Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/9/2011
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everybody. Thanks for being here. Let me begin with a couple of items here. First I have a readout of the President’s call with Governor Brewer of Arizona earlier today in which he expressed his concern for the citizens of Arizona who are dealing with multiple severe fires and to ensure that the governor has everything she needs. Beyond deploying liaisons to the Arizona Emergency Operations Center to help provide support to the state, FEMA has approved both of the requested Fire Management Assistance Grants to help respond, and the U.S. Forest Service has deployed more than 2,500 interagency firefighters to protect lives and property.
The President told the governor that the administration will continue to support Arizona throughout the response to these fires.
Second, I wanted to let you know that on June 13th, next Monday, the President will travel to Durham, North Carolina, to meet with the Jobs and Competitiveness Council at the corporate and U.S. manufacturing headquarters of Cree, a leading manufacturer of energy-efficient LED lighting.
The President will tour Cree’s manufacturing facilities, deliver remarks, and meet with the Jobs Council to discuss initiatives and policies to spur economic growth, promote job creation, and accelerate hiring across the nation.
And a final note here, the First Family will spend this coming weekend at Camp David. They will depart on Friday afternoon and return on Sunday.
Those are my announcements. Darlene.
Q Thank you. Jay, is the White House thinking about cutting the payroll taxes that businesses have to pay on wages to encourage hiring?
MR. CARNEY: Darlene, I saw that story. I think that, first of all, we need to step back and explain a few things, because there’s been some I think conflating here and a little misunderstanding.
As you know, we are not even six months into a year payroll tax cut for employees, which the President fought very hard for as part of the tax cut deal that he made with Congress in December. And he I believe made a reference to that in the press conference he gave with Chancellor Merkel the other day.
As for the story that you reference, obviously there are a lot of ideas that get bandied about, both within the administration and outside. This is an idea that’s been around for a long time, has been supported or has seen expressions of support from the business community, from conservative economists and others. But I don’t have any policy announcement to make.
Q Would you know if this issue has come up in the talks -- in the Biden talks?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe it has. And I think that, having said that, going -- we have made clear from the start that the talks being led by the Vice President about our need to reduce our deficit will allow everything to be on the table. But the starting point for this -- for our side has always been the President’s proposal for deficit reduction, $4 trillion dollars over 10 to 12 years, a balanced approach that looks at all the drivers and takes into consideration all the drivers of our deficits and long-term debt, including obviously non-defense discretionary spending, defense spending, entitlements, and tax expenditures. And obviously the other partners in those negotiations have brought other ideas to the table.
Q Separately, you talked about the trip Monday to North Carolina. Can you say anything about the substance of what the President is going to be doing in Puerto Rico the day after?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that for you now. I’m sure we’ll have more to say about further travel down the road.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q You mentioned the Biden talks that are going on today. The Republicans seem to be holding firm to their demand for more than $2 trillion in reductions in order for them to agree to raise the debt ceiling. Is the message from the administration that $2 trillion is just too much and too fast under the current economic circumstances --
MR. CARNEY: The President put on the table --
Q -- and a final deal with have to be something significantly less?
MR. CARNEY: The President put on the table a proposal for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 to 12 years. So I’m not -- that’s what we brought to these talks. And we remain optimistic that common ground can be found, that enough common ground can be found in these negotiations for a significant deficit-reduction package. I’m not going to negotiate the size of that from here. We’ve tried pretty hard to allow those talks and the content of those talks and the progress those talks have been making, any specifics about it, to be kept within the room.
So we are committed to serious deficit reduction in a balanced way that doesn’t -- at a time when we are continuing to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression, it is very important that we do nothing to set us back in terms of economic growth and job creation. Obviously that’s the paramount concern of the President and, I think, generally speaking, of everyone in that room, that deficit reduction and getting our long-term debt under control is not an esoteric exercise. It is not -- these are not goals that are somehow worthy unto themselves, because the point here is to do the right things by our economy so that we create the kind of confidence that allows for more job creation and more growth.
So that’s our approach. And we are also quite confident that Congress will vote to raise the debt ceiling. As I’ve said before, this is not a matter of spending. This is a matter of the United States meeting its obligations, not defaulting on its obligations. And I think it’s clear, it’s been made clear to everyone involved in this discussion that there really is no alternative to raising the debt ceiling; that will be done. We are pursuing both within the same time frame, and we believe both -- well, one will definitely, has to, must happen -- raising the debt ceiling -- and we are confident that an agreement can be reached on deficit reduction within the same time frame.
Q Okay. The Libya contact group meeting has offered up some strong words of support for the Transitional National Council of the rebels, the opposition group. Is the U.S. any closer to granting diplomatic recognition to the Transitional Council?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have worked quite closely with -- as other partners have -- with the Council. We believe that they have very positive intentions. They have said very important things about support for democratic reforms.
We support efforts at the international level through the United Nations to make Qaddafi regime assets available to the Council to help fund it. And obviously you didn’t raise this, but we also welcome the bipartisan legislation by senators Johnson and Shelby that would allow us to provide critical humanitarian relief to the Libyan people by redistributing Qaddafi assets.
So in terms of recognition, that’s -- our dealings with the Council are ongoing. But I have no announcements to make about that.
Q The President said the other day that a “big chunk” of the objectives in Afghanistan had been achieved. That’s a quote -- “big chunk.” Can you explain what the big chunk is?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he explained. We have eliminated Osama bin Laden, who was the leader of al Qaeda, a leader of the organization that attacked the United States. And we have had significant success more broadly against al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. And we have -- which is the principal goal of the President’s Afghanistan policy. And we have halted the momentum the Taliban had prior to the implementation of the President’s strategy.
So we have made significant progress towards achieving the goals that the President laid out, which is disrupt, dismantle, ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and stabilize Afghanistan so that Afghans can take over security of their won country and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for al Qaeda and its adherents in the future.
So I think that’s a pretty detailed explanation of what he said.
Q The Kerry report, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report that you said that the administration did or the White House did not agree with all of its conclusions, one of the conclusions was that stabilization projects in Afghanistan do not always lead to stabilization. Do you disagree with that conclusion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s a pretty broad statement. If you’re asking do we agree that every program pursued in our civilian assistance efforts since the conflict began in late 2001 has worked, we certainly share the assessment that that has not been the case. But we think that the policy we have in place now and that we’ve been implementing for the past year and a half is having success, making progress. We have no illusions about how difficult it is and remains in Afghanistan. The challenges that Afghanistan faces as a country remain significant. But we believe it is in our national security interest to pursue and implement the policy that the President laid out in December of 2009.
Q I guess there just seems to be a contradiction between every report I’ve read on progress on Afghanistan, including the White House’s own AfPak review, the declassified version that you shared, and the idea that a big chunk of the objectives have been achieved in Afghanistan. You list a number of counterterrorism objectives that I’m not going to dispute, but in terms of counterinsurgency, which has been a key part of the mission, those appear to be flailing hopelessly.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we would disagree with that. We have acknowledged that it’s a challenge, but we’ve also said -- we here at the White House and certainly our military commanders and civilian leaders in Afghanistan -- that there has been progress in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan. Are we --
MR. CARNEY: Are we there? Fragile I think is the word that was used --
Q And reversible. I’m quoting your own --
MR. CARNEY: You’re quoting our report. And obviously we stand by that and agree with that.
But that’s a long -- but to say that we haven’t reached all of our goals does not mean we haven’t made progress towards them, because we believe we have.
Q All right, and lastly, could you explain why Michael Leiter is departing and what the ramifications are?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point out that he has been in that position through two administrations for four years, which is a significant period of time. He’s offered tremendous service to both administrations and to his country. And I think we put out a statement about his departure and we appreciate his service very much.
Q So it was entirely his own decision?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, absolutely.
Q Jay, the President’s meeting today with President Bongo, how did he get the meeting? Did he do the asking or was he invited by the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to check with you, maybe get -- I can get back to you on that. I think we discussed this yesterday about why this meeting is important to have for the President.
Q And I know you did talk about it yesterday, but just -- I mean, considering the context of this, a very foreign nation, this is a family -- I mean, you’re familiar with their background -- accused of corruption and using oil riches to finance a very lavish lifestyle. Considering that, why is the President comfortable meeting with him?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that it’s a little naïve to believe that the President of the United States should not meet with leaders who don’t meet all the standards that we would have for perfect governance, okay? This is an important relationship. Gabon has made some very significant and courageous votes in the United Nations in support of objectives that the United States has, including dealing with Iran and Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, including with issues that have to do with human rights.
President Bongo has made a number of reforms in Gabon, and Gabon is playing an increasingly important role, as I said, in the -- as a regional and global leader. This year’s human rights report tracks improvements in Gabon, and we will continue to push, as an administration and the President himself, for further progress on these issues.
So I just think, given the role that Gabon has played, given the fact that it’s now holding the presidency of the United States Security Council, it is in the U.S. interest for the President to have this meeting.
Q Why the Oval Office? I mean, that’s very much --
MR. CARNEY: Because that’s the President’s office.
Q Why only stills? I mean, a lot of times in the past we’ve been able to go in and perhaps ask --
MR. CARNEY: Sometimes -- sometimes we did --
Q I mean, it gives the impression we don’t get to ask a question and get it on the record and get it on TV.
MR. CARNEY: You know that this is -- how we do this differs depending on a visitor. This is not the first time we’ve had a visitor with stills only. Sometimes we have a full pool. Sometimes we have statements. Sometimes we have questions. So there’s no mystery here or objective here besides the tightness of the President’s schedule.
Q And if I can ask also just a health care question. A new poll out today, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that shows most Americans continue to oppose the individual mandate -- 54 percent of them, as well as 57 percent of independents. How do you effectively implement a program that so many Americans are opposed to?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there’s no question, as we said before, that there was a lot of -- many, many millions of dollars spent to vilify the health care reform, the Affordable Care Act. And we are continuing to implement it. We believe that the benefits of the Affordable Care Act are already being felt in terms of protecting people with preexisting conditions and allowing them to maintain their insurance, allowing younger people to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age of 26. And we are proceeding with implementation. We believe, as outside analysts believe, that it will expand significantly insurance in this country, access to insurance, and will also reduce costs significantly. So we’re proceeding at pace.
Q When do you think the numbers will change then in your favor? Do you think they will?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the issue is about implementing a reform that will expand insurance -- expand our private insurance system, first of all. The individual responsibility provision in this is necessary in order to allow those with preexisting conditions to stay and keep insurance. And we believe that the benefits are significant and that as the implementation proceeds, more and more Americans will recognize that and -- so that’s why we continue to implement it.
Q Hi, Jay. Thank you. The front page of The New York Times today had probably the most thorough analysis yet of Saudi Arabia basically pouring money into the economy to keep people just content enough -- fat and happy enough that they’re not out in the streets protesting. Does the President object to a country that has enough money basically using money to keep people from protesting in a country that has very little in the way of political rights, especially for women? Is he content that they’re pouring money into it instead of doing something about the lack of political rights?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, if you’re asking me, I’m not sure what the question is that -- this is a sovereign country and they -- investing in -- the money they have in ways that they have --
Q Countries that are poor -- countries that are poor and have no political rights, there are protests. This country is rich, has no --
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear his support for political reform throughout the region, in every country. And he makes that clear in his discussions with leaders of Saudi Arabia as well as leaders of other countries in the region.
Q What does he tell them? And now there’s been a fatwa issued in Saudi Arabia by a top official, a top religious official, saying --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not aware of --
Q It’s the front page of The New York Times, Jay. I mean, I’m sure you read it. A fatwa was issued saying that street protests are contrary to Islam.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously believe that in every country in the region, and every country around the world, that civilian, civil, non-violent protests ought to be allowed --
Q Well, what if they pour so much money into --
MR. CARNEY: -- and that violence should never be -- and we condemn the use of violence against civilian protesters.
Q So if they use money to avoid those protests, then the denial of political rights is okay?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not even sure what your question is. The people of the countries in the region express themselves by going to the streets. And if they feel passionately about their demand for greater freedom and greater rights, they will demonstrate accordingly.
Q And if you can buy them off from doing that, that’s okay?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- Chip, I don’t know what you want me to say here.
Q I don’t want you to -- I want you to answer the question.
MR. CARNEY: I think that we support -- we support the human rights of everyone in the region. We support the political liberalization and reform of every country in the region where it needs to take place, and we’ve made that clear.
Q On the budget negotiations, does -- and forgive me if you went over this yesterday, but does the recent -- does the economic slowdown, at least as indicated by the May figures, does that give -- does that strengthen the position of the White House negotiators in arguing for some spending and against the kind of deep budget cuts that the Republicans want?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first -- I’ll make two points on that. The President supports significant deficit reduction, $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years. So there is no doubt about the need to do that. So, point one.
Point two, we have made --
Q -- made clear they want more than the Democrats in the room.
MR. CARNEY: Well, they want more spending cuts -- if you’re asking about -- well, I mean, again, setting aside what’s going on in the room, because we haven’t commented about any specifics in the negotiations, obviously the Republican proposal has deeper spending cuts in order to pay for significant tax cuts. The overall deficit reduction is the same, because we don’t believe that you need to change Medicare, end it as we know it, in order -- that you can reform entitlements in a way that protects our commitment to seniors and protects the Medicare program, because we don’t need to fund expansive tax cuts for wealthy Americans, that that is not the time to do it, because that is -- that contributes to our deficit. One of the reasons why we have a deficit as significant as we do is because of the un-funded, unpaid-for tax cuts of the previous administration.
So to go to your other point, I think that we have always taken the approach -- and I have made it clear here, the President has made it clear, and others have -- that the actions we take to reduce the deficit, if we do it in the right way, will be positive for economic growth. It will create confidence that we have our fiscal house in order. But we must not do anything that would arrest the positive growth that we’ve seen, arrest the growth in job creation that we’ve seen. And we must also do it in a way that allows us to continue to invest in areas that will create the kind of economic foundation that we need to compete in the 21st century -- in education, infrastructure, innovation.
So, I mean, that’s a comprehensive way of answering your question that we believe that we have to take a balanced approach and that we need to continue to invest in areas that allow us to grow and compete in the mid-term and long term.
Q Last question. Before the Vice President goes up for a meeting like this, does he sit down and get instructions from the President? And do they communicate by phone or indirectly during -- while the meeting is going on, during breaks? Is the President that involved?
MR. CARNEY: He is heavily involved because he’s --
Q But specifically --
MR. CARNEY: -- these are the negotiations that he established, he called for, he appointed his Vice President to --
Q Right, but does he talk to him --
MR. CARNEY: -- the second-highest elected official in the land --
Q -- does he talk to him right before and during the meetings?
MR. CARNEY: He talks to him regularly. I’m not sure of any conversations they’ve had during the meeting. I can imagine that might happen, but I’m not aware of any that have in previous meetings. But as you know well, the President and the Vice President are in meetings together all the time. They have their private lunches every week. They consult regularly. And then we have meetings here involving the Vice President and the economic team specifically on our budget and fiscal issues.
So he is speaking regularly with the Vice President about the progress of the talks, regularly with other members of his economic team who are involved in the talks, and his engagement is consistent and constant.
Q Jay, we had another disappointing report today on filings for unemployment. Higher food prices also suggest the economy is significantly slowing this year and may not be -- and it may not be the blip that the President suggested it was last week. How confident --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t remember the President suggesting it was a blip, Wendell.
Q -- interview with one of the Detroit stations.
Q He said blip.
Q He called the current slowdown a blip. Now this week he said he wasn’t sure how long it might last. I need to know how confident you guys are that the past couple of months figures are an aberration --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, first of all, I think we’ve made clear and the President has made clear that we do not look at this -- and I don’t remember you guys asking us if the -- if we -- if happy days were here again after we had three straight months of highly significant private sector job growth that totaled three quarters of a million jobs in three months.
And you didn’t hear us claiming that, because we take a long view around here. We believe the overall trend has been very positive -- 15 straight months private sector job growth; 2.1 million jobs -- more than double the net job creation the previous 10 years, I believe.
So obviously we don’t have a crystal ball here, but if you look at outside economic analysts, most still believe we will have steady economic growth in the second half of this year. We certainly -- we share that general belief. And we are working every day to ensure that it is true by pursuing the kinds of policies that we’ve talked about, not just the ones that have been implemented, including the payroll tax cut and others, but the President’s insistence on making permanent, for example, the research and development tax credit, making permanent and expanding that tax credit to create more jobs, and other measures he has taken to continue the kind of economic growth that we’ve seen.
Q On your long-term view, TIME Magazine has an article entitled, “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” suggesting that the recession may have caused a structural change in the economy that will significantly affect a generation looking for jobs right now. How confident are you that that’s not the case?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we have in plan -- we have in place an economic -- series of economic measures that we believe have directly brought about the emergence from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Remember the state we were in, this country was in economically when the President took the oath of office, and an economic plan that is built with a long view towards being highly competitive towards growth and job creation in the 21st century.
That’s why the President continues to push very hard for clean energy investment, because those kinds of jobs -- I mean, clean energy investment is so key for two reasons. One, this is an industry of the future that will create high-paying jobs in the United States that will stay here. And it will allow us to be more energy independent in the future, and insulate us from some of the kinds of energy price shocks that we’ve been experiencing in the last several months. So this is a very long view towards American competitiveness in the 21st century.
The President is going to North Carolina on Monday to visit a facility that creates energy-efficient LED lighting in the United States that is one of those areas of the economy that we believe will help fuel economic growth in this country and create jobs. And that’s part of his economic vision.
Q On a separate issue, the drone strike in Yemen, where does Yemen fit into this country’s counterterrorism effort?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a very important part of our counterterrorism effort. We’ve made clear -- we have not in any way been secretive about it, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an important threat to the United States and to our interests around the world. And we have worked very closely with the Yemeni government to go after al Qaeda, because of the threat that it represents. It’s a very -- it’s a serious issue.
Q Jay, you say your long-term view is positive of the economy. Wendell cited some recent statistics that would sort of cast a cloud over that view. You say that many economists forecast growth for the coming quarters and the coming foreseeable future. But they’re also downgrading or reducing their forecasts for growth in GDP. And you say that ideas are being bandied about as well, including a payroll tax cut for employers, and other ideas are being bandied about. Don’t you risk appear being too sanguine about the economy? Are there arrows left in your policy quiver?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we are not remotely sanguine about the economy. This recession caused 8 million jobs to be lost. We have emerged -- we have created more than 2.1 million. But we are still in a hole that we need to continue to dig out of, caused by this recession. That’s why this President wakes up every morning thinking about what he can do to continue economic growth and expand -- and to continue job creation in this country.
But I don’t want to leave the impression at all that we’re sanguine. I was citing outside statistics that suggest that growth will continue this year and that job creation will continue. But we take nothing for granted. That’s why the President is pursuing deficit-reduction budget talks so aggressively; why he says it’s important to reach compromise and find common ground to get that done, because that can be a very positive development if we reach an agreement for our economy if it’s done right; and why he has proposed other measures, including some of the ones that I talked about, in terms of creating clean energy jobs by making the research and development tax credit permanent and expanding it; providing tax credits for electric vehicles; increasing exports through our free trade agreements with Panama, South Korea, and Colombia that will support tens of thousands of jobs in this country; and then, obviously, his infrastructure plan that he supports, improving our roads, rails, and runways, which is again a twofer, kind of like investing in clean energy, right? That you -- if you invest in infrastructure, that in and of itself is a job creator in the near term. But creating the kind of infrastructure foundation we need for the 21st century allows us to be more competitive globally. So these -- he is not resting at all, and we are not the least bit sanguine.
Q Okay. Change of subject -- Iraq. The President has said in a number of speeches, including political speeches and fundraisers, to much applause, that he has led a policy that will lead to the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq this year. Today his nominee to be the Secretary of Defense says that he has, “every confidence that Iraq will in fact ask for troops to stay there.” Does this perhaps cast doubt on the President’s plan and the advocacy of the Iraqi government to take care of its own citizens without the help of American combat troops?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first, let me clarify what the President has said in the past. The President said he would end the war responsibly in Iraq and he would end our combat mission. That happened last August. We ended our combat mission. Since the President came into office we have withdrawn over 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.
And in accordance with the status of forces agreements, the SOFA that we have with the Iraqi government, signed by the previous administration, we will withdraw all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year. We are on track to do that.
We have also said -- because we want an enduring relationship, and we will have an enduring relationship with Iraq and commitment to Iraq -- that if the Iraqi government wants to -- it comes to us with a proposal for some sort of continued presence of some amount of American troops in Iraq, we would certainly consider it. But that has not happened, and we are on track to withdraw our forces by the end of the year.
Obviously if they come to us -- and we consult with the Iraqi government all the time -- we will consider that. But we have made no decision to maintain U.S. forces in Iraq.
Q So there’s a possibility you could turn the --
MR. CARNEY: We have always said that we -- of course, we would consider -- I mean, it depends what the conversations are like and what the proposals are like. But let’s be clear, the combat mission ended in Iraq last summer. We have not been in the lead in combat, in any kind of combat role for even longer than that in Iraq. And we have withdrawn over 100,000 U.S. forces since the President came into office, and I think he’s been enormously clear about that.
We have also been clear that we need to and we will continue a significant relationship with Iraq as a partner in the region, and that will largely be civilian. We have a large presence, civilian presence there already. And we I think announced opening some consulates there. We have an important relationship with Iraq.
As for our military presence, which, again, is drawing down significantly and has drawn down significantly, we have said now for a long time that we would consider a request by the Iraqi government for some sort of continued presence beyond the agreed departure date of December 31st.
Q But given that likelihood, how can you take --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t say that was likely at all. I said that we would consider it.
Q Well, the Secretary did, or really the Director did, soon-to-be Secretary, said he had every confidence that that request was coming.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see. And we’ll see what the request is and obviously we’ll consider it if it comes. But as of now, we have not received that request and we are fulfilling our obligations according to the agreement signed with the Iraqi government to withdraw our forces by the end of the year.
Q Earlier this week The Washington Post ran a profile of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and focused on his interactions with the President and the President’s political team. And I’m wondering if you found that that article was accurate.
MR. CARNEY: Geez, that was an awfully long article. I don’t know what precise --
Q Well, what --
MR. CARNEY: Besides having great respect and admiration and fondness for our Treasury Secretary, I’m not sure -- you’d have to be more specific.
Q Okay. It’s a good read.
MR. CARNEY: I read it, but what do you mean -- what are you asking exactly?
Q Specifically, it depicts the Treasury Secretary as being much more aggressive on deficit cutting in terms of a timetable than the President’s political team, and it depicts the President as always deferring to the political team over his economic team.
MR. CARNEY: Having clarified, which I appreciate, I will respond this way. One, the internal recommendations that are made to the President are not things that I will discuss here. Two, the President sets the policy of this administration. Three, the President is extremely committed to deficit reduction, and I think that has been proven again and again, most recently by the continuing resolution negotiation that avoided -- averted a government shutdown earlier this year with Republicans, that cut the deficit the significantly in this fiscal year; by the Affordable Care Act, which is a long-term deficit reducer of substantial size; and by his -- the plan that he outlined at George Washington University which commits him to $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 to 12 years.
So I don’t think the President could be any more clear about his commitment to responsible deficit reduction as part of an overall economic approach that grows the economy and creates jobs.
Q And second, just a clarification. When you talk about the President’s long-term vision for the economy and industries that in the future will create jobs, I mean, what kind of message does that take to the kids getting out of college today that can’t find any jobs anywhere? I mean, do they wait -- are they supposed to be patient and wait for this?
MR. CARNEY: No. No, we are doing everything we can today to help this economy grow, to spur private sector investment and hiring. I’m sure you’re aware of the fact that the President has cut taxes for small businesses 17 times since he took office. Why? Because private -- because small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country and they’re the place where most Americans will find work as small businesses expand.
So the fact that he has a long vision about where this country needs to go economically and how we should position ourselves for the 21st century I think is a commendable thing. He is also very focused on the short term, as he was when he came into office and encountered the largest deficits we’ve ever seen and the worst recession we’ve seen since the 1930s, where he took immediate action to deal with an immediate problem.
Q Jay, if Gabon was not president of the U.N. Security Council, would the President be meeting with President Bongo today?
MR. CARNEY: Look, that’s a hypothetical. I don’t know. The fact is I think I’ve made clear that we understand concerns about corruption. We believe that President Bongo has made a number of steps towards positive reforms in that country, which we support. The human rights report tracks improvements in Gabon, which we also think are a good thing. And they have been a strong partner on human rights issues at the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Council, particularly on Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.
So for those reasons, including the one that you mentioned, this meeting was worth having.
Q All right. Just -- and you said it’s no mystery why some meetings are open and some are not. It actually is a mystery to me. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I guess what I meant was that there is -- I probably reversed my language there -- is that at different meetings -- it’s usually driven by how much time the President has in his schedule. And when it’s extremely tight, we have -- we do less. And when we have more time, we do more. But he’s meeting in the Oval Office. There’s going to be a photograph. There’s a pool spray. I mean, in that sense, there is no mystery here about this meeting.
Q Who gets to pick the fourth on the foursome, on the golf? Is that Boehner or the President?
MR. CARNEY: Are you available?
Q I’m a lousy golfer, no.
Q I’m available.
Q I mean, protocol question.
MR. CARNEY: We could probably have a lottery. I believe that if the Vice President is playing with the President, then the Speaker will pick the fourth.
Q And then today the report is due, the Jeff Zients report on reorganization. Has the President seen the report?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any updates on that. Obviously there are -- there’s a lot of work happening in that arena, but I don’t have any updates in terms of the President’s decision-making process on that.
Q Anything in terms of timeline on --
MR. CARNEY: Nothing new.
Q Thanks, Jay. I know that no decision has been made on the troop drawdown from Afghanistan yet, but the President and today Panetta said it will be significant. Gates just said it will be modest. Where is the overlap between those two descriptions?
MR. CARNEY: Significantly modest or modestly significant, perhaps? (Laughter.)
Q Help us understand.
MR. CARNEY: This is the President’s decision. And I think it’s important, again, to step back and look at the fact that the President has been leading monthly meetings on his AfPak policy in the Situation Room with all his national security principals, commanders out in the field, since December of 2009.
So this is not -- while he will announce soon, as he said, his decision about the pace and slope -- size, pace, slope of the drawdown that begins in July 2011, as prescribed in his policy, this is not something he’s suddenly turning to now. He has been engaged and focused on this for -- on a regular basis and has meetings -- monthly meetings that he chairs in the Situation Room; weekly meetings with Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton; regular meetings with obviously other national security principals and national security staff.
So he has not made a decision. When he does, he will announce it.
Q But if the principals are going to talk about it in what seem to be flatly contradictory terms, what are the American people to take away from that?
MR. CARNEY: I think the American people will take away from the President’s decision the fact that he says what he will do and he does what he says he’ll do. And that is, back in December of 2009, as part of the policy and approach and strategy that he laid out for Afghanistan, he said that we would, after ramping up our troop presence in Afghanistan, adding another 30,000 troops, in addition to the troops he had added before, that we would begin a transition and we would begin to draw down our troops. And that the size and pace of the drawdown would depend on conditions on the ground. We are now at that point. But this is not -- this is a milestone in the implementation of a policy that’s been in place since December of 2009. And I think what Americans will take away from the announcement is the policy is on track; the President is doing what he said he would do. He has very clear objectives in Afghanistan and in the AfPak region, which is to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al Qaeda; to halt the Taliban’s momentum in order to stabilize Afghanistan so that it does not again become a haven for al Qaeda. And those -- there has been great progress towards those objectives, but this is the policy.
Remember that, as articulated by NATO in Lisbon, that the transition to Afghan lead continues through 2014, at which point the Afghans will have full lead over security. That transition process, therefore, will take place over a fair amount of time.
Q Thanks, Jay. Senator Kerry since Osama bin Laden’s killing has said a couple of things about the policy -- right after his death, $10 billion a month is entirely too much to be spending on this. Yesterday, the report came out very critical of the aid part of it. And he used the opportunity of Ambassador Crocker’s hearing yesterday to again say the whole policy strategy, in the terms we’re using, needs to be rethought. What would you say to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t -- I have not read the transcript or focused in detail on what Senator Kerry said yesterday in the Crocker hearing.
The President obviously is very mindful of how we use our resources and setting priorities for how we use our resources. The President made very clear when he announced his strategy in Afghanistan in December of 2009 what the objectives were, what they were not, and his timeframe for surging troops and beginning to draw down troops, and the benchmarks for -- that needed to be met as we transferred security lead over to the Afghans bit by bit.
The fact is that we believe we are making progress. This is obviously a tough situation. Afghanistan is -- faces a lot of challenges as a country. But as the President said the other day, we have achieved some important goals, including eliminating Osama bin Laden, including the success we’ve had against al Qaeda in the region, including halting the Taliban’s momentum.
And so he will, when he announces the decision he makes in terms of the drawdown, I’m sure he will also put it in the context of the implementation of the strategy he put in place of December of 2009.
Helene -- no? Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Jay. Many of the Republican House members who met with the President here on June the 1st, came out with glowing comments about the meeting. And there were two questions I had about it, based on my conversations with the lawmakers. One, did the President, in his exchange with Congressman Ryan, offer the administration’s own plan on Medicare reform? And does it have a plan?
MR. CARNEY: He did not offer a plan on Medicare reform in that meeting, no. I think we’ve made clear what the President’s plan on Medicare reform is. It’s part of his proposal for his 10- to 12-year budget -- deficit-reduction plan of $4 trillion. So we have -- there are reforms to entitlements, including Medicare, in the Affordable Care Act. There are more reforms that strengthen and improve Medicare in a proposal he’s put forward for his long-term deficit-reduction plan.
Q Right. And the other question I had was, at one point in the meeting, sources said, Congresswomen Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia made a case for medical liability reform, and said to the President, “Try it, I think you’ll like it.” He is quoted as saying, “I’m in, I’m for it.” Is that accurate? Does he --
MR. CARNEY: I am not going to comment on exchanges or word-for-word quotations. I think the President has articulated a position on that in the past. I think it remains. But I don’t have a comment on that exchange.
Q So he favors medical liability reform?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he has laid out what he favors in that arena in the past.
Q Jay, can I just ask you real quick what you meant by saying --
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to jump around, Keith, if I could. I’ve been calling on you a lot lately and I’ll get back to you.
Q Jay, real quickly. Briefly, on the deficit talks today, is there a way to quantify whether they’ve reached a halfway point, or how many trillion dollars out of the four that the President has proposed over 10 to 12 years? Has the President given a quantitative assessment of how the talks are going?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he’s given a very detailed assessment of how the talks are going. And I’m sure that numbers are discussed -- I know that numbers are discussed in the assessments that he’s given, but they won’t be discussed from here by me.
Q And does the Vice President bring in some of those balancing elements that the President talks about, where it’s not actually deficit cutting, but spending that he feels is productive? Are there spending items on the table as well that the President is introducing, or revenue?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. We have made clear that everything is on the table, that we -- our approach, as outlined by the President in his speech at George Washington University, includes spending cuts to non-defense discretionary spending. It includes savings in defense spending. It includes savings out of the tax code, as well as savings out of entitlements. It also includes -- I mean, again, deficit reduction is not a grand goal in and of itself. It serves a purpose here, which is to get our priorities in order and our fiscal house in order precisely so we can do the things we need to do to ensure that the economy grows and to ensure that we create jobs so that every American who’s looking for a job can find one.
And that includes, as part of setting your priorities, cutting where you can, spending where you must; it includes investing in things like education, innovation, and infrastructure so that we can build the platform we need to build so that we can compete in the 21st century and win the future.
Haven’t done that in a while. (Laughter.)
Q You said it with such conviction.
MR. CARNEY: Mr. Collinson.
Q Does the U.S. government have any information to corroborate the claims by Syrian refugees in Turkey that Iranian troops have been actively firing on Syrian protests?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything I can say from here about that.
Q The President’s message on the economy has pretty consistently been that recovery takes time; there will be bumps along the road. Do you expect him to retool this message, given the fact that unemployment is at 9.1 percent?
MR. CARNEY: Well, unemployment has been high since he took office. And we have worked aggressively to create jobs and bring down unemployment. I don’t think -- the message, as you described it -- that we are still emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression, that there will be days with bad economic data and there will be days with surprisingly good economic data, as there has been recently.
So I don’t think -- I think the message has been consistent and will continue to be. So I don’t -- no, I don’t expect a change.
Q Also, does he have any reaction to al Qaeda’s number-two coming out yesterday with a tape eulogizing the death of Osama bin Laden?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed that with him. But I think it is a reminder that while we successfully eliminated Osama bin Laden, that the al Qaeda threat continues and we take that very seriously, and obviously remain highly vigilant in our efforts to combat terrorism and terrorists around the globe.
Q Yes. The Alabama immigration law that has been signed today, it’s much harsher in some respects than Arizona. What’s the position of the administration towards it, and is it planning to challenge it in the same way --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything in terms of legal action. I don’t -- I’m not aware of that at all. I would simply say that it’s -- our approach is clear. The President made it clear when he gave his speech at the border not that long ago about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And we continue to pursue that and believe that a bipartisan consensus can be found to achieve that comprehensive reform.
Q Jay, yes, yesterday at the community college, the President’s remarks, there wasn’t anything in there about Joining Forces, and I haven’t heard him say much about that. He’s been -- the Skills for America’s Future has been really prominent, but Joining Forces has kind of fallen a little bit.
I didn’t know if there -- if those two initiatives are separated somewhat or if the White House views them as one initiative. How is that being viewed, especially in light of the drawdown?
MR. CARNEY: I think we pursue both initiatives. I think he was highlighting specifically the program that allows bringing together manufacturers and those who are getting training through community colleges yesterday, so I think we’re pursing both and think both are very important.
Q Is there going to be a focus on the modestly significant number of people coming back in July?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have -- as we discussed earlier, we have troops returning from Iraq regularly and have. We obviously will begin to have troops returning from Afghanistan. Troops rotate out all the time, even when we’re maintaining overall troop levels in different arenas, so this is an important focus of this administration.
We are now in our tenth year of these endeavors, these wars overseas, and an enormous number of Americans have served overseas and as veterans deserve our support. And this administration is very focused and very committed to that.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sir. Last one.
Q One the leads, the AP leads coming out of the UAE is that Secretary Clinton said Qaddafi associates, according to this, are reaching out to negotiate a possible transition for Qaddafi. Is there, in fact, something going on now? We’ve heard a lot from Secretary Clinton before on these aspects, and some from you as well. What are we to make of this?
MR. CARNEY: What I think you should make of it is that it is more evidence of the fact that the policies that we have pursued unilaterally, the policies we have pursued with our partners are having the desired effect, which is putting the squeeze on the Qaddafi regime; making it clear to those around him that their days are numbered, that they are making a very fateful choice if they stay with Qaddafi because they will not control Libya in the future.
And we’ve seen a number of defections, and I believe -- I’m not trying to hint at any news here, but I’m confident there’ll be more because the United States and our partners remain committed to the policies that we’ve been implementing now for a number of months.
Thanks very much.
END 2:05 P.M. EDT
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