The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Daily Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Senior Advisor to the President John Podesta, 05/05/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Happy Monday. I hope everyone is recovered from prom and had a fine time on what turned out to be a glorious weekend weather-wise.
As you can see, I have with me today John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President. He is no stranger to many of you or even to this briefing room. He’s here to talk about issues around energy and energy efficiency that the President will be discussing this week. He'll make a presentation at the top and stay for questions on his issue areas. As we traditionally do, if you could direct questions to him at the top, and then when that's done, we'll let him go and I'll remain for questions on other subjects.
And with that, I give you John Podesta.
MR. PODESTA: Thank you, Jay. It's good to be back here.
MR. PODESTA: Not really. (Laughter.) You know I don't lie. (Laughter.) But I'm going to run through a few slides. As Jay noted, President Obama pledged to make 2014 a year of action, and the administration and the American economy are firing on all cylinders when it comes to producing more energy, cleaner energy, and more energy efficiency, as well as combating climate change. We prepared a few slides -- because we're doing a number of activities this week -- to give you some background and provide some context that were done by the CEA -- Jason is out of town today, so forgive me, I don't have a Ph.D. in economics, but I think I can walk you through these slides.
The first one -- I think you all have copies -- the United States is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer of gas and oil in the world. It's projected that the United States will continue to be the largest producer of natural gas through 2030. For six straight months now, we've produced more oil here at home than we've imported from overseas. So that's all a good-news story.
Go to the next slide. Domestic energy production is boosting economic growth overall. In 2012 and 2013, it accounted for .22 and .24 percent of growth, which is the highest on record. If you go to the next slide, as you can see, that's had a direct impact on employment. We've added 133,000 jobs in the last three years in the oil and natural gas extraction sector, and those numbers are projected to continue to grow. But at the same time as we've been producing more oil and natural gas at home we're cutting our energy usage dramatically, improving energy efficiency. That's part of what the President means when he says that we have an “all of the above” energy strategy, trying to produce more domestic energy but also using it in a much more efficient way.
As this slide shows, the efficiency standards like the fuel economy standards finalized in 2012 are driving down the amount of energy necessary to produce a dollar’s worth of goods or services. Consumption of gasoline is well below the expected trend lines that you can see from 2006 and even 2010. That's expected -- as the energy efficiency standards come into place that go out to 2025, that's expected to save consumers $1.7 trillion.
And we're evolving a cleaner overall energy mix even as we boost domestic oil and natural gas production and improve efficiency. Renewable energy is on the rise -- it's some of the fastest-growing part of our energy mix. Cleaner burning natural gas is the only fossil fuel that's growing as a share of the energy mix.
These trends will keep the United States’ economy competitive. They’ll keep the U.S. economy growing. They’ll help us achieve the President’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Since President Obama took office, we’ve increased electricity generation from solar by more than 10 times and tripled electricity production from wind power. Last year’s solar energy was the second-largest source of new electricity added to the grid after natural gas. Every four minutes, another home or business went solar. Federal government is doing its part to make sure that these trends continue and more energy is produced by clean renewable sources like wind and solar. Five years ago there was not one renewable energy project on the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands; today, DOI is on track to issue permits for enough renewable energy generation on public lands to power 6 million homes.
And finally, power plants that create electricity by burning fossil fuels are still the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. -- in 2012, they’ve accounted for 38 percent of CO2 emissions and 31 percent of greenhouse gas emissions overall. The transition to natural gas increases and efficiency, and deployment of more renewables has meant that our CO2 emissions from energy production are trending in the right way, and that is down.
But we have more work to do. So that’s what we’re up to this week and I’ll just finish -- just give you a sense of where we are. We’re working every day to implement the President’s Climate Action Plan. We’ve made, I think, important gains on all three fronts of the Climate Action Plan that he released last year: Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, as I’ve talked about; building resilience in American communities to the climate impacts we know are coming; and leading the international negotiations to tackle this global challenge.
This week, we’re taking further actions. An important part of the Climate Action Plan was calling forth the National Climate Assessment. That will be released tomorrow here at the White House. As part of that release, the President will be spending some time speaking to meteorologists about what the report’s findings will mean for communities across America.
This third National Climate Assessment will be the most authoritative and comprehensive source of scientific information ever produced about how climate change is going to impact all regions of the United States and key sectors of the national economy. It’s been a tremendous undertaking -- hundreds of the best climate scientists from across the U.S., not just in the public sector but in the private sector as well, have worked over the last four years to produce this report. This assessment is about presenting actionable science. We expect it will contain a huge amount of practical, useable knowledge that state and local decision-makers can take advantage of as they plan for the impacts of climate change and work to make their communities more resilient.
Later in the week, starting on Wednesday, the administration is going to be holding a three-day Better Buildings Summit here in Washington. In February of 2011, the President launched the Better Buildings Challenge to help American commercial and industrial buildings become at least 20 percent more efficient by 2020. More than 120 diverse organizations representing over 2 billion square feet of real estate are already on track to meet that 2020 goal and cut their energy use by 2.5 percent annually. These efforts obviously save families and businesses money on their utility bills, they reduce energy demand, and they help us to achieve our climate goals by reducing greenhouse emissions. This week’s events will highlight the progress for our private and public sector.
And then, finally, coming out of last month’s White House Solar Summit, anticipating this week’s Better Buildings Summit, the President has been using the power of his phone, and all of us in the White House have been working to get more commitments from more partners on these key sectors to get more efficiency in our build sector, more deployment of solar across the economy. We’ll have some announcements of that at the end of the week. We obviously need all hands on deck if we’re going to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the impacts that the IPCC warned us about just a month or so ago and that the National Climate Assessment will bring into sharp focus with respect to the U.S.
So with that, let me go ahead and take some questions.
MR. CARNEY: Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. I had a question on power plants. You mentioned this briefly as it relates to your last slide. Can you give us any sense about what the President is planning on the front in terms of executive actions and regulations perhaps later this year?
MR. PODESTA: Well, obviously, the President has asked the EPA to move forward to regulate existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. He set a June 1 deadline. I think we will meet that or be close to it. And the EPA has modeled a proposal that's being reviewed through an interagency process right now, so we will propose -- we’ll have a proposed rule out in the beginning of June.
MR. CARNEY: Mark.
Q One of the charts that you showed showed a declining use of gasoline and a greater energy -- more efficient use of gasoline. An impact of that is that the Highway Trust Fund is running out of funds. The Highway Trust Fund, as you know, has been the source of funding for infrastructure repair in this country. To what extent would the administration support increasing the gas tax to replenish that fund or replace funding in some other way?
MR. PODESTA: Well, as you know, we just put forward a bill on surface transportation which replaces it in a different way. But you’ve raised an important point. Stable funding for the great infrastructure needs that the United States is currently experiencing -- whether that’s crumbling roads and bridges, or building a more modern infrastructure across the board to move our goods and freight more efficiently, to make the driving experience more efficient, building more transit to move people inside urban environments -- is a pressing need. But the Secretary of Transportation just sent legislation to the Hill last week, on Thursday, I think, that covers both what we need to do and how to pay for it.
MR. CARNEY: Jon Karl.
Q Your chart shows -- it has been a big story for a while -- the rapid increase in natural gas production, which is much cleaner than coal -- obviously a lot good about that. How much of an environmental downside has there been to this boom in fracking and --
MR. PODESTA: Well, for the most part, there’s been an upside as we’ve seen cleaner natural gas replacing dirtier fossil fuels in the electricity system in particular. But there is a concern that gas that’s fracked, if you will, that’s produced through that method, is done in the cleanest, most efficient way. In particular, the administration released a methane strategy a couple of weeks ago that goes to the question of how we ensure that the best production methods are used in the production of both oil and gas in that process.
For the most part, that’s regulated at the state level, but I think there are ways that the United States -- the federal government can take steps to ensure that we use the best practices, capture that methane, and ensure that, which, of course, has a heavy effect on the climate if it’s just allowed to be released into the atmosphere. But I think there are ways to control that and we’re working, both in discussing that both at the oil and gas production level and also at the transportation level. The Secretary of Energy has had intensive negotiations --or not negotiations -- discussions with the transportation people because there’s a lot of leakage in the system at that level as well. We need to get that methane leakage down, but I think there are practical ways to do that.
MR. CARNEY: Peter Alexander.
Q Mr. Podesta, thank you. Is it possible for the President, as aides have suggested, to have climate change be one of the key components of his legacy and also to support the Keystone pipeline? Are those two things in conflict, or can he accomplish both of those at once?
MR. PODESTA: I’m going to leave that one to Jay. As I think you know, when I came here, I said I’m not going to work on the Keystone pipeline, so I’ll just defer that to a later question.
MR. CARNEY: Bill.
Q Given the fact that most of the extraction stuff is regulated by state governments, what can the federal government do to ensure that water quality is unharmed, that geologic disturbances -- all of this reported very much by people, local people where the fracking is taking place?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think we have resources at EPA that certainly can support this -- and at the Department of Energy, which has a major research program going on this -- to provide state regulators the up-to-date scientific knowledge about the best practices that can be utilized. But at this point, I think we’re trying to work with the states to ensure that people can be reassured. And obviously different states are going different ways on that question in terms of providing effective regulation of oil and gas production or deciding to have no production at all.
Q There’s no government -- I mean, there’s no federal regulations?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that, again, the methane strategy will produce, again, some steps to deal with that issue. But for the issue around particularly fracking fluids is largely managed at the state level.
MR. CARNEY: Alexis.
Q John, when Democratic candidates hear either their opponents or challengers say that they’re not supportive of the oil and gas industry, that the administration is not being supportive, when you look at this data and they look at this data, what is the message that they have to counter those criticisms that this administration is against oil and gas?
MR. PODESTA: Well, obviously we’ve seen a big increase in both oil and gas production. I don’t think you would have seen that if you didn’t have a practical approach. Obviously, in the first term, we went through the largest oil spill in the country’s history with the BP spill in the Gulf, but we’re back on track to produce more oil and gas in the Gulf itself and I think with better procedures for making sure that that’s done in a safe and effective and environmentally friendly way.
So I think the statistics that I just presented belie the argument. People will make that argument, but I think that if you look at the overall -- as I said, the overall mix, it’s cleaner; it’s more domestically produced. We’ve turned the corner so that we’re now producing more oil than we’re importing. Those are all facts that I think that can be utilized by candidates to make the case that we’re on the right path to have a cleaner, better and more secure, more American-made energy future for the country.
MR. CARNEY: Steve.
Q Mr. Podesta, this really sort of seems like the centerpiece of the President’s pen-and-phone agenda, is energy and climate, something he can’t really get much out of Congress. You said we need all hands on deck. Is there anything that you think you can get through Congress this year? Anything that you’re working on or that you see happening in Congress?
MR. PODESTA: Well, the Senate is taking up energy efficiency legislation this week. We’ll see if that can get passed and get onto the floor. It’s an important bill. It will move us in the right direction on energy efficiency. But there’s still a question of whether that will be filibustered so they won’t be able to get to it this week.
MR. CARNEY: Peter.
Q Mr. Podesta, you mentioned the catastrophic impact of climate change. As you survey everything that you’ve seen coming in, what do you think are the areas that need the most immediate federal attention? So much has been written about it, how far off it is and so forth.
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that, again, we’ve put out at climate.data.gov a first tranche of information about sea level rise. That’s particularly going to affect communities on the Eastern Seaboard, in Florida, in the Gulf. So I think that’s -- building resilience towards what is certain to be a rising sea level is something that communities need to grapple with; they need to grapple with it right now in terms of their infrastructure investments, how they’re thinking about the future.
And obviously we’re in the midst of experiencing major droughts in California, in the Colorado River Basin. That comes along with greater fire risk. And the administration has put forward a new way of budgeting on the question of fire risk going forward and we’re seeing that already with intense fires already in the plains in Oklahoma, in California.
So I think if you have to pick two, I would say those would be two good ones to attend to. But as you know, Peter, the President recommended a billion-dollar fund in this year’s budget that would begin to support communities to develop climate resilience plans and do better planning -- to take a look at what you’ll see tomorrow, which is a National Climate Assessment, which begins -- it doesn't localize per se, but it begins to take the climate discussion down to a regional level. So it breaks the country apart; anticipates what’s going to happen in each region. There’s another separate breakout on what’s happening to the ocean and to the oceans because of increased acidification, and what the effect of that may be on the productive economies that are around, particularly coastal communities and ocean-oriented economies.
So I think that kind of information will help communities plan, and the funding that we’ve proposed I think will provide the resources that would be useful to give communities a jumpstart on their planning. Some communities obviously are already on top of that as a result of catastrophic events really, particularly as a result of what happened in the Gulf with Katrina, and what happened with Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast.
Q And to climate change doubters, you say what?
MR. PODESTA: I’d say that probably, look out your window and you’ll begin to feel the effects. But 97 percent of scientists agree; there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that exist that climate change is real, it’s happening, it’s caused by CO2 pollution and other pollutants that we’re putting into our air that cause climate change. It’s well-known science now. The data continues to come in. If anything, we’re seeing some of the effects that are predicted by the models coming in more quickly than were predicted in the models that existed even a decade ago.
So I think if you want to try to -- particularly if you want to try to side with the polluters and argue to the American public that climate change is not happening -- today, tomorrow and certainly in the future, that's going to be a losing argument.
MR. CARNEY: Mike.
Q The statistics you presented pretty much read like a wholehearted endorsement of fracking. And when the President was in Brussels a couple of months ago he spoke laudably of fracking, recommending that Eastern Europeans step up their technology. So my question is, is fracking the answer to the world’s energy needs? Or is fracking a disincentive to develop renewable energy?
MR. PODESTA: No, I think, again, we put a major emphasis on -- I quoted the statistics -- 10-time increase in solar, three times increase in wind. We’re very committed to renewable energy. But at this moment, as a bridge, if you will, from a world in which there’s still a need for fossil fuels to power our economy to a world in which we can get more from zero-carbon-source energy, whether that's through new technology, because we can sequester the carbon that's coming from the release in power plants, or from more renewables in the system, more zero carbon-source energy in the system, we think it’s a practical and viable way to reduce emissions in the short run.
So obviously there are environmental issues around the production of gas and oil, but again, in the administration’s view, that can be dealt with through the proper application of the best practices to produce that oil and gas.
MR. CARNEY: Time for one more.
Q You mentioned the energy efficiency bill in the Senate. I was wondering what level of concern you have that Republicans might try to tack on kind of a pushback on some carbon emissions regulations to that bill, and what work, if any, you guys are doing to shore up Democrats in the Senate on that issue.
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that the question of whether they would -- they’ll find various ways, particularly in the House, to try to stop us from using the authority we have under the Clean Air Act. All I would say is that those have zero percent chance of working. We’re committed to moving forward with those rules. We’re committed to maintaining the authority, and the President’s authority to ensure that the Clean Air Act is fully implemented. That's critical to the health of the American people, the health of the economy, and the health of our environment.
So they may try, but I think that there are no takers at this end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And I think -- with respect to the commitment of Democrats to support a cleaner energy future, I think there’s a strong sentiment there. There’s quite a bit of organization that's led particularly by Senator Whitehouse now in the Senate, Senator Boxer and others, Senator Markey and others, to ensure that we get the right outcome.
So, again, this is bipartisan legislation on efficiency. We hope that it gets to the floor. We hope that it passes. But if it passes with unacceptable riders, then it will be headed to the watery depths, I guess.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, John.
Okay. I thank John Podesta for joining us today. You’ll be hearing more from the President this week on those issues. And with that, I go to Julie Pace once again.
Q Thanks, Jay. The violence in Ukraine has spread into Odesa. And I’m wondering if the fact that it’s now in a city of a million people, a strategically important port city, if that impacts the U.S. calculus at all in terms of the response, ratcheting up a response more quickly.
MR. CARNEY: Julie, we remain extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in both eastern and southern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants who are armed have escalated their already violent behavior and taken over additional government buildings in yet more towns.
Odesa, as you know, is in southern Ukraine. We’re going to continue to call on Russia to live up to its commitments in Geneva and to use its influence over these groups, these pro-Russian militant groups, to urge them to disarm and to instead engage in Ukraine’s political process.
When it comes to Odesa, I want to reiterate that we mourn with all Ukrainians the heartbreaking loss of life there on Friday. The violence and mayhem that led to so many senseless deaths and injuries is unacceptable. We call on all sides to work together to restore calm and law and order. And we call on the Ukrainian authorities to launch a full investigation and to bring all of those responsible to justice.
The events in Odesa dramatically underscore the need for an immediate deescalation of tensions in Ukraine. The violence and efforts to destabilize the country must end. And we again call for the immediate implementation of the commitments made in Geneva on April 17th.
When it comes to the general principle of violating a sovereign state’s territorial integrity, seeking to destabilize a sovereign state, the actions of Russia regardless of where they take place within Ukraine are very, very serious. And we have called them out and we have called on them to use their influence -- that is, Russian leaders, to use their influence to prevail upon militants in eastern and southern Ukraine to disarm, to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied and to engage in the political process in Ukraine.
As you know, there are elections scheduled for May 25th, in just a few weeks, and that is an opportunity for every Ukrainian, regardless of his or her political views, to take advantage of the democratic process to express their will. That's how it should be. Ukrainians must decide for themselves the future of Ukraine. It is not for another nation or for militants within a nation supported by and abetted by another nation to force anything upon the people of Ukraine.
Q It sounds like you're saying in terms of the U.S. response, U.S.-Europe response, that nothing is really going to change in terms of your timeline and your set of options, even though this crisis has now moved into a pretty major city.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that we have from day one escalated our actions that impose costs on Russia as Russia has escalated its interference in and efforts to destabilize Ukraine. And as the President made clear last week when we announced new sanctions in coordination with our European and G7 partners, those costs will continue to escalate. We have a wide range of tools available to us up to and including sectoral sanctions. And should Russia take actions that we and our partners decide or view as meriting further escalation costs on Russia, then that's what we will do. We will impose those costs.
And the authorities the President has available to him under the executive orders he signed give him a flexible range of tools to impose further costs and higher costs on Russia. And we will continue to ramp up those costs, ratchet up those costs, if and as Russia continues to engage in efforts to destabilize Ukraine and fails to honor the commitments that Russia made in Geneva on April 17th.
Q And just quickly, does the White House plan to cooperate with the House Select Committee on Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: One thing this Congress is not short on is investigations into what happened before, during and after the attacks in Benghazi. Seven separate congressional committees -- investigations, rather -- have been looking at this since 2012, including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Armed Services Committee. All told, these investigations have consumed 13 hearings, 50 member and staff briefings, and over 25,000 pages of documents. And yet, what we said at the time remains true today: In the days after September 11, 2012, we were concerned by the unrest occurring across the Muslim world and we provided our best assessment of what was happening at the time.
And all of these investigations, in addition to the work of the independent Accountability Review Board, chaired by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed by George W. Bush, have found that the facts as we described them in terms of how we approached this remain exactly as we described them then. The facts of yesterday are the facts today, and they will be the facts no matter how often or for how long Republicans engage in highly partisan efforts to politicize what was a tragedy -- a tragedy that led to the deaths of four Americans, brave Americans serving overseas, representing the United States of America.
And from day one, the President has been committed to finding out what went wrong there, why security was inadequate, and in pursuing those responsible for the deaths of Americans and bringing them to justice. And that effort will not cease. The effort to take action to make changes because of what we saw in Benghazi when it comes to the security of our diplomats and our facilities is embodied in the immediate response that the administration took once the Accountability Review Board put out its report, which was unsparing in its assessments of the problems that existed that helped lead to that tragedy. And then-Secretary of State Clinton adopted all 29 of the ARB’s recommendations and began implementing them right away. The President insisted that that take place, and that’s what’s happening.
So we are going to continue focusing on the need to make sure that our diplomats and other Americans serving abroad are as safe as they can be. We call upon Republicans to take a little of the time they spend investigating investigations or voting to repeal a law they will not repeal and focus on providing the funding necessary so that we can adequately provide security to our brave Americans serving overseas.
Q I want to let you get on to some of my colleagues, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether you’re going to cooperate with the committee or not.
MR. CARNEY: Julie, we have always cooperated with legitimate oversight. That’s represented by the statistics I just read to you. All of the seven separate congressional investigations, all of the committees that have participated in those investigations, all of the administration personnel who have briefed or testified because of those investigations -- everyone who --
Q Do you think there was legitimate oversight --
MR. CARNEY: I think if you look at even what some Republicans have said, it certainly casts doubt on the legitimacy of an effort that is so partisan in nature. There is a problem when you have so many conspiracy theories that get knocked down by the facts and yet the adherents to those theories only become more convinced that the facts aren’t what they so clearly are.
And that information loop is fed by authorities who -- in the Republican Party, in this case -- reconfirm for those who want to believe in conspiracy theories that don’t have any factual basis, but tell them they’re true anyway; by media outlets that pound that message into those who are predisposed to believe it -- who, for example, continue to assert that there was a military stand-down order, which has been refuted forthrightly by the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who investigated it and made sure that it was not true.
At some point, you just have to assume Republicans will continue this because it feeds a political objective of some sort. But I think, at the same time, you have to ask, what about the American people who want to see Congress actually work for them; who want to see Congress take action to raise the minimum wage or take care of the millions of Americans who are looking for work; whose benefits were cut off because Republicans would not extend them; who want Congress to help build on the recovery we’ve seen -- 50 months of private sector job creation so that we invest in infrastructure, education, or innovation. They’re doing none of that. Instead, they’re investigating and investigating, and investigating investigations, and voting, of course, periodically, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Q I think that the allegation on the other side would be that there was an attempt to politicize it with the talking points -- that that was some effort on that side to do so. So, I mean, don’t you feel like you need to get that message out more strongly -- that it wasn’t a politicization on the White House’s part after the fact?
MR. CARNEY: I think at some point it becomes necessary to actually look at what we’re talking about and review the history. Within hours -- not days, not weeks -- within hours of the very attack that we’re talking about, the Republican nominee for President issued a scathingly political statement. It was actually pointed out as such by many of you in this room or your organizations. And that effort to politicize this tragedy has continued unabated since.
We can -- and perhaps we will -- go over again and again what the assessment was by the CIA; the points that the CIA drew up and provided to members of Congress of both parties who requested them so they could talk about it publicly, and that we provided to our representative who was going out to talk about them publicly; and the fact that that assessment by the intelligence community was based on what was said clearly to be early information, the best available information at the time, and that as more information became available, it was corrected. But at some point, as I was saying before, the facts begin not to matter to those who fervently want to believe in something else.
And when they are constantly reaffirmed in their beliefs by those who seek to gain some sort of political traction by reaffirming those beliefs, the facts themselves, the documents themselves, the testimony, what Admiral Mullen said, what the Deputy Director of the CIA said, what Ambassador Pickering said, what then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said -- none of that matters anymore if you want to believe in a certain set of conspiracies.
So we’re going to continue focusing on the facts and what matters about this episode, which is to bring to justice the four -- I mean those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans. And that effort will not end and will not flag until it is accomplished. And then to implement -- hopefully with Congress’s help -- all of the recommendations in the Accountability Review Board’s report, which include beefing up -- hopefully with funding provided by a Congress that seems otherwise focused on other matters -- beefing up security at diplomatic installations around the world so that all those Americans who serve, unquestionably, with some risk in dangerous places, representing us, are better protected.
Q And if you don’t mind if I change the subject quickly -- on the Nigerian girls. I think a report just passed while we were sitting in here that U.S. officials are heading to Nigeria. Can you clarify the U.S. response? Is it going to go beyond intelligence-sharing, or is it already?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we view what has happened there as an outrage and a terrible tragedy. The President has been briefed several times and his national security team continues to monitor the situation there closely. The State Department has been in regular touch with the Nigerian government about what we might do to help support its efforts to find and free these young women.
As Secretary Kerry said, we will continue to provide counterterrorism assistance to help Nigerian authorities develop a comprehensive approach to combating Boko Haram. We continue to stand firmly with the people of Nigeria in their efforts to bring the terrorist violence perpetrated by Boko Haram to an end while ensuring civilian protection and respect for human rights.
When it comes to what specifically we are doing, our counterterrorism assistance in Nigeria focuses on information-sharing, on improving Nigeria’s forensics and investigative capacity. It also stresses the importance of protecting civilians and assuring that human rights are protected and respected. We are working with the Nigerian government to strengthen its criminal justice system and increase confidence in the government by supporting its efforts to hold those responsible for violence accountable.
There are other things -- I’m sure specifics that the State Department can provide to you. But this is an outrage and a tragedy, and we are doing what we can to assist the Nigerian government to support its efforts to find and free the young women who were abducted.
Q Jay, thank you. Just on the energy issue, if I could go back to the energy efficiency bill. John Podesta said that the administration supports that but if there are unacceptable riders attached to it, it wouldn’t stand a chance of getting the President’s signature. As you know, there are efforts to attach two provisions that would approve the Keystone pipeline. Would that be an automatic veto trigger?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate, but I think you have seen from what we have said and done in the past that it is our strong view that the process around the decision-making on that pipeline has to be compartmentalized out of politics, housed and run at the State Department. That has been the case in previous administrations of both parties and it is the case with this pipeline.
In the past, when Congress has acted, it has actually served to slow down the review process, and we believe strongly that that’s not an effective or helpful way to bring that process to a conclusion. So I’m not going to speculate about what Congress may or may not do -- we would be here all day -- in the end, it tends not to do much. But we’re going to continue to focus on the issues that John talked about.
Q If I could follow up on the response that you gave to the gas tax question. I realize you’ve made your proposal to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, but would a gas tax also be something that the administration would reject?
MR. CARNEY: We have never proposed or supported a gas tax.
Q Thanks, Jay. I have two questions for you on Benghazi. First of all, there’s a clip of Mike Morrell that's getting a lot of play now -- he talks about reacting to Ambassador Rice’s testimony that the video was not something that our analysts attributed the attack to. In the first part of that statement, he says that his reaction to her Sunday show appearance was that when she talked about the protests, that was based on the best information at the time -- right in that same sentence. And the protests were because of the video.
MR. CARNEY: Well, here, I think I can help you to tease this out. If you look at the points that Mr. Morrell has many times said publicly that he oversaw and took responsibility for, the first sentence essentially says, based on currently available information, what happened in Benghazi arose out of -- and I’m paraphrasing -- protests at Benghazi that were inspired by demonstrations outside of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. And there is no question that, like the demonstrations around so many of our diplomatic facilities in the Muslim world at that time, the demonstrations outside of our embassy in Cairo were inspired by anger over the video in question.
So I think that clearly explains what was at issue in the CIA talking points, what have been described as the CIA talking points, and what the sort of connection between, based on currently available information that was being made at the time, between the demonstrations over the video and what happened in Benghazi. And what we’ve said all along and what CIA has said, and other intelligence community leaders have said, what folks in this administration have said, is that when more information became available we made it available to the public through you.
And in a situation like that, it is obviously complex in the sense that you have an event like that happening across the world, you have concurrently demonstrations -- highly violent and potentially very damaging demonstrations happening outside of diplomatic facilities across the Muslim world that threatened at least to become even more severe. And that was something that was of great concern to national security officials both here and across the administration and across the world, as you would expect it would be. And I think that is the context in which to understand how the talking points were developed and what everyone was saying about them at the time and the fact that there was contradictory information at the time.
Q People are taking that and sort of saying that that's of course whatever -- my question is what he’s saying here doesn’t make any sense to me. He says -- yes, it was a protest, which were about the video, but it's not about the video. My question is --
MR. CARNEY: Tommy, I didn’t see specifically that testimony. What I can tell you is that Mr. Morrell has on repeated occasions made clear that those talking points were overseen by him, developed by the intelligence community, were based on the best available information they had at the time, produced at the request of and on behalf of members of Congress of both parties who wanted to be able to answer questions publicly about the event, and that we used the same points and provided them to our representative who went out to talk about it publicly. And he has also made clear and testified that he felt absolutely no political influence as he was developing those points.
So dialing it back a year to when we had these discussions the last time, that was the focus of everyone’s attention. And it was because that process in developing those points had been mischaracterized, because of the partisan political effort on the Hill by Republicans to reporters, that we voluntarily put out the documentation that backed up what we were saying and what Mr. Morrell was saying.
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that in the end it distracts from what the focus should be, which is that we need to take action to ensure that there’s better security for Americans, civilian Americans serving abroad at our diplomatic facilities, many of them in countries where there are inherent risks to Americans. And we need to continue the effort to hunt down and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four Americans. That's the President’s focus. And we wish that it was the focus of members of Congress as well.
Q My second question is this: It's been -- you just sort of mentioned it -- it's been almost a year to the day now when reports emerged -- there were reporters saying that they had obtained emails that proved that the White House had politicized the creation of the talking points. And then as you said, it turned out these were not actually emails, they were inaccurate summaries that were fed to them by Republicans in Congress. Now we fast-forward a year later. You’ve got the same reporters saying that they now have an email that proves the same thing. So I guess what I want to know is that -- it seems like you're expecting the American people -- how do you expect them to believe that the same guy is wrong about the exact same thing two years in a row?
MR. CARNEY: Tommy, I think our interest really is not in playing that game. It's in making clear that we're focused on the things I talked about -- ensuring that our diplomats are secure. And we need Congress’s help, we need Republicans’ help in providing the funding necessary to take care of that -- that is reflected in the President’s budget -- and in continuing the investigation and the effort to bring to justice those who killed four Americans.
The rest of this, or so much of the rest of this is so clearly and unfortunately partisan that I suspect, as I said earlier, that no matter how many committees look into it and how many investigations of investigations of investigations there are, or how many highly credentialed and admired people in the military and our civilian service who testify to the facts, when the facts won't be enough, the political, partisan process will continue.
And that's unfortunate for only one reason, which is that we all have a limited amount of time in the day to focus on things, and that includes members of Congress. And all the time they spend investigating this and investigating other matters, or voting to repeal a bill or a law that has led to more than 8 million Americans signing up for private health insurance, the less time they have to try to focus on the things that Americans really care about, which is the economy and helping it grow, and investing in a way that rewards hardworking Americans for the hard work they do.
Q Jay --
Q You called on Alexis.
MR. CARNEY: Alexis.
Q Then me.
MR. CARNEY: You're out there defending your colleague. She was excellent in that video, wasn’t she?
Q Oh, thank you.
MR. CARNEY: That was a great production. Sorry, go ahead.
Q Two questions. So just to follow up on Julie’s question --
MR. CARNEY: Which one?
Q About Benghazi. You went to great lengths to suggest that because it’s a partisan, political effort on Capitol Hill, according to the White House, the administration is not going to cooperate with a select committee investigation. Because of the amount of time that you just spent in the briefing room and we would assume be spending talking about this again when they get going, just to clarify, the administration is not going to cooperate?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the fact that we have always cooperated with legitimate oversight and will continue to do so. And we have cooperated extensively with the oversight on this matter -- which I think a lot of folks, including Republicans, have identified as not always legitimate, but highly political.
I don’t think there are many people, including if you look at some of the Republicans on the Sunday shows yesterday, who believe that this is necessary after seven congressional investigations and multiple committees have looked into it. And so I think you can make your assessment about how serious it is and how serious-minded an approach is, which is so clearly designed to politicize what was a tragedy that again perpetuates -- it’s like a conspiracy theory without a conspiracy.
Fundamentally, it has always been about were we trying to perpetuate a myth about what happened in Benghazi, when -- I mean, once the intelligence community changed its assessment we put it right out there. And it was a murky situation in which we were providing the best available information, conservatively relying on the intelligence community’s assessment that it was providing to Congress. And when that assessment changed, of course, our assessment changed.
And I think if you look at it, it still remains murky exactly what happened, and we’ll never know until the investigations are complete and the investigation into who killed those Americans is complete and they’re brought to justice.
But that’s -- as I said before, at some point, when the conspiracy theories sort of fall flat and yet there is a fierce adherence to the notion that the conspiracy exists, you just have to continue to focus on getting work done that’s important to the American people. And we can talk about this as much as you want in this room, but it’s not going to change the facts, because none of this is going to change the facts as they existed then, as they exist now, or they will in the future. They’re not going to change.
Q The second question -- on Arkansas. There are folks in Arkansas who are wondering why it took the President so long to come to their state, which he will do this week. Can you just comment on why it took a long time for President Obama to get there?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t seen those comments. The President is visiting in two days.
Q I mean as President, not after the disaster.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, say that again.
Q Just people are saying it took him a long time to come.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I see what you’re saying.
Q Not after the disaster.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t even know how to respond to that, except to say the President is focused and will be focused when he visits on Wednesday on the families of victims and on the first responders, and on the efforts underway to help Arkansas rebuild.
Q How much of your skepticism of this committee is fueled by Speaker Boehner’s appointment of Trey Gowdy as the chair -- Gowdy, is a member of the oversight committee which has been pretty tough on you guys?
MR. CARNEY: I think my view on this has less to do with personalities than on the fact that there have been nothing but investigations into this matter for the past 18 months by multiple committees, with 25,000-plus pages of documents turned over, many, many briefings, much testimony, and all have failed to provide Republicans what they have desired politically, which is some proof of a conspiracy.
And remember, this all began with a statement put out by the Republican nominee for President within hours of the attack, and the effort to politicize this has continued unabated, which is unfortunate. But it is what it is, and it has been what it has been. And I suppose that this won’t change, just like the facts won’t change.
But we’re going to continue to focus on the things that I think the American people wish Washington were more focused on, which is the kinds of issues that Mr. Podesta, John Podesta, was talking about earlier: How do we make the kind of investments that assure that we get the national security advantage that comes from greater energy independence, as well as the economic and environmental advantage that comes from it so that our air is cleaner for our children, our water is cleaner for our children, and we are safer and more economically efficient? These are the kinds of things -- and that we’re creating all the jobs that come with these kinds of investments. I think that is probably a lot higher on the list of average Americans in terms of what they’d rather see Washington do than layering on another investigation by the same folks of the things they’ve already investigated.
Q Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte want to confirm a report by a former White House staffer that the President did not monitor the events going down in Benghazi from the Situation Room that night. Can you confirm that?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the President was briefed regularly by his senior national security team as events were unfolding. As you may recall, he was first alerted to the attack in Benghazi while he was meeting with Leon Panetta in the Oval Office and at that moment, told Secretary of Defense Panetta that he wanted every effort expended to do everything we can to assist in the situation in Benghazi and make sure that our diplomats were secure around the globe. And he was constantly updated. We put out photographs of that.
Again, this is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy. And it has clearly been that for so long now that I’ve lost track of the number of conspiracies that have fallen flat -- conspiracy theories.
Q On another subject, on Ukraine, are you concerned that this uptick in violence that’s spread to Odesa, the continuing violence in east Ukraine really threatens the May 25th elections? And are you likely to tighten sanctions before then, as some have called on you to do?
MR. CARNEY: We are concerned that Russia seeks to undermine the May 25th elections. And as the President said last week, we will be working with our European and G7 partners to respond appropriately should that be the case. It is vitally important that the Ukrainian people get to express their free, democratic will in national elections and that every Ukrainian avails himself or herself of the right to vote, and votes according to his or her convictions. That’s how the process should work. It is not for Moscow to dictate to Ukraine or to Ukrainians what the future of Ukraine should be.
And, yes, we’re very concerned. And I think we’ve made clear that as Russia escalates its efforts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, the cost to Russia will escalate. We have a very flexible set of tools available to us to impose additional costs and that is, as you saw last week, up to and including sectoral sanctions on the economy, on the Russian economy.
Carol, and then Jon.
Q On the abduction of Nigerian girls, can you talk about what kind of assistance the U.S. is planning to offer the Nigerian government beyond basic intelligence and information-sharing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re also pursuing efforts to help the Nigerian military improve its professional military education to bolster its counter IED capacity and carry out responsible CT operations. In addition, the United States last year provided approximately $3 million in law enforcement assistance to Nigeria, which included assistance to develop the Nigerian capacity to search, identify, mitigate and dispose of IEDs and related materials; a resident legal attaché in Lagos and FBI agents who have assisted Nigerian authorities in investigating bombings there; and training for Nigerian law enforcement officials on basic forensics, interview and interrogation techniques, hostage negotiations, leadership and management development, and task force development.
So the U.S. also supports programs and initiatives that provide positive alternatives to communities most at risk of radicalization and recruitment, including through vocational training. And I think it’s important to note that last year, we designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization and specifically-designated global terrorists, which effectively cuts the organization off from U.S. financial institutions and enables banks to freeze assets here in the United States.
Q Quickly, to follow on Wendell on Ukraine -- just to be clear, is it fair to say you, the administration, is considering additional sanctions against Russia before the May 25th elections based on things that are currently -- the violence that we’ve seen in the last few days? What we’re trying to get a sense of is whether May 25th is a hard deadline for any new sanctions, or if you’re leaving open the possibility of still levying some type of sanctions against Russia between now and then, based on action that’s been happening the last few days or could happen in the next few days.
MR. CARNEY: The latter is the case. We never set artificial deadlines on when we would begin considering new sanctions. We’ve always made clear that the tools available to the President allow him and this administration to escalate the costs if activity by Russia aimed at destabilizing Ukraine escalates. And I wouldn’t -- nor am I saying that sanctions are coming on any particular day or will come on any particular day if Russia does this particular action. We’ve made clear that if Russia escalates, the costs will escalate. And we are coordinating very closely, as you heard the President and Chancellor Merkel discuss last week, with our allies and partners in Europe and on the G7, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q And just one other quick housekeeping thing -- so do you consider the select committee’s investigation legitimate?
MR. CARNEY: That’s housekeeping?
Q Yes, because everyone has asked and we can’t get a clear answer.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, there is a speculative nature to that. What I know is that Republicans continue to obsess --
Q You have stood there speculating for the last like 20 minutes.
MR. CARNEY: No, I haven’t.
Q I mean, you’re saying it without saying it. You’re saying you’ve always cooperated with legitimate investigations, but suggesting that you’re not going to cooperate with this or at least that it isn’t -- you don’t see it as a legitimate investigation. So do you see it as a legitimate investigation?
MR. CARNEY: What I’m not going to do is speculate about what might come, or what Republicans are going to do, or how that’s going to play out. I think the action on that front is on Capitol Hill right now. What I will remind you of is our history of cooperation on this issue and many others. And I will point out to you the remarkable amount of time and energy spent by various committees in seven different investigations into this very matter. And I will point you to the ARB investigation and to the conclusions that Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen drew in their report and the recommendations they made, the clear-eyed assessments they made about some of the conspiracy theories propounded by Republicans and others on this issue, and the testimony by Mike Morell on these matters.
And, again, what you have here is dissatisfaction over, I guess, the failure to prove any of these theories true and thus a decision to do it again, try it again, investigate the investigation. And we’re going to focus on where we can move forward on behalf of the American people to grow the economy. Again, we cooperate with legitimate oversight.
Q So I just wanted to --
MR. CARNEY: You want to ask me again? (Laughter.)
Q Actually, I just want to --
MR. CARNEY: You’re going to definitely get it out of me, that’s for sure.
Q A yes or no answer. (Laughter.) Is the White House going to cooperate with this investigation? Yes or no? I’ve heard a lot of words but I didn’t hear an answer.
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I haven’t seen an investigation. I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric. I’ve seen talk. I’ve seen some of the usual partisan assertions and heard them.
Q You’ve seen the announcements from the Speaker of the House that he’s creating this committee to investigate this.
MR. CARNEY: What I will say is that we have a long history of cooperating with legitimate oversight from Congress and that cooperation will continue. What I am not going to speculate about is what the Republicans are up to. Iit’s pretty blatantly apparent, based on what they’ve said and what even other Republicans have said, that this is a highly partisan exercise. But I’m not going to go further than that.
Whose awesome ringtone is that? (Laughter.)
Q Is the White House encouraging Democrats to take part in this, to appoint members to this committee?
MR. CARNEY: We leave it up to Leader Pelosi and Democrats on the Hill to decide how they want to approach this.
Q And can I ask a follow-up on the Nigeria question?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Does the White House believe that the Nigerian government is doing everything that it can do to free those girls?
MR. CARNEY: What I can say, Jon, is what we’re doing to assist them and how outrageous this abduction is. There is no question that Boko Haram is a terrorist organization with heinous and malicious intent, and we are going to do everything we can to assist Nigeria in their efforts to find and free those young women, those girls.
Q Would it be impolite if we were to point out that that doesn’t answer his question?
MR. CARNEY: It would be.
Q Jay, a couple questions. Back on the Benghazi investigation, there seems to be frustration on Capitol Hill, particularly on behalf of Nancy Pelosi, when it comes to Republican efforts on this latest issue with Benghazi. What is the level of frustration of President Obama when it comes to this latest probe?
MR. CARNEY: April, I would simply say that, as you heard the President discuss in his State of the Union address, and have seen in the actions that he has taken this year, he sees 2014 as an opportunity to get things done for the American people, as a year of action. And he made clear at the beginning of the year and has proven in the actions that he has taken all year that where Congress will not join him in an effort to move forward and make progress on behalf of the American people, he will act using any authority he has to advance those interests, to help the economy, to help hardworking Americans and reward hard work. That’s what he has been focused on all year.
And we continue to look for ways to work with Congress, with members of both parties, to get important things done on behalf of the American people. That includes comprehensive immigration reform. There remains an opportunity for Republicans in the House to act on this important matter, something that’s supported by a broad coalition of forces on the left and the right, including support from corners that are normally not onboard with things President Obama is in favor of. And I think that reflects that this is something that the American people believe ought to get done and which can do enormous good to our economy, to our security, and to our capacity to innovate.
So the President looks forward to working with Congress on any area that advances a pro-middle-class agenda and hopefully Republicans in Congress will respond to that desire. When they don’t, when they instead decide to spend the valuable time they have in Congress to instead investigate and investigate what’s already been investigated, or to vote to repeal and vote to repeal a law that’s making quality, affordable health insurance available to millions of Americans, he’ll focus on those things that he can do using his administrative authority.
Q Jay, thank you so much for that answer, but you strategically left out the part about his frustration now. I need to get the now -- what is his frustration now about Benghazi and this latest investigation?
MR. CARNEY: The President I think was new relatively to Washington when he took office, had been a senator for a few years.
Q I'm talking about now.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, but let me get there. That’s the appositive phrase that begins the powerful point. (Laughter.) But he cannot claim to be new anymore and recognizes that partisans are going to practice partisan politics and that what we see in this effort and so many others is a desire to try to score political points -- in this case, with a base of reporters, I guess -- instead of focusing their attention on the matters that can help move the economy forward and reward hardworking Americans for the hard work that they do.
So that’s an observation that is not all that gratifying, but it’s a fact that has been an obvious reality for some time now. But there remain opportunities for bipartisan cooperation like the one I just talked about and we hope -- we will continue to look and the President will continue to look for opportunities to do that with members of Congress. But he will not rest in seeking the ability to, and executing on his ability to advance an agenda using his authorities.
Q And on Carol’s question, is the President or anyone here expecting to allot any new monies when it comes to this urgent issue about the Nigerian girl abduction?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the policies that we’re implementing fall under existing budgetary authorities, but I would refer you to the State Department and USAID for other efforts.
Q On Nigeria, is the President considering sending American troops or perhaps special forces into Nigeria, if asked, to help find those young women?
MR. CARNEY: I have not heard such a request or consideration.
Q If requested, would the President be willing to consider that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s speculation, but I had not heard even --
Q Well, it’s not because there’s international outrage, and worldwide there have been other leaders insisting that --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t heard -- well, this is the first I’ve even heard that suggested. We’re focused on the policies and the assistance that I outlined in my answer before.
Q Since we’re wrapping up, briefly, lastly, on a separate topic -- the First Lady’s brother was just removed from his position at Oregon State University as the head basketball coach. The President has seen the team play on multiple Hawaii trips. Any comment from the White House or the First Lady’s office on that?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the East Wing on matters like that. I haven’t talked to the President about it.
Q On this circus tragedy in Rhode Island, do you or the President have any thoughts on these kind of stunts that are so dangerous and really shocking to young people?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an official response. Obviously it’s a pretty terrible accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to those were affected.
I think I’ve been given the hook. Thanks, all.
2:27 P.M. EDT