The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/7/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


1:35 P.M. EDT


MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for your daily briefing.  It's good to see you.  I hope you had a terrific weekend.  And I have no announcements to make at the top, so I'll go straight to questions.

Yes.

Q    Does the election of Francois Hollande in France increase your concern that a change in the European economy, a shift away from austerity could worsen the economic situation there and drag the United States down with it?  And secondarily, what would the President's role be in any bridging between Hollande and Merkel?  Will he be directly involved in that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me first say that President Obama, as you know, called President-elect Francois Hollande of France yesterday to congratulate him.  In that discussion, President Obama indicated that he looks forward to working closely with Mr. Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges.  President Obama looks forward to welcoming President-elect Hollande to Camp David for the G8 and then to Chicago for the NATO summit.  And he proposed that the two men meet beforehand at the White House.

President Obama and President-elect Hollande each reaffirmed in that phone call the important and enduring alliance between the people of the United States and France.  And that alliance is strong, and as strong today as it was last week.

As for the situation in Europe, as the President said just the other day, our economy continues to face some headwinds and the eurozone crisis is one of them.  That is why he has worked directly with his counterparts in Europe, why Secretary Geithner has worked with his counterparts in Europe, to advise and consult on the issue of how best to contain the situation in Europe, how best to get control of it.  European leaders have taken very significant steps towards dealing with that eurozone crisis and the President and Secretary Geithner and others in the administration will continue to work with European leaders towards that end.

I think that basically answers your question.

Q    No, not exactly.  I mean, one of the leaders who took those steps just got ousted.  And his replacement is someone who is on record as being opposed to several of the steps that you all applauded in establishing greater security through -- largely through austerity measures.  He says he wants to take a step back from that.  Does that make that headwind you referred to stronger?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would make two points.  First of all, we will not negotiate on behalf of European countries here at the White House -- or between European countries here at the White House.  Secondly, I would say that the President has made clear frequently, as he did in Cannes at the G20, that he believes a balanced approach towards fiscal consolidation -- that includes both fiscal consolidation and efforts to continue to boost the recovery is the right approach for Europe.  He has taken an approach here in the United States that has been aimed at growing the economy and creating jobs in the short term as well as dealing with our deficits and debt challenges in the medium and long terms.  That's an approach that he thinks ensures that the recovery continues, but also gets our fiscal house in order.

Q    I have one more on a different subject.  This morning, the Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, put himself on record in favor of gay marriage.  Yesterday, the Vice President indicated something along the same lines.  Does this box the President in ahead of the election?  Have his views changed at all on this subject?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I have no update on the President's personal views.  What the Vice President said yesterday was to make the same point that the President has made previously, that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights.  That's why this administration opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and supports legislation to repeal it.  The administration also has stopped defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in legal challenges.

Secretary Duncan was asked a question about his personal views on an issue and he offered them.  And obviously this is an issue that many people have a view on and we respect the right of all people to have an opinion -- a personal opinion.

Q    If asked at this point a similar question for his personal view, would the President give it?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President is the right person to describe his own personal views.  He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving, and I don't have an update for you on that.

Q    I just had one more on the French election.  The incoming President Hollande is promising a pro-growth approach as an alternative to strict austerity.  Is this an approach that the Obama administration could support?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, each country has its own circumstances.  Europe has its own distinct problems with the eurozone crisis, and we're not going to dictate to any country or any collection of countries what policies they should pursue.

The President has said, as he said in Cannes at the G20, that a balanced approach towards fiscal consolidation and growth is what he believes is appropriate -- that's the approach he's taken here.

Europeans have taken a number of significant steps towards dealing with this crisis and more needs to be done.  We have said that for quite some time now and our view on that has not changed.
 
Q    Will the President be sending Secretary Geithner over to hold discussions with European counterparts?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't have any scheduling announcements to make on behalf of Secretary Geithner, but I think, as you know, Matt, the Treasury Secretary has made numerous visits to Europe to discuss eurozone issues with his counterparts there and I'm sure he has not made his last visit there.

Yes, Jessica.

Q    Jay, the President has raised millions of dollars from LGBT donors, many of whom say that they believe in a second term the President will come out in support of gay marriage.  So doesn't he owe them -- or owe voters in general -- his direct response and just stop dancing around the issue and telling voters will he or won’t he support gay marriage in a second term?

MR. CARNEY:  The President was asked this and said that his views on -- his personal views on this were evolving.  The President does have, as you noted, significant support in the LGBT community, and that's because of his unparalleled record in support of LGBT rights.  That includes the fight to repeal successfully "don't ask, don't tell.”  It includes signing hate crimes legislation that includes LGBT persons.  It includes ending a legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.  It includes --

Q    -- he says to these audiences --

MR. CARNEY:  -- ensuring hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, and I could go on.

Q    On June 23rd --

MR. CARNEY:  His record on the LGBT rights is simply unparalleled, and he will continue to fight for those rights going forward.

Q    Jay, on June 23rd, he told an LGBT audience, “Everybody deserves to be able to live and love as they see fit.  I don't have to tell the people in this room we’ve got a ways to go in the struggle.”  What is he referring to if not gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you have heard him say and those in the administration like myself who speak for him that he strongly opposes efforts to restrict rights, to repeal rights for same-sex couples.  He has made his opposition to those efforts in various states known and will continue to do so.

I think it’s a statement of obvious fact that full enjoyment of rights by LGBT citizens has not been achieved uniformly across the country.  And that's why he has taken a stand on -- in opposition to efforts in some states to deny those rights and discriminate against LGBT citizens.

Q    So can you explain then clearly what -- how Vice President Biden, who said, there is a consensus building toward gay marriage in this nation, and then came out yesterday saying that he is absolutely comfortable with men marrying men and women marrying women having equal rights, is not an endorsement of gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the Vice President expressed his personal views.  He also said he was evolving on the issue.  I think the description --

Q    When?

Q    When did he say that?

Q    He did not say that, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  He did.

Q    No.  His spokesperson said that afterwards.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me just be clear, though.  The Vice President -- what he said about the protection of rights of citizens is completely consistent with the President’s position on this issue, and his description of the way the country has moved on this issue I think is wholly accurate.  I think we all have seen the data that describes an evolution of views across the country on these issues.  So I don’t think there's anything surprising about him saying that.

Q    You're trying to have it both ways before an election.

MR. CARNEY:  No.  Look, this President has been extremely aggressive in supporting LGBT rights.  He fought against those who oppose the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and achieved that in this administration.  There are those who want to bring "don't ask, don't tell" back.  He very robustly fights against efforts to restrict or deny rights to LGBT citizens and discriminate against them, and he’ll continue to do so.

And again, you didn’t want to hear it, but there's a long, long list of the actions that this administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens in this country.  And that’s a record that the President is very proud of.

Jake.

Q    I want to continue with Jessica’s line, but before I do I did want to see if the President had an opportunity to see the hostage video of Warren Weinstein, who has been taken hostage by al Qaeda, and made a direct plead to the President and referenced -- a very personal plea -- and referenced his two daughters and the President’s two daughters -- if there was any response from the President -- if he’s seen it, if he has a response.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President is aware of it.  I do not believe he’s seen it, or I do not know that he’s seen it.  We remain greatly concerned for Mr. Weinstein’s safety and his well-being.  Our hearts go out to him and his family.  We condemn his kidnapping in the strongest terms and call for his immediate release.  The U.S. government will continue making every effort to see Mr. Weinstein released safety to his family, but we cannot and will not negotiate with al Qaeda.

Q    Okay.  And back to the same-sex marriage issue.  I think one of the issues is that when asked about the President’s position, the President no longer said he is evolving on the issue.  He says, I don’t have any news to make on that.  That’s what Stephanie Cutter, a few minutes ago on cable said -- I don’t have any news for you.  The suggestion is that there is news there and you guys are just waiting for the proper time to drop it, likely after November.

MR. CARNEY:  I think that’s your characterization, Jake. 

Q    I think that’s what it means --

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President said that he was evolving, and he had -- I think when people have asked him that and he has no update to give them or no change in his views to put forward, that he’s simply saying that I have nothing new for you on that.  His position is what it was.  And that’s with regards to his personal views.

What I think needs to be remembered here is what he has done in office in support of LGBT rights.  And that record is extensive and considerable and unparalleled.  And he’ll continue to fight for those rights as long as he’s in office.

Q    Positing that the President has done more for LGBT individuals than any other President in history -- so you don’t need to say that again -- (laughter) -- the question is --

MR. CARNEY:  But I will.

Q    Just for this question.  When you get to Norah, whatever you want.  But the question is, I think there are very few people who think that the President is not going to, after November, whether he's reelected or not, come out in favor of same-sex marriage.  I think there are very few people on the President's campaign who doubt that; very few people who support the President, very few people who oppose the President who have any doubt that that is what is going to likely happen.  And if that is the likely future of the President and this position, given that you don't have any news to drop on it where probably his mind has been made up, why not just come out and say it and let voters decide?  It seems cynical to hide this until after the election.

MR. CARNEY:  Jake, I think the President's position is well known.  He's spoken to this.  It's gotten a great deal of coverage.  I don't have an update to provide you on the President's position.  It is what it was.  I'm sorry you don't want to hear about the President's support for LGBT rights because it's considerable.

Q    It's not that I don't want to hear it.  I don't want to hear the same talking points 15 times in a row.

MR. CARNEY:  I think the -- talking points to you; serious substantial rights to others.  Okay?  "Don't ask, don't tell" -- repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is a serious matter.  The efforts that this administration has taken on behalf of LGBT citizens are serious matters.

Q    I'm not belittling that, Jay.  We're talking about same-sex marriage.

MR. CARNEY:  I think that's the context of this discussion. I just don't have anything more to give to you on the issue of the President's views.

Q    Because he's still evolving.  Not because you don't have news for me, it's because he's still evolving.

MR. CARNEY:  It is as it was, yes. 

Norah.

Q    Why does the President oppose same-sex marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  I would just point you to what the President has said in the past, both during his campaign for President in 2008 and in answer to a question at the end of 2010.  I really don't have an update for you, Norah.

Q    Is the President comfortable with the fact of men marrying men and women marrying women?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is comfortable with same-sex couples, as the President -- the Vice President said, being entitled to the same rights and the civil rights and civil liberties as other Americans.  And that's why he has fought for those equal rights and why he's opposed efforts to discriminate against LGBT citizens and to take away rights that have been established by law.

Q    Biden -- the Vice President appears to have evolved on the issue, but the President is still evolving -- is that a fair characterization?

MR. CARNEY:  I will leave it to individuals to describe their own personal views.  What I can explain to you is what the President's positions are on issues, the actions he has taken at a policy level on behalf of LGBT Americans, and his commitment to continue to take actions on their behalf to protect and defend their rights.

Q    Let me ask you this.  You have a number of Democratic governors throughout this country -- Governor O'Malley, Governor Cuomo, Governor Malloy, to name a view, now the Vice President, who all support same-sex marriage.  Why doesn’t President Obama support same-sex marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  I just don't have an update for you, Norah, on the President's position on his personal views.  I can tell you that he is a absolutely committed supporter of LGBT rights.  His record bears that out.  It is an unparalleled record of support for LGBT citizens and their rights, and he's proud of it and he'll run on it. 

And I think that it's important to remember when we talk about those accomplishments under this administration that they are far more than talking points; they are considerable, serious demonstrations of progress, important progress -- progress that others would take away and reverse.  This President is committed to not letting that happen.

Q    When you now say the Vice President is evolving -- he did not say that, as was pointed out, but he used some key words beyond what Norah just quoted.  He also said that they are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.  Does that mean he supports same-sex marriage? 

MR. CARNEY:  I was pointing to this statement that the Vice President's office put out yesterday describing his statements, and I don't have any elaboration on that.  I can tell you that what he said is completely consistent in that paragraph with the President's views that LGBT citizens should enjoy the same rights and that they should not be discriminated against.  And efforts to take away those rights are something that this President strongly opposes.

Q    But how come when the President proposes something like the American Jobs Act -- you could name anything -- and he says  -- he travels around the country and says, you're entitled to press members of Congress, tell them, are they for this or are they against it -- why can't you from this podium say whether or not the President supports or opposes same-sex marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can tell you that the President has spoken about this, and that his views have not changed and I have no update to give you on them.

Q    Okay.  Quick question on the economy.  We saw the President officially roll out his campaign on Saturday.  You saw that the Republican National Committee immediately came out with a video quoting him in 2008 saying, you know, the big question in '08 is going to be, are you going to be better off four years from now?  Now on Saturday, he seemed to be saying the big question is, are you going to better off another four years from now?  He put out a new ad today -- the campaign.  I know that's in Chicago, but the President himself seems to be saying -- four years ago he said, the question is, are you going to be better off in four years?  Is he buying more time now?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has and will continue to defend his record and make a strong case for the actions that he's taken to reverse the most cataclysmic decline in our economy that we've experienced in our lifetimes.

When you talk about where we were four years ago, think about it.  We were on the precipice of the worst economic decline since the Great Depression -- under the previous administration. When he took office, we were hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month, okay?  We have now seen 25 straight months of private sector job creation, 11 straight quarters of positive economic growth, which stands in contrast to the fourth quarter of 2008 -- the last quarter that his predecessor was in office -- during which the economy shrank 9 percent.
 
Now, I would argue that most Americans believe that we're going in a far better direction now than we were in 2008.

Q    So that means we're better off than we were four years ago?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we are better off gaining jobs than losing jobs at a rate of 800,000 per month.  We're better off growing the economy than we are seeing it shrink at a pace not seen since the Great Depression.  I think indisputably -- do we have further to go?  No question.  The President says that all the time when he discusses this issue. 

The hole dug by the great recession was very deep.  The climb out of it is steep, but we have made significant progress. And we need to make sure that we take the steps necessary to continue to grow the economy, that Congress acts on proposals the President has put forward that they have yet to act on to, for example, put teachers back to work and first responders back to work, to put American construction workers back on the job.
 
One of the striking things about the recovery that we've seen so far in terms of job creation is that compared with previous recessions -- under President Reagan, for example -- there's been a significant drop in government employment during this recovery.  That was not the case under previous Presidents. One, at least in recent months, causes of that has been the laying off of teachers around the country. 

The President put forward a proposal to ensure that those teachers were brought back into the classroom.  Republicans in the Congress opposed it.  They had a choice to support teachers or tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans; teachers or subsidies for oil and gas companies.  Unfortunately, they didn't choose teachers.

Yes.

Q    Why did the administration feel like they had to put out a statement clarifying what the Vice President said?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't know that the -- the office of the Vice President put out a statement.  I think that there was a lot of interest generated by the comments and the office of the Vice President put out a statement to make it clear what the Vice President was saying. 

But again, I think that there is a little bit of an overreaction here.  The Vice President supports and made clear he supports the President’s policies when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBT citizens, and he also has his own personal views about the issue, as does the President, as do most people.  So the President’s record on LGBT rights is extensive, and he is committed to working to move forward on that issue.

Q    Is it fair to say that publicly the President and the Vice President disagree on gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don't think that's what the Vice President said yesterday.  But again, I don't think that's the point.  The President and the Vice President and everyone in this administration support the initiatives that this President has taken to protect and defend the rights of all Americans, including LGBT Americans.

Q    When it came to the issue of marriage before, there was a time when the President was somebody who believed in deferring it to the states.  Does he still feel that way?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President believes that the states are deciding this issue, and he has made clear --

Q    -- clearly a state issue, not a federal issue?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that we certainly oppose efforts to take away rights at a federal level, which some politicians suppose -- a constitutional amendment to deny rights to LGBT Americans across the country -- we oppose that.  The President opposes that.  States have taken action on this issue, and the President believes that when the process works that it’s a positive thing.  He also opposes efforts in states to repeal rights or deny rights to LGBT citizens that have already been established.

Q    So what would that put him -- where would the President be then on the amendment in North Carolina that would ban gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  The President, through the campaign -- but the same person opposes efforts to deny the rights of citizens in any state where those rights have been established.

Q    So he opposes -- so help me out there.  He opposes bans on gay marriage but he doesn’t yet support gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  The record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples.  That is a position he has taken that precedes his taking a position in North Carolina.  It’s a position he’s taken in other states where this has been an issue. Yes, he is opposed to efforts in states to deny rights that have been provided to citizens.

Q    You understand why there is so much confusion --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he believes that states --

Q    -- because you’re saying he opposes bans on gay marriage but he’s not yet for gay marriage.  I mean, that’s --

MR. CARNEY:  He believes that the states are -- marriage is a state issue, and the states have the right to take action on it.  What he opposes is efforts to repeal rights that have been granted to LGBT citizens.  He thinks that's discriminatory and wrong.

Q    Let me ask you about Greece.  I know there’s been a lot of interest in the French election.  Does the administration have a position on whether Greece -- if Greece decides to pull out of the eurozone?  Is there a concern that they might and that it would set off a greater economic crisis?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that we are looking at the eurozone crisis as a whole.  We understand that the political parties in Greece are working to form a coalition, and we hope to hear an announcement in the coming days.  The Greek people have made many sacrifices to address that country’s economic crisis.  And Greece’s economic reform program remains vital to sustaining fiscal stability to spurring economic growth into a more prosperous future for Greece and the entire region.

We’re going to continue to work with Greece, with whom we have an important relationship and a longstanding relationship, and we will continue to support through the IMF Greece’s efforts to implement essential reforms that restore fiscal sustainability and promote economic growth. 

We are, as I said earlier in response to other questions, very mindful of the impact that the situation in Europe can have on the American economy.  It’s been described as a headwind.  That’s why we work so closely with our European counterparts and advise and consult with them on the steps they’re taking to deal with it.  And Greece is obviously a part of that and we’ll continue to work with the Greeks.

Q    No position yet on whether they -- if they decide there’s -- is there a fear that they’re going to leave the eurozone?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to speculate about --

Q    -- or anything like that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that stability in Europe is important.  It’s certainly important for America’s economic growth.  And we’re continuing to work with our European counterparts to assist them with that effort in any way we can.

Q    May I follow up?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me get Laura, and then yes.

Q    There’s going to be an effort this summer to have support for gay marriage as part of the Democratic platform.  Does the President believe it’s important that the platform reflects his views?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the issue of the platform, which hasn’t been developed yet, I would refer you to the DNC.

Q    My question was whether the President -- this is a question for the President -- whether the President thinks that the platform just kind of doesn't matter, which some people say, or whether it really is a statement of his views whatever those may be?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s a statement of the party’s view and has long been that.  But I don't have -- I haven’t had that discussion with him.  But I think a platform is a statement of a party’s views.  It is called a Democratic or Republican Party platform.  But for questions about the development of that platform I’d refer you to the DNC.

Q    He is the head of his party.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't have a different answer for you, Laura.  It’s a platform that hasn’t been developed.  I would point you to the DNC for questions about it.

Q    On Friday the President said that he’d be putting forward ideas for job creation for Congress to consider.  Is there anything different about what he’s going to be doing this week along those lines?  Or is it just another effort at --

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President will tomorrow talk about some of the things that Congress should and must do to help the economy grow and create jobs.  I won’t steal his thunder by giving you specifics, but that is certainly going to be a topic of discussion when the President has his event in New York tomorrow.

Q    And is there -- do you have any reason to believe that this effort will be more successful than past efforts?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think past efforts have to some degree been effective.  We have an extension of the payroll tax cut only because of the President’s firm decision to fight for that despite strong resistance from Republicans.  We have an extension of the unemployment insurance through the end of the year, the calendar year, because of his fighting for it.  And we also have some other measures that have passed -- the STOCK Act and the so-called JOBS Act, other demonstrations of the ability for Congress to come together and work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that this President can sign, in spite of the fact that we have experienced a considerable amount of gridlock, and despite the fact that it’s an election year. 

I don't think Congress will act because the President says Congress must act.  I think the Congress will act because the people that sent them here are insisting that they act.  That's why in the end Republicans finally came to an agreement on extending the payroll tax cut.  That is why in the end they have come to an agreement among themselves on a variety of other issues.

I think that, as you know, every member of the House is up for election this year and a third of the Senate, and each of those members who are running for reelection has to explain to his or her constituents what they did while they were in Washington these last two years.  Did they just say no?  Did they just block every effort put forward to help the economy grow and create jobs?  Or did they actually try to work constructively to get something done?  And it is perhaps the need to answer that question in an affirmative way that might compel members of Congress to take a more constructive approach.

Jon-Christopher.

Q    Yes, following up on the Hollande question and the Greek election question, domestically, is the administration planning to go to Congress with an economic package that would include a stimulus plan that could cushion the U.S. from the effects of a possible European recession if the euro deal should, in fact, go down?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has put forward, with the American Jobs Act and the initiatives that he described in the State of the Union that will help create an America built to last, an economy built to last, a number of initiatives that will help this economy continue to grow, will help this economy to continue to create jobs.  And he’s going to, as I just mentioned to Laura, talk about initiatives that this Congress could and should pass, the kinds of things that should enjoy bipartisan support if there really is interest in Congress to -- among Republicans in particular -- to -- just one second. 

We want to get some -- Lester, are you okay? 

Q    I’m fine.  I just have one question.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  You’re good.  (Laughter.)  Somebody give him a seat, please, if you could. 

Q    Les, can you wait until Jay finishes answering mine?  

MR. CARNEY:  Please, somebody give Lester a seat.

Q    And then one on al Qaeda --

MR. CARNEY:  Let me move around a little bit.

Q    Thanks, Jay. 

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    I sort of got the full answer --

MR. CARNEY:  The President has put forward a number of initiatives that are built around the notion that we need to continue to take steps to grow this economy after -- as we’re recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

I think as I mentioned earlier, the context includes issues like the eurozone crisis, issues like global prices for oil that can create headwinds for our economy.  But that's one of the reasons why we need to take action here on matters that we can control entirely, which is our capacity to pass legislation that actually does something to help the economy, as opposed to bickering over things when the American people are demanding action.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Al Qaeda?

MR. CARNEY:  Connie -- al Qaeda, sure.

Q    What is the difference between not negotiating with al Qaeda and releasing prisoners from -- Afghan military prisoners, as reported in The Washington Post?  And also, what’s the difference between negotiating with al Qaeda and the Taliban?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you’re conflating a number of things, Connie.  And I don't think anybody would -- I think a lot of ink has been spilled over the differentiation between the Taliban and -- certainly rank-and-file members of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The fact of the matter is, on the issue of prisoner releases, the story in The Washington Post, these kinds of decisions are made by battlefield commanders, and I would refer you to ISAF and the DOD on that.  They are not made in Washington.

Secondly, because of this President’s focus on a specific mission in Afghanistan, it has been this President’s policy and this administration’s policy that the number-one priority of our mission in Afghanistan is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda.  The Taliban exists in Afghanistan, and for ultimate peace in Afghanistan there needs to be reconciliation. And that's why we have supported Afghan-led efforts towards reconciliation with the Taliban on the conditions that members of the Taliban who wish to reconcile lay down their arms, denounce al Qaeda and sever all ties with al Qaeda, and commit themselves to abiding by the Afghan constitution.

Yes.

Q    Jay, is one of the reasons the President wants to meet with the French President-elect before G8 and NATO is to discuss Hollande’s stand on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President and President-elect Hollande will have a number of issues to discuss.  I think he wants to meet with him because he’s just been elected President of one of our oldest allies -- our oldest ally.  And he looks forward to doing that.

Q    Does his -- does Hollande’s stand jeopardize the President’s efforts to shore up the alliance in Chicago?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we can wait until NATO meets in Chicago to discuss steps going forward on Afghanistan.  The President was just in Afghanistan last week, as you know, and his commitment to moving forward with the strategy that he put forward that includes transferring security authority -- the security lead over to the Afghan National Security Forces and ultimately full security lead over to the Afghans by 2014 is something he described last week, and will certainly be a focus of discussion in Chicago.

Yes, Roger.

Q    Thank you.  There’s a compromise on the Hill on Export-Import Bank legislation.  It’s hammered together by Hoyer and Cantor.  Will the President be supporting that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we certainly support the effort to reach a compromise.  We think it’s very important, as we’ve said before, that this reauthorization take place to help our exports, which is an important component of our economic recovery.  The President is committed to expanding exports, and he certainly commends those who are working towards finding a compromise.

Q    There are a couple of restrictions in there, one of which involves ending export subsidies to airline makers.  Is there any concern --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take that question.  I don't have any specifics for you on the legislation.

Steve.

Q    Is the President going to support Charlie Rangel’s reelection?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take that question.  I haven’t --

Q    Why?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, sure.  I just don't -- I haven’t been asked it before, so I --

Q    Yes, sure, you’ll take the question, or, sure, he supports him?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to get back to you on that. 

Yes, Mara. 

Q    Just to get clear on your criteria, you said that you oppose state efforts to take away rights.  In North Carolina gays can't marry now, so what is the reason to oppose North Carolina?

MR. CARNEY:  The referendum would, as I understand it, restrict and deny rights to LGBT Americans.  And the President --

Q    That they currently have in North Carolina?

MR. CARNEY:  That's my understanding, yes.

Q    Okay.  My other question is, is marriage a civil liberty?

MR. CARNEY:  You have to ask civil libertarians or lawyers?

Q    Well, in the White House view, is marriage a civil liberty?

MR. CARNEY:  We believe that -- the President believes strongly that LGBT Americans should enjoy the same legal rights, and he opposes efforts to deny rights to LGBT American and discriminate against them.

Q    Okay.  Just another question.  It's pretty rare when somebody runs for office saying, in effect, I'm getting ready to change my mind.  And you've really savaged Mitt Romney for changing his mind, and I'm wondering if you don't run some risk of looking kind of too clever by half here.

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I don't have an update for you on the President's personal views.  He described them in response to a question.  This has gotten a great deal of coverage in the past. That's the answer he has and I don't have a new answer for you.

Q    But what would you say is the definition of "evolving"? You've said it so many times, it has to mean something specific.

MR. CARNEY:  The President said that his views on this are evolving.  I think --

Q    Is he getting ready to change?

MR. CARNEY:  Not necessarily.  I think he just said they were evolving.  And that's at a personal level.  His views on LGBT rights are crystal-clear and this administration has taken actions that are unparalleled to support those rights.  And he'll continue to take those actions because he thinks that's the right thing to do.

April.

Q    How could his views be crystal-clear if everybody in this room is needing to ask you questions?

MR. CARNEY:  Chris, I think everybody in this room is reacting in the way that folks often do to one story that takes off and then they run down the field and chase it.  They're reacting to comments on a Sunday show.  Nothing has changed in the President's firm commitment to LGBT rights and nothing's changed and I have no new information --

Q    -- position by the White House.

MR. CARNEY:  It's the same position.  It's not the position of the White House.  The President's position is --

Q    Then why did you guys send out statements to clarify?

MR. CARNEY:  Because the Vice President's statements were being misinterpreted by some, so he -- so there was an effort to clarify it by the office of the Vice President.

Q    Jay, what do you think the word "evolving" means?

MR. CARNEY:  But that's where the President is, okay.

Q    Is he unevolved?

MR. CARNEY:  April.

Q    That means changing.

Q    Okay, now I have the ball, let me run with it.

MR. CARNEY:  Policy positions haven't changed, Jake.  And I can remind you that his support for LGBT rights is unprecedented and compares favorably to anyone else out there in the political arena who's advocating for these rights.  And he'll continue to support them.

April.

Q    All right, now I'm going to take the ball and run down the field with it real quick.  And I want you to dissect the evolution.

MR. CARNEY:  No, I'm not going to, April.  I'm sorry, I don't have anything new for you.
 
Q    No, no, no, no.  Okay, you're not going to, but can you at least say yea or nay when I kind of try to -- (laughter) -- here's the deal.  Here's the deal.  Before we heard that it was  -- he was having a hard time marrying issues of his faith and rights.  Is that the evolution?  Is that where the evolution issue is a holdup?

MR. CARNEY:  The next time the President has a news conference, if you want to ask him that you’re certainly welcome to.  I do not have an update for you on the President’s personal views.

Q    No, but I’m not finished, I’m not finished.  Wait a minute, one more question.  Going back to what Steve asked about --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to get back --

Q    Okay, well, let me ask you -- does the President at least want to support a Democrat for that seat?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, April, but I don’t have -- I have to take that question. 

Yes.

Q    Can you post that answer, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Jay, did the President know before yesterday, did the President know that the Vice President was comfortable with men marrying men?  Is this something they’ve discussed?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a readout for you of conversations they’ve had on this issue.

Q    Is it something they’ve discussed?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have a readout for you of private conversations that they’ve had.

Andrei.

Q    Thanks.  Do I understand correctly that the Russian President has the same invitation for a bilateral before the Camp David summit that the French President has?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t know that we’ve made any announcement.  The President very much looks forward to meeting with President-elect Putin when he’s here.  Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor, as you know, met with President -- well, he’s President Putin now, he’s been sworn in -- President-elect Putin when he was in Moscow, as well as Security Council Secretary Patrushev and Deputy Head of the Government Apparatus Ushakov as part of an ongoing series of high-level consultations on issues of mutual strategic interest.  And I think there was a readout by the Russian government on those meetings that Mr. Donilon had.

Q    Wait, so they could meet here?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have an announcement to make on any meetings.

Q    No indication yet of a one-on-one with Putin?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take that question.

Q    New topic?

Q    Yes, new topics, Jay.  On Afghanistan -- was it mentioned yesterday in the conversation between the two leaders?

MR. CARNEY:  I would point you to the readout we gave.  I think that contained the topics.

Q    And my second point, President Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were pretty close.  They have been elected -- they knew each other even before being elected.  Do you read or do you see any lessons in Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t think I’ll analyze another country’s politics.  I would simply say that our alliance with France is enduring and will continue to be a vital part of our national security future.

Q    Since this close alliance, being a European Socialist is such a bad name here, and Francois Hollande is a European Socialist, do you think they can really get close in an election year in the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, we have issues with France that we will work on regardless of who’s President or which government -- which party is in power.  And I think that applies to nations across Europe, especially with such allies as close as France is. 
So there have been very close relations between France and the United States, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is in power here, or regardless of which party is in power in France.  And I expect that to continue.

Jen.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Is it still accurate to say, then, that President Obama is opposed to gay marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  I would simply say that his views are evolving, which is what he said.  And I don’t have an update for you on that issue.

Amy.

Q    Just to clarify, were you saying that the Vice President's comments were his personal views?  Were you looping it together with Arne Duncan's views?

MR. CARNEY:  The Vice President spoke very clearly about the President's policies, and they're entirely consistent with the policies that this President has supported.  He also -- he talked about evolution in this country and other issues, and those were personal views.  I will simply refer you to the statement that the office of the Vice President put out.

Q    One to finish up -- back on Hollande.  Do you have any indication that his position will be any different, and could affect yours, on what to do next in Syria?  The United States and France have worked fairly closely together to this point.  Does this put greater onus on the United States to help come up with a better or different solution?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he was just elected yesterday.  I don’t have any more insight into that except to say that our position on Syria I think is quite clear.  We support the Annan plan but are skeptical about the Assad regime's willingness to comply with it.  We will continue to work with the international community and will take steps as necessary if the Annan plan does not succeed.

Yes, Chris.

Q    Jay, just want to get back to -- as someone who's worked with the Vice President before, do you remember him ever speaking so favorably on the issue of same-sex marriage?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I will simply point you to what the Vice President said yesterday.  The Vice President supports this President's policies in support for LGBT rights.

Q    Well, he said as progress.  I mean, is this an evolution --

MR. CARNEY:  I would just point you to what the Vice President said.

Lester, you deserve a question after collapsing.

Q    The Methodist General Conference representatives of 12 million voted 685 to 246 to reject a proposal to divest from companies who do business with Israel.  Is the President grateful for this support of Israel from our third-largest religious denomination?  I have one follow-up.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'll just take the one question.  I'm not aware of that.  The President believes strongly that we have an unshakeable alliance with Israel, and I'll leave it at that.

Thank you all very much.

END
2:33 P.M. EDT

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