The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/30/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: I have one brief announcement, which is that as part of the United States’ ongoing consultation with our allies, President Obama will travel to Poland, Belgium and France in June of this year. While in Warsaw, the President will hold bilateral meetings and join other world leaders in commemorating the Polish Day of Freedom, marking the 25th anniversary of Poland’s emergence from communism.
From Poland, the President will travel to Brussels for the June 4th and 5th G7 Leaders Summit, which was moved to Brussels after the G7 leaders agreed to cancel the G8 Summit in Sochi due to Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea.
The leaders will discuss their broad shared economic, security and development agenda, and follow up on their March 24th discussion in The Hague on the situation in Ukraine. The President then will continue on to France to participate in commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The President greatly appreciates the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families, and he looks forward to honoring them, along with the contributions of all the allies. Further details will be provided at a later date.
That’s my announcement. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. Today, the minimum wage failed on a procedural vote in the Senate. But within in the past month or so, there had been some efforts led by Senator Susan Collins to try to find some compromise to work with Republicans and Democrats to lower the minimum wage from the $10.10 that the President is proposing. But throughout this process, the President has been calling for $10.10 and he hasn’t mentioned any word about seeking compromise. Doesn’t that suggest that the issue is it’s having a political issue for 2014 rather than a policy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly appreciate Senator Collins’s interest in finding a way for Republicans to support raising the minimum wage.
I would encourage the folks in the back to --
Q You really are hearing sounds. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q That’s an AT&T notification of a flood warning in the area.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, well there you go.
Q Take cover.
MR. CARNEY: Good to know. Let me start again. We appreciate, obviously, Senator Collins’s interest in trying to find a way for Republicans to support raising the minimum wage, but the fact is there is a bill that was voted on today in the Senate that, with the exception of one Republican senator, was voted against by the entire Republican conference in the Senate, but was supported by Democrats -- all of them. And that majority in the United States Senate reflects the majority opinion in the United States of America.
The senators who voted “no” today are doing so contrary to the wishes of the American people. And I guess my response to the suggestion that there is some lower level that the minimum wage should be raised to that somehow Republicans would support would be to point you to arguments made by leaders in the Republican Party in explaining their opposition to raising the minimum wage. And if you follow the logic contained in their arguments, the logic dictates that they don’t support any minimum wage.
They may not say that, but the arguments against raising it are the arguments against even having one -- because the only reason to raise it now is because it is so far behind the level and purchasing power that it was meant to achieve when it was first initiated in -- you know, going back years now, we’ve provided the data to you that you have a situation now with the current minimum wage where individuals supporting families are earning the minimum wage and living in poverty because it has not been raised enough to keep up with inflation.
So what we have seen since the President has been forcefully arguing for raising the minimum wage is support for that proposition around the country. We’ve seen states acting individually to raise the minimum wage, and that is very heartening. It’s time for Republicans in Congress to accept the wisdom of the American people that it’s time to give America a raise to $10.10
Q You guys have championed this idea of states doing it individually. Isn’t that perhaps the best route to go -- let the states decide for themselves?
MR. CARNEY: The best route is for the Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour -- because in those many states that have yet to take action, the minimum wage now means that many folks are living below the poverty line, even if they are working full-time. So we certainly are heartened by the progress we’ve seen in some states and the uptick in interest in this issue because of the efforts of the President and others who support raising the minimum wage. But the surest way to provide this raise to the American people -- those working at minimum wage and everybody else who would be affected by raising the minimum wage -- is for Congress to act.
And if you look at independent economists, they will tell you that raising the minimum wage would create a positive economic impact, which in turn helps create jobs. There is a reason to do this, and we ought to see Republicans acting in the interest of the American people to get it done.
Q In another Senate development there are efforts to get a vote to approve Keystone, and there appear to be the 60 votes, perhaps 60 votes to get past the procedural obstacles. The President in the past has threatened to veto similar legislation. Does that veto threat still stand?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t believe there’s a bill, so this is a discussion. So I don’t have a statement of administration of policy on a discussion or a potential proposal. What I can tell you is the President has long maintained that it is appropriate for a process like this to be separated from politics and to be worked on and run out of the State Department, which has been the case through successive administrations of both parties.
The recent announcement by the State Department that there would be a further period allowed for comment by agencies was due to a decision in the Nebraska Supreme Court. And I certainly point you to the State Department for more on that. But that is how it should be. This is why the State Department -- when you’re talking about pipelines that cross international borders, this is why the State Department runs the process.
Q Politically I’m sure you guys understand that there have been six Senate Democrats who are up for reelection have called for the President to make a decision, or the administration to make a decision by May. What’s the White House message to those potentially endangered Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: Our position hasn’t changed, which is that this has to be run by the book, which is why the State Department is running the process on Keystone, as has long been the case, again, through administrations of both parties. And what we’ve seen in the past when Congress has passed legislation, it has actually slowed the process down. So we believe that this has to be run by the book, outside of politics, and that’s the way it’s being run.
Q Jay, while you guys were gone there have been a few developments on immigration -- some comments from Speaker Boehner last week and then again this week. What is the White House’s view of the state of play of immigration reform on the Hill? And what are your plans, if any, to try and advance them?
MR. CARNEY: The President strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform. He strongly supports the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate. And he has consistently urged the House to follow the Senate’s lead and to take action on comprehensive immigration reform. That is our position.
Any indications that House Republican leaders are serious about moving forward on this are positive, and we hope and believe that there is still the will -- or that there is the will, rather, among House Republicans to do just that.
Q Is that how you interpret what the Speaker has said?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there have been comments by several Republicans, including in leadership in the last week or so, that suggest at least some interest or openness in moving forward this summer. Our view is there remains that opportunity, it is absolutely the right thing to do, and we hope the House will do it.
Q Do you see the summer, in particular after the primary season is over, as the best window for getting something done before the November election?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the power to move forward in this case lies with House Republican leaders. There’s no question in our mind that the House of Representatives would pass with a majority the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate, if it were allowed to come to a vote. Republicans would vote for it, again, especially if there wasn’t -- if it was a free vote; in other words, vote your conscience as opposed to the dictates of leadership.
So in terms of the timing, we obviously think sooner is better. It should have passed already. Republicans need to move in the House on this, and we would hope that they would do so within weeks rather than longer.
Q All right. And one other unrelated topic. There was a botched execution in Oklahoma yesterday. Is the President aware of this? Does it raise any concerns for him or the White House about the use of lethal injection or about the death penalty more generally?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed this particular report with the President. What I can tell you is that he has long said that while the evidence suggests that the death penalty does little to deter crime, he believes there are some crimes that are so heinous that the death penalty is merited.
In this case, or these cases, the crimes are indisputably horrific and heinous. But it’s also the case that we have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified it must be carried out humanely. And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.
Let me move up and back. Laura.
Q Thank you. There’s an important deal at this moment going on in Europe with Alstom, which is a very important French company, and General Electric is going to buy Alstom. Are you aware of it? Do you have any comments about it? Because a lot of people in Europe want Alstom to be bought by a European company and not by General Electric.
MR. CARNEY: I am not aware of it, and if I were I would certainly not comment on it. But I’ll leave it at that.
Q Can I just follow up on the execution piece? Do you know if there are any plans for the Justice Department or any other federal entity to look into this?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t, no. You would have to ask them. I’m not aware of any such effort.
Q And the President -- do you know if the President will be looking into, or is there any plans to brief him on this in terms of whether or not the federal government is taking action to --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not aware of any plan, federal inquiry. That’s something that you should address to the Justice Department. As I mentioned before, I haven’t discussed this situation or this particular report with the President. I know his views and just repeated them on the death penalty, both on the fact that it’s merited in particularly heinous crimes, which is his view. But --
Q Can you take this back to him and see if -- or take the question?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is obviously that happened in the state. I would refer you to the Justice Department for any potential review of this matter.
Q Jay, I guess you’re aware that Judicial Watch obtained an email from Ben Rhodes to staff members about the Benghazi attack.
MR. CARNEY: That’s incorrect. But go ahead.
Q Oh, okay.
MR. CARNEY: The email and the talking points were not about Benghazi, they were about the general situation in the Muslim world where you saw, as you may recall, protests --
Q It was an email to prepare Susan Rice for those talk shows.
MR. CARNEY: Correct. But you misstated it. In fact, this was not -- it was explicitly not about Benghazi. It was about the overall situation in the region, the Muslim world, where you saw protests outside of embassy facilities across the region, including in Cairo, Sana’a, Khartoum and Tunis. And the so-called talking points around Benghazi, as you know -- because it’s been substantially reported on -- were prepared by the CIA. And in this case, the overall issue of unrest in the Muslim world and the danger posed by these protests to our embassies and our diplomatic facilities was very much a topic in the news when --
Q But the slug of the email says prep call. So, I mean, obviously the thrust --
MR. CARNEY: Right, it was a prep call for --
Q -- the thrust of the reason for the email and the prep call was to prepare Susan Rice for those talk show appearances, which, by and large, were about the attack on the Benghazi mission. And I just wanted to ask you about one portion of it where it says that the point is “to underscore that the protests were rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” It just seems that there is a political calculation that was being made in these emails that the political considerations were being made in preparing Susan Rice for those appearances.
MR. CARNEY: Jim, again, if I may, let me read to you -- this is interesting in particular -- Fox News Sunday’s promo for that appearance begins, “Anti-U.S. protests are spreading across the Arab world.” So when we prepare administration officials to appear on television, Sunday shows -- when my colleagues prepare me to come out here every day, they prepare me to answer questions that we think you’re going to ask. And what was happening that week, in addition obviously to the tragic killings of four Americans in Benghazi, was upheaval around the region. And for that reason, there was a question-and-answer document prepared for Ambassador Rice that would respond to -- that were recommended answers and anticipated questions around the upheaval in the Middle East, in the Muslim world, related to the inflammatory video that had caused so many protests around the world.
The amount of coverage that CNN and other outlets appropriately gave to those protests is often forgotten now, but this was an enormous story. And here’s a Reuters report: “Egyptian protestors scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, tore down the American flag and burned it during a protest over what they said was a film being produced in the United States that insulted Prophet Muhammad.” CNN reported that, in Sana’a, on September 11th, “Demonstrators breached a security wall and stormed the embassy.”
So obviously, any senior foreign policy administration official who would be appearing before the press and taking questions that week would have to be prepared for questions about that specific subject. What was unique, in fact, about this circumstance is that because members of Congress of both parties from the intelligence committees had asked the CIA for talking points that they could use for public discussion, including on Sunday shows and on other television programs, including cable shows, the decision at the White House was that those talking points produced by the intelligence community, produced by the CIA for members of Congress, were the same talking points that Ambassador Rice ought to use with regards to the matter of Benghazi, and that is what she used.
Q But then in your office, you were also involved in the preparation of those talking points for those appearances. That’s what this email demonstrates. Isn’t that true?
MR. CARNEY: I was on email -- every time an administration official goes out on a Sunday show, communications people in the White House are involved in preparation. That’s the case in this White House; it’s the case in the last White House, which I covered. It was the case in the White House before that, which I covered. I dare say it’s been the case since the advent of Sunday news shows. And that’s wholly appropriate. I would remind that you Ben Rhodes --
Q Why did this email not come out earlier with an earlier round of --
MR. CARNEY: That’s an excellent question. Because all of the documents -- the thousands and thousands of pages of documents, including emails around the creation of the Benghazi talking points, which were amply reported on -- were about Benghazi. And this document, as I said, was explicitly not about Benghazi, but about the general dynamic in the Arab -- or in the Muslim world at the time.
So I would also point out that the document itself states explicitly that Ambassador Rice is not on the Sunday shows to talk politics. This was part of our effort to explain our views both as a matter of policy and as a matter of what was happening on the ground with regards to the protests that were underway around the region. And I know that this has been an opportunity for a lot of folks to try to, again, make political hay out of this. But as has long been the case, those efforts --
Q Well, if a new email comes out, people are going to ask questions.
MR. CARNEY: No question. But I think it’s important to note what the email, the documents are about -- or the document is about and what it’s not about. And again, I think when you have someone with the title of Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, by definition that person is going to be involved in the communications of senior foreign policy -- of foreign policy administration officials appearing on television.
Q And to jump to a dramatically different subject -- does the President have a reaction to Donald Sterling being banned for life in the NBA? I know he talked about it --
MR. CARNEY: He certainly talked about it on the trip prior to the decision. What I can tell you is that the President believes that the NBA has done the right thing, understanding of course that the NBA is the institution that makes the decisions in this case. But as both a basketball fan and as obviously someone who would be concerned about these issues, as so many of us are, he thinks they did the right thing.
Q Yeah, to follow up on the new Benghazi email -- you knew full well that these Sunday show appearances were going to be dominated by the attack in Benghazi, right -- as they were?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly knew that that would be a big part of the shows --
Q A big part, or the primary thrust of those shows. You just had an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi; you had Americans killed. You knew full well that what Susan Rice was primarily going to be asked about was about that attack -- a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans.
MR. CARNEY: Can I read the promo from your show, ABC “This Week”?
Q You can read all the promos you want.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, Jon --
Q You don’t acknowledge that these shows were going to be about the Benghazi attack?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. About -- Jon, absolutely. And that’s why, as members of Congress did, Ambassador Rice relied on points about the Benghazi attack that were produced by the CIA.
Q So --
MR. CARNEY: Hold on. “As American embassies throughout the region remain under fire” -- that’s ABC “This Week” promo. Again, we prepare Q&As for administration officials based on what we think they’re going to be asked.
Q But, Jay, you just --
MR. CARNEY: Hold on, Jon, let me finish my sentence at least. When I come out here, when officials go out on daily shows or the Sunday shows, they have to anticipate -- we have to anticipate what they’re going to be asked. It is often forgotten that during that time period there was an enormous amount of attention and focus appropriately on the fact that there were protestors, sometimes violent protestors, surrounding U.S. embassies -- causing us to draw down personnel at those embassies, causing great concern, understandably, about the safety of American personnel at other diplomatic facilities around the Muslim world. And that was a focus of a great deal of press attention, and thus would be -- as the promos indicate -- one of the areas of focus of those Sunday shows. And so a Q&A was prepared for that, as is the case every Sunday.
What was also the case is that Ambassador Rice was, on the matter of Benghazi, relying on talking points that were originally created for members of Congress at the request of members of Congress so that they could go on television and talk about what happened in Benghazi.
Q Ambassador Rice went one those shows and she said that the attack in Benghazi was rooted in protests over an Internet video. We now know that that was not true; that, in fact, the CIA Director Morell just -- former Director Morell just testified last month that “when she talked about the video, my reaction was, that’s not something the analysts have attributed this attack to.” It did not come from the CIA.
You stood there at the podium time after time and said that she was referring to talking points created by the CIA. Now we see a document that comes from the White House, not from the CIA, attributing the protests to the video, and we have the former director of the CIA saying that that was not something that his analysts had attributed it to.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I would point you to what Mike Morell has said repeatedly in testimony about the creation of the talking points.
Q Well, now we have new talking points, though, that you didn’t release last year.
MR. CARNEY: Let me finish, please. Jon, I answered that question. The fact of the matter is there were protests in the region. The talking points cited protests at that facility. The connection between protests and the video turned out not to be the case, but it was based on the best information that we had, and the fact that there were protests --
Q It was not based on what the CIA was saying, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I would point you to -- I understand the --
Q This is what Morell said just last month, that when he heard that, he said that is not something our analysts have said. So that, now, we see came from the White House, right?
MR. CARNEY: Jon -- no, you’re wrong. If you look at that document, that document that we’re talking about today was about the overall environment in the Muslim world -- the protests outside of Khartoum -- the embassy in Khartoum, outside of the embassy in Tunis, the protests outside of the embassy in Cairo. These were big stories. This was a big problem. And this was an ongoing story through that weekend when Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows.
So to suggest that we wouldn’t have answers to questions about those situations -- and unless you’re telling me now that those protests didn’t have anything to do with the video, it was entirely appropriate to have a question-and-answer document prepared for the video. When it comes to --
Q Didn’t Susan Rice on those shows say that --
MR. CARNEY: Jon, let me finish.
Q -- the attack at Benghazi was rooted in a protest over the video? That’s what she said.
MR. CARNEY: I know that you and I are both in a different time zone right now, but we’re still in April of 2014, and this is a discussion about what she said and what turned out to be the case that we have had dozens of times in this room. And the fact of the matter is she went out there with the best information that we had at the time. The CIA deputy director has testified to that.
The fact that there were protests around the region threatening our embassies at the very same time is something that is often forgotten, but obviously affected the whole environment about how we perceived what was happening at the time. And again, the implication is that we were somehow holding back information, when, in fact, we were simply saying what we thought was right. And when elements of that turned out not to be true, we were the first people to say so. It was based on what we knew at the time.
Q Why were you holding back this information? Why was this email not turned over to the Congress? Why was it not released when you released all the other emails? This is directly relevant. Why did you hold it back?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, again --
Q Why did it take a court case for you to release this email? Why was it classified?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I can say it again and again, and I know you can keep asking again and again -- this document was not about Benghazi.
Q It was her prep for the Sunday shows.
MR. CARNEY: It wasn’t her only prep, Jon. She relied on, for her answers on Benghazi, on the document prepared by the CIA, as did members of Congress.
We, the White House rather, and others involved in her prep said, when it comes to Benghazi, there’s been a document prepared by the IC so that everybody is working off the same information -- Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Congress, administration officials-- this is what we know and what we are able to say about Benghazi at this time. And that’s what she got.
On all these other questions, as is the case for every Sunday, when the Treasury Secretary goes out, when the Deputy National Security Advisor goes out, when other administration officials go out, documents are prepared that anticipate questions from the press and provide answers based on our policy and our best understanding of what’s happening at the time. That’s standard operating procedure.
And if you look at the document in question here, it is not about Benghazi; it is about the protests around the Muslim world outside of U.S. embassies, and what we know about them and what we should say about them based on our policies.
Q Okay, just one last question, just in the interest of clearing the record. You said at the podium last year that the talking points that Susan Rice used for those Sunday show appearances were a product of the intelligence community, that the White House and the State Department only changed one word. We now know -- obviously we’ve known for some time that that is not true. Can you correct the record on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jon, for the last time, there were talking points prepared on Benghazi, there were talking points prepared on the overall matter -- the overall dynamic in the Muslim world about protests. The White House had a role in that document obviously, as this release makes clear, as the White House does every time a senior administration official appears on the Sunday shows -- as was the case in the Bush administration, in the Clinton administration, in the first Bush administration, going back to the advent of television, I dare say. So that’s always going to be the case.
Q So you’re not going to correct the record on that?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, you know, when it comes to correcting records, we could get into that. And the fact is those talking points were, as the deputy director of the CIA testified before Congress, as he has talked to the press about on Benghazi, were created by the CIA.
Let me move around here. Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. Two questions on Ukraine and Eastern Europe at large. The first question -- Canadian forces are going to take part in Latvia with other NATO countries, the U.S., to military NATO maneuvers. Is this a signal sent to Russia that there is -- NATO is ready to -- that the readiness of NATO forces are --
MR. CARNEY: We have taken a series of steps, as an alliance, to reassure NATO members -- and that includes with some of the bolstering you’ve seen in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, as well as in Poland. So the answer is, I guess, yes -- that this is a message -- or reflects the reassurance that we are sending to our NATO allies that given the actions by Russia on the Ukrainian border, given the efforts by Russia to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine, that the members of the alliance and NATO itself remain, as ever, prepared to fulfill their obligations under the NATO treaty.
Q My second question -- we heard this week senior administration officials on the sanctions against Russia that they could see the first wave of sanctions, they could see the impact on the Russian economy. Doesn’t it sound, when you look at the last -- again, the last hours, the movement of pro-Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, the attitude of the Russian authorities -- doesn’t it look more like wishful thinking than clearly anything concrete other than those sanctions going out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there are two sides of that equation. The actions that have been taken by the United States and our partners in the EU, as well as on the G7, have had a clear impact on the Russian economy. There was a long story today -- I forget in what publication -- about the negative impact of the international sanctions on the Russian economy: the capital flight from Russia; the shrinking of GDP because of the sanctions in Russia; the reduced willingness of international investors to make investments in Russia because of the sanctions and the actions taken by Russia with regards to Ukraine.
What we have said all along with our partners is that we will escalate the cost to Russia as Russia, if it does, escalates its provocative behavior. And the sanctions that were announced this week reflect an escalation in the cost because of actions that Russia has taken since it illegally annexed Crimea. Those costs will increase and they will be imposed both by us and our partners on the G7 and in the EU if Russia continues to pursue a path aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, or if it does go the ultimate distance, if you will, and moves Russian troops across the border into Ukraine. The costs would then be proportionally much higher to Russia.
The question you have is, at what point does Russia decide that the costs are too high. That’s obviously a decision that Russia and Russia’s leaders have to make. But what we have made clear with our partners is that there will be costs, and that the impact on the Russian economy will be significant. It already had been, and it will be even more significant if Russia does not choose the path of de-escalation that has been available to it from the beginning, if it does not choose to finally abide by the commitments it made in Geneva, which it has yet to do; in fact, has done anything but abide by its commitments in Geneva.
Q Yes, but the cost is going to be higher if Russia moves troops. Let’s say Russia does not moves troops, in the meantime doesn’t do anything, and the situation in Ukraine, eastern Ukraine gets always worse and worse.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that as Russia -- if Russia continues to refuse to engage in an effort to stabilize the situation in Ukraine, to deescalate the tensions, there will be costs to that decision. Some have already been imposed. We have substantial authorities under the executive order signed by the President to increase those costs, and we are working directly with our partners in Europe and with Japan to coordinate our response to Russia’s provocations. You’ve seen that this week. You’ve seen the EU act, you’ve seen the United States act, you’ve seen Japan act. And we will continue to coordinate with our international partners on this effort.
Q Can I follow on what he said?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q We’re learning that President Putin is going to visit Crimea on May 9th. Do you have a reaction to that? Does the President have a reaction? Is this essentially an act of defiance in your eyes?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, it doesn’t change anything about the fact that Russia has, in violent violation of international law, illegally attempted to annex a section of a sovereign nation. So visits by Russian leaders don't change that.
Q The security forces in Ukraine say they feel helpless against the pro-Russian forces, and we’re learning that pro-Russian forces have seized yet another city there. I know that you said prior to the President’s trip that sending lethal aid to Ukraine was off the table. Is that still true? Or are you reassessing that? Is the administration reconsidering potentially sending more military aid?
MR. CARNEY: As the President said I think at his last press conference, or one of the later press conferences on his trip, calls for arming Ukrainians against the Russian army don't really explain -- those who make those calls don't explain what ultimate purpose that would do. The Russian army is obviously a substantial force, and the only way to resolve this is not through military conflict; it’s through organizing, as the United States has, an international coalition to put pressure on Russia to make sure that Russia is paying a high price for the actions that it’s taking.
Now, we have provided substantial assistance to Ukraine, and we will obviously continue to look at the kinds of assistance we will provide. And that assistance includes loan guarantees for the Ukrainian government so that it can stabilize its economy in advance of these very important May 25th elections. It seems clear that there is an effort underway to destabilize Ukraine, and therefore -- and thereby threaten the elections that have been called.
What’s important is that those elections take place; that every Ukrainian is able to vote in those elections, and vote for whichever candidate they choose. And that can be a candidate who is for further integration with the West, or a candidate who is for a return to intense integration with Moscow. That's how it should be. This should be something that the Ukrainian people get to decide for themselves. It should not be something that an outside nation dictates to Ukraine, and that is certainly what Russia has demonstrated that it’s trying to do.
Q Jay, I wanted to just get you to weigh in on the situation in Nigeria. More than 200 girls have been kidnapped there. Has the administration been in contact with officials in Nigeria? And do you think that the government there has done enough, has acted quickly enough to try to get these girls back? They’ve obviously been under a lot of scrutiny and gotten a lot of criticism for not acting quickly enough to get them back.
MR. CARNEY: I would have to take the question and refer you to the State Department for whatever action we’re taking in regard to that matter.
Q Well, do you have a response to the fact that more than 200 girls have been kidnapped?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s obviously an outrage. But in terms of a policy response, I’d have to refer you to the State Department.
Q You’ve repeatedly said today that when Ambassador Rice talked about what was going on and blamed the actions in Benghazi on the video, that she was using CIA talking points. But the former deputy director of the CIA testified before Congress that they never blamed the attack on the video. And he also said that he never talked to anybody at the White House about CIA talking points for Rice.
MR. CARNEY: What I’ve made clear is that the talking points that the CIA produced, at the request of members of Congress, were the talking points that Ambassador Rice used because it was the decision that it was entirely appropriate for everyone in government here in Washington to be answering questions in public based on the same information, the same guidance from the intelligence community.
So the fact that those points were produced for Democrats and Republicans in Congress and then used by us merely reflects the fact that we believed that this was -- that it was appropriate for everyone in Congress and in the administration to be using the same set of points produced by the intelligence community.
Q But the former deputy director says that the intelligence community never concluded that --
MR. CARNEY: Bill, we can rehash talking points that have been available to the public for a long, long time now. You know that --
Q How about just the facts instead of the talking points?
MR. CARNEY: You know that -- there is a reference to protests. The fact is it was based on the best information that was available to the intelligence community at the time and the best information that was available to us at the time.
Again, what I think is often forgotten is that at the time that these appearances occurred, and during that entire week leading up to them, there were huge protests outside of U.S. embassies around the Muslim world, some of them --
Q Nobody is arguing that, Jay. We’re just saying that what the ambassador said --
MR. CARNEY: Sure. And so what I’m saying is --
Q -- on Sunday morning was that it had been caused by the video, protests over the video. The CIA didn't find that.
MR. CARNEY: But, Bill -- and what we’ve said for at least a year now is that -- or since it was assessed otherwise, is that what happened outside of Benghazi may not have been caused -- or occurred in response to the video. There were protests around the region in response to the video.
And I think what you missed throughout this, or are missing in the nature of the question, is that when we have had clearer information about what happened in Benghazi, we have put it out. And our interest has been from the beginning in finding out what happened, and bringing to justice those who killed four Americans.
When it comes to the serious issues around diplomatic security that were raised by the attack in Benghazi, the Independent Accountability Review Board, headed up by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, produced a series of very substantial recommendations of actions that needed to be taken, and the State Department has acted on every single one of them. And that document was endorsed by Secretary Clinton, endorsed by President Obama and everyone here at the White House.
And our interest, including in the cooperation that we’ve shown producing an enormous amount of documents, enormous amount of testimony, has always been in focusing on getting to the bottom of what happened and bringing to justice those who are responsible, and of course taking measures to ensure that what happened in Benghazi can’t happen again.
Q But you’ve tried very hard this morning to distance the White House from the ambassador’s remarks on the Sunday shows and put them on the CIA.
MR. CARNEY: No. Bill, we -- I am happy to recite and take questions on this issue for as long as you like. What I can tell you is that there were talking points produced by the intelligence community on Benghazi. There was another document produced on the overall dynamic in the Muslim world, the fact that there were protests at embassies around the Muslim world, as you would expect to be the case since the very shows that were hosting Ambassador Rice that Sunday were promoting the fact that one of the topics of discussion would be the unrest around the region.
What we’ve said all along from the beginning is that -- and I know because I’ve said it from this podium -- is that that’s based on what we know now, and that this is early information and this is subject to change, and that when we get more information we’ll obviously update the American people on it. That has always been the case.
But what hasn’t changed since then has been an intense effort to politicize this. That seems to ignore the fact that the real issue here has always been making sure that what happened in Benghazi can’t happen again; taking steps when it comes to diplomatic security to ensure that it doesn’t; and launching a sustained effort to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans.
Q So, Jay, are you essentially saying that -- sort of suggesting that she got confused and used the answer that was supposed to be for the general situation, and answered -- and used that answer and applied it to the specific of Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all. I’m saying that she had -- she was prepared, as were members of Congress, based on what the IC produced, to talk about Benghazi, as has been discussed. Some of those assessments turned out to be absolutely correct; some of those early assessments turned out to be incorrect or only partly correct.
It’s also the case that in preparation for those appearances, she was provided questions and answers that had to do with the broader situation in the region, the protests around the Muslim world outside of embassies, the violent protests that included protestors scaling walls and causing the United States to draw down diplomatic personnel in a variety of embassies because of the potential threat posed by those protests.
What we’ve said all along is that the information we provided was based on what we knew at the time -- and I think the CIA has testified to this, and we’ve made it clear -- and as more information became available, we would provide it based on the best information we have. And that’s a kind of accountability and assertion of what we know and what we’re not sure about all along that hasn’t really been true of the media. I can cite -- I don’t have it in front of you -- a dozen media reports that stated with great assurances about things that supposedly happened with regards to Benghazi that turned out to be 100 percent false, and that the outlets who broadcast them or published them have never explained that failure.
Q Back to Ukraine. The administration has talked with money managers and company executives, CEOs, about sanctions against Russia and the possible impact on businesses and investors. I was wondering how much pushback, if any, has the White House gotten from those groups? And how much do those concerns affect the decisions about future sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Roger, I would refer you to the Treasury Department for discussions, which, as I understand it, would be in answer to questions from businesses or representatives of industries about sanctions and their impact. We’re making our decisions on sanctions based on what we think are in the best interests of the national security of the United States and our allies.
What the President has said all along, including when he announced the additional executive orders on the South Lawn, is that ratcheting up sanctions, especially if that includes imposing sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy, would involve costs to the global economy, and therefore costs to the United States’ economy. There’s no question they would involve far more serious costs to the Russian economy and to Russian individuals and entities.
He made clear then that that's not our preferred course of action, but should Russia continue to engage in efforts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, to involve its military or security forces -- services in destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, or if it should with its military forces cross the Ukrainian border beyond what they’ve already done in Crimea, that that would lead to far more severe sanctions -- imposition of far more severe sanctions, specifically sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy.
There’s no question there would be an impact if such steps were taken, both in the United States and around the world. But the costs would be far greater for Russia, and they would be necessary given the kinds of transgressions that the Russians have engaged in.
Q Whatever the CEOs might say in these meetings, does that have any bearing then on the sanctions that are selected?
MR. CARNEY: The answer is, first, that you need to talk to the department of -- you need to talk to people who might have been having conversations with those who are asking questions about the impact of sanctions. I don't have any information even on whether such conversations have taken place.
What I can tell you is that we make policies based -- and decisions based on what we think are in the interest of the United States, and obviously we’re mindful of the fact that when you impose sanctions, you are potentially having an impact on the economy in a way that could adversely affect the United States or entities within the United States. And we are always making those assessments when we look at potential sanctions, both with regards to this situation and in regards to other situations where sanctions are used as a policy lever.
What the President said is that the more we have to impose costs on Russia that involve economic sanctions, the greater potential for a negative effect on the global economy and therefore on the U.S. economy -- nowhere near the effect there would be on the Russian economy. But if Russia continues to engage in provocations and to escalate its violations, then that would be a response that was necessary. That's what has been the case since we began the process of imposing sanctions that include the additional sanctions announced this week.
Q And one other one real quickly. Senator Corker has filed a bill today calling for $100 million in arms to Ukraine, and sanctioning banks -- bigger banks and bigger oil companies. Does this strengthen the President’s hand in trying to get a consensus with Europe, European partners, for additional sanctions? Or does it have kind of an opposite effect, make him look weak because --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President addressed, as I did earlier, the issue of providing lethal assistance to Ukraine.
On the matter of further sanctions, our view has always been that the right course of action, working in concert with our partners, is to escalate sanctions in response to escalation by Russia, making clear that those further costs await Russia if Russia chooses not to avail itself of a path towards a diplomatic resolution and de-escalation of the tensions in Ukraine.
What is clearly the case is we are reserving the most severe sanctions for the potentially most severe action by Russia should Russia choose to engage in it. And the most severe sanctions economically would be sanctioning sectors of the economy.
Q So that would explain why Gazprom and Vnesheconombank, for example, weren’t --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into the individual itemization of those who have been sanctioned thus far -- those entities, those individuals, those sectors that might be sanctioned in the future should Russia’s provocations demand it.
What I can tell you is that we’ve taken action already that's had an impact on the Russian economy and on individuals. The actions that we announce this week will have a further negative impact on the Russian economy and individuals. And should Russia engage in further provocations -- up to and including potentially a military intervention, direct military intervention across the Ukrainian border -- that there will be further severe economic costs to Russia as a result.
Q How disappointed was the President in today’s GDP report? And given that growth was substantially slower than expected, are his advisers reassessing their projections for the rest of the year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’ve seen from Jason Furman, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, our statement about the advance estimate of GDP for the first quarter. You notice that that statement included the observation that we had historically severe winter weather which temporarily lowered growth in the first quarter.
Outside economists have estimated that between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of GDP can be attributed to that weather -- in other words, a reduction of 1 to 1.5 percent in GDP as a result of what was historically severe weather, one of the coldest winters on record, the greatest number of snowstorms on record. And that clearly had an impact.
And if you look at, as it’s been explained to me, if you look at component pieces of the report that -- areas that are most affected by weather and involve consumer spending or looking for houses or that kind of thing, automobile purchases -- that those were clearly related to the weather.
So what I think this report tells us is that we need to continue to focus on taking action, both with Congress and administratively, to help the economy grow and help it create more jobs. And that’s what the President intends to do.
Q There are some economists saying this report is an early indication of the impact of Obamacare and higher taxes. Do you dispute that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t seen those economists, because the fact of the matter is -- and the GDP report makes it clear -- that it was consumer spending on health care that helped drive economic growth in the first quarter and that is directly related to the increase in people who have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.
We also saw -- and this has been misunderstood and therefore misreported -- the fact that health care inflation, which is a separate animal from health care spending -- health care inflation remained historically low. And what that means is that more people are buying a product or spending money on a product, but the cost of that product remains -- that the increase in the cost of that product remains at a historically low level, inflation remains at a historically low level, which is what we’ve seen since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which is obviously -- directly contradicts the Republican Party talking points, which goes to the issue of repeal, which remains the primary agenda item of the Republican Party in which increasingly is opposed by a majority of the American people who would rather see the Affordable Care Act effectively implemented and proved than see it repealed.
I’ll take one more. All the way in the back. Yes, sir.
Q Hey, Jay. I just want to follow up on Nigeria. Your counterpart there says there’s a lot of cooperation between the Nigerian authorities and the U.S. authorities, but we never get more than that. So can you tell us -- I mean, I know the sort of policy relations are at the State Department, but what kind of cooperation is there specifically around Boko Haram with the Nigerians?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I will have to take the question because I just don’t have information on that today, but I can certainly take the question and provide it to you. State Department would have more on it for you.
Q Can you tell us whether the President agrees with the wording or the sentiment behind what Secretary Kerry said on Friday about Israel risking going towards an apartheid state?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think Secretary Kerry has, in substantial fashion, issued a statement, and I would point you to what Secretary Kerry said. I would point you to the fact that Secretary Kerry has long been a staunch supporter of Israel and for more on that I would point you to what Secretary Kerry said just the other day.
Q Does the President agree with the underlying sentiment that things could head in that direction?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the overall point that we have made as a matter of policy, that Secretary Kerry makes repeatedly, that President Obama makes, that Prime Minister Netanyahu makes is that the desired outcome here is a two-state solution in which there is a sovereign Palestinian state and a democratic Jewish state of Israel that is secure and safe. That’s the outcome that we seek. That’s the outcome that both parties seek. And that is the best outcome, in our view, for not just the Palestinian people but the Israeli people and the Israeli state.
Q Does the Secretary still have the President’s full support?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
2:15 P.M. EDT