The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/24/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions, I have a couple of announcements to make.
First, as you know, the President had been scheduled to speak at the Planned Parenthood National Conference in Washington on Thursday evening. That has been rescheduled for Friday morning in order to allow him to spend more time with those injured and the loved ones of those lost in the deadly explosion in West Texas. As you know, he’ll be at a memorial service for those who were lost on Thursday.
Separately, I’d like to read a statement from the President on the confirmation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell. This is the President:
“I am pleased that the Senate took bipartisan action today to confirm Sylvia Matthews Burwell as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sylvia shares my commitment to growing our economy, shrinking our deficits in a balanced way, and reigniting a rising, thriving middle class. Sylvia has spent a career fighting for working families, and she was part of an OMB team that presided over three budget surpluses in a row. Her experience will be especially important as we continue our efforts to replace the indiscriminate budget cuts that are already starting to cost jobs, hurt families, and inconvenience Americans. Sylvia will be a key member of my economic team, and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.”
Separately -- this is not from the President -- but I noted on my way out here that the Senate Finance Committee had moved forward unanimously on the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to head the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. We obviously welcome that development.
I will take your questions.
Q Thank you. I wanted to get your assessment on some of the things we’re starting to hear from U.S. officials about the two suspects of the Boston bombing. Should the public look at this as sort of a good development that it appears as though these brothers didn’t have any connection to sort of a major foreign terrorist operation? Or is it more troubling that they appear to be what people are saying is self-radicalized?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. As you know, because you heard it from the President, he believes it’s essential that a complete and comprehensive investigation answer all the questions that we have about how this terrorist attack happened, what motivated the suspects whom we believe perpetrated the terrorist attack. Everything we can learn about them and what inspired them, and how they developed the explosive devices that were used -- these are all matters that are under investigation right now as part of the case against the second suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the overall investigation into the bombings themselves.
I don’t think we have all the answers yet and we won’t for some time. That’s why we need a comprehensive investigation. As the President said on Friday night, we need to know whether they acted alone or whether they had associations. We need to know what inspired them, how they came about possessing or developing the weapons and explosive devices that they used.
On the issue of -- separate from this case, because I think we haven’t gotten the answers to these questions; that’s why we have a full investigation into the matter. On the issue of self-radicalization, especially online radicalization, and radicalization that leads to violence, this has been a concern and it has been an issue in the past. We have seen it in the past in very well-known cases. And this is a problem that the President has talked about and leaders of his national security team have talked about.
And as I said I think yesterday, the threat that faces us as a nation has evolved. We continue to face a threat from al Qaeda central, even though we have met with significant progress in the fight against al Qaeda central, beginning with the elimination of Osama bin Laden. We have offshoots of al Qaeda in various parts of the region and the world, and we have other terrorist threats and the threat posed by independent actors.
We don’t know yet whether the independent actor prism is the one that will fit this particular case. I would refer you to the investigators, but I suspect that they're focused on the case itself.
Q Is there any discussion that’s happening here though about how sort of procedures and protocols need to possibly be readjusted to account for self-radicalization and not people who may have links to any overseas groups?
MR. CARNEY: I think the threat -- and you've heard John Brennan and others talk about this -- John, when he was in his previous position -- is one we assess and reassess all the time, and that all the agencies charged with protecting the United States and the American people assess and reassess all the time, and they evaluate how best to counter the threat that can be posed from different corners.
The issues related to this case and procedures and how they worked, what we learned in a warning from Russia, for example, and the action that sparked the FBI to take and to looking into Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- all of these issues are obviously under investigation. What we do know is that the FBI took action in response to that notification, investigated the elder brother -- investigated thoroughly -- and came to the conclusion that there was no derogatory information, no indication of terrorist activity or associations either foreign or domestic at that time.
But this is a matter of investigation, and we will -- we look forward to the results of that investigation.
Q Quickly, on a separate topic. I know the White House had purposely kept the President a little more on the backburner on immigration while the Gang of Eight got its draft bill together. Now that that draft bill is public, are we going to see the President taking a more public role on the immigration issue going forward?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's fair to say that we have made the progress we have made as a country, or at least here in Washington, towards comprehensive immigration reform in no small measure because of the President’s leadership. He made this an issue. He has supported this for a long time. He has had his principles available to the public now for some time.
It was his judgment that the best avenue for achieving broad, comprehensive immigration reform that had bipartisan support and could pass the Senate and the House, and meet his principles, and be signed into law by him was to encourage a process that was emerging in the Senate and that has produced the bill that you mentioned. And that is welcome progress.
And we are evaluating the legislation, but the bill does meet the principles that the President laid forward -- laid out. So you can expect the President to continue to speak about the need for comprehensive immigration reform -- why it’s good for our economy; why it’s good for our national security; why it’s good and better for the middle class -- in days and weeks ahead.
And he will continue to work with members of Congress who are engaged in this bipartisan effort. It is one of the topics that he frequently discusses when he has meetings with lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans. As you know, he had a meeting -- a dinner last night here at the White House with a bipartisan group of female U.S. senators. He has had meals with groups of Republican lawmakers as well as Democratic lawmakers. And those conversations will continue. And in every one of those conversations, immigration reform is a topic.
Q Jay, as I’m sure you’re aware, and you touched on this yesterday, the President is accused of making the effects of the sequester as disruptive as possible to score political points, particularly with regard to the air traffic controllers. Is the White House doing everything it can to minimize these disruptions? Or does it feel in some way that the discomfort helps to make his point about the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: Let’s be clear: The sequester was a law written by Congress. Congress wrote the law. Congress passed the law. Members of Congress should read the law. The law does not allow for the kind of flexibility when it comes to the FAA budget that some of these members -- Republicans, principally -- all claim it has. They should read the law. They wrote it, they should know what’s in it. They passed it, they voted for it, they should know what’s in it.
The fact is the FAA has initiated a series of cost-saving measures, both personnel and non-personnel related, including a hiring freeze, restrictions on travel, termination of certain temporary employees, and reductions to contracts. But the law specifically walls off three-quarters of the department’s budget from sequestration and does not give the department any flexibility to mitigate the impact on the FAA. Why? Because it was written to be a bad law. It was written to be as onerous as possible. And this is a truth that applies all across the impacts of the sequester. Seventy percent, as I said, of the FAA’s budget, operations budget, is personnel. So even after taking all of the measures that the FAA took to cut costs, they have to furlough 47,000 employees for up to 11 days between now and the end of the fiscal year.
Now, look, when it comes to the FAA and the travel delays that we have seen, we are absolutely concerned about this terrible effect of the sequester. That's why two months ago the Secretary of Transportation stood before you in this room and warned of these looming effects and called on Congress to act to avert them.
Unfortunately, instead of acting to avert them and to delay the sequester or eliminate it through the kind of broad-based, bipartisan, balanced deficit reduction that the country supports, Republicans in Congress made a political, tactical decision to embrace the sequester. They did and they declared it a victory. They said it's a victory for the tea party. It's a home run for the Republican Party.
It's slightly ironic that -- and you never hear them mention this -- but they should also read the budget that they passed in the House of Representatives. The Ryan budget cuts -- if the dramatic, non-defense discretionary cuts envisioned in that budget were applied across the board -- because of course they're not identified in the Ryan budget -- but if they were just applied across the board, the cuts to the FAA would be three times the size of the sequester budget reductions. Three times. That's what they voted for. That's what they want to become the law of the land.
And it's not just the FAA. The same dramatic, steep cuts in services for children, for seniors; the same kind of harm that we're seeing from the sequester -- eliminating children from Head Start, eliminating access to Meals on Wheels programs for seniors -- just multiplied and made worse. That's the budget they voted for.
Now, when Secretary LaHood was out here warning of these problems, the Republicans instead in Congress were saying, you know what, no, the sequester is a good thing. We want it. We would rather have the sequester take effect than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more to help reduce our deficit in a balanced way. That was the choice they made. Now, we share the frustration, and we warned about these very problems. And we think those members of Congress who haven't read the law that they voted for and passed ought to read it. But they also, more importantly, ought to take action to do away with the sequester so that we don't suffer these consequences.
Q On the budget, the House Republicans say they're going to hold off naming conferees on a budget resolution while Ryan and Murray work separately to come to details. Is the White House content with that process? And is the White House aiming to involve itself? Is the President aiming to involve himself in the budget negotiations in any way to speed them up?
MR. CARNEY: Republicans called for regular order. They said the Senate ought to pass a budget; we ought to have regular order in a way that we have not had in previous years. The Senate passed a budget. The House passed a budget. The normal regular order process here would then demand leadership to appoint conferees. Senator Reid has attempted to move forward on that and has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate. We call on Republicans to adopt the regular order that they said they wanted, and that would require conferees to be appointed.
The President is broadly interested, as you know, in finding common ground. That's why he has had these meetings with Republican lawmakers and bipartisan groups of lawmakers to see and explore the possibility of finding common ground on a range of issues, but in particular, in many ways, on these budget challenges that confront us. Finding common ground means agreeing to the basic principle that we need a balanced approach to our deficit reduction. That's the principle that has been embraced by every bipartisan group that has made a proposal on deficit reduction. It's the principle embodied in the President's budget. It's the principle embodied in the Senate budget proposal. It's the right way to go.
So the President is interested in speaking with any Republican in Congress who is interested in trying to find common ground on these issues, who is open to the idea of balanced deficit reduction. So those conversations will continue. Meanwhile, we certainly believe that Republicans ought to embrace the regular order that they demanded and move forward with appointing conferees.
Q And lastly, Senator Baucus in announcing his retirement said he wanted to focus on comprehensive tax reform. Would the White House be open to tax reform independent of the grand bargain process? And if so, what kinds of conditions would it set for that?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that tax reform is essential as part of a comprehensive, balanced approach to deficit reduction. We do not believe what the Republicans believe in their proposals, which we ought to reform our tax code in order to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. That’s obviously not the President's approach. And I'm not suggesting that that’s the Senator's approach; I'm just saying that the President has put forward a broad comprehensive budget that reduces our deficit significantly and does so in a balanced way, and it includes within it revenue achieved through closing loopholes in our tax code, capping deductions for wealthy individuals, eliminating special interest clauses in our tax code that benefit industries or individuals, and using that money to help reduce our deficit as well as make key investments in our economy so that it grows and creates jobs.
That overall balanced approach is the one the President believes we ought to take.
Q But just to be clear, tax reform separate from a grand bargain deficit reduction package is a non-starter?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President believes -- I mean, you're just sort of speaking very hypothetically -- but the President believes that tax reform needs to be part of a budget process that produces revenue so that we can reduce our deficit in a balanced and fair way, not -- again, the only proposal on the table is the House Republican budget, which reforms the tax code in a way to give additional massive tax breaks to the rich while raising taxes on the middle class. And that is wholly unacceptable, not just to the President, but to the American people.
Q It appears that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's name appears in two separate government databases for potential terrorists, and that he pinged the system when he traveled to Russia last year, but there was no follow-up by the FBI following that. Is this administration fully confident that these databases are providing adequate protection for the American people? And what do you make of some of these concerns expressed by lawmakers yesterday that there perhaps is not enough information-sharing going on between the various agencies, and that kind of information-sharing should have been improved dramatically after September 11? There are concerns that that’s not the case.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. As Secretary Napolitano testified yesterday, Tamerlan Tsarnaev did ping in our systems when he traveled. But we also know that the FBI did a thorough investigation in 2011 and did not find any terrorism activity, foreign or domestic.
Broadly, the questions that you ask and Julie asked before you are ones that this investigation seeks to answer. And as the President made clear when he spoke before you on Friday night, he wants every agency involved in this to do a broad investigation into what happened, what we knew, what inspired and motivated these two individuals, and the steps that they took that led to the terrorist attacks in Boston a week ago Monday. That process needs to take place, and it’s being undertaken now in an investigation led by the FBI and a prosecution, obviously, led by the Justice Department.
Q But has the administration heard anything that’s developed with respect to whether or not there was enough sharing of information and data in this case -- I mean, that concerns the administration at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to give assessments, day by day, of the little bits of information that emerge in reports about the investigation. We want to let the investigation proceed. What we do know, because it was publicly stated by the FBI, and what we can share is the actions that they took in 2011 in response to information provided to them by a foreign government, and the conclusions that they reached then and the nature of the investigation they conducted then.
It is certainly the case that the FBI conducted a series of actions looking into Tamerlan Tsarnaev. They interviewed Mr. Tsarnaev and his family and reached the conclusions that they reached, which is they had no derogatory information, no associations with terrorism or terrorists, foreign or domestic. But beyond that, I think we need to let the investigation unfold and make assessments when we know all the facts.
Q And a political question. Yesterday, Senator Max Baucus announced that he’s retiring, he’s not running for reelection. And given the fact that he voted against Manchin and Toomey, given the fact that recently he described Obamacare as a potential train wreck, are you glad to see him go?
MR. CARNEY: The President put out a statement in reaction to Senator Baucus’s decision not to seek reelection. I would say a couple of things. One, he made clear his views on and his disappointment over the failure of the Senate to support a proposition -- the expansion of background checks -- that 90 percent of the American people support. I think he was very clear and concise in his language and how he viewed that.
On the other matter, I think it’s important to note that the Senator was referring to an implementation process that has been -- which Republicans have again and again attempted to disrupt. In addition to the 30 or 40 votes they’ve taken to do away with Obamacare, you would think they would find time to do other, more productive work.
But implementation proceeds apace, and we are on track and we will be implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Q Jay, the White House has officially -- just a few moments ago, you didn’t want to get involved in deciding at this point whether or not the two terrorists were in fact foreign-inspired or if they were homegrown, domestic terrorists. But the Vice President seems to have already made that decision. Just a few moments ago, he called the accused bombers ”two cowardly, twisted, perverted, knockoff jihadis.”
MR. CARNEY: So, I’m sorry, that’s a conclusion that doesn’t track -- I mean, that’s a statement that doesn’t track with what you said in the top of your question.
Q Well, it does seem as though if he’s saying they’re “knockoff jihadis” --
MR. CARNEY: I think the act was cowardly and it was terrorism. But --
Q But doesn’t “knockoff jihadis” seem to indicate that he doesn’t believe they’re connected to a large, foreign --
MR. CARNEY: Seem to -- I’m sorry, you’re making assessments that I’m not going to engage in. There’s an investigation underway. We know some things. There’s a lot more to learn. And that’s why the investigation is taking place.
We have seen a remarkable period from the moment the bombings occurred through last week and Friday night when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was put in custody, and now, through to this day, only a few days later as the investigation proceeds and he’s been charged. But this is a short period of time. And it should be noted that federal law enforcement, led by the FBI, working with state and local authorities, did a remarkable job last week from the moment of the bombings through to the arrest of Mr. Tsarnaev. And now the process of investigation and prosecution moves on.
So I think we saw last week that there is some danger in making -- jumping to conclusions, making judgments based on new information that may or may not be true, or partial information that will be developed further as time goes on. I think it’s important to allow the investigation to proceed and for us to make assessments about all of these questions once we have more facts.
Q But just follow up on that -- but you don’t see the term “knockoff jihadis” as minimizing any connection to a foreign, larger group like al Qaeda?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that the question of whether or not they had any associations is one under investigation by the proper authorities. And we obviously have some information; some has made its way into press reports. But that investigation is not complete, and we’re not going to make any conclusions until we have all the facts.
Q Can I just follow up on the FAA sequestration? It does appear as though, moving forward -- rather than talking about what had happened and how we got here -- but moving forward, it does seem as though the Secretary of Transportation may be meeting with some senators about a new law that would reduce the effects on the FAA. Does the White House support that?
MR. CARNEY: What I think I said yesterday and what I’ll say again today is the best way to deal with the sequester is to eliminate it through broad, balanced deficit reduction along the lines that the President has put forward, that bipartisan panels have put forward, and that the American people support, and that the Senate passed.
But the fact is, on dealing with the sequester, Congress has to act. The law was written in a way that prevents the kind of actions that could mitigate, that some outside observers and lawmakers suggest are available. Congress has to act. Now, if Congress wants to address specifically the problems caused by the sequester with the FAA, we would be open to looking at that. But that would be a band-aid measure.
And it would not deal with the many other negative effects of the sequester: the kids kicked off of Head Start; the seniors who aren’t getting Meals on Wheels; and the up to three-quarter of a million Americans who will lose their jobs, or will not have jobs created for them because of the sequester; and the reduction by a full half of a percentage point in GDP that will be a result of the sequester if it’s allowed to continue.
The right thing to do would have been never to allow the sequester to take effect at all. But Republicans made a choice, decided that it was good for their internal politics to embrace it, call it a “tea party victory,” a “victory for the Republican Party,” “a homerun” -- these are all quotes -- rather than worry about the effects on the American people. And we’re seeing those effects in airports and we’re seeing those effects on the families who are not able to send their kids to Head Start programs.
So we’d be open to something if they wanted to propose it, but it would just be a band-aid approach and we would continue to have these other problems that need to be addressed by sensible deficit reduction that’s balanced and fair.
Senator Reid has proposed a method of postponing and delaying the sequester to allow time for broad-based, balanced deficit reduction along the lines that the President has proposed.
The obstacle thus far has been Republican refusal, Republican intransigence to accept the basic principle that we should ask millionaires and billionaires to give up some special-interest tax breaks, the benefits that they enjoy in our tax code that others don’t enjoy, in order to avoid all these negative impacts.
Q Jay, just to follow up on that thread -- does the White House support Senator Reid's approach? Because it does not include taxes, it looks to -- oversees contingency operations and other funding that’s possibly available for working out this problem. Does the White House support that approach with this problem right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Leader Reid's proposal allows for the sequester to be turned off for a temporary period and in a way that does not hurt seniors, does not hurt the middle class and does not hurt students. And we support this effort to allow both sides to find a longer-term solution that replaces the sequester permanently in a balanced way so we can stop these harmful cuts that are hurting our economy and middle-class families across the country.
This would be a temporary solution, and we support it. But it does not deal -- it would not -- it would only deal temporarily with the bigger problem, which is the need for Republicans to go along with the principle endorsed by the public, endorsed by bipartisan panels that we ought to reduce our deficit in a balanced way.
It wasn't that many months ago that the Speaker of the House said that he could find a trillion dollars in revenue from tax reform -- revenue gained from closing loopholes and capping deductions on the wealthiest Americans, and that he could apply that to deficit reduction. But suddenly, that policy is no longer relevant to the Speaker now; he's more focused on pointing fingers about the sequester that his party embraced and he said was a political tactic he had in his back pocket.
Q Right, but for the here and now, you're willing to support --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- an approach that does not include tax increases for the moment for a temporary resolution of this problem, correct?
MR. CARNEY: We support Senator's Reid's effort to reduce -- to postpone the sequester temporarily to allow for time for the Congress to adopt a balanced approach to permanently get rid of the sequester and reduce our deficit.
Q And to the charge made by some budget analysts who have no partisan interest in this one way or another that using overseas contingency operations as a means to finance this is kind of a gimmick, because it is accounting for savings that, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, wouldn’t be spent in the first place?
MR. CARNEY: Those savings are the result of policy decisions made by President Obama. That is a fact. It was his policy promise in 2008 to end the war in Iraq and to wind down and end the war in Afghanistan. And he is fulfilling those promises, and there are policy results and financial savings, cost savings, that flow from those policy decisions.
The fact is previous Republican budgets have accounted for those savings from OCO -- overseas contingency operations. The previous Paul Ryan budgets have contained OCO savings in them. And the CBO counts OCO savings. These are real policy choices that produce savings.
We believe that Senator Reid's proposal is a good one in that it would temporarily delay the sequester and all the negative effects that we're talking about now to air travelers and families and seniors, as well as the job loss and the drag on our economy, in order to allow for the discussions that the President is engaged in to try to find common ground with Republicans to bear fruit so that we can reduce our deficit in a balanced way and eliminate the sequester entirely.
Q On Boston real quick. You have been understandably cautious from this podium about what is known and what is not known and advised all of us not to jump to conclusions. Earlier this morning, Secretary of State Kerry said, and I quote him directly here, "We [just] had a young Russian person who went to Russia, Chechnya, who blew people up in Boston. So he didn't stay where he went, but he learned something where he went and he came back with a willingness to kill people." Are those remarks consistent with the caution you've urged of everyone in the administration and everyone dealing with this story? Or do they reflect something that's known but not yet disclosed by the administration?
MR. CARNEY: The answer to that second question is no. And the State Department has clarified that Secretary Kerry was not reflecting any new information or conclusion about the individuals involved. He was speaking generally about the nature of terrorism. But we are in the process of an investigation. Those comments don't reflect any new information.
The fact is there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. We, broadly -- the federal government, the FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating this matter. I think it is known that our embassy in Moscow sent a team down to Dagestan to interview the Tsarnaevs’ parents. And that is part of an investigation into both the broad question about these two young men and what motivated them, and their past and their history, and also the specific visit that the elder brother made last year.
But this investigation is proceeding apace, and we're still in the phase of getting questions answered. We're not making final assessments.
Q Does this indicate the need for everyone, including Cabinet secretaries, to be careful?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that in a situation like this we ought to let the investigators do their work and not jump to conclusions, as the President said on Friday.
Q A House committee is considering legislation that would basically take the decision-making about the Keystone XL pipeline out of the hands of the State Department and the EPA. What's your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not aware of considerations in a House committee. But we have seen action taken by Republicans in Congress in the past of demands made to politicize this decision, a decision that's housed in the State Department appropriately as it has been through previous administrations, Democratic and Republican -- and that's where it ought to be. Rather than politicize it, which when Republicans did this the first time caused a delay in the consideration of the Keystone pipeline, they ought to let the process proceed in its appropriate place in an appropriate and timely manner. And that's what's happening now in the State Department.
Q The EPA has also found the State Department's initial review to be insufficient, citing among other things the high-carbon production involved in just extracting the crude from oil sands. Does it concern you that two parts of the administration appear to be on different pages here?
MR. CARNEY: There is a process underway at the State Department. As part of that process, they ask for comment both from stakeholders and other agencies. The letter that you mentioned, the assessment that you mentioned from the EPA is part of that process, appropriately. And that process is now continuing. The State Department runs these assessments when you have a pipeline that crosses international borders. That has been the case now for successive administrations of both parties. It has been the case in previous consideration of pipelines in this administration and it's the process now. And they run a process, they oversee it. But it obviously includes input from other agencies, as well as the public and stakeholders.
Q To press you on that, though, it's not just the pipeline itself, which the EPA also found some concern about the safety of. But it's the carbon footprint of the production of crude from oil sands that they said the State Department did not consider adequately. Do you feel that that should be the State Department's concern, the carbon footprint of production of oil?
MR. CARNEY: The State Department, again, evaluates comment and information provided to it by agencies across the government with relevant interest in the pipelines that cross international boundaries. And that's the case here. And then it evaluates that information as it moves forward in the process. And that's what's happening.
I'm not going to make judgments about a process that's underway now at the State Department that has not produced a result.
Q Republicans are concerned that this is, as they see it, another attempt to basically delay the construction of the pipeline.
MR. CARNEY: I was wondering where you were coming from, Wendell. For a minute there, I thought you were worried about the environment. (Laughter.) Look, I understand Republicans have a political interest in this. They have demonstrated it in the past. This is a process that needs to be allowed to proceed, as it historically has at the State Department -- a process that incorporates the information provided to the State Department and the assessments provided to the State Department by other agencies, as well as assessments and opinions and concerns expressed by the public, and state and local governments.
If you evaluate the history of this particular decision-making process, you'll note that all of these inputs have had an impact on the process. That's how it should be. What it shouldn't be is politicized in the way that it has been periodically by Republicans in Congress.
Q If I can ask you briefly about -- following up on the hacking of the Associated Press's tweet yesterday -- and they're not the only major media organization to have been hacked in recent days or weeks. What does the White House know about said Syrian Electronic Army?
MR. CARNEY: We've seen those reports, but this is a matter that's under investigation by the FBI, and I would refer you to them. I don't have anything more than that.
Q Nothing more on the Syrian army in particular? Okay. Then let me ask you then --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, let me just say, broadly -- not in response to that specific allegation or assessment -- the threats in cyberspace, as you know, are a serious and growing concern, and cyber security is a national priority. In this case, the misinformation was corrected very quickly, which was a good thing. But obviously, this incident is an example of why the public and private sector must continue to work together to promote norms of behavior in cyberspace and to protect ourselves against malicious actions.
As I said, it's our understanding the FBI has opened an investigation into this matter, so we can't -- or I can't get into any specifics about this case. But as you know, the President is very concerned about this issue. He has called on Congress to take action on cyber security. He has taken executive action and will continue to look at ways to take executive action. Part of what we need to do as a nation is work together, both public and private sector, on this issue, and this administration has done that.
Q And there may not be a specific proposal, but can you explain sort of the concern that exists within this administration, given the fact that yesterday was perhaps the best example of the real consequences of even cyber-terror or cyber-hacking? Yesterday more than $137 billion, I think it was, was lost from the DOW in a matter of moments before being regained because of systems that exist in place in Wall Street that are computerized, not done manually? Does that concern the administration in some way? Is this something that could be addressed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, without getting into the specifics of this incident, beyond saying that it's under investigation, appropriately, broadly speaking, cyber security is a concern and a growing concern, and for the reasons that you just mentioned, but for a variety of reasons, as we become a more digital world and digital country and more of our systems are dependent upon computer systems and cyber systems.
These are stating obvious and layman facts, but that is why it has received so much focus from this administration; why, appropriately, it should be receiving focus and consideration in Congress; and why we need to take considerate action both as a government but also working with the private sector to address cyber security.
Q Under current laws right now -- on a separate topic -- if a background check reveals that your name is on a terror watchlist, is on a terrorism watchlist, you can still walk into a gun dealership in this country, purchase a gun, assuming you don’t have a criminal record or a mental health record in some forms. Does the White House think that’s okay? That there should be more done to prevent people whose names are on the terror watchlist, or lists?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the angle at which you're coming at this. But the fact is I'm not going to comment on a specific matter that relates to the case under investigation.
Q In general -- it's not about these guys -- in general, it could happen today elsewhere in the country.
MR. CARNEY: We can pretend that it's not about these guys. The procedures that are in place with regards --
Q But you guys had already brought the gun issue up in general of saying, across America there could be people on a terror watchlist who could purchase a gun today.
MR. CARNEY: When it comes to our procedures for identifying potential terrorists, I would refer you to the agencies that oversee that process. And when it comes to the need for expanded background checks, I am more than willing to expound on why that is the common-sense thing to do that protects our Second Amendment rights, and for that reason, why the vast majority of the American people support that common-sense action, and why a minority of the United States Senate rebuffed the will of the vast majority of the American people in their vote last week.
Steve, and then April.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the sequester and get a little bit more clarity on where the White House is as far as vetoing a sequester replacement that doesn’t have revenue attached. Is that still the White House's view on a long-term plan? Could somebody, the House Republicans for example, come up with a version of a sequester replacement for the next five months just with cuts, just like Harry Reid did, that could pass muster with the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals. I will say that we support the effort that Senator Reid is making to temporarily buy down or postpone the sequester to allow for time for these conversations that the President is engaged in and lawmakers up on the Hill are engaged in about can we find common ground to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, in a way that would eliminate the sequester entirely.
If your question is would the President support the House Republican approach to deficit reduction, which is to voucherize Medicare or institute across-the-board dramatic cuts to programs that help children and seniors and middle-class families, the answer is no. He is very clear in his budget what he believes the right course of action is to take, and he has been very clear about the fact that -- and it is reflected it in his budget -- that he's willing to make tough decisions as part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction. And that willingness is demonstrated in the fact that, when it comes to entitlement reforms, he has included items that were part of what Republicans said they would want in return for their acceptance of balanced deficit reduction.
So they ought to embrace that. That offer has been on the table since last year, and they ought to embrace it so we can move forward as a country.
Q He’s also been clear up until today that even on a short-term sequester bill he wanted revenue. He got some revenue in the fiscal cliff for that short-term, two-month period. The White House was very clear they sought it as a precedent. They wanted revenue for short-term bills as well as long-term bills until today. It seems like there’s now a shift.
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that we support Senator Reid’s effort. Using the savings from the decisions that President Obama has made to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the savings generated from that, only a portion of those savings -- I believe less than a tenth -- to temporarily postpone the sequester precisely to allow for consideration of a balanced deficit reduction approach that the President supports and can sign into law.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans are willing to cross that threshold, which is to agree with the vast majority of the American people who believe we should approach this in a balanced way, who think it’s not the right way to go to reduce our deficit in a way that raises taxes on the middle class; voucherizes Medicare; and gives huge tax breaks -- I think $5.3 trillion, $5.7 trillion in tax breaks -- almost entirely to the wealthy.
I mean, that is a proposal that is so far out of the mainstream that you would think it couldn’t possibly be tabled and passed in 2013, after it had been rejected several times over, including in the election last year. But that is the current proposal on the table from House Republicans.
Q Jay, could you talk to me about the White House’s push on this diversity lottery issue? For the last couple weeks, we’ve heard that White House officials have been calling on members of the Senate to make sure that the diversity lottery is back in the immigration bill, or maybe part of an amendment to it, because it was taken out in their proposal.
MR. CARNEY: As I said when we first discussed the proposal put forward by the Gang of Eight, it broadly reflects the principles that the President has long endorsed. It is not word for word in keeping with what the President supports, and we obviously will work with the Congress going forward on this legislation to adjust it in ways that we think are correct.
But I want to be clear. This is significant progress and we commend the bipartisan Group of Eight for the work they have done thus far, and we look forward to working with the Senate as the legislation moves through that body.
Q Okay. How can it be -- and this is just asking a question -- how can it be significant progress when you have a minority group, the Congressional Black Caucus, very, very, very upset because it's now -- they're looking at possibilities of a point or merit system which they say will not allow for the 55,000 immigrants to come through a year, and you're taking out the lottery that affects the African diaspora to include the Caribbean and Haiti, but you still have in place the guest worker program for Mexicans as well as the skills-based program for Asians, and the people of -- the black people around the world are not taken care of in this program, in this bill?
Q April, as I think I've said, this bill does not contain every specific element that the President has supported, but it does represent an important step towards the broad principles the President has made clear need to be part of common-sense immigration reform. We are early in the process, and this is an effort that we're engaged in with the Senate as it considers this legislation.
The administration has made clear that improving our legal immigration system does not have to be a zero-sum game. And we can increase employer- and family-sponsored green card numbers without taking away from other categories of visas. Now, that’s our position, and that’s a position that we have held and will hold moving forward. But I'm not going to presume outcomes of deliberations that are underway or haven't concluded yet.
This is a significant piece of business and a significant amount of progress that’s been made in a bipartisan away by this Group of Eight that reflects the President's principles, and we are encouraged by it. But we are still in the process of hopefully making this bill become law.
Q Well, let me rephrase my question; maybe I'll get an answer. How important is it for the President -- because we understand that many people in the White House are trying to help push this through -- how important is this one piece for him, especially since he voted for it in 2006?
MR. CARNEY: Again, April, I think -- I can say that this bill reflects the President's broad principles. It's not word for word exactly as he would have written it, and it does not contain every specific element at this point that the President has supported. We'll see how this process moves forward. But I don’t have anything specific on an item within the piece of legislation or an omission within the legislation at this time.
Q Jay, yesterday the White House neglected to send witnesses to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the use of drones. Can you explain whether this comports with the White House and the President's promise in the State of the Union and at other times to have transparency on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: We have been in regular contact with the committee about how we can best provide them the information that they require. As the President has indicated, we will continue to engage Congress and to ensure that our counterterrorism efforts are not only consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but even more transparent to the American people and the world.
Q Right, but I'm not talking about transparency to the committee as much as the American people and the world. How does not putting witnesses in a public forum for the world to see and to hear and to actually present in a public forum --
MR. CARNEY: I understand the question. And what is the fact is that this administration, beginning with the President and including some of the most senior national security principals, have been enormously transparent about our counterterrorism efforts. And that process, as promised by the President, will continue. And it is not specific to one committee hearing. It is specific to a broad array of actions that the President and the administration have taken; a broad array of communications, some of them unprecedented, that the administration has engaged in with members of Congress who have an interest in this issue. And it will be consistent with actions that we take in the future to provide even more information both to the Congress and the public.
Q But the number-two Senate democrat, chairman of that subcommittee, says it's not good enough. He says he's disappointed with the White House. He says that this is a frustrating thing to not have this public forum --
MR. CARNEY: I understand. And I’m saying that the process of providing more information -- again, unprecedented levels thus far from the highest levels of government -- and the process of providing more information, both to Congress and to the public, is ongoing and will continue. And it’s not limited to or specific to a single hearing.
Q And when can that be something that we see in public?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any updates for you.
Q Fisker Automotive -- there are reports that the Energy Department was warned as early as June 2010 that the electric carmaker wasn’t meeting its goals, but didn’t suspend the loan until about a year later. Did the administration drop the ball on this? What happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know there was a GOP document dump and I would refer you to the Department of Energy for more information. But you know from their statement that the committee’s efforts to stoke false controversy by selectively leaking a few out-of-context documents just do not stand up to scrutiny.
In the case that you refer to, the document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment, which had to be certified as met by the company before a loan disbursement. Absent from that document was the fact that the department received that certification five days later and subsequently disbursed on the loan.
Q Is there any concern that this story, when combined with Solyndra, of course, could undermine the President’s own efforts to push alternative energy?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the necessity that we have as a nation to move forward on investments in alternative energy to make sure that we develop the industries of the future in this country that provide jobs of the future in this country, as opposed to importing alternative energy in the manner that we for so long imported fossil fuel energy is absolutely the right thing to do. And this President is committed to it.
And the program, as you know, when it was created in 2007 before this President took office, was understood to contain risk within it. But the fact is the broad array of investments have been positive and necessary. And the overall need to invest in alternative technologies in the energy field is essential for our energy independence in the future and our national security interests.
Last one, yes.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to bring up the House report yesterday on Benghazi. They point to cables that reportedly had Secretary -- technically then-Secretary Clinton’s signature on it that referenced a request for additional security and in which instead cuts were made. And some members are saying that this shows administration culpability in the security problems there, and some have gone so far as to say signs of a cover-up. I just wanted to get your response on that.
MR. CARNEY: I bet you do. First of all, I would draw your attention to the letter that the Democratic members of the same committee sent to Speaker Boehner yesterday strongly objecting to what is an obviously partisan Republican staff report.
Now, it seems to me that if these members of Congress were genuinely interested in getting information, they would not have abandoned the customary oversight process and excluded Democratic members from the entire process, which is what they did.
As these ranking members said last night, these Republicans, “sacrificed accuracy in favor of partisanship,” unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions.
And on the issue of the signature, you have to be factual and acknowledge reality here. It is standard protocol that cables originating from the department in Washington go out under the authority of the current Secretary of State with their signature, i.e. their name, typed at the bottom. This practice has been in place throughout this administration and across prior administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
Additionally, all cables originating from our overseas posts are similarly signed, i.e. have the name at the bottom, by the ambassador and are addressed to the Secretary. In this way, this Secretary -- Secretary Clinton and others before her -- signed hundred of thousands of cables during their tenures as Secretary.
And as Secretary Clinton testified, the security cables related to Benghazi did not come to her attention. These cables were review as appropriate -- were reviewed, rather, as appropriate, at the Assistant Secretary level. And as the chairman of the ARB explained, accountability was fixed at the assistant secretary level, “where the decision-making takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hit the road.”
Now, the concerted efforts by Republicans to politicize this have distracted from the real work that’s been done through the ARB to find out what happened and what steps need to be taken to improve the security at our embassy facilities. That report was very clear and very direct, and went right at the issues of concern.
Meanwhile, the effort to find out who was responsible for those attacks and who was responsible for the deaths of Americans is ongoing, and that is a commitment the President made, that we would find those responsible and bring them to justice. Efforts to politicize this have failed in the past, and they are not helpful to the broad national security interest that we should share together. And, again, the signature thing is a perfect example of an attempt to politicize something when it’s wholly unnecessary.
Q And the charge of a cover-up?
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered that. Thanks very much, guys.
2:02 P.M. EDT