Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/28/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to the White House for your daily briefing. It's always good to see your shiny faces.
Before I get started I just wanted to note that -- as the President predicted last week when he gave a speech at the University of Miami -- upon its return to Washington, Congress, or at least some members in Congress, are politicizing the issue of gas prices. The Speaker of the House apparently spoke with reporters this morning in which he suggested that the President wasn’t in support of expanding domestic oil and gas production, which is demonstrably, categorically false -- and suggested that somehow simply by drilling or approving the Keystone XL pipeline, that that would lower gas prices, that would lower prices at the pump. And that's the kind of empty promise that politicians make when we face hikes in the global price of oil that is really dishonest, the kind of promise that -- promises that are dishonest with the American people.
So as you know, the President has from the beginning supported an all-of-the-above approach to our energy challenges that includes expanding domestic oil and gas production. As you know, oil and gas production has been up all three years that he's been in office. It includes investing in alternative energy sources -- renewables, wind, solar, biofuels. It includes approving the construction of the first nuclear power plant in this country in 30 years. It includes encouraging the construction of pipelines domestically like the one that the company TransCanada announced it intends to build from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico.
That's the approach the President takes. He, being honest with the American people, makes clear that there are no silver bullets here, there are no quick fixes. We need an all-of-the-above approach to increase our energy independence and make America stronger economically in the 21st century.
Julie, I'll take your first question.
Q Thank you. Was the President's speech to the UAW convention this morning a campaign speech?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all. The President was speaking to American workers, which he certainly enjoys doing. He was speaking to them about several things, principally the resurrection of the American automobile industry, which is a subject that has been a focus of his attention since he took office when he made some very difficult decisions to ensure that General Motors and Chrysler would restructure themselves, make themselves more efficient; that unions and management would make very tough decisions, and in return for taxpayer support -- would do that in return for taxpayer support. Those decisions saved a million jobs in this country.
And the President is very gratified by the fact that General Motors is once again the number-one automaker in the world, that Chrysler is the fastest-growing automaker in the world, that Ford is expanding its workforce and bringing jobs home from overseas, that American car companies have produced -- not just selling cars, they're making really good cars that out-compete around the world. And that is a subject that is very important to him.
And he also noted today that he had signed an executive order creating the task force that will deal with interagency trade enforcement -- rather, the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center that will deal with trade imbalances to make sure that American workers and American businesses can compete on a level playing field with countries around the globe, including China.
Q But the speech today wasn't just the President touting the auto bailout. He spent a good amount of time using rhetoric that we hear in his campaign fundraising speeches. He took some shots at politicians who didn't support the bailout. We know that some of the Republican candidates fall on that side. I just wonder why the White House is so reluctant to acknowledge that the President might be focused on the campaign.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there's no question that the issue of the saving of the automobile industry in the United States is a subject of -- in the news and a subject of debate. There's no question about that. And the President is very proud of the decisions that he made that were difficult, that were not popular at the time. The fact that he's been talking about the need to do this from the beginning, in 2009, and now other politicians are talking about it and making their opinions known about it -- I mean, I think you have to look at cause and effect here.
The President has been talking about this since 2009, when he made these very difficult decisions, and consistently since then. Other politicians have been talking about it now for other reasons. And he pointed out where they try to rewrite history, about where they were or what decisions were made on whose behalf. That's a perfectly legitimate policy discussion that obviously engages -- reflects the political debate as well. But these are substantive policy issues that affected hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans, and they're very worth speaking about as President.
Q On another topic, can you confirm that Israeli officials have told the U.S. that they would not warn the U.S. if they were to strike Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I have no comment on discussions between government officials -- United States government officials with officials of another government. I would simply say that we obviously have very close cooperative relationships with the Israeli government, with the Israeli military and the Israeli intelligence services. But beyond that I have no comment.
Q Does the White House believe that it should be alerted by the Israelis should they strike Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply repeat what I said, which is that we have very close relationships with our Israeli counterparts. We have deep engagement at every level. But I wouldn't discuss speculative -- I wouldn’t answer speculative questions like that.
Q I wanted to ask about Syria. France said today that the U.N. Security Council would start working on a draft resolution focused on halting hostilities to allow in humanitarian assistance. I wonder if the U.S. supports a resolution like that, is it a step along the way, or what the response is.
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things. I mean, we're counseling with our partners on a variety of next steps -- one. And two, our longstanding support for Security Council action is well documented. We were very disappointed by the veto of the Security Council resolution leveled by Russia and China. And we are engaged diplomatically with those countries and all of our international partners and allies on this issue to take the next steps towards supporting the people of Syria, towards further isolating the Assad regime, further pressuring the Assad regime through more punitive sanctions, through developing ways to provide humanitarian relief to the Syrian people and assisting the Syrian opposition in organizing itself and unifying.
But we're dealing with the issues -- the steps that we're looking at taking are the ones that, at this point, seem most likely to have an effect and to have success.
Q Would allowing in humanitarian aid count in that category?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, but we're certainly working with our partners to try to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrians.
Q I also wanted to ask -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that it could be argued that Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal but that using labels like that could limit options to persuade leaders to step down from power. Could you address that and clarify a bit whether the United States would like to see Assad tried as a war criminal or prefer to see him seek asylum?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply, in many ways, restate and rephrase what the Secretary of State said. Obviously, the actions that Assad and his cronies have taken are reprehensible and brutal, and we have seen evidence of that that is all too vivid.
The fact of the matter is our interest is in ensuring a transition sooner rather than later in Syria so that the Syrian people can get what they deserve and what they desire, which is a democratic transition to a better and more peaceful and prosperous future. Accountability is very important, and we're -- we are focused on accountability. But right now, our number-one priority in terms of Syria is to work with our partners, to work within the "Friends of Syria" coalition to continue to pressure Assad, isolate him, to try to bring about his stepping aside so that peace can be restored in that country, the brutal murder of its people can stop, and the transition to a more democratic future can begin.
Q Just to be clear, stepping aside could mean a variety of things --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to speculate about how that will transpire. What is of the utmost importance is that it does happen sooner rather than later.
Let me move around here. Christi.
Q Jay, is the President considering moving any red lines with respect to Iran at some point during the coming week?
MR. CARNEY: I read the story that you’re talking about. The President’s position, the administration’s position could not be more clear. We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We take no issue -- no option, rather -- off the table when looking at how to deal with Iranian behavior.
We do, however, believe that there is time and space to pursue diplomacy, to pressure the Iranian regime, to sanction it further to get it to change its behavior. There is a road out of -- or a path out of this dead end that Iran has been pursuing, which is to honor its international obligations, forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions, and rejoin the international community by living up to its obligations. And we believe that the policy that we have pursued with our partners has put unprecedented pressure on Tehran, on the regime, has put great strains on the Iranian economy, great strains on the Iranian political leadership, and that is a course that we will continue to pursue.
Q I didn't hear anything new in what you just said.
MR. CARNEY: That's because our policy remains exactly what it was.
Q And do you expect that the President will say anything new in public during the course of the Netanyahu visit? Or any of his --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he will speak, as you know, to AIPAC, and I’m sure the issue of Iran will be discussed. But his position is what it has been, which is that we will take no option off the table, but we believe that there is time and space to allow for a diplomatic resolution through the pressure that we are asserting on Tehran through sanctions and other means with our international partners.
Q So the President’s intent is to project the same message that he’s projected over the past few months?
MR. CARNEY: Exactly. And we are keenly aware of the fact that Iran has continued to fail to live up to its obligations, continued to behave in a way that casts doubt on its intentions with its nuclear program, continued to engage in the kind of rhetoric that makes this process even more difficult for Iran. It has also made the world aware of the fact that these sanctions that have been engaged in by the international community have had significant impact.
And we work with our allies to step up the pressure every day, every week. In the entire time I’ve been Press Secretary, I can hardly remember a two- or three-week period that has gone by when we haven’t increased -- either the United States, its allies, or through international action -- increased the pressure on Iran, and that is clearly having an effect.
We are committed, as Israel is, to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And we have pursued a policy that we believe there is time and space at this point to allow -- to have an effect, to have the result that we desire.
Q Can I just follow on that? So the line is developing a nuclear weapon?
MR. CARNEY: We’re determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran clearly has a nuclear program. Iran clearly is not living up to its international obligations by refusing to take steps to assure the international community that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. So we are -- that is why we have engaged in the kind of intense effort through sanctions and other means to pressure Tehran, to pressure the Iranian regime, and why our allies in Europe and around the world have joined with us in that effort. And that effort has had demonstrable effect.
Q I’m just trying to understand. So that’s the benchmark, is when they acquire a nuclear weapon -- then we would perhaps act militarily?
MR. CARNEY: No, that is not the benchmark. The benchmark is we are determined to prevent them from acquiring one.
Q So how and when would we act to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon?
MR. CARNEY: We've been acting since this President took office to increase the pressure on Iran; to institute unprecedented sanctions; to take a dual-track approach that has reversed a dynamic that existed before President Obama took office which had the world divided with regards to Iran, and Iran united, internally, on this issue. Now the reverse is true -- the world is united against Iran. The world is absolutely clear about Iranian misbehavior on this issue. And Iran is under intense economic pressure; it is isolated in ways that it never has been before and it is experiencing strains in its political leadership because of the pressure of the international community. That's the action that this President, this administration has taken since day one.
Q The sanctions have had an effect on the people of Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu says he does not believe, though, that they will ultimately work. What evidence is there that the sanctions have had an effect on those who are working to develop nuclear capability?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Iranian regime has clearly been affected. There have been -- there's been ample reporting on strains within the leadership, ample reporting and explicit expressions of the fact that -- by Iranian leaders of the impact on the Iranian economy, the effect on the currency. The fact is the pressure is unprecedented, and it is being felt in Iran.
Now, we have to continue to step it up. We have to continue to work with our partners to make it clear to Iran that the price of a continued refusal to live up to its international obligations is very high indeed, and that there is a path -- there is an alternate path here for Iran if they were to choose it, and that is to abide by their obligations, to renounce their nuclear weapons ambitions, and to reengage with the international community.
Q And then, can I ask you just about the President's speech today to the UAW? I know that you were asked if it was a campaign speech, and you said not at all. But repeatedly the President drew a contrast with Republicans in the speech. I mean, talking about "these folks trying to rewrite history," "these folks who said let Detroit go bankrupt." Who is it that said, "let Detroit go bankrupt"?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think a number of critics of the President's decision said that in a variety of ways, Norah. The fact is when the President took action to rescue the automobile industry in this country, to force it to restructure in a way that would make it more competitive and efficient in exchange for taxpayer assistance, it was not a popular decision. It wasn't popular even in Michigan. But the fact is it was the right decision because, as he said, hundreds of thousands of people's jobs were at stake, an iconic American industry was at stake, and he made a decision to press forward with the rescue of the automobile industry, which has turned out to be very much the right decision.
It has helped restore a key sector of the American manufacturing economy. It has led to the creation of 200,000 new jobs, with more jobs online to be created by the Big 3. And this was a legitimate policy debate to have. It continues to be a legitimate policy debate to have. And this President is very happy to engage in that debate because he thinks the right decisions were made on behalf of the American worker and on behalf of the major American automobile companies.
Q Any names of particular folks come to mind?
MR. CARNEY: You can -- I mean, there’s a whole list of people, Ed, who opposed this policy and who oppose it now, although try to alter the way that they suggest that they opposed it. But, I mean, this is important stuff. These are the key policy decisions that this President made and that America’s elected officials have to make in times of severe economic crisis, which certainly existed in 2009.
Q Can I just follow on Norah on IAEA and Iran? Because I think what she’s asking about -- the sanctions, you’re saying it’s having an effect on Iran’s economy, but then another IAEA report came out saying that they're reaching alarming new heights in terms of enriching uranium and not letting inspectors in. So the question is, it may be hurting their economy, but is it really stopping them from acquiring a weapon?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear that the purpose of the sanctions is to pressure them to the point where they decide to renounce their nuclear weapons ambitions. That they have not yet done that is clear, which is why we continue to work with our international partners to intensify the pressure, to intensify the sanctions. That remains -- there remains time and space to do that.
Now, let’s be clear that there are IAEA inspectors in Iran. They are able to monitor the main nuclear facilities in Iran. But you are absolutely right that Iran continues to limit its level of cooperation in a way that certainly casts even more doubt on the sincerity of their insistence that they aren't pursuing nuclear weapons. The international community has every reason to doubt their sincerity, and that’s why we have engaged in this concerted, unified international pressure on Iran.
Q But that’s also why Israel has clearly made the calculation that they don’t think the sanctions are working and they may have to take military action. So when you were answering the questions before, it's not just a hypothetical or speculation. They are considering military action. So why won't you say whether or not you want a heads-up on that? You're -- it's a key ally. Do you want them to tell you whether or not they're going to attack Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I will simply save the leader-to-leader and defense minister-to-defense minister conversations for those participants. Our cooperation with the Israeli government is full and engaged at every level -- governmental, military, intelligence -- and we have significant cooperation with Israel on a variety of issues.
But I'm not going to get into discussions that the President will have and does have with the Prime Minister, that the Defense Secretary has with the Defense Minister, Foreign Minister with the Secretary of State. That’s for those individuals to have.
Q Last thing. Secretary Panetta was testifying on the Hill about the budget, and was saying, when asked directly by Senator Graham could we deal with Iran militarily if we had to, he very clearly said, yes, he was confident we could. But then, when asked if sequestration goes forward with the big defense cuts, do you have concerns, and he flatly said, "That would hurt us." Secretary Panetta did. So I guess my question is, what is the President -- I know it's in Congress' -- the ball is in their court to do something about sequestration. But since the President's own Defense Secretary is saying it could harm us and we could not wage a war, potentially, what is the President doing to make sure those cuts don’t go forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's a good point, Ed, that you have Senator Graham, Republican, on one side, you have the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, of this administration, on the other, you have a President -- all of them agree that the sequestration should never come to pass; that, by design, the sequester is terribly onerous not just on defense spending but on other issues. That was the point. And the point was to force Congress to choose the less onerous alternative of reducing the deficit and getting our long-term debt under control in a balanced way.
Now, perhaps Senator Graham or others, in looking at this challenge, might say, you know what, maybe my side, the Republican side, ought to do what bipartisan commissions have said all along ought to be done, which is take a balanced approach to deficit and debt reduction, to agree with -- the overwhelming majority of the American people and the complete consensus of these bipartisan commissions agree with the President and many others in this town that the only way to get our deficit and debt under control in a fair way is to do it in a balanced way, which includes dealing with revenue.
The reason why we do not have -- why the super committee did not succeed and why we do not have legislation passed into law that would render the sequester null and void is because of a refusal by, unfortunately, Republicans in Congress to deal with the obvious fact that to balance -- to get our fiscal house in order, to deal with our deficit and debt, we need to take a balanced approach.
The President continues to hold out hope that Republicans will do that, and is certainly willing to make tough choices, as he has demonstrated in the past, to reach an agreement that does achieve the kind of balanced deficit and debt reduction that this country needs.
Q I think one of the reasons why people seem so surprised that you’re saying that the UAW event wasn’t political was because there were at least five specific references to Mitt Romney, although he wasn’t mentioned by name. Two of them were specific quotes from an op-ed he wrote in November 2008. So I guess the question is just this disingenuousness that, no, what are you talking about?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, Jake, first of all, I think many individuals in our public life opposed the auto bailout. There’s no question.
Q But only one wrote an op-ed called, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
MR. CARNEY: Perhaps -- I didn’t read every op-ed. But certainly that sentiment was shared by a number of --
Q You never read that op-ed?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not saying I didn’t -- I’m not saying -- I said I didn’t read every op-ed. So others may have also certainly shared that sentiment if not the same sentence. The point is, is that, you’re right, this is a matter of public debate right now and it is certainly appropriate for the President to make his policy positions known and to engage in that public debate. Especially on a policy that he is so intimately involved in, which was the decision to rescue, in exchange for significant reform, General Motors and Chrysler.
I’m not denying that there are political implications to that debate, but that’s the reality we live in. These were difficult policy choices that had to do with -- that were unpopular at the time, that had to do with whether or not to allow General Motors and Chrysler essentially to liquidate, to cease to exist; and by allowing that to happen, to then let supplies possibly go under -- or likely go under -- and then because that happened, to see Ford struggle and possibly go under. These were big, big decisions, and they continue to reverberate three years later.
Q All right, but why quote a Republican presidential candidate but refuse to mention his name? I mean, what’s the kabuki there?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no -- look, you guys have decided that that's the most important issue --
Q -- is in quotes in the President’s speech.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. But what’s your point? This is a matter of debate right now. We have some people who still say it was wrong to take this action. We have a President who took that action. In speaking to the UAW today, a group that was very affected by this decision, who made clear what his position was, and contrasted it --
Q -- four more years.
MR. CARNEY: -- and contrasted it with the policy opinions of a number of critics, including the governor of Massachusetts, but not exclusively the governor of Massachusetts. I mean, that's a legitimate conversation to have.
Q Okay. Anyway, moving on. Secretary Clinton gave a couple interviews on Sunday after the conference in Tunis, and she talked about some of the misgivings that the administration has when it comes to taking further action with the Syrian opposition, mentioning both the support of al Qaeda to the Syrian opposition as well as Hamas. And I guess my question is, there seemed to have been a way for the U.S. to have supported the Libyan opposition -- and I know that they're not directly related, I understand all the differences -- but there seemed to have been ways to support the Libyan opposition without arming some of the more nefarious parts of that opposition, the parts that maybe supplied fighters to Iraq against the U.S. or other parts. Is the -- are our intelligence services not able to distinguish between the parts of the Libyan [sic] opposition that are unsavory and affiliated with Hamas or al Qaeda, and the parts that are not? Or do we not have that ability?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without getting into assessments of our intelligence capabilities, I would simply say that we are aware of the fact that al Qaeda and other extremists are seeking to take advantage of the situation created by Assad's brutal assault on the opposition, and to try to pretend -- contrary to their history, their rhetoric, their reason for being -- that they are on the side of greater freedom and democracy for the people of the region -- in this case, of Syria.
It's not clear right now the extent to which al Qaeda extremists are working with the Syrian opposition, and obviously that's something that we assess, as was the case in Libya and elsewhere, as we go on. Our position, independent of that -- well, related to but not solely dependent on that, is that now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria. We are working, rather, with our allies, through the "Friends of Syria," to isolate and pressure Assad, and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people.
But in terms of assessments of what numbers or percentage or which individuals might be affiliated with extremist groups, I can't address that from here.
Q Okay. And then lastly, just to follow up on the question about Israel and Iran -- what is the U.S. hearing from our Arab allies in the region which also do not want an Iran with a nuclear weapon? Obviously what our Arab allies say in public and what they say in private sometimes can be a little bit different. And I'm wondering, what is the message, without getting into specific countries, that we're hearing from some of our allies in the region?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without specifying, certainly there -- concerns about Iran's rogue behavior, its pursuit of nuclear weapons technology and nuclear weapons is not limited to the United States, Europe or Israel. It's shared by countries around the world, and countries within the region. The threat that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons technology presents is clear to Israel, it's clear to the United States and its allies, but it's also clear to the countries in the regions for whom the beginning of a nuclear arms race would have terrible and unpredictable effects on those countries. So, again --
Q Are they more concerned with that than they are with Israel potentially, hypothetically, taking out any of the nuclear facilities?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn't -- again, I would steer away from kind of engaging in that conversation. But there is certainly -- the concern is not ours or Israel's or Europe's alone. It is concern that is broad and stretches across the globe as well as, specifically, to the region.
Q Thank you. On Iran, a while ago you said there is time and space to pursue diplomacy. When does the window of time and space close?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't think that I will give you a specific date by which the --
Q What action closes that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it's important to remember, as I noted to Ed, that there are IAEA inspectors in Iran who monitor nuclear facilities there. We do have, therefore, vision into Iran's nuclear programs and -- to an extent. And we, without getting into too much detail, monitor their activity and have certain insight into their activity. For that reason and others, we believe there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic path, a path that intensifies the sanctions, intensifies the isolation, and attempts, through unified international action, to get the Iranian regime to change its behavior.
Having said that, I need to make clear every time that I do that the fact that this is the policy we are pursuing now, that this is the option we are pursuing now, does not mean that we are removing other options from the table. As the President has made clear and others have made clear in this administration, all options remain on the table with regards to the way that we will deal with and we are dealing with Iran, even as we pursue a diplomatic path because we believe there is time and space to do that.
Q But it would seem to me that at least if not publicly, privately, there are discussions about when enough is enough. Is there a marker that has been set privately?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without getting into too much detail from the podium here, I think that there has been a fair amount of reporting on what is known about the Iranian program and the fact that we have IAEA inspectors in Iran looking at Natanz and the other site and we have some visibility there. I wouldn’t want to get into more detail about what constitutes action that would change the nature of our evaluation of the time and space needed to pursue a diplomatic path.
Q On gas prices. A lot of what we have heard from the White House has been more long term, a long-term view. For people out there who are filling up their tanks and seeing that price go up almost daily, what is it that the President believes can be done now, in the short term, to bring those prices down?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Dan, I would simply say that, as an administration, we are constantly looking at -- evaluating a situation like this that has been recurring almost annually now for some time. The fact remains that there is no silver bullet, there is no quick fix to the challenge that high global oil prices present.
The long-term solution here, the medium- and long-term solution here is to take the all-of-the-above approach that the President has put forward, which includes increasing our output of domestic oil and gas. It includes investing in nuclear technology, investing in clean energy technologies. It includes quite significantly taking action -- as he did without Congress -- to put in place historic fuel-efficiency standards for cars that will result in huge savings for Americans when they fill up their gas tanks.
It will mean literally when these new standards are in place that they will be able to fill up their gas tank -- whereas before they would do it once a week, it would be once every two weeks. That's the result of these fuel-efficiency standards, so that's an enormous savings. And it’s enormous savings at a macro level in terms of the amount of oil and gas that this country would use because of that.
Q So the message is be patient? Is that the message?
MR. CARNEY: The message is that there are a number of factors that go into a spike in global oil prices. And any politician who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you. And you guys know that, and I think most Americans are aware of the fact that when a politician comes at them with a 3-point plan to reduce gas prices to $2 or $2.50 a gallon, that they're blowing smoke, because there are a number of factors that go into a spike in oil prices, including economic growth.
It is a negative side effect, if you will, of increased global economic growth that -- because of higher consumption of petroleum products, the price of oil goes up often. And that's why we need a long-term strategy to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and that's the strategy this President has been pursuing since he took office.
Q One final thing. Just before we came out, a third student died in the Ohio shooting from yesterday. The President and the First Lady have put the spotlight on anti-bullying for quite some time. Given that that’s one of the things that possibly could have been behind the shooting, is that message -- that anti-bullying message -- not getting through to kids in junior high and high school?
MR. CARNEY: I would very much hesitate to draw any conclusions about what happened in this incident in Ohio before there is a full investigation. Obviously the President and the First Lady are committed to anti-bullying. But the tragic incident that led now to the deaths of three high school students is -- it’s terrible and unforgiveable.
Q Thanks, Jay. Following up on the U.N. Security Council draft resolution that’s being worked on right now, do you have any reason to believe that China and Russia might approve whatever final version comes out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the comments by the Secretary of State in general about our disappointment with the Russians and the Chinese and their decision to veto the previous Security Council resolution, and simply the statements that she and others have made, and I have made, about being on the wrong side of history here by siding with Assad. As you saw from the General Assembly vote on a similar resolution, the overwhelming number of nations in the world is on the side of Syria, the Syrian people, and not with the Assad regime. So the isolation becomes -- or the starkness of the comparison becomes all the more clear with the General Assembly vote.
So we will continue to discuss with the Russians and the Chinese, as well as our other international partners and allies, the need to take action by the international community to pressure Assad, to isolate him to get him to step aside. I think that we need to focus on those actions which have the greatest chance of success. And that includes efforts to organize humanitarian aid; it includes efforts to further isolate and pressure Assad; it includes efforts to assist the Syrian opposition to organize itself and unify, and then continue to work with our allies at the highest levels to examine additional steps that might be taken.
Q In those discussions that you just mentioned, do the officials who have been involved in those discussions have the sense that Russia --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the Russians have -- I will let the Russians speak for themselves, as I should, and I don't want to characterize beyond what they've said what their position is. But we will continue to discuss with the Russians and others the need to take action to prevent -- or to get Assad to stop killing his own people.
Q And, Jay, the campaign -- the President's campaign has said that the 2012 race is going to be tough, it's going to be close. And during his remarks to the UAW, President Obama said, when I leave office in five years, I'm going to buy a Chevy Volt. Does he share this view that it's going to be a tough, close race?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, absolutely. The fact that he is confident that the American people believe that his vision -- or will believe when he presents his case that his vision for where we need to go to grow the economy, where we need to go to create jobs, where we need to go to further secure America's national security interests is the right vision -- and that debate will be engaged and that theory will be tested in November.
But he is confident, although he is certainly aware that when you're in the kind of economic environment that we've been in for the past three-plus years that this will be invariably a very competitive election. And he intends to make his case to make clear what his vision is, to explain the decisions that he's made and the policies that he's put into place, and why he thinks they were the right ones to get this economy into a situation where instead of hemorrhaging jobs at 775,000 per month, it's been growing steadily -- the last jobs report I believe was 250,000 created, for a total of 3.7 million jobs created so far in the private sector. And he will -- he looks forward to the time when the other party has chosen its nominee to engage in that debate directly with his opponent.
But he will continue to make the point, as I have, that there is still time between now and November to get things done for the American people. Because the American people, while they will and should participate in the election, engage in it, make their views known and then vote in November, they rightly do not believe that Washington ought to freeze and stop acting on their behalf. There are things we can do, including acting on the President's refinance proposal; including acting on a variety of measures that would enhance economic growth and create jobs. So the President will continue to press Congress to do those things because he believes there is time to do them.
Q Jay, following up on what you just said and what you said at the beginning of the briefing, about Boehner's comments on energy -- he has released a letter to the President saying he wants to discuss a common ground approach on the energy issue at the President's "earliest convenience." Based on your comments about what he said, do you feel that there is a prospect for that kind of discussion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there should be, and I'm sure the President will engage in that discussion when it takes place.
There is an opportunity when it comes to energy policy or approaches to enhancing prospects for small businesses to grow, or helping Americans refinance their homes, there is or should be, given what the American people are demanding and the positions that this President has taken, there should be and there is room for bipartisan compromise on these issues.
But the point I was making at the beginning is that you have to be direct and honest about the situation we face. And calling, for example, in the statement I believe he made this morning, on the President to approve the Keystone pipeline right away when there isn’t even a proposal that exists for that pipeline to be approved is suggesting to the American people that there is a cause and effect here that doesn't exist.
So this President is pursing an all-of-the-above approach to our energy challenges and certainly believes that there is ample opportunity to work with Republicans to achieve the goals that he’s put forward.
Q Finally, a question on a totally different issue, Jay. Did the report on the Dover mortuary reach the White House level?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to check that. I don't know.
Q If you would, I'd appreciate it.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Panetta has been briefed on it. There was a mishandling of remains of 9/11 victims among the findings there. Just wondering if that has reached the President or anyone else here.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll find out for you.
MR. CARNEY: Mara, and then Donovan.
Q Other than remarks that he makes at fundraisers, has the President given a campaign speech this year?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, he -- oh, you’re saying other than at political events? No, I think that's where he gives his campaign speeches. And there will be time, as I’ve said, for the President to engage fully in the political campaign.
Q Will you announce when he's starting? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think --
Q It's hard for us to tell. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, again, you guys set a lot of standards about what constitutes campaign activity, based on where he's allowed to travel --
Q That part I get. This was an in-town speech.
MR. CARNEY: -- if you took every state that is supposedly a battleground, you'd remove more than half the country from his itinerary and where he would be allowed to travel as President on official business.
So the fact that the decision to rescue the American automobile industry is a matter of political debate doesn’t make it an important policy issue, and so the President ought to be able to -- and did, today -- address that issue in his discussion to the UAW.
Q Usually this comes up in the context of travel, like you just mentioned, in terms of allocating funds. But this was just in town.
MR. CARNEY: And there will be a time where, beyond the political events that he has participated in, where he will be in a more sort of comprehensive political posture. But that time is not now and it's actually not for some time, I believe.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: And then Donovan -- sorry.
Q In his speech today, the -- thank you. Well, I can defer to Donovan.
Q That’s okay. Go ahead.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I -- go ahead. And then Donovan you're next.
Q In his speech today, the President criticized those who had suggested that Detroit be allowed to go bankrupt. Without trying to pull you into the Mitt Romney debate, but in point of fact, they did go through bankruptcy.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I want to be clear. I do understand that former Governor Romney did suggest that that should happen. I'm not suggesting -- I'm not pretending otherwise. But the point was that a lot of folks opposed it and took that position at the time.
Q What I was trying to get to is in the bailout, they did go through bankruptcy. They went through a three-package bankruptcy. What Romney was -- what former Governor Romney was suggesting was a managed bankruptcy, not a liquidation. And the question is, is there a big difference? Because as part of bailout, they did go through bankruptcy.
MR. CARNEY: Well, there's an enormous difference, because you're leaving out the fact that some critics and, I believe, Governor Romney, have suggested the private capital should have been sought in that process. And part of the point was there was no private capital available. We were in a severe economic crisis, with predictions of a second Great Depression. Private capital -- private equity firms, for example, were not willing to invest in the automobile industry at the time.
The reason why the policy that the President chose was pursued was because other options weren't available. As he made clear at the time, he wasn't looking to have the American taxpayer bail out the automobile industry. That’s not a platform he ran on. But there was a crisis situation, and a decision had to be made as to whether or not we would allow General Motors and Chrysler, two of the Big 3, to essentially liquidate and cost up to a million jobs in the United States. Faced with that choice, the President made the decision he did.
It’s convenient in retrospect to suggest that there were a variety of other alternatives to get to the same outcome. The fact is there weren’t. And tough choices had to be made, unpopular choices had to be made, and the President made them.
Q Just a quick follow-up. Does the administration still consider Chrysler to be an American automobile manufacturer, given the majority stake that Fiat has?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that Chrysler is an American iconographic automobile company, and, yes, we do.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Donovan. Sorry.
Q Thank you. You kind of answered my first question, which is why won’t you use Governor Romney’s name. You just used it, so, thank you. Republicans are repeatedly criticizing the President for not working with them on their jobs act. What is the President’s position on working with the Speaker and others on their version of a jobs act?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is great opportunity to -- and great overlap between this administration’s position on some of these issues, especially with regards to small businesses. I believe the House Majority Leader put forward on Politico some of his policy proposals and there’s real opportunity to work to get a lot of that done.
And it goes right to the point that I’ve been making that conventional wisdom holds that we can't actually accomplish things that both the administration and a Congress controlled largely by the other party can agree on. But that's not true. And I think that's a perfect example of an area where we can find common ground and can achieve some of the things that -- after all, a number of the items that the House Majority Leader put forward in that op-ed, I guess it was, in Politico are ones that the President first suggested back in September and he reiterated at the State of the Union address.
Q So who's not coming to the table? Is it the Majority Leader --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we need to -- that Congress needs to come together, and there is an opportunity -- again, if there’s a willingness to compromise on the margins, if you will, because there is great overlap here, to get those bills and those items done where there is agreement. So we certainly hope and expect the Congress will do that.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: One more, Kate.
Q Back to Peter’s question on the mishandling of some remains of 9/11 victims, is there a sense that there has to be some changes at Dover? This isn’t the first time something like this has happened --
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry. I just -- I haven’t had a discussion about that so I would hesitate to offer an official answer from here. I’ll have to take the question.
Q Will the President be briefed later on this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just would have to go look at this.
Q And on the Iraq vets dinner tomorrow night, can you talk a little bit about the purpose of the dinner, why the President and Secretary Panetta are hosting it? Is the President going to be meeting with any of the vets privately beforehand?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly -- he will certainly be engaging with those in attendance at the dinner. I think it’s to note the remarkable accomplishments and sacrifice of the men and women who served in Iraq in a difficult military engagement, a difficult war that lasted for eight years -- or nine.
So the President looks forward to this. He is enormously appreciative of the sacrifice and service that the men and women in uniform who served in Iraq provided to their country. And obviously, some of them provided the ultimate sacrifice, and he -- as I think I’ve said before, he looks forward to his encounters with the men and women who have served our armed forces very much.
Thanks very much, guys.
1:58 P.M. EST
May 19, 2016
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