevent undue influence over the government by lobbyists, by moneyed interests. The fact is, I would refer you -- I will refer a lot of these questions that have to do with strategic campaign decisions to Chicago. But the President obviously agrees with this decision because of what the campaign has said, is that the rules are what they are, and we can’t -- the campaign -- I mean, I’ve read the same reports you have read -- the campaign has made clear that they cannot engage in this campaign, they cannot compete effectively if there are two sets of rules -- if they play by a different set of rules.
Q So from the President’s point of view, do you not see any inconsistency in talking about the corrosive influence of money, and then encouraging donors to give to groups that collect --
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear about a couple of things. One, his views on the problems associated with this decision have not changed, and he has expressed them as recently as a few days ago and will continue to express them. Two, the President, Vice President, First Lady, Dr. Biden will not appear at any of these events associated with these organizations.
MR. CARNEY: That’s just a decision that was made by the campaign, by the President and the team, not to do that. Those individuals with the campaign and with the White House who appear at events -- political campaign events already for the President’s campaign will be available to appear before the super PAC, but they will not solicit funds. And again, I would refer you to the campaign for the strategic decision about why the rules are what they are, unfortunately. The Citizens United decision pertains, unfortunately -- and this President will be committed, as long as he’s in office, to trying to change that and has made clear that -- I mean, last year, let’s just remember that this is not a case of apples and apples here in our approach to this issue.
The President very strongly supported with Democrats on Capitol Hill the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required simple disclosure, something that Republicans used to be for when they opposed other campaign finance measures back in the 1990s when I covered Congress -- disclosure was the answer, they said. But then when disclosure became the call of President Obama and Democrats, Republicans opposed it. They opposed the simple idea that the American people ought to know who’s donating to these political campaigns.
So the President still supports absolutely the passage of the disclosure act. He supports measures that would change the dynamic created by the Citizens United decision, even if that requires a constitutional amendment. If that is what it would require he would support that.
So there is a huge difference between the approach this President takes and the approach taken by the Republican Party, by would-be presidential nominees of the Republican Party. And I think that distinction will be clear to voters who care about this issue.
Q Given how much he has opposed the Citizens decision, and these PACs, and now he’s saying that he’s giving his approval to this, did he wrestle with this at all before he gave thumbs up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you can divine that, that this is a decision that was carefully considered, by the fact that it’s February of 2012, and you’ve already seen in the Republican Party how much money is being raised by these organizations -- hundreds of millions of dollars, or so I read, of it totally undisclosed. And I would point out that campaign officials, administration officials who appear before a super PAC that supports Democrats or the President will only appear before those super PACs that disclose their donors. They will not appear before so-called (c)(4)’s that do not disclose.
So disclosure remains an absolute priority of this President and his campaign.
Q One other topic, please. On the decision about the religious-affiliated groups and contraception, you were asked last week if there’s a debate within the administration about reconsidering, and you flatly said, no, the decision has been made. Does that absolutely remain the case, no reconsideration?
MR. CARNEY: It does. The President is committed to making sure that all women have access to these important preventive services. But I think it is important to remember what was clearly stated when this policy decision was announced and that is that we will be working with those organizations and individuals who have concerns about the implementation of this rule, and that’s why that time period of a full year beginning in August of 2012 was put into place because the President is very interested in finding the appropriate balance between religious beliefs and convictions -- and he takes those very seriously -- and his commitment to making sure that women of all faiths have access to these important health care preventive services. So that process will continue.
And I think that that point was overlooked in the initial coverage of the decision.
Q Well, just to --
Q But the end of the year -- what’s the date of the end-of-the-year period?
MR. CARNEY: August of 2013.
Q August -- you just said 2012, okay.
MR. CARNEY: It begins in 2012 I believe, and --
Q Okay, okay.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Just to wrap up on this point, there’s a perception out there -- and in some cases David Axelrod’s comments led some to think that the very implementation you’ve talked about over the next year or so will lead to a different outcome, that in the rule-making, there will be some deal cut, some out given to get away from this controversy. Ultimately, no matter how it’s implemented, will the bottom line remain the same, that these organizations have to provide that contraceptive coverage?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s interest is in making sure that -- on the one side of this balance -- is in making sure that all American women, all women here, have access to the same preventive care services.
He is also concerned about and understands the religious concerns that have been raised and takes seriously the religious convictions that are behind the concerns that have been raised. And we will work in this period to see if there is a way, to try to find a way to make sure that the implementation of the policy or to see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.
But there are ways to I think help resolve this issue that ensures that we provide that important preventive service, that health care coverage, to all women, and that tries -- in a way that also tries to allay some of these concerns.
Reuters. And then Jake.
Q Thanks, Jay. When did the President sign off on the decision to support Priorities USA?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the campaign. I don’t know the answer to that. But I would refer you -- as I will on a lot of these -- to Chicago.
Q We’ve already asked. Can you take the question?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q We’ve already asked. When?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take the question, if you’ve asked the campaign. I think they would probably have the answer.
Q They had a conference call.
Q What does he expect it to achieve?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the campaign about campaign tactics, strategy, how resources are raised. And that would obviously, in that case, I suppose, be a question to ask of the outside organization.
The fact of the matter is we’ve seen, as I just stated, an enormous amount of money raised by these organizations, a significant portion of it totally undisclosed. And the campaign, as I’ve read and you’ve read, has made the decision that they can’t unilaterally disarm and that they can’t play by -- play or engage in the campaign by a different set of rules as their opponents.
So, again -- but these are discussions -- this is an analysis of sort of strategic campaign decisions, and I think Chicago is the right place to take those questions.
Q What is the difference between having a White House official speaking at an event like this and actually asking for money?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we will comply with all the rules, all the laws that govern this. It is a long-established rule that administration officials can and do engage, in private time, in political activity. This administration, like others before it, has officials who engage in private political activity in their private time on behalf of the President’s campaign, and they will be able to do that now -- or the campaign has made a decision that they might be able to, or will be able to appear at events for these outside organizations. But they will not directly solicit funds, and they won’t participate in raising funds.
Q I just don’t understand how -- if you’re appearing at a fundraiser, how is that not soliciting funds?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the organizations here that are -- the campaign and the super PAC that are making these decisions.
Q But we’re talking about White House officials.
MR. CARNEY: I think there is a difference between asking for money and appearing and making the case for why the President should be reelected.
Q Let me ask you on one other topic --
Q Not much of a difference, though.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I disagree. You guys can make your --
Q One non-PAC topic. Do you guys -- does the White House have a reaction to the appeals court ruling on California’s gay marriage act?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a comment on litigation in general in this litigation with which we are not a party -- or to which we are not a party. Beyond that, I can say that the President has long opposed, as you know, divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.
Jake. I’ll get to you, Chris.
Q In terms of the health care rule on birth control -- this rule doesn’t provide those health services for all women, as you said, though, right? Because there is a carve-out for houses of worship.
MR. CARNEY: Correct. There is an exemption for churches and houses of worship. And I think that the principle here is that churches and houses of worship, it’s an issue of hiring people of like faith, versus these large institutions, like universities and hospitals, where, whether you’re a nurse or a teacher, a professor, a student, a janitor, somebody in administration -- you are going to have folks of all faiths who work for those large institutions. And therefore the President believes that they ought to be able to have access -- those women ought to be able to have access to the same contraceptive services that other women will have access to.
Q Is there a middle ground somewhere where perhaps some of these religious organizations that aren’t specifically houses of worship, but are Catholic or Jewish or Baptist hospitals, charities, of a smaller size could be -- could receive the same exemption as the houses of worship? We’re talking about people who think that some methods of birth control are murder, are a sin, and the Obama administration is forcing them to be party to that. I mean, that’s the crux here.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear -- and first of all, we understand the religious concerns here. That is why this balance was sought. That’s why the process going forward includes a transition period where this discussion will continue to see if there can be ways found that ensure that women get access to these preventive services and that those services are covered -- as they will be for all other women -- and that also takes into account these religious concerns.
But let’s be clear, the rule does not require any individual or institution to provide contraception. It requires coverage for women who work there of different faiths, or of any faith.
Q It provides them to pay for it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to negotiate all the different possibilities of how this rule could be implemented in a way that might allay some of those concerns. That’s what the transition period is for.
Q Switching topics to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice -- Dr. Susan Rice said that she was “disgusted” by the vote of Russia and China when it came to the Syria -- the U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Does President Obama share that view? Would he use the word “disgusted”? And why does the White House think Russia and China voted against that resolution?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we wouldn’t presume to speak for either of those two governments or any foreign government. Our views are that it was the wrong decision to block that Security Council resolution and to, in effect, by doing that give solace to and help sustain a regime that is brutally murdering its own people, and a regime that by the way is not going to last. There will be a transition in Syria.
And it is a mistake, we believe, for any country to put its eggs in that basket, if you will, because by doing that you’re alienating the Syrian people and many others in the region who are on the side of putting pressure on the Assad regime to get it to stop this behavior and to step aside so that a transition can take place in Syria.
And we are going to work with -- continue to work with international allies and partners, and with other friends of Syria -- friends of the Syrian people to continue to pressure the Assad regime so that it ceases this reprehensible behavior.
Q Would the President use the word “disgusted” as his ambassador did?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but the ambassador --
Q Well, she’s speaking for the White House.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely, the ambassador -- the sentiments the ambassador was expressing reflect our great disappointment with that position taken. We will continue to obviously have these discussions with all of our partners internationally at the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere, and we will continue to work with others -- or sort of friends of Syria and the Syrian people to put the pressure that is required on the Assad regime.
Q Senator Lieberman said that it might be time for the United States to get in the business of helping to arm the opposition and take more aggressive measures. Is that something that the administration is willing to consider?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to speculate. I believe we don’t -- we are not considering that step right now. We are exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians and we are working with our partners, again, to ratchet up the pressure, ratchet up the isolation on Assad and his regime. We’re seeing a lot of indications of a lack of control over the country by the regime, of interest by senior officials within the military and the government in separating themselves from the regime. So we believe that that pressure is having an impact.
Ultimately it needs to result in Assad ceasing the violence, stopping the brutality, and allowing for a transition supported by the Syrian people.
Q Thank you.
Q Can I do a follow-up on Syria? You talk about humanitarian aid and different option. Are there any option, any tangible options are you currently working on? Some argue that buffer zone could be one of the way, or -- Turkish Foreign Minister is coming also to D.C. tomorrow. Would you be able to tell us what are the options right now you are working on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, all I said is that we’re certainly exploring possible humanitarian aid. I mean, I think we all know what humanitarian aid is. For more details about the discussions that we’re having with other friends of the Syrian people I would refer you to the State Department. I think Secretary Clinton has discussed this publicly.
Q How do you view the Russian Foreign Minister is today in Damascus? What’s your understanding? Is this helpful?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re not sure what the goals of his visit are. But the point we’re making is that Russia must realize that betting everything on Assad is a recipe for failure -- not just for Russia’s interests in Syria, but for the stability of the region and for Syria’s future. And I would just reemphasize what I said in response to the earlier question.
Q I just want to follow up on the Prop 8 ruling. Back in 2008, candidate Obama came out against Proposition 8 that was on the ballot, calling it unnecessary. I’m just wondering if the President shares a belief that that measure is also unconstitutional.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on litigation, particularly as here where we are not a party to it. The President’s positions on these issues writ large are well known and he’s long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. But I don’t have anything more for you on that particular decision or any update --
Q I want to follow really quickly on that, though. You just said that the President opposes divisive and discriminatory efforts against same-sex couples, but the effort here -- the issue in question is marriage. So isn’t it inconsistent for the President to be -- not support same-sex marriage and also to be against such measures?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any update for you on that particular issue with regards to the President’s views. I can tell you that divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples are something that this President has long opposed. And I think that the -- that’s an important point to make, that these are proactive, deliberate efforts to deny benefits and to be discriminatory.
Q Can I follow on that?
Q Can I follow?
MR. CARNEY: Let me -- I don’t want to -- I’ll bounce back and forth. Let me go to Wendell.
Q In October 2010, the President said the Citizens United decision, because it enabled these groups to keep their donors secret, was a threat to democracy itself. Does he feel that by requiring his supporting super PAC to disclose the donors, he basically removes that threat?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s concern with the Citizens United decision was broad and not just limited to that issue. It is an important point that you make that disclosure is important, and this President has been forcefully in favor of measures that would mandate disclosure despite -- unfortunately he has faced uniform resistance by Republicans in Congress to those efforts.
It is correct that as I understand this -- and we’re reaching the boundaries of my understanding of how these new outfits operate -- that there is a distinction between those that are required to disclose their donors every month, I believe, and those that are not required to disclose at all. And campaign officials, administration officials who might appear before a super PAC supporting the President would only appear before those that disclose.
Q Jay, the President has railed against this type of funding of elections. I mean, to read back to you what he did say in the State of the Union, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.”
With the President reversing course on this, does he look hypocritical?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President firmly believes that the effects of the Citizens United decision were as he described or predicted, and we are seeing that play out in many ways in the Republican primary process, which you all have covered or many of your colleagues have covered with the millions and millions of dollars being spent, almost entirely on negative advertising, and much of it completely undisclosed, so people --
Q But he spent 2010 --
MR. CARNEY: -- the American people don’t have -- let me finish -- the American people don’t have any idea who is backing that.
So the fact is -- and I will point you to the comments I made in response to Ben’s question about the efforts that this President has taken, that no President, no administration has taken before him, the principles that he adopts by not accepting any money from PACs or lobbyists, which distinguishes him from any of his potential Republican primary -- general election opponents -- and his efforts towards -- to get Congress to pass a disclosure act and other measures that would enhance the transparency of the process.
So again, it is an unfortunate situation, the President believes, that we find ourselves in where the rules are as they are. This decision was made, and I point you the campaign statements that I’ve seen and you have seen about the fact that -- the rules being what they are, the campaign has made clear that they cannot unilaterally disarm in a circumstance like this. So we are taking the approach -- the campaign is taking the approach that it’s taking, and the President is taking the approach that he’s taking.
Q I mean, the President spent much of 2010 on the road ridiculing these groups. I mean, he joked about the name -- they could call themselves anything, like “Moms for Motherhood” -- I mean, he really decried their influence in elections. And now he has signaled to his campaign that he would like his donors to contribute as well. You indicated, when asked about when the President made this decision -- you said, “You could divine that,” and that -- clearly since he’s made this in February of 2012. So has the President been putting off this decision? Were you indicating that he’s left it to so late in the game because he didn’t want to have to do this, but since he’s watched what’s happened in the Republican primary, he’s finally relented and said, “Right, the Republicans have so much money, I’m willing to give up on my principles because” --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, you can throw in a lot of editorializations into your question, or you can just save them for your piece. But the -- (laughter) -- but the fact of the matter is this President’s views on Citizens United have not been shrouded in secrecy. They were clearly expressed --
Q What did you mean when you said he waited until February 2012?
MR. CARNEY: Well, hold on.
Q What did you mean?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I simply was asked, why did he -- I can’t remember the phrasing of the question -- did he spend a lot of time thinking about this? And I haven’t asked him that question, but I think you can understand, from the views that we -- that he has expressed about the Citizens United decision and the impact of that decision on the process, that he takes a dim view of it. But it is also the case -- and again, I point you to the campaign here, and I think a lot of these questions are more aptly addressed to the campaign -- that, as the campaign has said, the rules are what they are. We will continue, the President will continue to change the rules. But the fact of the matter is not only is there not a constituency among Republicans in Congress to overturn or take action against Citizens United, there is not even a constituency among Republicans in Congress to allow the American people to know who the donors are. They blocked the DISCLOSE Act.
So that is the reality that we live in, and he will continue to press for change, and he will continue to press for change even if it requires a constitutional amendment.
Q I think we’re asking a very simple question here, which is, the President, who has railed against these groups and this decision, in his State of the Union address and spoke multiple times on the campaign trail in 2010 decrying this, has now changed his mind. And so the simple question is, when did he make that decision to change his mind?
MR. CARNEY: You’re misrepresenting what I’ve said, and I assume you were in contact with the campaign. He has not changed his mind about these -- the rules, and --
Q He did not offer his public support for his own --
MR. CARNEY: Look, he’s not supporting -- he is not saying that the system is now healthy or good. He is saying -- he is making a decision, his campaign is making a decision that the rules are what they are, and they will not -- they cannot play by a different set of rules than Republicans are playing. But the situation -- these groups are --
Q He gave a signal -- he gave a signal, and his campaign manager put out an email. When did the President signal to his campaign manager that it was okay to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we just -- the campaign announced it today, or yesterday. So --
Q The President gave the signal yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was asked -- if that’s -- if this is the windup to asking me precisely the moment that the President made this decision, I think I’ll take that question, as I indicated about 15 minutes ago.
Q Thanks, Jay. Since the President is going to continue to push for changing the system, since he saw the influence of these groups back in 2010, was there more that he could have done over the last two years to change the system --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has pushed very hard for changes in the system. He, again, at the State of the Union address just a few weeks ago, put forward proposals for political reform in Congress that would help improve the system and reduce the influence of money in politics. And he will continue to work towards it.
But as I was just saying to Norah, a simple measure that would have demanded that donors are disclosed -- that the American people have the right to know who is making donations in the tens and hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars -- per person -- to these organizations got no Republican support in Congress. So -- or virtually no Republican support.
So that’s an unfortunate dynamic, but it’s not going to stop this President from continuing to try to find ways to deal with this problem. And maybe this cycle will change people’s views about the role of money in politics, because it is simply a fact that we’re seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in the system, much of it undisclosed, or some of it undisclosed, and the President’s views are that’s not a good thing.
Q And just to follow on Jeff’s question, will administration officials who are appearing at fundraisers for the super PAC -- will their names be on the invitations?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the campaign or to -- or I guess in this case the super PAC. I don’t know.
Q Jay, in 2008, the President pretty clearly told the outside groups to stand down, and they did. What I’m unclear about is, up until now, he hasn’t expressly told people not to give to Priorities USA, is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: That’s my understanding. I would refer you to the campaign. I think that -- I think most of you were part of the campaign call, or could have been, earlier today.
Q No, no, I’m talking about prior to this.
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand, but I think they probably would have made clear what the announcement was today versus what it might be perceived to be.
Q Well, you would have known what his position was before today.
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is that today the only decision is that campaign officials and administration officials can appear before these organizations.
Q Right. But he never -- he did not repeat his two thousand and -- until today --
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, Mara, but you would have to --
Q -- he never repeated his 2008 request for people not to give.
MR. CARNEY: I just said not that I’m aware of, right?
Q Okay, all right.
MR. CARNEY: Lara -- I mean Laura, sorry. Lara, Mara, Laura -- yes, Laura.
Q I was going to respond no matter what. (Laughter.) On the --
MR. CARNEY: Penelope, please, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q On Proposition 8, the President -- is it still the -- or I should just say, in general, is it still the President’s view that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be decided by the states -- each individual state?
MR. CARNEY: However you might want to tease out an evolutionary position on this --
Q I’m just asking you what his position -- if his position has changed that states should make these decisions?
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcement of any changes in his position on this issue.
Q Well, given that that is his latest position that he’s stated, is that states should make the decision, why would he not be supportive of California making the decision through the vote in Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because he opposes divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. But again, I’m not commenting on specific litigation. I’m talking about his general opposition.
Q Then why wouldn’t any of the states that have banned -- all sorts of states have banned same-sex marriage. Are all of those divisive and discriminatory as well?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- I can’t at this moment stand here and analyze each one. I can just tell you the President’s long opposition to divisive and discriminatory efforts. And you know his position, where it stands now, on the issue of same-sex marriage, so I really don’t have much to add on that.
Q Well, but there’s a fundamental inconsistency -- correct me if I’m wrong -- if he says on one hand it’s up to the states to decide, but that those states who decide that they’re against it are divisive and discriminatory. So I just want to --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not offering a blanket -- I’m talking about general efforts that are divisive and discriminatory. I’m not making an assessment on specific states or state laws.
Q So, again, I would repeat the original question --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a better answer for you.
Q Well, how is this not just complete hypocrisy if he’s saying that it’s up to states to decide but he won’t back a state that does make the decision?
MR. CARNEY: Laura, I’m not going to comment on a specific litigation that is for a specific state. I can say that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. And his overall record on the issue of LGBT rights I think is well known and is one that he is very proud of.
Q I want to try just one more on Proposition 8. How does today’s ruling on Proposition 8 inform the President’s view on same-sex marriage, which he said is evolving?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have anything to add on that. The decision was made about, I don’t know, within the hour before I came out here, so I haven’t had that conversation with him.
Q And without getting into actually --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. You’re asking me how his view has changed by this decision, and it happened an hour ago.
Q Have you talked to him about it at all?
MR. CARNEY: No, I have not.
Q Okay. And then one more, Jay. Speaker Boehner said of the President’s decision to support super PACs that it’s “just another broken promise.” And Russ Feingold said, “The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics in Citizens United through the use of super PACs. It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy.” Can you react to that and to the fact that this isn’t --
MR. CARNEY: Again, for your questions of strategy I would refer you to Chicago. And the President’s opposition to the Citizens United decision is well known. I suppose critics like the Speaker who are making this point should be also -- I think along that, they should talk about their refusal to back proposals to even require that donors be disclosed to the public and their absolute I guess support of the Citizens United decision, which allows somebody to write a $100 million check, potentially, and not disclose it.
As you know the decision that the campaign is making is for any administration official or campaign official who appears before an organization like this will only appear before those that disclose by law, and that is an important distinction.
But it is important to remember that the system as it is is not healthy, and this President has spoken out against it and will continue to work to take action to fix that.
Q But I guess what I’m asking is, hasn’t this opened him up to criticism from all sides?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think criticism from all sides comes with the territory in politics. The President’s views are very well known on the Citizens United decision that allowed this circumstance to come about. For the strategic reasons that the campaign made this decision, I refer you to Chicago.
Q Okay, one last try here. I’m just curious how you can be proactively -- or how the President can be proactively against divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny people civil rights, but not proactively be for the concept of marriage equality?
MR. CARNEY: Sam, I appreciate --
Q It’s good, it’s not --
MR. CARNEY: No, I --
Q It’s not a legal question, I don’t want to --
MR. CARNEY: I totally appreciate the question, but I am not here to announce a new position for the President --
Q I want you to just illuminate the current position --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would refer you to the comments the President has made on this issue, and I don’t have any changes to provide to you.
Donovan, and then April.
Q Thank you, Jay. I actually want to go back to contraception.
MR. CARNEY: Fabulous. (Laughter.)
Q I won’t read anything into that.
MR. CARNEY: Iran anyone? (Laughter.)
Q I actually just want to make sure I’ve got this right. It seemed like you suggested that the White House has always been open to a compromise during this grace period, but that maybe that point was overlooked in the initial coverage of the ruling. Is that a correct reading?
MR. CARNEY: On January 20th, when this decision was announced, Secretary Sebelius said, “We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”
That’s the point I’m making, is that in the initial coverage of the decision, the fact that this transitional period was put in place precisely to have these discussions with religious groups about their concerns was in many cases overlooked.
The point is not -- it’s not about a change in policy, it’s simply to shine a light on that announcement and the fact that this transitional period has been in place since the announcement, and that its purpose is to have these discussions so that we can see if there’s a way to ensure that we can implement the policy that provides important health care coverage of preventative services to women and also can allay some of these concerns that are expressed by religious groups, which the President takes seriously.
Q So is it -- would it be fair to say that the White House is not ruling out granting further exemptions?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President is committed to providing -- to ensuring that the law provides the same coverage to all women of the important preventive services here that we’re discussing. There are enormous health benefits to providing those services, there are financial benefits, and the President is committed to doing that.
How the process moves forward in these discussions in terms of examining possible ways that we could potentially allay some of these concerns, there are a lot of different ideas out there, and I’m not going to sort of grade them from here, but that the whole purpose of the transition period was to have that discussion.
Q I was next.
Q To follow on that --
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry. April is next, then Brianna. You are right. No, you --
Q I’m sorry -- thank you.
MR. CARNEY: You’re absolutely right. Short-term memory loss.
Q Okay, you need to get that checked. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: What did she say?
Q You need to get that checked.
Q On the President’s --
MR. CARNEY: I do. (Laughter.)
Q On the President’s evolving mindset, when --
Q Which subject? (Laughter.)
Q Which subject? Prop 8, yes. Oh, okay. When will we have a firm decision on this evolution? You have strong groups -- groups that have strong thoughts and convictions on this -- LGBT groups; you have religious groups; you have civil rights groups and so many others. Will we see a decision by June or before the general election on his evolution of his mindset on this?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have a timetable to provide to you, April. I appreciate the question. This is -- as the President discussed when he answered this question a while back, this is a process that involves his faith and the way he views these issues, and as he said -- and I won’t go beyond that -- his views are evolving. But I don’t have an endpoint to that to announce to you or a date certain to tell you that he’ll have more to say about that issue.
Q He has strong support from the LBGT community. Is he in consultation with many members of that community about this evolving mindset? When is the last time --
MR. CARNEY: The President has a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and I can’t say one way or the other whether or not he’s had that discussion with anybody. He may have, but I’m not aware of it.
Yes, Brianna. You’re next.
Q Thank you. On the contraception issue, I’m just trying to kind of discern here, is the administration open to women employed by religious employers receiving coverage for contraception in a different way than women employed by non-religious employers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, without getting into different potential options --
Q Not the details, I’m just talking the concept.
MR. CARNEY: But no -- but I think your question illuminates an important issue here, which is the President’s interest at a policy level is in making sure that this coverage is extended to all women because it’s important financially. It’s important to individual woman’s health and also to health writ large for the country. So within that, that’s the -- on the one side.
And the other side of finding the right balance is concerns about religious beliefs and convictions. So we will in this transition period and these discussions seek to find ways to implement that policy that allay some of those concerns. I don’t want to predict because I don’t know what all the various possibilities those discussions will entertain, or predict how successful they will be in allaying everyone’s concerns about this issue.
But that is the approach the President is taking, and that is why when the decision was initially announced that Secretary Sebelius made clear that that process was put into place.
Q You had said last week that the decision, the ruling does strike a balance. And it sounds now like you’re saying he’s working -- or you’re working -- the administration is working towards finding a balance. I mean, there seems to be distinction there.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that the decision to exempt churches and houses of worship -- an exemption that, as I noted before, doesn’t even exist in I think eight states in the country -- represents an effort to find that balance, and he believes he found the appropriate balance.
But we’re going to continue to work with religious groups to try to allay their concerns as we implement a policy that provides this coverage to women across the country.
Q But on the issue of religious employers, because, I mean, I’ve spoken with and a ton of people here have spoken with people who are concerned about this. Maybe they don’t even -- the issue of contraception isn’t really an issue for them, but when it comes down to telling a religious employer of their religious persuasion what they can and cannot do that really bothers them, and so they want to know if there’s been a change, if there’s a distinction.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Brianna, I think that there’s a discussion that will take place about these issues. The President’s commitment is ensuring that this health care coverage is provided to women, and I think there are -- one important point to make, as we have this discussion, is that 28 states already require insurance companies to provide contraceptive services. Eight states, as I noted in the past, provide no exemption, not even the exemption that the policy announced by Secretary Sebelius provides, for churches and houses of worship.
So that is an important context within which to view the policy decision as well as this period of transition as we discuss the various concerns that have been raised.
Q Can I talk about Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: Do I want to talk about Egypt? Sure. (Laughter.)
Q Why in the world would the United States give $1.5 billion to Egypt at this time (inaudible)? And any update on the Americans?
MR. CARNEY: More editorializing from -- well, I think that -- I don’t have any update on I believe the situation that you’re referring to. I would refer you to the comments I made yesterday about our serious concern, grave concern about the crackdown on NGOs within Egypt, our concern about the Americans involved in this, and the fact that we are discussing our concern with all levels of the Egyptian government. And I would point you to the comments I made yesterday about the fact that we have made clear that the consequences of this action could potentially affect our relationship and could potentially affect the aid that we provide. But I don’t have anything more to say on that.
Q Earlier you said something like you’re going to explore the possibilities of humanitarian aid for Syrians. How exactly would that --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more for you on that. I think that -- I don’t have mechanisms for that. But simply, I would point you to the Secretary of State’s comments about continuing to work with friends of the Syrian people, friends of Syria, to put pressure on the regime, to assist Syrians who are simply looking for a peaceful transition to democracy here for a post-Assad Syria, and the efforts that we’ll be involved in, working with our partners and allies, to see if we can help in that regard, even as we continue to ratchet up the pressure on the regime to get it to stop killing its own people.
Q Well, are you actively working on creating the group, friends of Syria group?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I can point you to the extensive comments by the Secretary of State.
Alexis, last one.
Q A quick question on super PACs. Do you have a policy personally, are you going to participate in campaign speaking -- appearing before Priorities USA?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I haven’t been asked. Maybe -- I think I’ll probably just be here talking to you guys. (Laughter.)
Q For free.
Q Is it the case -- is it your understanding up until this point no one from inside the White House has already spoken to a pro-Obama super PAC?
MR. CARNEY: That’s my understanding, yes.
Q That they have not done so? Was there a previous edict at that point?
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is that that is the change that has been made clear today, that there is a decision --
Q But there was an affirmative “do not speak”?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the campaign, but that is my --
Q No, but I’m asking you a White House question.
MR. CARNEY: Right, and I would -- but the campaign has done a lot more work on this issue. But that is my understanding, yes, Alexis.
Q Okay. And the last question on this question -- a couple weeks ago, David Axelrod, who obviously worked here, talked very pejoratively about Mitt Romney’s use of what he called the “dog whistle” to in an uncoordinated way signal to his super PACs what he wanted them to do -- “go get my” whatever. So what is different about the President’s effort today to signal that he would give this reluctant endorsement? Is that a dog whistle, too?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think the distinction -- there are a couple of distinctions. One -- I’m not sure I understand the context of your question because I don’t remember those remarks, but two distinctions. One -- and whether they answer your question you’ll have to decide -- but the President will not be appearing before these groups. The Vice President will not be appearing before these groups. Neither will the First Lady or Dr. Biden. The groups that administration officials might be appearing before, and campaign officials might be appearing before, will be only those that disclose.
And in terms of the strategy behind that and why that decision was made within the context of this election season and this campaign season, I would refer you to Chicago.
Q Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EST