Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/8/2011
Please see below for a correction (marked with asterisks) to the transcript.
1:34 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everybody. Welcome. I’d like to begin, if I may, with a readout of President Obama’s video teleconference with President Karzai of Afghanistan.
President Obama spoke with President Karzai this morning via video teleconference. The two leaders spoke for approximately one hour and discussed a number of topics, including the impact of the death of Osama bin Laden on the fight against terrorism and on regional dynamics, their shared commitment to Afghan-led reconciliation, progress on forging an enduring U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership, and transition to Afghan leadership for security.
The President expressed his sorrow over tragic civilian casualties, most recently in Helmand province. Both leaders noted that the Taliban are responsible for the great majority of civilian losses, and agreed that every loss of civilian life is a tragedy and undermines our mission that focuses on protecting the population.
The two leaders agreed to maintain their close consultations going forward.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Just a follow-up on that readout. Did the President share with Karzai any of the discussions he’s been having here about the drawdown that’s going to take place in July?
MR. CARNEY: The President -- the two Presidents, rather, discussed the process of transition to an Afghan lead, which is related very much directly to the question that you asked. They agreed to continue those consultations, and President Obama will certainly be in close touch with President Karzai as we finalize the pace and scope of the reduction in U.S. troops that will begin in July.
Q But he wasn’t giving him any heads up on --
MR. CARNEY: There was not a discussion of specific numbers. As you know, and it remains the case, the President has not made a decision yet about the pace and scope. He’s obviously going to be having discussions with his team in the coming days and weeks about that matter and will make his decision soon, as he said the other day.
Q And if I could just ask you a couple questions on Libya. In the past day or so, there seems to have been a drop in momentum for the Kerry-McCain resolution in the Senate, and now we have this new proposal from Corker and Webb that appears to be similar to the House resolution from last week. Given all of that, can the administration really still say at this point that you are providing all of the answers that Congress is looking for on the Libya campaign?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I can say that this President takes very seriously what he sees as his obligation and his administration’s obligation to consult regularly with Congress, broadly and with the appropriate members of the appropriate committees, on matters like his policy towards Libya. And I can tell you that those consultations on Libya have been extensive and constant. In fact, I went over the list of engagements that this administration has had with members of Congress on Libya, just Libya, since shortly before this operation began, and it numbers 40 -- 40 engagements of different types of briefings and consultations. We will continue those consultations.
And with regards to the resolution that the Speaker of the House authored, we will answer the questions in that resolution in the spirit that we have answered questions that members have had in the past, and consistent with that approach towards consulting Congress, we will answer the questions in that resolution within the time frame that he specifies.
Q Will you do it in the way that the House has asked for, in a written, detailed report?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a format for you, but we will certainly endeavor to answer the questions.
Q Do you think that the Corker and Webb proposal, would you also characterize that as being unhelpful and unnecessary?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if it’s similar or precisely the same, then it would be -- our reaction to it would be the same. We have said from the beginning that we would support and appreciate expressions of support by Congress for the mission. I think the goals that the President shares -- the goals that the President has, rather, with regard to Libya are widely shared by members of Congress of both parties and both houses, and that is to allow the Libyan people to choose their own future, and with regard to the NATO mission, to protect civilians, enforce a no-fly zone, and enforce an arms embargo.
Q Could I just switch topics quickly? Tim Kaine has called for Anthony Weiner to resign. What’s the President’s position?
MR. CARNEY: We have no comment on that story.
Yes -- hey, welcome.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask what the White House reaction was to the OPEC meeting today, which broke up without a decision to raise production. Had the U.S. been putting pressure on any member for an increase, and does that make it more likely that the U.S. will tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me take those questions in order. The President, as you know, is very concerned about high energy prices, in particular the impact that energy prices have on prices at the gas pump because Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when prices go up at the pump it affects everything they do because of their reliance on cars for transportation to and from work and other places.
So as you -- you’ve heard him talk about this a lot and this is an issue that is very much on his mind, and he has taken a number of steps with regard to that, including directing the Attorney General to create a task force to look at potential cases of fraud and manipulation of the markets that could have a negative impact on consumers.
He is looking at a lot of options -- sorry, backing up to your middle question -- this administration has been in regular contact with the IEA as well as oil-producing countries during this time of elevated energy prices. We believe that we are in a situation where supply is not meeting demand, and there are a variety of reasons for that, including disruption caused by the situation in Libya, which has removed 1.5 million barrels a day from the market. And so we’ve had those conversations within that context.
As for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the President considers that an option, hasn’t made a decision about that, but as you know it is designed -- the reserve is designed to deal with disruptions in oil supplies. And the President considers that an option going forward.
Q Can I ask one other question on Syria? Looking for the White House reaction to the situation that is -- thousands of people have fled a town near Turkey, fearing a military assault. I wondered how the White House saw that situation maybe compared to the early days in Libya, and what needs to be done about Syria at the U.N. Security Council or otherwise?
MR. CARNEY: Well, each country of course is different. So I would hesitate before making direct comparisons between Libya and any other country that is experiencing unrest. We strongly condemn, and have condemned, the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its own people.
We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people, who have shown tremendous courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy.
President Assad now has a choice. He can lead the transition or he can get out of the way.
Q I have two questions for you. First of all, this study by McKinsey & Company noting that the health care requirements that take effect in 2014 will “increase medical costs for many companies.” And in their survey of 1,300 employers, they note that a significant percentage will definitely or probably drop coverage or pursue alternatives to employer-based insurance. And I’m wondering what the White House response is.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. We saw that report. And I can simply say that that report is pretty starkly at odds with the experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the RAND Corporation, the Urban Institute. And it is also starkly at odds with history. History has shown that reform motivates more businesses to offer insurance. Health insurance in Massachusetts, for example, uses a similar structure as the Affordable Care Act, with an exchange, a personal responsibility requirement, and an employer responsibility requirement.
And a number of individuals with employer-sponsored insurance in Massachusetts has increased. We are confident the Affordable Care Act will strengthen our existing system, employer-based system, going forward. So we simply just disagree with those conclusions.
Q What state was that? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The Bay State, home of my beloved Boston Red Sox.
Q Romney says it’s totally different.
Q Do you mind if I --
MR. CARNEY: Let me continue with Jake. Yes, sir.
Q Thanks. Do you take issue with the report’s conclusion that the requirements of the law will increase medical costs for many companies? Is that something you take issue with?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that the Affordable Care Act will reduce costs overall. It is one of the reasons why the President pursued insurance reform, because he wanted to address the burden that costs were placing on individuals as well as businesses. So, yes, we disagree with the conclusions of the report.
Q Okay. And then in light of tomorrow’s meeting with President of Gabon, is it appropriate for President Obama to honor Ali Bongo with a White House visit, given the fact that the State Department recently reported that the country is home to widespread government corruption, and in light of an ongoing criminal investigation in France about the source of money to buy President Bongo’s homes in France?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jake, as you know, Gabon is holding the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council; it’s an important position. Moreover, Gabon has voted in ways that we consider very helpful on issues like Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, and Iran. It has been an important ally in our efforts in those countries through the United Nations. So, yes, we do think it is appropriate for the President to meet with the leader of Gabon.
And we are obviously, as we are in a number of countries, we’re concerned about human rights issues. And President Bongo has made a number of reforms in his country, and that country of Gabon is increasingly playing a more important role as a regional and global leader on such issues as the ones I mentioned -- Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, and Iran. So we’re obviously -- we think it’s definitely a worthwhile meeting.
Q There a lot of people in that country who look at President Bongo as seriously corrupt, and he is going to be able to use this visit at the White House, with President Obama, as a way of building up his popular support.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that the President of the United States is meeting with the President, as he does with other heads of state, who have less than sterling perhaps records because of the -- first of all, the President of Gabon is making reform efforts, which we support. Secondly, as I said, Gabon has been an important partner in some of the issues that are very important to the American nation security, U.S. security interests regarding Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, and Iran and other issues. And it’s very important for the President to have this meeting for that reason.
Q Jay, what is the President’s reaction to this report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats basically talking about inefficiency in the way aid is being spent in Afghanistan, and also saying that there’s really a threat of a severe economic depression once U.S. troops are out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we welcome the report even though we do not endorse all of the conclusions of it. It’s important to note that Afghanistan has made significant progress, and the presumption that our assistance has contributed little and that Afghanistan has made no progress is just simply wrong and we disagree with that.
As President Obama noted earlier this week, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum. We are training Afghan forces, and -- with the goal of turning over security lead to the Afghan forces between the drawdown that begins in July 2011 and 2014. Civilian assistance is important but it represents a small proportion of the overall cost of our mission in Afghanistan. But it is an essential component of our critical national security strategy in Afghanistan.
And remember, if the goal here is to transition more and more responsibility to the Afghans and the Afghan security forces, it’s important that the civilian assistance part of this be effective so that it builds capacity that allows us to do just that.
And on sustainability, we agree that that’s an issue. That’s why so many of our efforts are focused on building institutions so that Afghans can sustain the progress that has been made over these last several years.
Q So is that -- the President is concerned that there could be major economic repercussions? Is that what you’re saying once --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is very clear-eyed about the country, about its -- the challenges it face -- it faces. And that is why the assistance we provide is aimed at improving the chances that Afghanistan can sustain itself as we begin to draw down our forces and transition the lead to Afghan security.
Q I guess my question is, if the White House doesn’t see eye to eye with all of the findings of the report, then which findings is there disagreement on -- the inefficiency finding or sort of a threat economically?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a -- I think that it’s -- while we obviously agree with aspects of it, some of the challenges that Afghanistan faces, we don’t believe that its assessment of the overall progress is the same as ours or that its potential for sustainability is the same as ours.
Q But are any of these things factoring in --
MR. CARNEY: Look, we welcome the report and we read it with interest. And we are constantly adjusting our -- at a tactical level, how we engage in Afghanistan in the civilian -- in our civilian assistance programs, obviously as well as with our military programs, to maximize our success.
Q But what do these points mean as the President considers a drawdown of troops?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think there’s anything -- while we welcome the report, there’s no -- it’s not news to anyone in this room, anybody in Washington, and certainly not to the President that Afghanistan faces a lot of challenges as a nation -- economically, politically. And that’s -- we’re very aware of that. That was something the President focused a great deal on from the beginning of his presidency as he began to review our policy in the region.
Yes, Mr. Knoller.
Q Jay, in the Karzai conference call, did the President say or tell President Karzai that the United States will continue to engage in Predator strikes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mark, I’m not going to go into any greater detail about the nature of their conversation. It was a good one for an hour that covered a lot of topics. And as I think I mentioned, the President spoke with and expressed his concern, shared concern, to President Karzai about civilian casualties. But as I’ve said in the past and certainly others from the Pentagon and elsewhere have said, our mission in the region is to -- our number one goal is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. And we are prosecuting that mission.
Q Are you able to say if President Karzai asked the President not to stop all the Predator strikes?
MR. CARNEY: I am not able to characterize the conversation further.
Q And on Libya, Senator Lugar in an op-ed piece a couple of days ago said consultations with Congress are not enough. He said the President needs to ask Congress to specifically authorize U.S. military engagement in Libya. What does the President say to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President says, through me and would have said yesterday if he were asked this question, that we -- he believes that he is acting -- that his actions are -- have been consistent with the War Powers resolution and, furthermore, that the consultations are very important. And we have been in extensive consultations with Congress about our mission in Libya -- the goals of which we believe are widely shared by Republicans and Democrats and House members and senators.
Q Does that mean he will not seek specific congressional authorization?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we’ve said that we support and would welcome expressions of support from Congress, similar to the resolution put forward by Senators McCain and Kerry and other Republicans and Democrats. But, you know, I don’t have anything more to say on that beyond that.
Q Jay, two more polls today by FOX and Gallup show widespread disapproval of the President’s handling of the economy by an almost two-to-one margin. One yesterday by Washington Post and ABC indicated most people don’t even believe the economic recovery has begun. How do you explain this?
MR. CARNEY: I think I explain it by saying that we are still struggling to emerge out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, a jobs hole of 8 million, tremendous loss of jobs. We have over the past 15 months created more than 2.1 [million] private sector jobs. That’s an enormous amount, but it is not nearly enough. And the President is aware of that.
And obviously if you’re an American who is still struggling with the reality that was true for the decade prior to this President getting here -- certainly eight years prior -- where middle-class incomes had stagnated and in some ways reversed, even as upper incomes expanded dramatically. So you’ve been experiencing that squeeze for a long time and maybe you have a job, fortunately, but you’re being hit by higher energy prices, you’re worried about your mortgage, you’re worried about sending your child or children to college. You don’t feel like the economy is strong enough. You may not feel all that great about the economy even if you do have a job, which obviously is the most important thing.
So we understand and the President understands and focuses on this precisely because he will not rest and will not be satisfied until every American who’s looking for a job can get one. And that’s the number one priority of his presidency and he continues to be focused on it. That’s why he was -- held the event that he had today at Northern Virginia Community College, which was all about making sure that the training and education that Americans are getting can match up with the kinds of jobs that manufacturers in the United States are looking to fill. And it’s his number one priority.
Q Senator Barrasso said today that government regulations and debt are like putting on the emergency brake to the economy. Do you disagree?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly think that, as the President does, that we need to get our fiscal house in order, we need to reduce our deficits and our debt, and we need to do it in a balanced way. We certainly think that the $10 trillion debt that he inherited is a drag on the economy as a significant portion of the debt that we have now -- a debt incurred in part by two substantial tax cuts that went disproportionately to wealthy Americans that were unpaid for, two wars that were put on a credit card.
So, yes, we’re concerned about it. This President is very concerned about it. You have to remember, however, that when he came to office, we were in an economic freefall and we had to take dramatic action in order to prevent the Great Recession from becoming the second Great Depression.
We did that, and we have experienced positive economic growth for the last seven quarters. We have experienced significant private sector job growth for the past 15 months. We are headed in the right direction and we need to continue to do things like invest in those areas of the economy that have the greatest potential for growth and job creation. We need to get our fiscal house in order. And we need to do it in a balanced way, including, for example, deciding that -- going back to the question about gas prices -- that the $4 trillion -- or rather, billion dollars that we spend subsidizing the oil industry could be better spent elsewhere, like investing in clean energy technology.
Q Did Austan Goolsbee leave because of policy differences?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. Austan Goolsbee left because he needed to return to Chicago. He has a young family. He has a tenure job at the university there. And he’s a very close advisor to the President, a friend of the President, and he will continue to advise the President from the outside and I’m sure will assist with the campaign.
Q Final question. David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, Anita Dunn, all here today. Are you focusing on --
MR. CARNEY: The Auburn football team is here as well.
Q Yes, well, that explains Robert. Does that explain Anita Dunn and --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Anita lives in Washington. I think the only -- and her husband works here. So I don’t know in particular, beyond Robert’s presence here to celebrate the national championship of his beloved football team. Beyond that, I don’t know specifically what those meetings might be. But obviously there is ample reason --
Q That means you were not involved in those meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I was not involved in -- again, I don’t know that there are any meetings. I mean, for all I know, Axe is here having lunch with somebody.
Q Jay, the President says there -- he doesn’t expect to be a double-dip recession. The chairman of the Federal Reserve yesterday discouraged the notion or at least it was interpreted as discouraged the notion of a QE3 or any other further monetary easing, as if there was room to do that. There is a perception today that there’s sort of a stand-pat attitude on the economy coming from Washington. You would dispute that perception?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would. I think, again, that whether it’s free trade agreements or making permanent the R&D tax credit, which the President supports, and then taking the serious approach that the President has taken towards deficit reduction in these very important meetings and negotiations being led by the Vice President, which resume again tomorrow -- there’s a lot of activity here driven by the desire to continue to grow the economy and continue to create jobs. Again, the President is focused on this as his highest priority.
Q OPEC, their -- again, going back to OPEC -- their inability to come to an agreement on raising output. The President cites among the headwinds of the economy high gas prices.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q How big of a concern is their lack of agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I answered this question. We are in regular consultation with the IEA as well as with oil-producing states. We believe that supply is not aligned appropriately with demand because of a number of factors, but including obviously unrest in the Middle East and specifically the disruption caused by the removal of 1.5 million barrels a day from the market because of Libya.
So -- and then, having said that, the President has also made very clear that we and all of us in this room through our lives have been through this cycle before where gas prices spike, politicians express great alarm and demand that action be taken, gas prices go back down and nothing happens because this is a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution. And that is the approach the President has taken, which is why he has taken measures to increase domestic oil production, why he has passed the significant car rule, which will ensure that more fuel-efficient cars are rolling off the assembly line and populating the highways and streets of our country. And it’s why he has sought to diversify our energy supply from a -- from a broad array of sources so that we do not depend on the importation of foreign oil to the extent that we do now, because it makes us highly reactive in the face of spikes in a global energy market that we can’t control.
Q Just a final question. Yesterday, former Governor Pawlenty unveiled his economic plan -- 5 percent growth he wants annually. I’m sure everybody would be happy with that. But he also wants to raise the Social Security retirement age. What is the President’s position on raising the Social Security --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think the President said in his State of the Union address -- and I don’t have anything more than that -- that obviously we need to look at ways to strengthen Social Security. I don’t have any specifics for you. The -- without slashing benefits.
Q How does he --
MR. CARNEY: And with regards to 5 percent growth, we couldn’t agree more; that would be very beneficial to the economy. We think providing expansive tax cuts to the wealthy -- which we did in the last term and added tremendously to our debt and resulted in this President inheriting a massive deficit and debt in 2009 -- probably not the best approach.
Q On the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is the President any closer to naming a director? And can you comment on the Bloomberg reports of the --
MR. CARNEY: The Bloomberg reports? This was of a named candidate. Well, I’m not going to comment on any media speculation about who or who may not be under consideration. The President is looking at a broad array of potential candidates. He does hope to fill that post relatively soon. And --
Q Is there a timeframe?
MR. CARNEY: But I don’t have a -- just relatively
soon. I don’t have a -- I don’t have any more on that for you.
Q The other thing is -- so the third rating agency weighed in on U.S. debt, and I’m wondering what that -- how you -- what your response is to that and how that impacts the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it adds, as it did with the one prior, I think it makes clear the case that we’ve been making, that there is no alternative here to raising the debt ceiling. This is not about additional spending. This is about honoring the obligations that the United States government has made. And the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, as some of these rating agencies have suggested, would be severe. And the validators for that opinion are numerous and come from a variety of political and non-political backgrounds. It is simply incontestable that we need to do this, and we think that Congress will do it because they recognize the urgency and significance of this vote.
Q What is the President’s feeling about that? I mean, there have been some calls for him to get a little bit more involved. Do things like this make him feel like perhaps it is time for him to get closer to the negotiating table, to get a little --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President appointed his Vice President, who, by the way, has some experience with these kinds of things, to oversee negotiations as the President’s initiative to call people to the table -- participants in those negotiations, appointed by the leaders of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, Senate Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader, House Minority Leader -- have been making progress.
So do we think that -- do we share the desire that those talks produce in a relatively short period of time a positive result? Absolutely. And that’s why the President put the Vice President in charge of them. And he engages on this issue daily. And I’m sure he will engage in it in terms of conversations with leaders and members as time progresses. But it is a demonstration of the seriousness with which he takes this issue that he asks the Vice President to lead these negotiations.
Q Then just quickly on Afghanistan, the other day he said he had not received a recommendation from commanders. Has that changed?
MR. CARNEY: No, that hasn’t changed. And he looks forward to discussing with General Petraeus, with Secretary Gates, with his entire national security team his thinking about the variety of options that he will consider in terms of the pace and slope of the drawdown. But there is no formal recommendation or recommendations at this point.
Q When will he do that? Is he planning some formal meeting --
MR. CARNEY: I would just -- I’ll quote him in saying that he plans to make that decision soon.
Q No, but in terms of meeting with them, do you have anything on --
MR. CARNEY: I think that you can -- I mean, I think it’s important, first of all, to step back and remember that as part of the process that he put in place with his strategy announced in December of 2009, he has been engaged in this issue at great depth with regular monthly meetings that he chairs on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the AfPak policy, with weekly meetings with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates where Afghanistan is a frequent topic of conversation and discussion.
As you know, the national security staff did a comprehensive review in December of our policy. And obviously we consult with ISAF allies on this.
So this is a process that isn’t going to begin tomorrow. It began a long time ago. It’s an ongoing process, because --
Q Right, does he plan to bring all of them to the table in the next week or so --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a format for you, but he will be consulting with Secretary Gates, with General Petraeus, with the rest of his national security team -- Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden, and others -- about this decision and review the options that he has, and make a decision relatively soon as he said the other day -- yesterday, I think.
Q And on the economy Jay, what led him to warn against panic and overreacting? To what extent is he concerned that that’s happening --
MR. CARNEY: I think the way I would answer that is to make a point that Austan Goolsbee made the other day, which is that when we had very strong jobs reports for three straight months, in at least two of those cases much higher than expectations, we did not pop the champagne corks or celebrate here. And we also think while the jobs report that came most recently was under expectations and disappointing, it is important to look at the long-term trend. And the long-term trend remains positive.
And the outside forecasters for economic growth in this -- the remainder of this year remain positive. There’s a lot of reason to believe, and ample evidence to suggest, that this economy is growing, will continue to grow, and will continue to create jobs -- never fast enough and not enough job creation, as far as this President is concerned, until every American who’s looking for a job can get one. But I think the point he was making is that we need to look at the long-term trends here and not just one day or one week’s series of economic data.
Q Does he sense panic, over-reaction?
MR. CARNEY: No, he doesn’t. I think his point was just the opposite, that we have faced some headwinds. Some of them, hopefully, were temporary, like the impact of the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and the impact that had on supply chains.
But the fact is that we have continued to grow, we believe we will continue to grow, and we will continue to create jobs, private sector jobs, which is the -- the private sector is the engine of job creation. And that’s positive. And we need to remember that even as we acknowledge that much more work needs to be done.
Q With the unemployment rate expected to be above 8.5 percent for several months, what other tools is the President considering to boost the economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there are a variety of things that we need to remember about what’s already happening in terms of the payroll tax cut, the extension of the middle-class tax cut. That’s putting money in people’s pockets and is helpful in terms of promoting economic growth. There are measures like the President talked about today, in terms of matching -- these private-public ventures that match vocational and educational goals with employers who are looking for specific types of employees to hire them. That’s a positive.
And then we need to -- the President talked a lot about the need to extend the R&D tax credit, because this is an area of significant potential economic growth and job creation; free trade agreements, the three free trade agreements that could create or support 70,000 jobs. It’s very important that we continue to work on those and get those done. And the President is focused on this constantly.
And the fact is the policies that he has pursued and is pursuing have reversed the catastrophic economic decline we were in when we came in in 2009, and led to seven straight quarters of growth and 15 months of private sector job creation. And we need to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep working hard to continue that growth and continue that job creation.
Q Well, because there hasn’t been a lot of improvement in the past couple months, is there something new on the table? Is there another stimulus that he’s looking at?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, first of all, some of those things that I mentioned are new. They have not been acted on and need to be acted on.
Secondly, we believe, done properly, an agreement to substantially reduce our deficit in a balanced way that will not harm economic growth will be a net positive for economic growth. It could in fact be a big boost for economic growth and job creation, because of the confidence it can create. That is why the President is so focused on this.
He is not approaching deficit reduction and long-term debt reduction as an esoteric exercise. It is not a good in its own right. The focus here is on growth and job creation.
Q And also another topic. President Medvedev said Russia would help mediate in Libya and even help with a Qaddafi exit strategy. Has the administration been in touch with the Russians?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President met with President Medvedev in France. The Vice President met with him, I believe, in Italy. We are in constant consultation with our Russian counterparts and partners, and with other allies and partners who are interested in a positive solution to Libya so that the Libyan people can decide their own future.
So I don’t have anything specific on different proposals by different countries, except that we support the idea that Muammar Qaddafi needs to step down so that the Libyans can chose their own leaders.
Q Has the President talked to Medvedev since the Europe trip? Has there been any communication about this?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. Again, without saying or suggesting that this was a focus of their conversation, the President -- the Vice President did meet with him when he met with Prime Minister Berlusconi in Rome.
Q But did it come up in their conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a readout of that conversation.
Q And finally, is the President going to Russia this year? Any plans?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any travel announcements to make.
Q What’s the deadline for commanders to get the recommendation to the President on the AfPak --
MR. CARNEY: There is no deadline. The transition will begin in July of 2011.
Q Presumably --
MR. CARNEY: The drawdown, rather. The transition has already begun. The drawdown will begin in July 2011. You heard it from the best source possible. The President said he would make that decision soon.
Q But he hasn’t said, give me at least a week before July to think about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, July has 31 days in it. Secondly, soon is pretty soon. I mean, soon is spoken by the Commander-in-Chief -- I think you can expect that to be soon.
Q And then, he said yesterday that he spoke with Germany about taking an active role in a post-Qaddafi Libya. What other plans is the U.S. making for what happens in Libya after a Qaddafi departure?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s part of wise planning to consider the future that we hope to help bring about with the varied actions that we have taken, both diplomatically, economically, unilaterally, multilaterally, and as well as militarily through the NATO mission. So, yes, we are consulting with our allies, with the contact group that has been stood up to look at this issue; consulting with and talking with the transitional council about Libya’s future.
But beyond that, I don’t have specifics about how that will unfold once Qaddafi leaves.
Q I mean, if he were to leave in the next 10 minutes, is there a whole list of things that immediately click into place?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself or the administration here, but you can be sure that we’re obviously thinking about and planning for that contingency.
Q Back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, it’s being read in some quarters as a fairly -- as a very critical assessment of --
MR. CARNEY: Being read that way in one newspaper I think, yes.
Q -- counterinsurgency policy. And I’m wondering if it’s raising new questions about that policy that was adopted back in 2009. I know you’ve said a number of times what they’re talking about now is not new policy. But in the pace of drawdown, that’s a recalibration of that policy. In other words, the faster you get small, the more counterterrorism you get, the less counterinsurgency you get. First, is the White House reading it that way, as an indictment of counterinsurgency policy than the maximalist approach that was favored by General McChrystal and General Petraeus?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no. And again, I think we welcome the report, even though we disagree with some of its conclusions, first.
Second, I think you’ve fallen back on a shorthand that -- and you and I have had this discussion offline a number of times -- that I just simply don’t agree with, because I don’t think it represents the consultations and review that the President undertook with his AfPak policy. And it certainly doesn’t represent the outcome. This was never a binary choice between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. It was always about getting the right mix of approaches to ensure that we had the best possible chance of succeeding and achieving our goals -- disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan sufficiently so Afghanistan would not again become a harbor for terrorists -- international terrorists who seek to do America and our allies harm.
So -- and those are very -- those goals are very important because of what is included within them and what is not. And the policy the President chose and has been implementing since December of 2009 is not -- you cannot describe it or thumbnail it by calling it counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. And there are a lot of different elements that are part of it, that were specifically decided on because of the President’s belief that they would maximize the chances of success.
Q Without using those terms, do the questions that the report raise help those arguing right now for a faster drawdown --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think -- let me just stop you there. I don’t think -- we welcome the report. It has got a lot of information in it; it is certainly worth reading and reviewing. We spend a lot of time here on Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the national security staff, the national security team, and obviously our personnel, both civilian and military over in the region.
We are, again, very clear-eyed about the challenges in Afghanistan, about the progress that has been made, but also about the setbacks that we’ve experienced at various times. So I don’t -- I’m not suggesting that we know everything already and therefore don’t need outside inputs. We obviously do and welcome them. But we’re not learning a great deal of information about the challenges that we face in Afghanistan here.
And all of that is part of how the President has been thinking about Afghanistan and Pakistan since he got into office and even before. It was all part of how he viewed the process when he settled on the strategy that he’s implementing now.
And I would just go back to what I said before. The decision -- implementing the drawdown -- beginning the drawdown is implementing the policy that he decided on in December of 2009. It’s not a change; it is exactly what he said he would do. And there’s a certain amount of consistency here in terms of how this President operates. He said what he would do and he’s doing what he said, very deliberately, with his eye on a long-term goal here. And that’s what this process is about.
Q Jay, can I come back to Syria? There’s a U.N. resolution that the British and the French have proposed today condemning the regime for the crackdown. Will America vote for that? Do we agree with the British and the French that Bashar Assad is now losing -- present tense, is what they said -- losing his legitimacy? And I guess I’d still like a feel for what we think is going on there. There’s reports of troops and tanks heading for the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we’re aware of all the reports, and sometimes information, depending on the region or the country, can be hard to come by or hard to verify. But I think I put pretty starkly: President Assad can either lead this transition that has to happen, or he has to step aside. And I think our -- how we view this is pretty clearly stated in that sentence.
So I don’t have a position to give you on the resolution that you mentioned. I think the fact that we have strongly condemned what the Syrian regime has been doing -- the murders and the arrests of its own people -- speaks pretty clearly about our position. And the actions that we’ve taken in terms of sanctions, including targeting President Assad himself, I think are very clear.
Q Is there a pending humanitarian crisis in northern Syria?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. Maybe -- I mean, the State Department, you might ask them, but I don’t want to speculate about that.
Q Thank you, Jay. Secretary Gates in Afghanistan has called for a troop composition that would rely on shooters and -- saying that if we’re going to withdraw some personnel it should be support people. He called for keeping a maximum combat capability in Afghanistan, called that a no-brainer. Does the President agree with that assessment from his Defense Secretary?
MR. CARNEY: The President speaks with and consults with his Defense Secretary all the time, including the weekly meetings that I just mentioned. And the -- I’m sure the President shares that opinion that the reductions we need to make need to be -- that he will make, the drawdown that will begin, will ensure that we can get the maximum success out of the mission. And part of the mission and part of the strategy is to begin this drawdown as we transfer responsibility, security lead, over to the Afghan national security forces.
But in terms of the composition of the block of troops that will begin the drawdown, I don’t have a comment and I don’t have an opinion of the President’s to convey to you because, as you know, the President is reviewing or will review his options and make a decision in the near future.
Q Is that part of the decision that the President will make, is the troops -- the folks that will be coming home or reassigned, whether they’ll be combat people or support people? I mean, the President will be getting into the decision at that level?
MR. CARNEY: I think some of these about how you -- in terms of a force the size of which we have in Afghanistan and what the breakdown is in terms of -- I think anybody who’s in combat -- I mean, who’s in that zone in an American military uniform is combat trained and fully capable of using a weapon. So I think that there’s a little bit of a misnomer.
I mean, there was -- we went through this when we were withdrawing troops from Afghanistan [Iraq], the suggestion that because we were ending our combat mission somehow that meant the troops that remained were not combat troops. Obviously every U.S. soldier and military personnel is highly skilled and trained in combat.
So, the -- but, again, I think that the breakdown of how that works, the proportion of either support or logistical or analytical strength versus frontline combat strength, I just don’t know. And I think the Pentagon is better suited to answer that question.*
Q The President has faced a bit of criticism from more liberal economists and Democrats on how he’s allowed -- they accuse him or say he’s allowed the debate on the deficit and debt, the economy, to shift too much towards cutting government spending and he’s given up ground on the need to push more stimulus measures. Do you have any -- can you react to that criticism that the President has gone too far in favor of Republicans on this debate, where the debate is on their terms, especially in light of this jobs report? And then second, whether, because of the jobs report, he sees any need to reevaluate his goal of cutting $4 trillion in spending over 12 years, or just that big goal that he set out. In light of that report, is there any need to change?
MR. CARNEY: Well, two points. One, I think going to the point about we need to look at trends here and not just one piece of or several pieces of economic data. And the trend remains very positive -- 2.1 million private sector jobs -- in excess of 2.1 million private sector jobs created over 15 months, and sustained economic growth for seven months -- seven quarters, rather.
So in terms of measures that are helping fuel economic activity and growth, he fought very hard for and achieved, as part of the tax cut compromise in December, extension of uninsurance -- unemployed benefits -- unemployment benefits and obviously the middle-class tax cut, as well as the payroll tax cut -- the payroll tax holiday. That is -- in terms of the discussions that you’re talking about, that is direct stimulus through tax reduction in a payroll tax cut, which we believe is much more efficient in terms of causing economic growth than giving very wealthy Americans more tax cuts, because that money won’t necessarily be pumped back into the economy.
So the President also believes -- and this is not like choosing between I’m going to go more Democratic or more Republican -- the President believes that balanced deficit reduction is in the American interest -- in the interest of the economy and in the interest of job creation. He is not apologetic about that. He thinks we need to do it and he thinks we need to do it in a balanced way, in a way that protects important investments, that protects our seniors and disabled children and others. And he thinks that if you do it in a balanced way, you can protect our core commitments, you can make the key investments we need to make, and you can bring down our deficit by $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years.
Q The payroll tax cut will expire at the end of this year. Is there a need, as part of this negotiations that are going on, to extend that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President addressed this in broad terms the other day, yesterday, about what discussions might be in the future about that. I’m not going to go beyond what he said yesterday.
Q Was he referencing -- he seemed to hint at it -- was he referencing an extension of that tax cut?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to expand beyond what he said on that.
Q Jay, thank you. You’ve talked about Syria policy before in the context of “every country within the Middle East is different,” but I’m wondering if you can tell us specifically what it is about Syria that leads the President not to call specifically for Assad to step down. What is it about that country, about the geopolitical situation there, that --
MR. CARNEY: Let me just repeat what I said. The President believes, we believe, the administration has stated as I just stated, that President Assad needs to lead this transition or get out of the way. I think that’s a pretty clear statement of where we stand. The comparison games aren’t -- these are specific countries with specific circumstances with different things happening in terms of the expressions of dissatisfaction by people on the streets and the reaction that the governments have had.
And each country deserves a specific response -- all geared towards our hope of the best possible outcome, and that can be condemning actions, putting pressure on leadership -- I’m talking broadly, depending on the country you’re talking about -- offering different forms of support to opposition. Again, I’m not talking about Syria but I’m just talking about the different options available to us -- taking actions multilaterally with allies, unilaterally through sanctions and that kind of thing.
And I just -- there is not a one-size-fits-all response here because, as you know, the region is very diverse. The nature of the regimes and the countries is extremely varied. And we have to take that into account as we develop policy with regard to each country.
Q But as you know, I think -- what I’m trying to get at is, what is there specifically about Syria that leads to this particular policy? Is there some concern of destability within the region or --
MR. CARNEY: We’re pursuing an approach towards Syria which we hope will help lead to a positive outcome, which is either the current regime changing its behavior dramatically and engaging in political dialogue, ceasing the violence and leading the transition, or in that transition taking place under different circumstances. And that’s the approach we’re taking.
Q Just very lastly, on that. There would be a lot of people who would be skeptical that someone -- I mean, he’s just killed more than a thousand of his own people -- can do that kind of transition, can have negotiations. Why does the White House think that he can sort of suddenly change and --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take one more in the -- yes, Victoria. Yes, sorry.
Q Oh, okay. You said the President yesterday spoke broadly about payroll taxes and manufacturing incentives. But right after saying that he also said he was interested in exploring with Congress the continuation of some of these policies.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I just said is that I think I’ll let the President’s words stand. I don’t have anything to add to that.
Q One question on India?
MR. CARNEY: Okay? Thanks, guys. Oh, wait, Chris. Yes.
Q Yes. I’m just wondering, in June 2009 the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum on deporting certain widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that, “smart immigration policy balances strong enforcement practices with the common-sense practical solutions to complicated issues.” Yet, in May, asked about requests by advocates for a moratorium on deportation of foreign partners and same-sex binational relationships, similar to the 2009 moratorium, you said the President can’t just wave a wand and change the law. Can you explain the difference there?
MR. CARNEY: I mean -- the President can’t just wave a wand and then change the law. I think that was in response to a broader set of issues that some folks are understandably advocating for --
Q No, it was specifically about the issue of --
MR. CARNEY: And the President has called for comprehensive immigration reform for a reason, because he thinks that we need to move in a comprehensive way to get there, and -- because that kind of comprehensive approach has in the past enjoyed bipartisan support, and he believes that if we talk about it in the right way and we push for it, and folks out in the country push for it, that we can return to a situation where there will be bipartisan support for it again in the future.
END 2:28 P.M. EDT
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