Press Briefing

February 27, 2012 | 52:23 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/27/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:22 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for coming to the White House for your daily briefing.  I do not have any announcements at the top, so once I get my papers in order here I will take your questions.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Two topics today.  We've heard a lot over the last day or so about how the United States is taking the long view in the war in Afghanistan and the need to stay focused on defeating al Qaeda.  But I'm wondering how you explain to the average American who has seen this war go on for 10 years and is ready for troops to come home -- how do explain it when the people that we're training turn their guns on us, or U.S. officers in a secure Afghan Interior building are shot dead?  How do you explain why it's working?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say two things, Ben, and I appreciate the question.  There is no doubt that this is a difficult time in Afghanistan and a difficult time for our personnel in Afghanistan who are involved in executing a very important mission for our national security. 

What the President did when he reviewed U.S. policy in Afghanistan was insist that we focus our attention on what our absolute goals in the country should be, and prioritize them.  And he made clear that the number-one priority, the reason why U.S. troops are in Afghanistan in the first place, is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda.  It was, after all, al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, that launched the attacks against the United States on September 11th, 2011.  That is why the U.S. sent forces -- appropriately -- to Afghanistan.

The mission, under the previous administration, in Afghanistan had become muddled and unclear, and lacked the proper resources to achieve its objectives.  The President has changed that, and we have made significant progress in the last several years in achieving the goals set out by the President, primarily the disruption, dismantlement and, ultimately, the defeat of    al Qaeda.  And that includes eliminating Osama bin Laden.

In support of that goal, we have as an objective the stabilization of the Afghan government to allow Afghanistan and its government the space and time to take over security of its own country.  And that process is well underway, as you know.  The President has made clear that we are drawing down our forces in Afghanistan.  We have been drawing down from the surge-force level already and will continue that process.  And he has made clear that we will turn over full lead -- security lead to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.  He will continue to have discussions with our NATO allies in this effort, and our ISAF allies, at the NATO summit in Chicago in May. 

As the President has made clear, and General Allen and Secretary Panetta and others, the mission is difficult.  And in a phone call with General Allen this weekend, the President expressed his condolences to the General for the loss of the two officers that you mention in the Interior Ministry, and thanked General Allen for his efforts in protecting and making secure American personnel, both military and civilian, in Afghanistan.

We can't forget what the mission is, though, and the fact that the need to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda remains. The need to prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks against the United States remains.  And we will continue in that effort.

Q    So you just sort of recounted the case there of how the President redefined the mission and how it’s important to stick with it, to stay the course.  But I’m wondering what you do about the attitudes of the American people who, in the case -- more than one case in this last week -- they say the people that we are going to war with, in some cases, are killing us.  Why should we still support this war?  How do you make that case?  And do you worry that it’s going to erode -- the American public support will continue to erode in an election year?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the incidents that you refer to are tragic and horrific and indefensible, there’s no question.  But it is important to remember that 95 to 97 percent of the missions the U.S. forces embark on in Afghanistan, they do so with their Afghan partners.  We’re talking about thousands and thousands of operations that proceed successfully with Afghan partners without anything like this happening. 

These are isolated incidents -- which does not, of course, mean they are not terrible -- and are being investigated by both the Afghan government and ISAF.  But the overall importance of defeating al Qaeda remains and that is why we need to see -- to continue the focus on that; to continue the process of, in the implementation of the President’s objectives, transferring security lead over to the Afghans so that American troops can come home. 

It’s important to remember the President has already, through his strategy, laid out a process by which American troops will come home as we turn over security responsibility, security lead to Afghan forces.  And as we do that, we will be unrelenting in our pursuit of al Qaeda and unrelenting in our efforts to remove leaders of al Qaeda from the battlefield.

Q    Last swipe at this.  You mentioned that the troops are coming home and that transition is going to happen through 2014, so obviously there is still a significant period of time between now and then.  Does the White House worry about diminishing public support for the war, given events like the last -- the ones of last week?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President made clear when he was a candidate for this office and has made clear since he took this office that, unfortunately, prior to his taking office, because of the focus on Iraq and the U.S. efforts there, that the original war, if you will, in Afghanistan had been neglected, that the strategy there was unclear and that it was not properly resourced.  He was very clear about what he would do as President when he was a candidate and has been clear in executing his vision since he became President. 

He is very sympathetic to the sacrifice that families in America who have sent members to both Iraq and Afghanistan have given to their country.  It is both the men and women who serve in these wars and their families that sacrifice tremendously.  And he does not want American troops to be in Afghanistan any longer, not a day longer, than they need to be to complete this mission.  And that's why he has been very clear in putting forward a strategy that included the plussing-up, the surging of forces, in order to execute the mission, and the drawing down, the slow withdrawal, the gradual withdrawal, the paced withdrawal of U.S. forces as we transfer lead authority over to the Afghan security forces.

It's a clear policy with very clear goals.  And it is a policy that is very clear-eyed about what our objectives are and what can be achieved in Afghanistan overall versus what our national security interests very specifically are.

Q    One other topic quickly, please.  We have a story out, as you know, that shows the money from a drug fighting program funded by the White House helped pay for a New York City Police Department effort, counterterrorism effort, that includes surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods.  This is a program that started out specifically to fight drugs, and since 9/11 has shifted to a counterterrorism focus.  I'm wondering if the President is aware that that money went for that purpose and whether he supports it.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven't had this discussion with the President.  As at least the authors of the article know, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is a policy office that has no authority -- no authority to, and does not conduct, direct, manage or supervise any law enforcement operations.  Funding is provided to the HIDTA program of New York and New Jersey, which then provides it to law enforcement agencies to assist in the procurement of resources like computers and other items. 

So I would refer you to the HIDTA program, which is the place that makes money specifically available to law enforcement. I mean, it is -- this is not an administration program or a White House program.  This is a New York Police Department.

Q    Now that you are aware of it, though, does the White House have a stand on how the money was spent?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't.  I would simply point you to the concerted efforts that this administration has made in reaching out to the Muslim community, the fact that we make very clear that we consider Muslim Americans partners in the effort to combat radical extremism.  I think we've made that clear again and again.  And that continues to be our position.


Q    The President did send a letter of apology to President Karzai last week about the Koran burnings.  But since then, of course, the violence has continued, and even spiked.  Has he, or will he be in touch with President Karzai again to try to quell the violence, to calm the situation?  And what kind of contact is the President making, if any, with NATO partners on this issue of the threat to the security of NATO forces there?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I said, and I think you knew already, the President spoke with General Allen over the weekend -- he is the commanding officer there.  And I want to be clear about one thing.  One is the President wrote a letter that was quite extensive and about many other subjects in which he did include his expression of condolences and his apology for the inadvertent burning of religious materials.

And what we have seen is actually very helpful statements from President Karzai and others in an effort to calm the situation down.  Defense Minister Wardak has apologized to Secretary Panetta for the incident involving the killing of two officers in the Interior Ministry, and I believe other senior officials of the Afghan government have expressed similar sentiments.  And we will continue to work with the Afghan government in the effort to help calm the situation and continue with the implementation of our policy.

Q    The Afghanistan troop drawdown strategy has a component that involves shifting security while at the same time mentoring -- having U.S. troops mentoring Afghan troops, providing a kind of advise and assist-type of procedure.  Is there any deliberations now on changing that, on altering the way this strategy works, that transition in view of the threat that NATO forces are facing alongside their Afghan counterparts?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question.  I would point you to the comments of General Allen and the actions that he’s taken to withdraw American servicemen and women from the ministries temporarily, and I would refer you to ISAF and to the Defense Department for specific about implementation of the policy. 

But the policy remains one that is designed precisely to stabilize the Afghan government to the point where it can take over the security lead responsibility in its own country, which then allows U.S. forces to withdraw.  And that strategy very much remains the right one and remains in place and one that we will continue to implement. 

And again, I would point you to the statements -- the comments I made to Ben about it’s important, as terrible as the incident that happened over the weekend is, and other incidents, to remember that we are in a cooperative partnership with the Afghan government and Afghan forces that results in engagement between our forces and theirs every day on hundreds of missions that take place without incident.

Yes, Norah.

Q    The U.S., Britain, Germany and France have also pulled out their advisors out of the ministry, and I think this means like hundreds of people, essentially.  If we can't work with them, if we don’t trust them, how are we going to train them to stand up so that U.S. forces can leave?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question, Norah.  I would simply point you to the answer I’ve given now to Ben and to Matt, which is the incidents in particular are being investigated by both the Afghan government and, of course, ISAF.  The fact is, is that the way to wind down this war is the way that the President has made clear through the policy he put into place after his review, and that is to transfer security lead -- to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces.  And that, in turn, allows us to draw down our troops and bring American men and women home. 

And we are continuing in that effort.  And it is -- it remains absolutely a national security priority of the United States to ensure that we defeat al Qaeda -- which is why we are in Afghanistan to begin with -- and in furtherance of that goal, that we stabilize the situation in Afghanistan enough to allow the Afghan security forces to fully take over lead security responsibilities in their country. 

That process has begun.  It will be completed no later than the end of 2014, as a matter of NATO policy established at Lisbon, and a matter of NATO policy that will be further discussed in Chicago in May.

Q    So will this affect at all our plans to draw down forces?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don’t think it will.  And I think that, again, I would refer you, as I said earlier to Matt, for specifics about the return of advisors to the ministries or the continued efforts in combating -- in basically waging the battle with Afghan forces to the Defense Department and to ISAF.

But the policy remains in place, and the policy is in place. And it is important to remember, because we are focused on decimating al Qaeda -- that’s why we’re in Afghanistan.  That is the clarity that the President insisted on when he revised our strategy.  And everything else we do there is in support of that effort, and that includes a process by why we turn over security responsibilities to the Afghans so that we can draw down our forces.

Q    And I know that you called this an isolated incident.  But it’s my understanding that 10 of the 58 coalition forces who died this year have been killed by fellow Afghan soldiers -- four of them just this past week.  So they’re not isolated incidents.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that these are tragic incidents.  They are unacceptable, and they will be investigated, again, by the Afghan government and the U.S., working through ISAF. 

I mean, just using your own numbers, obviously we are in an exceptional period here in the wake of the unrest over the inadvertent burning of religious materials, and four of the deaths, as you mentioned, have been in the wake of that -- 40 percent of the 10 that you mention.

Overall, as I've pointed out, we conduct I think 97 percent of our missions with Afghan security forces, collaboratively.  It is essential to the fulfillment of our objectives there that we are able to transfer security lead to the Afghans gradually over the course of the next months, until no later than the end of 2014 that they take over full security lead.  That is the right policy for the United States, and it's the policy that will, A, ensure that we are able to disrupt, dismantle and defeat    al Qaeda, and ensure that we draw our forces down and bring American men and women home.


Q    When I interviewed then-CIA director Leon Panetta a couple years ago, he said there were fewer than 100 CIA -- I mean, I'm sorry -- he said there were fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.  How many do we think are there now?  About the same amount?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a specific number for you.  The point you raise was I think discussed in the public arena at the time, and I think that it goes to the reason why the President has focused his Afghanistan strategy on the original objective.  The original objective was not, or should not have been, to build a Jeffersonian democracy in Afghanistan.  The original objective, the reason why we sent U.S. troops to fight, and in some cases die, in Afghanistan was because we were attacked -- the United States was attacked in a plot that was originated in Afghanistan with the al Qaeda leadership on September 11th, 2001.  And the President was very clear that he wanted to make sure that our policy, the reason why we were there, remained the same and that we were focused on al Qaeda.

Q    When is the last time U.S. troops in Afghanistan killed anybody associated with al Qaeda?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to ISAF and the Defense Department for that.  I don't have that information.  It is certainly clear that, because of our efforts in the Af-Pak region, if you will -- which is the region covered by the overall strategy that the President put into place -- that we have aggressively pursued, with significant success, al Qaeda's leadership.  And I think that everyone knows, of course, of the Osama bin Laden mission.  But there have been, as you know because you cover this closely, numerous other instances of successful implementation of this policy, which has resulted in significantly depleting the numbers of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And it is because of the President’s policy, which includes allowing for space for the Afghan government as this transition takes place to the security lead -- that gives us the capacity to implement the policy, which, again, is focused on al Qaeda.

Q    How much does the White House think that the incidents -- the four U.S. service members who’ve been killed by ANA or Afghan security forces -- how much does he think -- and the protests that are going on throughout the country -- how much does he think these are just because of the Koran burning incident?  And how much does the White House think this is -- that was just the tipping point for an overall exhaustion and anger about things that have happened due to the American presence?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think those are very important questions, and I haven’t had that discussion with the President or members of his national security team, although I can say in general we are keenly aware of concerns expressed in the past by President Karzai and others about the way that we operate there and the need to be sure that we operate in a way that enhances our cooperation and doesn't detract from it, and we work very carefully to try to do that.

This is not an easy situation.  Our objective is to defeat the entity that attacked us in September 11, 2001.  And part of how we do that is working with the Afghan government to help stabilize that situation in that country to allow them to have the security infrastructure that they need so that they can prevent al Qaeda from returning and plotting against the United States and its allies. 

But this is an issue that obviously predates this most recent incident.  And we work with President Karzai and the Afghan government to try to mitigate some of the tensions that understandably exist in a situation like this, but only insofar as they don’t compromise our national security interests.

Q    One last question if I could, Jay, I’m sorry. 

MR. CARNEY:  No, no problem.

Q    I actually went to Jalalabad airfield last November, and it was interesting for me to learn that when it was set up as the headquarters for Regional Command East, it was actually safe enough in the area that troops could go to local markets and shop.  Last year when I was there it was so dangerous that you couldn’t even drive down to the local ANA headquarters -- you would have to fly.  It was a 20-second, 30-second flight.  This morning, obviously, there was a suicide bombing there and nine individuals were killed.  I think we’re still waiting to hear who they were.  This is fully resourced, fully manned, more dangerous.  Explain that.  How does that work?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that most of those questions are best addressed -- directed to the Defense Department because I don’t have the map in front of me or the information that I would need to address where we have --

Q    But you understand --

MR. CARNEY:  I certainly understand and I appreciate the general concept.  And I think it goes to the point that we have a specific mission to achieve, which is not to secure every inch of territory but to achieve an objective, which is to disrupt, dismantle, defeat al Qaeda and, in the service of that objective, to stabilize the Afghan government and help build up Afghan security forces so that they can take over the security of their own country. 

I understand, and you see stories about different pockets that were pacified, if you will, and then have become less so, and I think that there are other stories that indicate areas of the country which are much more under control than used to be the case.  And I would refer you to ISAF and DOD for that.

Thank you. 


Q    Jay, can I follow on what Jake was asking you?


Q    Can you just explain simply, because I think a lot of people are asking this this morning, what elements of our objectives have not been completed in February of 2012 the President is anticipating would be completing by 2014?  What’s left to accomplish from the U.S. perspective?

MR. CARNEY:  We are still in the process of fulfilling the objectives of the mission the President laid out, which primarily -- as I’ve been saying -- is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda, while its ranks have been diminished by our efforts and the efforts of our allies, remains a very serious threat to the United States and to our allies.  And we need to not let up in the effort to fully defeat al Qaeda.  And that remains very important.

In service of that effort, we need to create the time and space for the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces to be built up and trained so that they can take full security lead over the situation in their country.  And that process, as outlined in Lisbon by NATO and made clear by the President of the United States, will be complete by the end of 2014.

The meeting in Chicago in May of NATO will I think be focused a great deal on the implementation of that policy, of making sure that we can turn over security lead by the end of 2014.  It is a very focused and deliberate strategy that is being implemented and has met with some significant successes, especially as it relates to the fight against al Qaeda.

Q    Does that remain flexible about maybe revising that timetable if need be?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we had some questions I think in the last several weeks about the implementation of a strategy which would have the security lead turned over to the Afghans by the end of 2014 and the pace of the drawdown.  And the pace of that drawdown will obviously depend on discussions with our NATO allies and with commanders on the ground about how the mission is being implemented and how the drawdown should be implemented. 

So, absolutely, the President will have these discussions, as I think Secretary Panetta has made clear, and he will have them, and Secretary Panetta and others will have them, leading up to NATO in May in Chicago.  And then at the highest level those discussions will be held in Chicago.

Q    Switching topics, I want to ask you about Keystone.  I saw your statement earlier praising construction on this portion of the pipeline.  And I’m wondering why the White House is so supportive of a pipeline that goes from Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico -- when the argument has been that this would feed new oil into the U.S. and lower gas prices -- when this portion of the pipeline, all it would is ship excess oil out of the U.S.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll make a couple of points.  One, it’s a global oil market.  Two, we made clear back in January, in the President’s statement, that the pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf could potentially be important precisely because there are bottlenecks in Cushing right now that prevent what is essentially a glut of domestically produced oil from getting to market, getting to refineries and getting to market.  That glut exists in part because of the increase in oil production domestically in this country over the last eight years.  We are at an eight-year high, as you know. 

And it highlights a little known fact -- certainly you wouldn’t hear it from some of our critics -- that we approved -- pipelines are approved and built in this country all the time.  And this one is important because of the reasons I just mentioned -- the bottleneck that exists, the glut of oil that exists, and we need to get that oil to the state-of-the-art refineries in the Gulf and get it to market.  And that’s an important process.  And we’ll make sure that any federal permitting that is involved in the Cushing pipeline will be acted on very quickly.

Q    Will there be an -- for review at this site?

MR. CARNEY:  Everything will be done by the book and by the -- as it always is.  Again, it’s important, because a lot of these issues get confused in the political debate -- the reason why Keystone XL required the review that it did is because it crossed -- that pipeline crossed an international boundary.  And the State Department, by tradition and rule, reviews those requests for permits and was in the process of doing just that when the Republicans forced it to -- forced us to deny it because they tried to compel the administration to grant a permit to a pipeline, the route for which didn’t even exist, which was obviously not the right thing to do.

And as I think the statement also went on to say, that TransCanada indicated that it would -- had plans to, anyway, to resubmit a new proposal, a new pipeline route, and that will certainly be reviewed by the book, without prejudice, because the decision the President made earlier had nothing to do with the merits of a pipeline proposal, it was simply that because of the decision by Republicans to play politics with this, forced him -- forced the administration to deny the permit request because there wasn’t even a pipeline route identified.


Q    You said earlier that the goal of getting the security lead transferred to the Afghan government will be completed by 2014.  Are these incidents considered a setback to that goal, or do you think that everything is still on track?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s hard to characterize it that way.  They are -- these are individuals whose lives were lost, and they need to be looked at not as -- at least in the first instance, not as how they affect the overall mission, because to say that the mission continues regardless in some ways might diminish the tragedy that their loss represents, and I wouldn't want to do that.

What I’ve made clear, and what General Allen and Secretary Panetta and others have made clear, is that the mission remains vital and remains -- the implementation of the mission remains continuous to this day and to this moment because we need to defeat al Qaeda.  We need to complete the mission.  And we need to -- and part of the mission is creating the situation that allows for the transfer of security lead to the Afghans so that we can bring American forces home.

Q    And my second question is on another unrelated topic.  Do you have any reaction to Santorum’s comments about the President being a snob because he thinks everyone should have either a college education or further training --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would just say a couple of things about it.  One is I don't think any parent in America who has a child would think it snobbery to hope for that child the best possible education in the future, and that includes college. 

As you know, the President has always made clear that he believes higher education is important for everyone.  And that includes if not a four-year degree, a bachelor of arts degree, then a two-year degree from a community college or vocational training through a community college.  In fact, he has very aggressively -- his administration has, and he in particular has, promoted agreements between community colleges and local businesses to have programs in those colleges that allow folks to be trained specifically for the jobs that those employers have open.  And that is very much the kind of service that community colleges can provide.  So it is, to use a phrase that we've applied elsewhere, an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to higher education.


Q    May I follow?

MR. CARNEY:  Ed and then -- oh, I thought you were going to be a gentleman.

Q    I was -- please.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don't mean to embarrass you, Ed.  I did call on you first. 

Q    Thank you.  (Laughter.)  Quick follow-up -- (laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Sorry, I caused that and I apologize.

Q    Quick follow-up on Mara, on the Santorum point.  I know everybody likes to read into what the President says, is he reacting to Romney.  So just to be clear, when he was talking to the governors a short time ago and saying, I want to clarify that I'm not saying everyone has to go for four years, there's different ways to do it -- as you just said -- was the President in general reacting to Santorum, or is that already just something he was going to say?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't know.  I think he was making clear what his position is, as he made clear fairly recently, at an official event, where he talked about the need for community colleges to link up with local businesses to provide these kinds of -- this kind of training service.  So I think it's a general point he wanted to make.  I don't know if it was -- I don't think it was specific to that statement.

Q    On Afghanistan, since you've repeatedly said that the vision is very clear and that it's to decimate, dismantle, disrupt al Qaeda, there are already some of the President's campaign surrogates who go on TV all the time saying he's already dismantled al Qaeda, including killing bin Laden, as a key point to voters that he's done a good job.

MR. CARNEY:  I think what we say, Ed, to be fair, is that, as I've just said here today, that al Qaeda's leadership has been greatly diminished, it's leadership has been decimated but it has not been defeated or eliminated.  So we would not -- no one associated with the President, either here in the administration or on the campaign, would suggest that al Qaeda has been finally defeated, because it has not.

Q    Okay.  So but my question is, you're using that it still needs to be defeated as a reason to stay and finish the job.  This morning, Senator Durbin, a Democrat who's very supportive of the President, was on MSNBC saying basically that you've already succeeded a lot on that front with al Qaeda, and his point was, the sooner the better to get out.  He said, "Do it more quickly."  So what do you say to your fellow Democrats who are saying you've largely dismantled al Qaeda -- maybe you haven't fully defeated them, but you've largely dismantled them, why stay?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that there is an agreement I think with the folks you mentioned, but broadly, the American people, that we should not stay in Afghanistan one day longer than is necessary.  The President has a policy -- not a slogan, not a political opinion -- but a policy in place, a strategy in place that ensures we will do just that. 

And it ensures that we will transfer security lead over to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 -- no later than the end of 2014.  He is in regular discussions with his counterparts in ISAF at NATO and will have this discussion at the highest levels in Chicago in May, as his Defense Secretary has those discussions regularly with his counterparts. 

We have had success in the fight against al Qaeda in removing al Qaeda members from the battlefield, but we cannot let up and we won’t let up.  And one of the reasons why the policy that the President -- the strategy the President has put into place is so important is because it allows for a situation where we can continue the fight against al Qaeda even as we transfer security responsibilities over to the Afghan security forces, because that is absolutely in the United States’ national security interest, it is in the interest of our allies.  And we'll continue to take that fight to al Qaeda.

Yes, sorry.  I can't believe you wouldn't --
QEd is always a gentlemen, may I say for the record.

MR. CARNEY:  He is. 

Q    In my experience.

Q    Question?  (Laughter.) 
Q    On their way out of the White House, a number of governors -- Democrat and Republican -- said that they agreed with the President on education and his approach to education.  So I wonder if the President thinks that Santorum is out of step not just with the American public, but also with his own party on this issue?

MR. CARNEY:  Well I don’t want to engage too much in -- I heard a snippet of what Senator Santorum said.  I think I would simply point out that the President’s priorities on education are very clear.  As regards to the specific issue that I understand Senator Santorum raised, the President is focused not just on making sure that higher education is not a luxury, but that it is available for everyone.  And that includes not just four-year bachelor’s degrees but two-year degrees and the kind of specialized vocational training that community colleges can provide that is so important to local employers. 

We’ve visited programs, I have with the President, where there is a great symbiotic relationship between local community colleges and local employers where they can basically design a course that local folks who may be unemployed but have a certain set of skills design the course that they can take that will allow them to step into high-paying jobs in the community.  And that's a very important connection that the President has worked hard with Secretary Duncan and others to establish.

Q    On another topic, the President’s signature domestic policy accomplishment, health care reform, USA Today has some findings that probably will be troublesome for the President.  A vast majority of the American public -- what their poll showed -- finds health care reform is, in their view, probably unconstitutional, and a plurality thinks that it’s likely to make things worse or make no difference.  Is this in the White House’s view simply a communications failure?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think that to go back to a period that most of you covered and all of you probably remember, that during the debate over health care reform, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent trying to defeat it, and sort of undercutting the essential nature of what was being accomplished here, what the President was trying to accomplish.

One, health care reform, as I need not remind you now, that passed is built on what was once considered a very conservative idea.  In fact, it has its origins in the conservative think tank called the Heritage Foundation.  It has its practical implemental origins in the states of Massachusetts. 

And what is most important to this President, as we continue to implement health care reform, as it regards the political debate, is that the choice here is going to be do we continue implementing health care reform that ensures that if you have a preexisting condition you cannot be denied health insurance?  Or do you go back to a situation where insurance companies get to decide for themselves whether you get insurance or not, or whether they could kick you off the rolls when you get sick?  Do we accept an approach that the President’s opponents might adopt, or at least they have so far, that we should eliminate health care reform and thereby kick I think it’s 2.6 million young adults off the insurance coverage they’ve gotten because of health care reform, even as it’s in the process of being implemented, or the millions of seniors who have saved hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs because of the implementation of health care reform?

We understand that a lot of money has been spent to make -- in an attempt to make health care reform unpopular.  Well, we believe that, A, it’s constitutional, and, B, that as it continues to be implemented and Americans get to enjoy the benefits that it brings, including the security that it brings, that it would become more and more clear that it is a vital thing for the American people.

April.  I’m sorry, do you have any more?

Q    That's okay.

Q    On issues of religious tolerance and acceptance, what is the status of President Obama’s Muslim outreach after what happened in Afghanistan?

MR. CARNEY:  The status of it?

Q    Yes, was it -- go ahead.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, I think that the President’s administration has been very clear and transparent in its efforts to, A, demonstrate its -- the administration’s and the American people’s respect for the religious beliefs of American Muslims and Muslims abroad, and as regards a question I had earlier, in terms of American Muslims, to make it clear that we believe that the partnership with Muslims is vital in the effort to combat domestic radicalization.  So that's the approach this administration has taken.  That's the approach the President has taken from the beginning.

Q    Were there any plans recently, prior to what happened in Afghanistan -- the President was supposed to go somewhere around the world and speak, as he’s done in the past, on Muslim outreach?

MR. CARNEY:  None that I am aware of, no.

Q    Okay.  And lastly, with this happening, and we’ve seen things happen in the prior administration, is there a thought in the Pentagon and here at the White House there may need to be some kind of permanent cultural, religious tolerance, acceptance kind of class for military personnel?  Because many don't know if they're going to be rotated out to Afghanistan or to another country -- do you think that's something that's --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't really have a specific response to that.  I know -- and I would point you to General Allen’s comments in this regard, that being sensitive on this issue is obviously important to our efforts in that part of the world.

General Allen has made clear that already, in the wake of the incident, the inadvertent mishandling of religious documents and religious texts in Afghanistan, that further training is being implemented.  And again, this is -- because of the respect that we have for the religious beliefs of Afghans and also because it is in our interest, it is in the interest of the security of our personnel, to make sure that that sensitivity exists and that it is widely shared.

Q    What new punishments will be put in place now for military personnel?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Defense Department.

Q    Can you follow on that with the Taliban?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me get to some others.  But, April, I would refer you to -- yes.

Q    Jay, as you know, there is a tragedy unfolding this morning in Ohio.  There were some really tense sort of uncertain moments this morning.  Was the President being briefed about this situation, and does he have a reaction?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sure he is aware of it.  It is obviously something that is tragic.  You’re talking about the shootings?

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  The President’s thoughts and prayers and ours in general go out to the families of the victims.  For specifics about what’s happening there I would refer you to local law enforcement.  The FBI is obviously monitoring this and I would refer you to them on that in terms of any federal government -- federal law enforcement association with it.  But right now we’re just obviously watching the events unfold and express our condolences to the families.

Q    Going back to Afghanistan for a moment, one of the justifications for the President apologizing, as you pointed out last week, was an attempt to make sure that U.S. military members were not put in additional harm’s way.  And it seems like that hasn’t been the case.  It seems like the violence is continuing. So is there any regret or concern about that, that it seems like this violence continues despite the apology?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there is concern about the unrest in Afghanistan because of it.  It’s not -- it doesn’t make the decision to -- as Secretary Panetta did, as General Allen did, as I did -- to apologize for the inadvertent mishandling of the Koran any less the right thing to do.  As I pointed out I believe, or maybe Josh did, the President’s predecessor, President George W. Bush apologized -- or my predecessor apologized on his behalf for the mishandling of the Koran in Iraq in 2008. 

And there is a responsibility that this President has not just to point out that we have respect for the religious traditions of the Afghan people in this case but to have as his primary concern the safety and security of American forces and American civilian personnel overseas.  Any way, that’s of course why making those statements was so important.

Q    And one more, Jay.  Appearing on MSNBC today, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn expressed concern that oil companies might be engaging in price gouging, and said that he would be asking the Illinois attorney general to investigate oil companies’ behavior. Is this something that the President would support as well, an investigation in Illinois but elsewhere?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t seen Governor Quinn’s comments. That’s the first I’ve heard of them.  It’s something obviously that the Justice Department monitors, as was the case last year when there was a spike in oil.  But I don’t have anything specific from the President on that or the White House.


Q    Thank you.  Is the Taliban getting off scot-free?  I haven’t heard the word Taliban at all -- especially since the shooters of the two officers were Taliban.  And also, Prime Minister Karzai expressed condolences.  Did he ever apologize to the United States over the killing of Americans?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the Afghan government for statements from the Afghan President.  I pointed out to you that President Karzai has made clear -- made very clear efforts to try to ask for calm, which is helpful, as have other senior leaders of the Afghan government.  It was the foreign minister -- rather the defense minister who expressed condolences and apologized to Secretary Panetta for the specific incident involving the two officers at the Interior Ministry.

I think what I've -- I'm not sure what you mean by the Taliban getting off scot-free.  We have -- what our policy is, is to defeat al Qaeda -- disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda.  To the extent that -- we are fighting the Taliban in our effort to disrupt, defeat and dismantle al Qaeda, we're fighting the Taliban in our effort to give the Afghan government space that it needs to build up its security forces and stabilize its control over the country so that we can transfer security lead over to Afghan security forces. 

It is also the case that most insurgencies in history require a political settlement.  This one does.  And that is why we support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation with very clear conditions -- that any Taliban member who wants to lay down his arms, or her arms -- lay down his arms, primarily -- make clear that they support the Afghan constitution, the rights of women and minorities, and renounce any affiliation or support for al Qaeda, then they are obviously welcome in the reconciliation process.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Keystone?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll -- sorry, yes.  Go ahead.

Q    Me first?


Q    Just two questions.  One, do you guys have an estimate on the number of jobs the, I guess, south half of the pipeline could create? 

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have that, no.

Q    And then just a second.  I know that the process for the northern half is different because it's crossing an international border, but just from the public's perspective, why can't the north half go as smoothly as the southern half seems to be going?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, thank you for the opportunity to review a little history.  There is, as you point out, an international border.  Because of that, it requires the State Department to review and make a determination about the permit application.  Secondarily, that process was ongoing because, in the review, concerns were raised about the aquifer in Nebraska by a number of stakeholders, including the Governor of Nebraska, requesting that an alternate route be chosen.  Those concerns were valid, the administration decided, and therefore the process was delayed to allow for the identification of an alternate route.  And that's where it stood when Republicans decided, in order to play political games and maybe try to distract attention from their I think politically unfortunate handling of the extension of the payroll tax cut, to insert an arbitrary deadline in it that made it impossible to properly review by the book an application that didn't yet exist because the alternate route didn't yet exist. 

As I made clear in the statement that we put out not long before I came out to the podium this morning, the President and the administration will review a new submission by TransCanada, if that submission for an -- if that application is made -- without prejudice.  And we simply hope that the process that that review would demand would be allowed to take place without more political gamesmanship by Republicans.

Q    Will that also get an expedited review like the southern half is?

MR. CARNEY:  It will be done absolutely by the book and as it should be, if it’s submitted. 


Q    Jay, did the administration signal TransCanada that it was all right to go ahead with the Oklahoma-to-the-Gulf section of the pipeline?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have it here, but in the President’s statement back in January we made clear that this was certainly something that potentially could go forward if it meets all the  -- if it clears all the hurdles that need to be cleared. 

Now, this is a distinct thing.  It’s a domestic pipeline and most of the authority involved here is local and state.  There is a role for the Department of Transportation, as I understand it, and the Army Corps of Engineers, but most of the permitting here is -- because it does not cross an international border -- is done by local and state governments.

Q    And so you’re not surprised that TransCanada is going ahead with that now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t know that -- I wouldn’t know how to characterize a reaction.  You saw the statement I put out welcoming it -- because there is an issue with a glut of domestically produced oil that’s held up in Cushing because of a lack of capacity to move it down to the Gulf where the best refineries are, state-of-the-art refineries.  And so this is a -- building this pipeline is very useful to getting that oil to market. 

One more.  Oh, wait, I’m sorry.  Yes, go ahead.

Q    I’ve got a couple for you, actually.  One is that looking ahead to the dinner with the Iraq war veterans, there is a group that’s calling for -- asking the President to call for a national day of action to help veterans -- jobs, clearinghouses and the like, coast to coast.  Where do we stand on that?  The White House sort of tamped down the possibility of doing that because of soldiers who fought in Iraq now serving in Afghanistan.  Where are --

MR. CARNEY:  Well that’s a little different from, I think, the discussion about a national day of action.  This administration is absolutely committed -- and you’ve heard this President talk about it, the First Lady and Dr. Biden are specifically focused on the effort to connect returning veterans to employment.  And we’ve worked very hard through the Joining Forces effort to do just that.  I think the issue -- and I would refer you to the Defense Department on that -- was how to celebrate the end of the Iraq war, given that obviously there are ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan.

Q    And following up on Ben’s earlier question, I’m not sure I understood -- are you saying that the NYPD surveillance program was compatible or incompatible with the White House’s view that Muslims are partners in counterterrorism?

MR. CARNEY:  I was saying -- I was making clear our administration’s point of view.  What I’m also making clear is that despite -- the total contradiction to the story as it was written.  This is a program where funds are made available to a local entity that then oversees its disbursement to the New York Police Department.  And I would certainly refer questions about how those funds are used to the New York Police Department.

Thank you very much.

2:15 P.M. EST

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