Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/23/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing.
Before I get started, I just wanted to let you know that the President earlier today called Mark Kelly to express his appreciation to Congresswoman Giffords and to thank them both for their patriotism and dedication to the United States.
As the President said yesterday in his statement, Congresswoman Giffords embodies the very best of what public service should be. She’s universally admired for qualities that transcend party or ideology -- a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union. And he thanks her for her remarkable service.
On the call, the President -- earlier today, that is, on the call, the President discussed the fact that Mark Kelly has been invited to attend the State of the Union and sit in the First Lady’s box, and he very much looks forward to having Mr. Kelly there.
Separately, I know that something is happening tomorrow you guys might be interested in. I thought I’d mention that I’m not going to get into specific policy proposals because I prefer that you hear them first from the President when he gives his State of the Union address tomorrow evening at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
I will say that in a lot of ways the State of the Union will be a bookend to the President’s speech in Kansas last month about the central mission that we have as a country, and his focus as President of building a country and an economy where we reward hard work and responsibility, where everyone does their fair share, and where everyone is held accountable for what they do.
The President will build off the themes of that Kansas speech in the State of the Union by laying out a blueprint for an America Built to Last. The blueprint will be supported by four pillars: American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and American values.
The President looks very much forward to the opportunity to speak to the American people tomorrow evening to give them -- to provide to the American people his vision for where we need to go and how we should get there as a country, working together to build a stronger economy, a more secure union. And I hope as many Americans as possible take advantage of the opportunity to hear what he has to say tomorrow night, and I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about in the aftermath.
As you know, he’ll be traveling for the three days after the State of the Union, where he will be speaking specifically about those first three pillars: American manufacturing, American energy, and skill for American workers. The fourth pillar, American values, is sort of a overlay over the other three.
With that, I’ll go to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple of follow-ups on that topic. Can you give us a sense of where the President is in the drafting of his speech? How many drafts? Has he been through formal practice rounds yet in the Family Theater -- that kind of thing?
MR. CARNEY: There is a draft that I read through this morning, and it’s not the first and it won’t be the last, I’m sure. The President has been working very closely with his chief speechwriter and others on his policy teams to refine it, get it ready for tomorrow evening, and I’m sure that process will continue today and tomorrow.
I don’t have a number of drafts for you, but he thinks this is an important speech and he looks forward to giving it.
Q Can you explain, given the context of this reelection year, what kind of coordination goes on with the reelection campaign in terms of the themes, messaging rollout, that kind of thing?
MR. CARNEY: This is a State of the Union address that the President is giving. We obviously -- the themes of this speech that I just discussed reflect not just what the speech he gave in Kansas, but in many ways the principles that President Obama has brought to public service since he began his career in public service. So it wouldn’t take much to understand where he’s coming from and where he believes the country will go. And I’m sure that the campaign is focused on those same ideas, because they are working to get the President reelected.
The trips he’s making, the three-day trip he’ll be making after the speech, the states he’ll visit, these are official events to further elucidate and add detail to the proposals he’ll make tomorrow evening.
And I think as I’ve said before, one option -- the President knows that one option for Washington, for Congress and for him is to wait until the election resolves our differences. He rejects that option. He believes that while there will certainly be disagreements and issues to debate in the election, that election is nearly 10 months away, and we cannot afford to waste those 10 months on campaigning alone; that there are things we can and must do to grow the economy, create jobs, ensure that everyone gets a fair shot and that everyone is held accountable for what they do; that if we all play by the same rules, then we all get ahead together.
Q One last one. There was some news this morning on the housing front, a draft agreement between major banks and the states over foreclosure practices. And one of the upshots of this is intended to be modifying loans for those who are facing foreclosure to make it easier for them to get by. I just wonder if you have any reaction to that and if that's the kind of development that you think could play into the State of the Union.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any reaction to that report. The President, as you know, is focused on the issue of housing. This has been -- had a profound impact on our economy, and the President has worked since he took office to help alleviate the damage that the bursting of the housing bubble has caused to our economy and to help homeowners refinance their homes, for example, or get forbearance in order to stay in their homes.
But I don't have any specific correlation to make between that report and the State of the Union address.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask a question about Iran. The administration put out a statement a little while ago about the EU sanctions. But in reaction to those sanctions, you have one politician in Iran renewing the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. That was after the Iranians backed off that threat days ago. And I'm just wondering what your assessment of the situation is right now, and are you concerned about the rhetoric heating up again there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're citing one report from one politician, as I understand it. What I can tell you is that the USS Abraham Lincoln transited through the Strait of Hormuz without incidence -- without incident, rather -- as part of our regularly scheduled movements, undertaken in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region.
We are focused on holding Iran accountable, to ensuring that Iran understands that its stark choice here is to abide by its international obligations with regards to its nuclear program, and if it were to make that decision, then to be welcomed back into the international community; but if it does not -- and thus far, it has not -- to face ever more strict sanctions, including the ones that you noted at the beginning of your question.
This process will continue to intensify, so that Iran understands fully that the pressure will not let up and the isolation will not stop until they decide to make the right choice, which is to abide by their commitments internationally, and to come clean, if you will, on their nuclear aspirations.
Q And back on the State of the Union, I just wanted to ask generally -- I know you don't want to talk specifics -- but what approach is the President taking in general to the State of the Union? Some States of the Union are a laundry list, others are more thematic. It sounds like this one is thematic. How would you describe the general approach? And then also, it sounds like, obviously, the main message is going to be about the economy, but how much will he devote to foreign policy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's a great question, Caren, because I think you will notice in the State of the Union address tomorrow evening similarities to previous State of the Union addresses that this President has given and to his -- the ones that his predecessors have given. There is a tradition to the format that has led to -- a tradition to the format that has almost always included both a broad vision and some specific ideas about where we can take the country, things that an administration can do working with Congress or working without Congress, to advance policy objectives.
And you're right that the economy is the principal theme, but it is not the only subject of the address. Part of giving a State of the Union address is to assess the state of the union, of our country, and certainly foreign policy, national security, these are important elements of any assessment of the state of the union. And the President will offer his insights into that as well.
Kristen, then Jake.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can you give us any insight into what the President is thinking about the tone he wants to adopt with regard to Congress? I know you've had some conversations back there about how adversarial he wants to come off, how much he wants to leave the door open --
MR. CARNEY: You do?
Q Yes. (Laughter.) So I just wonder if you can talk at all about where the President's thinking is on that.
MR. CARNEY: He wants to get things done. And he believes that, in spite of the fact that it's an election year, that there are opportunities here to work with Congress, and for him to fulfill his responsibilities working with his executive authority and with the power of the presidency, to get those things done that matter to the American people. He rejects the idea that nothing can get done in an election year because actually there’s historic precedent that proves otherwise -- and it’s just not in his nature. So he will very much call for action, very much suggest that we can't wait for another year to take some of these important steps, and that opportunities are right there for us to take, for Congress and the President to move forward on if there is a willingness to come together and do that.
And so I think the President will be very clear about his vision, will be very clear about his principles, about the ideas that I just laid out in broad form -- about fair play and people getting a fair shot, economic security and protecting the middle class. But there’s ample room within those boundaries for bipartisan cooperation and for getting things done, and he’ll make that clear.
Q Has he at this point decided on the action items he wants in the speech --
MR. CARNEY: For the most part.
Q -- or does the discussion of the tone he wants to adopt have to do mainly with wording? Or is he thinking about big --
MR. CARNEY: I think -- there’s not a debate about the tone he’s going to adopt. I think the tone has been reflected in what I just described to you and in what you’ve heard from the President not just over the past several months but over the entirety of his career. The specific policy ideas are things that get discussed internally and decisions are made about what to include and what not to include. But he knows what he’s about and he knows how he wants to present this picture of the state of our union and his vision going forward, and there’s no debate about that.
Q And those big pieces are fixed at this point, is that right?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Has the President reviewed past State of the Union addresses that he’s delivered to look at what proposals he’s made that have come to fruition and which have not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know that he has done that in this specific process. He’s very aware of the proposals he’s made and the initiatives that he’s launched as President and the ideas that he put forward as a candidate. He wouldn’t take only this opportunity to review where that stands and to decide what requires further action and what new ideas to move on.
So I guess the answer is I don't know specifically that he individually has made that assessment. I think that's an assessment that he makes and others make regularly. And with regards to reviewing previous States of the Union, perhaps his speechwriters have done that, but I don't know that he has.
Q I ask because a number of the items that he brought up last year have not come to fruition, and I’m wondering if he plans on reintroducing them, discussing them again, and why it’s been so unsuccessful.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I take strong issue with the suggestion that what others have described as historic accomplishments in the first three years in office are unsuccessful.
Q I was talking about the 2011 State of the Union address.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that any State of the Union address which lays out an agenda has to be ambitious. And if you got through a year and you achieved everything on your list, then you probably didn't aim high enough.
So I think this President aims high, and I think that there will -- there are absolutely things that remain undone that need to be done that he will call on all of us to work together to get done in this address and beyond. But there is also a fairly comprehensive list of proposals that have been achieved that I’m sure we’ll be discussing as the year goes on.
Q And one last thing. A year ago, in addition to the State of the Union, the President delivered a major address in Tuscon after the shooting of Gabby Giffords and six others. The President called for a new tone, he called for a new era of civility. And I’m wondering, looking back at what has been a very contentious year, if he feels that there is anything he could have done differently -- I understand his issues with the opposing party -- but if there’s anything he himself feels he could have done differently.
MR. CARNEY: Differently in what sense?
Q To live up to the words, the call for unity, the call for not demonizing his opponents.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t had this discussion with him in the frame that you just provided. But I think -- having worked with him through this past year, I think that his efforts to reach out and achieve bipartisanship are pretty notable, and you all have reported on them.
He did that from the beginning of 2011 with the agreement that averted a government shutdown, with his approach to deficit and debt reduction, in which he led his party forward to try to achieve a grand bargain -- a compromise that was -- would have been a challenge for Democrats to accept, but that he was absolutely willing to lead on that and, unfortunately, did not have a partner on the Republican side to achieve that grand bargain.
But he remains committed to that kind of bipartisan cooperation and committed to the idea that we can disagree, but we can -- on specific issues -- but there is still so much that we could agree on if we put country ahead of party, if we put the American people ahead of narrowly-focused political goals. And he works on that, he works to achieve that, and he’ll continue to do that as President.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Laura and then Dan.
Q Just to follow up on that line of thinking -- the White House’s view about the disappointments of not coming to agreement on the subjects you just mentioned is well known. And my question is, do you think that the tone, the -- at the Tucson speech he talked about civility and the idea that you can discuss your disagreements without anger and without this sort of poison that has marked so much in Washington. Does he believe the last year has been marked by a poisonous tone, or has there been any improvement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he accepts that there is still a regrettable level of sort of hyper-partisanship in Washington that contributes significantly to gridlock. I think that -- and there have been instances in the past year where tone got in the way of moving forward. But that’s not an excuse to stop trying to work together or achieve significant accomplishments for the American people.
And his central proposal, if you will, in the discussions with the Speaker of the House and the grand bargain negotiations was that this -- if we do this we will both come under pressure within our own parties, but together we will have accomplished something significant that will be worth doing, will have been worth doing. And that was the approach he took in that, and he still believes that there is an opportunity to move ahead to do big things in a bipartisan way.
So I don't know how last year compares with previous years. Generally speaking, this President, as a candidate, noted in 2008 the tone of our politics has gotten unnecessarily partisan in a way that turns off the American people and makes it harder to get things done.
Q What were you thinking of when you said that there are -- were some examples, instances where the tone got in the way of moving forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to -- I think you guys reported on them so you know. I can remember, early in my days as Press Secretary, spending an awful lot of time answering questions about the President's birth certificate, which seemed like a gratuitously stupid sideshow at a time when we had enormously important things to do. That's just one.
But the point is that we have -- our challenges are too big to get dragged down by these kinds of things. And that's what the President believes and that's what he has believed and spoken about since he got in the business of electoral politics and it's going to be what he continues to talk about tomorrow night and beyond.
Q In the President's address tomorrow, will he be as equally ambitious as he was in 2011, realizing that a lot of what he lays out there really won't get done?
MR. CARNEY: He'll be ambitious. I'll leave it to you to judge --
Q You said he sets this high bar, realizing that a lot of what --
MR. CARNEY: My point was that if -- yes, that any President, and I think you could make this assessment of most modern Presidents' State of the Union addresses, sets an agenda that is ambitious, and should be, and that sometimes not everything -- even in years of relative harmony, not all of it necessarily will be accomplished, but that is -- that doesn’t make it -- you shouldn’t trim your sails because of that.
The President will put forward an agenda that he believes is doable but is obviously ambitious, and he will call on Congress, on the things that require legislation and cooperation between the administration and Congress, to work with him, to work together to get these things done.
And as we’ve talked about in the past, perhaps there will be an assessment by members of Congress -- Republicans in particular -- that it is in their interest to do this not just because it’s good policy and good for the country and good for the economy and good for job creation, but also because it might actually help them get reelected in the fall -- because, unfortunately, we've heard recently coming out of the House Republican caucus basically that the agenda is not, as outlined by the leadership, taking them in that direction of cooperation. But when you have 85 percent disapproval, you might think that cooperation and getting something done is a better approach, especially when an election year is upon us.
Q And what will be the balance between those things that the President claims to do on his own as he lays out this blueprint and those things that will require congressional approval? I mean is it heavier --
MR. CARNEY: Some of one and some of the other.
Q Will it be heavier on one than the other?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’ll let you guys see. I mean, we -- look, throughout this period where we have focused some attention on the measures that the President can and has been taking because we can't wait for Congress to act, we absolutely acknowledge that some very big things can't be done without congressional action, because it requires -- they require legislation. And some things that a President can do using his or her executive authority are relatively small in nature, but that doesn't make them not worth doing -- some of them are medium-sized or large.
But truly big things, whether it’s historic health care reform, or passing a Recovery Act that halted an economy in freefall and reversed a process that was leading towards a Great Depression -- that requires legislative action. And other big things require legislative action -- comprehensive immigration reform requires legislative action. There’s a lot to be done that requires the cooperation of Congress. So there will be plenty of that in this President’s address.
Q And just quickly, did the President watch the South Carolina results over the weekend, anything to that? And also, any reaction to Joe Paterno’s death?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed with him the results in the South Carolina primary, so I just -- I don't know. Again, I think I’ve -- my guess is he read about them and didn't watch them. But I don't have a reaction for you on that. And I'll have to -- I don't have anything on Joe Paterno’s death either at this point.
Q You just mentioned comprehensive immigration reform. Does the President believe in comprehensive tax reform?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Will he be talking about that?
MR. CARNEY: As he said many times. Both corporate and individual.
Q Does he believe in -- that there should be changes in campaign finance?
MR. CARNEY: I will ask you to wait for the speech. Our position on the Citizens United decision has been well described. But I don't have any new proposals or ideas to give to you today.
Q Sometimes the word “laundry list” is used in a pejorative sense when talking about State of the Unions, but is the President’s State of the Union going to include a long list of policy proposals, or would you describe this more as a framework, with specifics to be laid out in the future?
MR. CARNEY: There will be policy proposals, as well as -- within the context of a framework. Some of the things that he discusses -- and I think this is usually the case in a well-conceived State of the Union address, which I believe and hope you will agree with me this is -- that there will be more details forthcoming, because you don't want to test the American people's patience too much by speaking for two hours about arcane policy details, but you will -- he will go into some detail. There will be other details forthcoming with regard to some of the policy ideas that he puts forward.
But it will be a substantive speech.
Q This is the President's third State of the Union; he's making it in an election year. You sort of were pushing back the idea that it's a political speech, but if it's not political, why then did the President choose to offer a preview through his campaign?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he did that last year as well. This White House, this administration, this President have, from the beginning, used new media to reach out to Americans and supporters, whether it's a political year or not. Last year was an off-year, and he did this. And the fact of the matter is, tomorrow night he speaks to the nation at large and he will -- the themes that he discussed in that video will be reflected in the speech. And it is very much --
Q But the uplink was to supporters only.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think every major news organization got it, too. But the -- concurrently, so I wouldn't say it was supporters only.
Q Why didn't you use the White House website instead of the campaign website?
MR. CARNEY: This is a process that we've employed for a long time here. The speech tomorrow -- you'll probably come back and ask me why it was so heavy on substance and lacking in politics. But it's a serious speech with serious proposals for how to keep this country moving in the right direction.
Q You talked about some of the values that the President laid out -- he did it in Kansas. Can I get you to respond to Mitt Romney, who said that the President wants to put "free enterprise on trial," and he wants to "divide Americans with the bitter politics of envy."
MR. CARNEY: I will simply say, as the President has made clear when he's addressed these broader issues, that -- well, two things: On free enterprise and business, the facts, contrary to what some people charge, are that this President has actually put in fewer new regulations than his Republican predecessor at this point, at less cost and more economic benefit. He has instituted a regulatory look-back that is unprecedented and has his administration combing through the regulations of the past, eliminating those that are no longer worth enforcing and rewriting those that can be made more efficient for American business to grow. He has passed 17 or 18 small business tax cuts.
So this President's absolute faith and commitment to the free enterprise system is profound. There’s no doubt that we have a disagreement with at least some Republicans -- although depending on the survey, not rank-and-file Republicans -- that our tax system needs to be fixed so that billionaires don't pay a lower rate than working-class, middle-class Americans. That's what the President believes.
He believes that we have important responsibilities as a country, commitments that we need to keep to our national security, to educating our kids, to investing in innovation that cost something, to maintaining Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid for our seniors, and that we need to make sure that those programs are strong, that our national security is strong so that we can continue to be a great nation that dominates the 21st century economically the way it dominated the 20th, and in doing that, we need to decide what’s the best way to pay for it, what’s the fairest way to do it.
And the President believes that it is not fair -- inherently not fair that those who are millionaires and billionaires pay at a lower rate than average Americans who are struggling to get by, especially after a decade where the middle class has been squeezed while the top 1 percent has seen its wealth grow considerably, and three-decade period where the middle class has been under pressure.
Remember, not just going back to Osawatomie, Kansas, but going back years, that this theme about economic insecurity for the middle class has been -- is what got this President into politics. So this is a foundational belief for him and he’s happy to have that debate. And he thinks that overwhelmingly the American people share his view that we need to have everyone play by the same rules, whether it’s Wall Street or Main Street, and we need to have a tax system that ensures that everyone pays their fair share.
Q Jay, a couple moments ago you were talking about Congress and you mentioned the 85 percent disapproval, and it --
MR. CARNEY: It’s something like that, I can’t remember.
Q Right, fair enough -- that it shows that they’re in a dismal state right now. There’s a Gallup poll out now saying that there’s 83 percent dissatisfaction with the state of the economy from the American people. I get that, as you were just talking to Norah about inequality in this country has been a foundational principle for the President. But isn’t that also a way for you to kind of shift the conversation about inequalities in the economy rather than just a broader state of the economy when the American people are pretty frustrated with it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a great question, Ed, and I think that we will be absolutely talking about the state of the economy, beginning with the President, but all of us. And it is a matter of absolute fact that when this President took office the economy was plummeting, job loss was through the roof, and that since his policies took effect -- had the opportunity to be passed by Congress and to take effect, the reverse has happened: 3.2 million private sector jobs created over 22 months; steady economic growth; the salvation of an iconic American industry, the automobile industry; passage of historic health care reform that already has millions of Americans up to age 26 getting insurance when they otherwise might not have, already has millions of Americans protected by the provisions within it that allow them to get insurance even if they have preexisting conditions, already has provided savings in the millions and millions of dollars for seniors in terms of their preventive care and prescription drug benefits.
So we’ll have that discussion, no doubt. And the President’s record is -- I think it demonstrates his commitment to the middle class, to getting this country back on the right track, to ensuring that the kinds of behaviors in the financial sector that helped precipitate the kind of economic crisis that none of us had ever experienced before, that puts so much pressure on American families around the country, is contained and regulated in a way that ensures it won’t happen again. We’ll have that debate, gladly.
Q So this will be about his vision. I wonder if you could clear something up. Newt Gingrich keeps saying on the campaign trail that the President’s vision comes from Saul Alinsky, the community organizer. I haven’t heard you asked about that. I’m wondering if you want to -- is there some sort of portrait of him in the White House that people look up to? (Laughter.) Or is this just some -- is this BS basically? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Have I said how much fun I had as a reporter covering Congress from 1996 to 1998? There was a certain bombast to it at the time, a lot of colorful things to cover. (Laughter.)
But the President’s background as a community organizer is well documented in the President’s own books, so his experience in that field obviously contributed to who he is today. But his experience is a broad-based one that includes a lot of other areas in his life, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Q On Newt, the Vice President was on the radio with Ryan Seacrest, I believe this morning, and was asked about the open marriage question, and the Vice President first said he wasn’t going to comment, and then he did and said -- (laughter.) Just factually stating what he did. (Laughter.) And then he said that, “Newt Gingrich” -- the Vice President said -- “is going to be judged by the voters in the primary in the totality of who he is, and that includes everything. I mean, people make judgments about our character.”
You were asked this I think on Thursday or Friday --
MR. CARNEY: I wasn’t asked quite --
Q You were asked about his character and whatnot, you said -- you kind of said, you didn't want to get into it. The Vice President did. Does this mean that the White House believes --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the Vice President said --
Q -- Newt Gingrich’s personal is fair game?
MR. CARNEY: -- very much what I said is that it’s up to voters to decide, and voters make decisions based on a variety of criteria. And in some -- different voters have different critera that they use when they're making judgments about for whom they’ll cast their ballots. And we’ll leave that up to the voters, and I’m sure there is a totality to it that --
Q -- character is what the Vice President said.
MR. CARNEY: I think that books and studies show that some voters make judgments based on character, but you have to define what character means for you as a voter. So I think the President’s approach, the Vice President’s approach is to work as hard as they can on behalf of the American people on the issues that they believe are most important to the American people, and to be judged accordingly by the voters when the time comes.
You know, how the Republican primary process sorts itself out is fascinating, no doubt. But it’s a process that we don't have any involvement in and we’re just watching from the sidelines. And when a nominee emerges, we’ll engage -- the President will engage in that debate, and I’m sure the Vice President will engage in a debate at the appropriate time with whoever the vice presidential running mate is.
But again, I think what we’re trying to stress here is, while that process is taking place, as it should, we have the opportunity here to actually move an agenda forward now, in the year 2012, that can help the American economy and help the American people.
Q On the economy -- last thing -- the Vice President also was asked about housing. And remember Mitt Romney in October talked about foreclosures and said, “let it run its course and hit bottom,” and the DNC went after him about that. The Vice President was quoted as saying, “let the bottom fall out and then start to clean up. It’s sort of Darwinisn; the fittest out there,” and, “they’re right; it’s the quickest way to do it.” And then he went on to say, but you have to be compassionate; you can’t just kick people out on the street. He made a delineation from what he thinks Republicans have said -- in fairness. However, he did say that you’ve got to let it hit bottom. Isn't that what Mitt Romney is saying?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, can I just say first, you read me portions of an interview I haven’t even heard yet. I think based on what you’ve read, he’s giving an assessment of what one of the Republican candidates said and sort of explaining it more fully, and then also explaining, broadly, the approach we take, which is that there are a lot of Americans out there who have underwater mortgages whom we have tried to offer relief in a responsible way. And that’s the approach we think is necessary because we need -- we’re in this boat together. We need to grow the economy in a way that helps as many people as possible. That’s the approach we take.
Q In one of the New Yorker stories today about the internal memos, a couple of questions. Ryan Lizza writes that, “the Obama administration at one point shifted from honest budgeting to accepting gimmickry.” And he notes specifically a change in the figures for disaster relief, and he also notes that the health care bill -- the savings that could be had from the health care bill, he indicates that the President signed off on perhaps using budget gimmickry to make it look like we're saving more than we are.
MR. CARNEY: I assume that's a question, but the -- first of all, it's a very long article and I haven't gotten through it, to be quite honest. The portrait that I see portrayed in it, based on the half of the article that I've read so far, is one of the enormous economic calamity that the President and his team faced as they were coming into office in the end of 2008 and early 2009, and the monumental decisions that the President had to make at the time.
Specifically, just because it's a fact, on the issue of health care reform savings, I point you to the CBO, non-partisan CBO, which absolutely concluded that the Affordable Care Act is a deficit reducer -- a rather substantial deficit reducer. So that's a fact.
And, look, I think the President's economic team -- economic teams have been focused on getting the policy right, on making extremely difficult judgments, especially two years ago during -- and three years ago during extremely difficult economic times. And going back to the answer I gave to Ed, let's let the record be judged for its results. And I think that while we have a long way to go in this economy, there is no arguing the fact that the direction that we've been going in since the President's policies have had a chance to take effect is a heck of a lot better -- is much more the right direction compared to the direction this country and this economy were going in when he took office. I think that's indisputable.
Q Thanks. Is the budget still set to be released on February 6th?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know. I'll have to get back to you. I don't have a budget release date for you. Sorry.
Q Jay, do you know if the White House has been in touch with Senator Kirk's family or office since he suffered a stroke?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know that. I saw that report before I came out and our -- we're obviously concerned about his condition, but wish him a speedy recovery. I just don't have any more details on that or how much outreach has taken place from here at this point.
Q And then another non-State of the Union issue. As you may have heard, Senator Rand Paul had an incident today at the Nashville airport with the TSA. His father, Ron Paul, has issued a statement saying, "The police state in this country is growing out of control, and one of the embodiments of this is the TSA." What does the White House make of that?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that when an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger -- any passenger -- to proceed to the secure area of the airport. Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process cannot be granted access to the secure area in order to ensure the safety of others traveling.
And let's just be clear, the passenger was not detained. The passenger triggered an alarm during routine airport screening but refused to complete the screening process in order to resolve the issue. Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area. In this case, the passenger was escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement. It's my understanding he has now rebooked and passed through security without incident, and that has resolved itself.
Q What do you make of the statement from his father?
MR. CARNEY: I think it is absolutely essential that we take the necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe, and I believe that's what TSA is tasked with doing. I don't have a specific response to that statement. I would refer you to TSA for more.
Q Jay, thanks. You announced at the top of the briefing that Mark Kelly will be coming to the State of the Union. Can you announce any other guests that will be there?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any other announcements to make at this point on guests in the box.
Q Okay. And some reporters have characterized this particular State of the Union not only as the President’s -- the President laying out his vision for 2012, but also for the next four years if he were to be reelected. Is that a fair way to characterize this speech?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the direction and vision that the President will describe tomorrow night is not limited to the calendar year of 2012. It is -- going back to my earlier answers -- filled with ideas that he hopes will be acted on in this calendar year -- some that he can do himself or his administration can do, others that he hopes will be acted on with Congress. But the broader vision is about the direction he believes we need to move this country, and that's a project that lasts longer than a year. It’s a project that has already -- he has been engaged in for three years and he hopes to be engaged in for another five.
This is a project that I think he has said will outlast even two terms in the Oval Office as we continue to build and strengthen and renew the American economy in the 21st century. But he believes that this is a pivotal moment and that the actions that we were able to take in the early months after the economic calamity that befell this country in 2008 were vital to putting the economy on the right track, and that there is more we must do in order to ensure that we have a foundation to our economy that allows security for the middle class, that allows American manufacturing to blossom so that good, well-paying jobs are created here in the United States, and that allows us to pay the necessary attention and make the necessary investments in our education system so that we have -- continue to have the best-educated, most-skilled workforce in the world.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Stephen -- last one.
Q Thanks. On Yemen, how is the President’s support for the right of protest in the Middle East and wider message on the Arab Spring compatible with the decision to allow President Saleh, who is accused of -- blamed for the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators, to come to New York for medical treatment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean those are two separate things. Our support for the right of protest is unchanged. And the fact of the matter is, as you note, Mr. Saleh’s request to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment has been approved, and the purpose of this travel is for medical treatment alone. And we expect that he will stay for a limited time that corresponds to the duration of this treatment.
We, at the same time, believe that his absence from Yemen at this critical juncture will help facilitate a transition that completes the end of his rule, helps Yemen and ultimately has a positive effect on the rights and dignity of the Yemeni people. Our policy focus remains on preventing further instability and keeping that transition on track.
Q So the decision to admit him is an attempt by the United States to improve the conditions running up to the election, not just a medical issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, he has been granted a visa to this country solely for medical treatment. His absence from Yemen we hope will help facilitate the transition, but that would be true of his absence no matter where he went. The fact is he’s been granted a visa to this country for medical treatment.
Thank you all very much.
1:13 P.M. EST
President Obama Delivers a Statement with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission
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