Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 8/30/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. It’s wonderful to be back here in the White House, in the West Wing. I’m sure you feel the same way.
Before I take your questions, I just wanted to let you know that as we have been conveying to you, the President has been getting regular updates and briefings on what was Hurricane Isaac and is now again tropical storm Isaac. That continues, and within the hour, he will speak again with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to get an update on the impacts of that storm.
It’s now a severe rain event, as you know, and a very slow-moving storm, and there is still much monitoring that needs to happen. And FEMA is at the President’s direction ensuring that in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, that the federal government is meeting any unmet needs wherever possible.
And with that, I will take your questions. Ben.
Q Thanks, Jay. I had a couple on politics that I think fall enough into your area.
MR. CARNEY: Take a shot.
Q Did the President watch Congressman Ryan’s speech, and does he have a reaction?
MR. CARNEY: I confess I have not asked him. I don’t know, since we got back before primetime last night. So I don’t know. I think it’s more likely that he didn’t, simply because, as you know, he tends not to tune in to watch anything besides sports, as a rule, or sometimes movies. But I just don’t have a -- I can't say. Yesterday, I did know that he had not watched the night before, but I haven’t asked him today yet.
Q Do you know if he plans to watch Governor Romney’s?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I don’t know.
Q Okay, and just one other on that. Putting aside his views about politics and television, I mean, isn’t it important for him to get a representative sense of what the others are saying?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is not a case where he’s not aware of or paying close attention to. He is, as you know, an avid consumer of the news and is keeping very abreast of news developments, both importantly, matters like the storm in the Gulf, but also what’s been going on in Tampa. So he, as I think I made clear yesterday in the gaggle, he was fully aware of some of the speeches that were being given in Tampa; he just tends to read about them and not watch them.
Q Last one. Two points Congressman Ryan made last night, if you can respond to either or both. One is that he said that Democrats are down to fear and division -- that’s all they have left. And secondly, there’s been a debate this morning. One of the debates is whether the Congressman’s speech, beyond laying out his vision, was factually honest and met that standard. Do you have a comment on either one of those?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll say this -- there was, I think, an important moment earlier this week that many of you or your colleagues wrote about or noted, and that was when a senior Romney campaign advisor said to a group of reporters in Tampa that they were not going to let their campaign be dictated to by fact-checkers, in other words, by the facts.
And I think that it’s a relevant moment in terms of the choice that the American people are going to make in a couple of months. As we have made clear, whether it’s on some of the advertising and other issues that come -- whether criticisms of the President’s policies that have been identified by you uniformly as false, I think that's an important point. And I think it’s been noted widely.
More broadly, I think what we’re talking about here and what the President is focused on -- and this maybe perhaps goes to the first question -- is the choice that the American people are going to make. And perhaps, when the facts aren’t on your side, you ignore the facts, and that may explain some of what you were asking about in the second question -- because the facts are pretty clear here about what the President’s record is, what his agenda is for moving this country forward, to growing our economy from the middle out, instead of the top down.
He believes that we need to make sure that 98 percent of the American people have tax cuts extended. He believes that it is wrong to offer $5 trillion in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and to have those tax cuts paid for by asking middle-class families to have their taxes increased, which is the Romney plan.
He believes that it’s wrong to pay for that plan by turning Medicare into a voucher system. He believes that it’s wrong to slash funding in education and innovation and infrastructure, because these are the areas of investment that ensure that our economy will grow in the 21st century. And he has been very clear about the decisions he's made to help our economy move forward, help it create jobs and help the middle class, and very clear where there are stark differences between his agenda and his opponent's agenda.
And I think that's a very clear choice that the American people are going to make in November about those competing visions. And the President looks forward to making his case next week, and will, I'm sure, be talking a lot about those competing visions as we go forward into the fall.
Q Thank you, sir. Governor Romney apparently did a lot of writing for his speech that he'll be giving tonight. Is President Obama working on his for next week, and how involved is he in that process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he certainly is, as you would expect, doing some work in preparation for the speech he'll give next Thursday in Charlotte. And as I think we've discussed in the past and has been noted in press reports, the President does engage on important speeches. So he's working directly on the speech.
Q Will we hear anything new thematically in that speech? Or will it be a lot of what we've heard on the campaign trail already?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you will hear a consistency from the President that echoes what he's been saying on the campaign trail, but also what he's been saying since he ran for office, for this office, beginning in 2007. He got in this because he firmly believed that the middle class was under intense pressure, that it had been under strain for too long, and that somebody needed to be here in the White House who was a champion for the middle class, who was going to help the economy grow from the middle out.
And that is a focus -- that has been a focus of his presidency and it will be a focus of the agenda he lays out in the coming months.
I'm not going to preview the speech beyond that. Obviously, I want you all to listen to the President when he speaks with fresh ears. But I think you'll hear a consistency thematically.
Q Does he feel any pressure, on a night like that where millions of people will be watching, to say, these are the things I wish I had been able to do over the last three and a half years? Will there be any talk about mistakes or -- both in the economy or elsewhere -- or otherwise?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you hear the President speak all the time about the challenges we have faced as a country and the efforts that we have made together to overcome those challenges. I'm sure you remember well that when this President took office we were in the midst of an economic free fall, a circumstance that some were predicting would lead to a Great Depression. And while that was averted, in large measure because of the actions that President Obama took, we still encountered and dealt with a recession the likes of which and the depths of which we had not experienced in our lifetimes that cost millions of jobs.
It was in full bloom when the President took office -- a month in January of 2009 when 800,000 jobs were lost in just a few weeks; where we now know, in the fourth quarter of 2008, before President Obama was sworn into office, the economy shrank by almost 9 percent. I mean, that is a depression-level degree of economic contraction. That's how seriously damaged our economy was at that time. And we have made steady progress moving forward since the President's policies have been implemented.
And, as you know, there's been economic growth month after month, or quarter after quarter. There has been positive private sector job creation over four -- nearly 4.5 million jobs created in the private sector since those policies began taking effect. The American automobile industry was saved because of actions that were taken by President Obama, against a lot of advice not to. And that action saved a million jobs by most estimates.
He has also, as he noted the other day, honored the promises that he made as a candidate when he said that he would end the war in Iraq. And, as you know, I think tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of his fulfillment of that promise to end the war in Iraq. He promised to focus a mission in Afghanistan that was widely viewed as drifting -- he did that. He promised to focus our goals in Afghanistan and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region on going after senior al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden. And he fulfilled that promise and continues to forcefully press the case against -- or press the war against al Qaeda.
So these are things that you've heard the President talk about and that you will continue to hear him talk about.
Q There was a study published in Bloomberg News, I believe last week, an analysis of census data indicating that American incomes declined more during the expansion that began in June 2009, the three years -- they went down -- the median household income went down 4.8 percent. That’s worse than happened during the actual 18-month recession, which was going down 2.6 percent. I was wondering if the White House had seen that study, had a response to it, an explanation as to why they thought that might have happened.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jake, as you know and as I just mentioned, the problems that the middle class has been encountering have predated the recession. During that previous expansion that you noted, under President George W. Bush, the middle class saw its income stagnate or decline, and that was during an economic expansion prior to a cataclysmic recession that had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and the middle class. And there is no question that we have been, as a country, pulling ourselves out of an extremely deep hole that was dug by that recession, and we have much more work to do.
Q Well, why did median household incomes go down more after the expansion began than during the actual recession?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that the fact of the matter is that when you look at a recession that included periods of economic decline, the likes of which we saw in the fourth quarter of 2008, a shrinkage of 9 percent; when we saw more than 8 million jobs lost during that recession, and we saw a situation where some forecasters were predicting depression levels of unemployment and banks failing, and a global -- potentially, a global depression, that those circumstances required dramatic action, which the President took. And they have required consistent action as we pull ourselves out of that hole and continue to move forward.
I mean, I think that the study you’re citing is testimony to the depths of the recession that we encountered and the fact that it’s going to continue to take significant efforts to move ourselves forward. And one thing, when you talk about the middle class and jobs and incomes, this President has had on the table, since last September, a proposal that would by the estimates of outside economists put a million Americans back to work -- teachers and firefighters and other first responders.
Because of their refusal to accept the basic premise that millionaires and billionaires who did extremely well during that previous expansion should pay a little bit extra, Republicans have not approved that legislation that would put teachers and firefighters and police officers back to work. The President is going to keep fighting for that. He’s going to keep fighting for measures that would put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and highways and schools, because that’s good -- because it creates jobs now, it’s good for those people and those families, but it’s also about rebuilding the foundation of our economy so that we’re strong moving forward in the 21st century.
Q All right. The President is taking a real beating at the Republican Convention, specifically on the issue of leadership when it comes to making tough choices. We heard that from Paul Ryan, we heard that from Governor Christie. I was wondering, specifically, when it came to two moments of his presidency that if Mr. Obama, President Obama had any regrets. One was when the Simpson-Bowles commission issued its report and President Obama did not embrace it. I know you’ve been asked this before, but I’m wondering if the President -- if that was a difficult decision for the President to not embrace that.
And then the second was when he and Speaker Boehner were working on the so-called grand bargain, and ultimately, because of a group of senators that put forward a plan that had more revenue than what President Obama had agreed to, the President, in the views of Speaker Boehner, moved the goalposts, changed what he wanted. He wanted more than $800 billion in revenue; he now wanted, I think, $1.2 trillion. I wonder if President Obama, looking back on it -- at how difficult it is to get anything done when it comes to debt reduction in this town in a bipartisan manner -- if he regrets the second and the first Simpson-Bowles, if that was a difficult decision.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start by sort of positing that Presidents generally don’t get to make decisions that are not difficult, and I would happily talk about a series of very tough decisions the President made that have proven to be very helpful to the American economy and to our national security.
On the Bowles-Simpson commission, as you know, President Obama's budget reflects the principles of Bowles-Simpson, of shared sacrifice that is needed to stabilize our debt as a share of the economy. It also -- and this is an important point, because a lot of people talk about Bowles-Simpson but don't really know what's in it. I know you do, but a lot of people throw it around, including legislators who should know better.
The President's budget proposals actually include -- I mean, Bowles-Simpson, rather, includes even less -- or the President -- sorry. The President's budget proposal includes even less domestic spending --- which is what Republicans tend to go after -- less domestic spending than Simpson-Bowles and even more savings from health care entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid, than Simpson-Bowles in the first decade.
There are two reasons why the President -- or there are two things about Simpson-Bowles that the President did not support or the differences he had with them.
First, the tax increases in Simpson-Bowles are significantly larger than the ones the President has called for, not usually catnip to Republicans. And the defense cuts in Simpson-Bowles are significantly deeper than the ones the President believes are wise as a matter of national security. Again, hardly you would think appealing to Republicans.
Another I think useful point to make, especially since it did come up last night at the Republican Convention, is that Mitt Romney's running mate was on the Simpson-Bowles commission. He voted against the Simpson-Bowles report. He also was part of the -- played a role in the debt ceiling negotiations, and based on reporting from your colleagues, did not support reaching a compromise with the President.
As you know, Jake, the President worked very closely with Republicans in the Senate and the House, and believed that it was very important to try to reach a grand bargain. And he was willing to make compromises to get there. It is a myth to put forward the idea that Republicans in the House, who have basically uniformly said no to revenue of any kind, were willing to support a grand bargain that included revenue. During the period that you're talking about, the President made clear that $800 billion in revenue as part of a grand bargain was still possible, and there was no response from Speaker Boehner or anyone else in the House Republican leadership to that proposition.
We know that the Republican would-be President stood on stage and to a person refused to endorse the proposition that to get our fiscal house in order they would accept even one dollar in increased revenue for millionaires and billionaires for every $10 in spending cuts. The President has put forward a plan that's balanced and responsible to reduce our deficit by over $4 trillion. It included and includes $2.50 in cuts for every $1 in revenue. It includes domestic spending that is lower than anything we've seen in 50 years in this country, non-defense discretionary spending. He has already signed into law $2 trillion in cuts, as you know.
And he will work, going forward, for that balanced plan that is so essential that every bipartisan group says -- not just Bowles-Simpson, but Rivlin-Domenici, the Gang of Six -- everyone who has looked at this says that it is not plausible, either economically or politically, to do this any other way than through a balanced approach that asks everyone to pay their fair share, that asks everyone to play by the same set of rules -- that doesn't do what the Republican plan does, which is say to seniors -- in order to pay for extending Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy and giving them additional tax cuts, we're going to turn Medicare into a voucher program that sticks seniors with an added $6,400 a year in costs. That's unnecessary. It's wrong. And it's only part of that proposal because of the insistence that millionaires and billionaires not only should retain tax cuts, but should get more.
Q So it wasn’t a difficult decision and he has no regrets --
MR. CARNEY: I think all of this stuff, all of this is difficult. Every one of these issues is challenging. But I think the fact is the only person in these negotiations who has put forward a balanced plan that mirrors the proposal put forward by the Bowles-Simpson Commission is the President of the United States. And he has continued to push for that.
Q And Speaker Boehner, except you don't believe that he would have been able to get it passed?
MR. CARNEY: I think reporting by you and your colleagues shows demonstrably that that is the case. And, look, the President believed very much that it was worth the effort to engage in those negotiations. He believed that, and believes today, that achieving a balanced deficit reduction plan that strengthens the economy and asks millionaires and billionaires and oil companies and others to do their fair share while reducing spending over $4 trillion is the right thing to do. And it requires compromise on both sides, and we have not seen compromise. I mean, I’m certainly not hearing out of the convention in Tampa anybody calling for a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Have you guys heard that? Did anybody say, you know what, we endorse the idea that revenue ought to be part of a balanced plan that addresses our fiscal challenges? Because if anybody said that, I missed it.
Q A compound question on Texas. Can you preview the trip tomorrow to Fort Bliss? And also, do you have a response to the ruling on the voter ID law that the this court judge sided with the administration on this law that would have required a photo ID?
MR. CARNEY: Tomorrow, on August 31st, the President will travel, as you noted, to Fort Bliss in Texas. While there, the President will speak to troops and have a roundtable with servicemembers and military families. The President last traveled to Fort Bliss two years ago on August 31st, 2010, when he met with troops and spoke to them about the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. The President also on that visit met with Gold Star families.
The visit will focus on I think that important anniversary. It will also focus on the fact that the President has always said that part of ending the war in Iraq responsibly is standing by those who served.
The President will focus his visit on our efforts to support U.S. servicemembers and their families as we have ended the war in Iraq and are winding down the war in Afghanistan. And that includes underscoring his commitment as Commander-in-Chief to responsibly ending those wars, while strengthening the health of our force and providing additional support to combat two unseen wounds of these wars -- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. So he will speak about those issues while he's there.
And on the voter ID case, I can tell you that, as you know, this administration believes it should be easier for eligible citizens to vote -- to register and vote. We should not be imposing unnecessary obstacles or barriers to voter participation. And as the Justice Department has said, and the court today affirmed, the law in question would disproportionately exclude minority registered voters from in-person voting, and that the law therefore does not comply with the Voting Rights Act. So that’s something I'm sure the Justice Department has more.
Q And one more quick one on -- we heard a lot of talk this week on the advantages that Obama has over Romney when it comes to women or minorities and the need for the Republican Party to expand their base. What specifically does the President plan to do over the next few days, weeks to try to chip away at the advantages that the other side has for him? I mean, he spent a lot of time recently talking to young voters and kind of revving up the base, what's viewed as his base. What are the specific plans to try to make more appeals to, say, white male voters, for instance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think questions about campaign strategy are best directed to the President's campaign. What I can tell you is that when it comes to issues of policy, the President carries the same message to everyone that he speaks to around the country about what we need to do to invest in our future, what we need to do to help the middle class feel more secure and be more secure.
And I think that vision and those policies resonate with Americans across the country from all different walks of life. And it doesn’t really -- there's no differentiation when it comes to those in the middle class who want to make sure that they have the economic security that comes from knowing that that tax cut will be in place next year; those striving to get into the middle class who want to make sure that their leaders in Washington are doing everything they can to help them, for example, refinance their homes if they're underwater -- measures the President has taken that have made that possible -- or make sure that student loan rates remain low, which, thanks to the President's leadership, has happened.
These are issues that I think affect middle-class families across the country.
Q I wanted to get your reaction to some of the specific policy-related charges that Congressman Ryan leveled at the White House last night. First, on the stimulus, which he said, “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would remind everyone where we were in January of 2009, the state of the economy, and the broad, bipartisan recognition that action had to be taken to reverse a situation that many expected would lead to a depression.
The President took that action, and he implemented -- passed and implemented -- got passed and implemented the Recovery Act, which helped reverse cataclysmic economic decline, took a situation where we were hemorrhaging jobs at 800,000 per month to a situation where we have now created 4.5 million private sector jobs; took a situation where the economy was shrinking at a rate of 9 percent to one where we have been growing steadily, albeit not fast enough.
And people who criticize those choices, I think the responsible thing to do would also then explain the choices that they made, or the policies that they supported, that helped lead to a situation the likes of which none of us had ever seen in our lifetimes: Two wars paid for -- put on a credit card, supported by the people making these charges. Massive tax cuts that disproportionately benefited wealthy Americans, that helped create a situation where the middle class was feeling squeezed and their incomes were stagnating or declining -- unpaid for. A Medicare expansion supported by people making these criticisms -- unpaid for -- leading to a situation where President Obama, when he was sworn into office, inherited the largest deficits in our history only eight years after President Bill Clinton left office and bequeathed upon his successor the first surpluses in a generation.
We stand by our record. Everybody should stand by the policy decisions and the policy proposals that they supported.
Q Congressman Ryan also said it was a lack of presidential leadership that led to the downgrade of the U.S. debt.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we were all here, and the only party in Washington -- and by party, I don't mean political party -- I mean the only group of people in Washington who were cheering on the prospect of default, who were gleefully embracing a strategy of holding the full faith and credit of the United States government hostage to a political agenda were House Republicans.
It was the failure of Republicans in Congress to agree to the simple proposition that the United States should pay its bills, and to insist that they would not authorize payment of those bills unless they achieved their partisan objectives that led to the downgrade and caused real problems for our economy at a time when it was struggling to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. I think we know where the responsibility for that lies.
Q So are you saying that Congressman Ryan is perhaps more responsible for the downgrade than the President?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that those in Washington who were willing to hold hostage the faith and credit of the United States government for the sake of a partisan agenda brought about a situation where the prospect of default seemed real, and therefore the downgrade happened. And that was a terrible decision. That did terrible damage to our economy, and it was irresponsible.
Q And then just one other charge made by Congressman Ryan last night -- he accused the President’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.”
MR. CARNEY: I think we just need to step back and talk about what this choice is. The President’s health care reform, as he said yesterday, affectionately known as Obamacare, has been judged by not just him, not just Democrats, by AARP, an organization looked to by seniors for this kind of analysis, as having strengthened and protected Medicare -- strengthened Medicare and protected Medicare beneficiaries. AARP also judged that the Republican proposal, the one that turns Medicare into a voucher system, undermines Medicare.
What the savings in the health care reform act, Obamacare, achieved has been judged by CBO and others to have extended the life of Medicare by eight years. Repealing Obamacare would bring insolvency eight years sooner.
It would also mean -- and this is their number-one item on their agenda, number-one item, the thing that they say they would do the moment they got into office is repeal health care reform --- instantly, today's seniors see their costs go up for prescription drugs, because Obamacare has saved millions of dollars for seniors across the country in their prescription drug costs -- millions. Instantly, young Americans, 26 and under, who have been, because of Obamacare, able to stay on their parent's health insurance, lose health insurance instantly.
Seniors also, who have been able to take advantage of free preventive care services like mammograms and other cancer screenings, would lose those benefits instantly -- today's seniors.
We welcome a debate about what we ought to do to strengthen Medicare, and we welcome hard truths being told about what turning Medicare into a voucher system means for today's seniors and tomorrow's seniors, because all that program does is shift costs from the Medicare program to senior citizens. And it doesn’t do it to reduce the deficit. It doesn’t do it to create more money to invest in education, or infrastructure, or scientific research that could save lives or make historic breakthroughs. It does it so that there can be a $5 trillion tax cut that goes to extremely wealthy people, by and large. So that people making $3 million a year get a $250,000 tax cut paid for by the middle class and by seniors.
Those are the facts. That’s not us, that’s Tax Policy Center. So as a matter of general principle, we are happy to have a debate about these policy proposals.
Q Jay, another important issue for voters right now -- high gas prices. And there are analysts saying that this weekend, for the first time, we may see -- Labor Day weekend -- an average of $4-a-gallon gas nationally. Important factors outside the President's hands -- the tropical storm has obviously had an impact, there was an explosion in Venezuela that have impacted world oil markets. But my question is, is this putting more pressure on the President to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? Just a couple days ago, you suggested it was an active option.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I did the other day say that, as we have been saying all along for many months now, that that remains an option that’s on the table. That’s something that the G8 made clear back when that meeting was held, because these are obviously issues for the G8 to consider. This is a global market. And that remains the case.
But I have no announcements to make about that specific option or any other option except to say that we are obviously monitoring, as we always do, the various impacts on energy prices, on oil prices, because of the impacts those have on the global economy and the American economy.
So we're aware of the various developments that you mentioned as well as others that have an effect on oil prices, and are studying our options.
Q Last week you were asked about Governor Romney's energy plan and your all-of-the-above plan, and I think it was Jake who asked you, well, then, if it's all of the above, why not approve Keystone Pipeline, and you said, "We haven't rejected anything." But back in January, the President had a chance to green-light the Keystone Pipeline and essentially rejected it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s a slightly shortened form of a piece of history there. And I know, because you were there, you remember what happened, which is that, as part of a compromise that would ensure that taxes on millions and millions of Americans would not go up, that would extend the payroll tax cut, Republicans insisted on this entirely extraneous issue which would have attempted to prematurely force the administration to approve a pipeline that had not yet been proposed.
And that is irresponsible, it would break decades of precedent when it comes to the process by which international pipelines -- pipelines that cross international borders into the United States -- have been approved through administrations both Republican and Democratic. It was another attempt to inject partisan politics into an issue that was extremely important to the everyday lives of middle-class Americans.
There is a process in place, as you know, through the State Department to evaluate an alternative route for that pipeline, and when that process is completed, a decision will be made. In the meantime, as you know, the President took action to speed up the portion of the pipeline that goes from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf, within the borders of the United States. And he has, throughout his presidency, taken action to increase domestic oil production, and to make available more federal lands and waters for exploration, and he will continue to do that. That is part of his all-of-the-above approach.
His argument with an approach that says -- that only focuses on oil and gas, is that we cannot achieve our goals in terms of energy security if we don’t have an all-of-the-above approach that includes not just increasing domestic production of oil and gas, but increasing, as he has under his administration, production of renewable fuels -- they've doubled since he took office. That includes wind.
And, as you know, Governor Romney and others, against the wishes of Republicans in states that are affected, opposes the extension of the production tax credit, the wind energy tax credit, that is an incredibly important industry in states like Iowa and Colorado and elsewhere, and is part of our energy future, and needs to be supported by officials in Washington. The President supports that.
So my point was, that project has not been judged either way yet. The original route was rejected by officials on the ground in Nebraska, including a Republican governor, which is why it was then sent back for a new route. And we're not going to inject partisan politics into a process that should be pursued in the way it's been pursued for decades.
Q Last thing. I asked you about the Navy SEAL book last week, and at that time it was fresh and not a lot of people had seen it, and you referred it to the Pentagon. But about a week has passed; he's now appeared on a CBS News program. And I wonder two things. One, are there concerns here at the White House that somebody who was involved in a very secretive operation is now spilling details about it? Number one. And number two, he's challenging parts of your account and suggesting that maybe it was exaggerated initially about whether bin Laden had a gun, and whether or not he was pointing it at Navy SEALs, et cetera.
So I want to get a chance -- he's going to be on 60 Minutes. He's saying -- he's challenging part of your account. And also, I think when -- throughout this leak investigation, your critics have said you put too much information out there that would jeopardize future raids. Now this man is out there putting information out there. Are you concerned about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on that question, I think -- I have not read the book. I don’t believe anybody here has read it. And I can't make an evaluation. I would refer you to both the Department of Justice and the Pentagon in terms of concerns about the material in it. I don't have an assessment to give.
I would say more broadly about some of what's been said about the book and the reporting on the book, that it is important to state outright that as the President said, on the night that justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, “We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.” That is a sentiment that the President feels deeply, as he said on the very night that Osama bin Laden was brought to justice and as he says every time he discusses this important moment in our counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda.
As for the discrepancies, I can't obviously judge this individual's account. I would point you to the many briefings we did in the days immediately following the raid. We worked to get you information as quickly as possible following the raid. And as more debriefings happened -- debriefings of the special operators involved in the mission as well as others -- some of the initial information turned out to be incomplete. We acknowledged that at the time, and it was either incomplete or in need of clarification. And we made sure to get you more complete and clearer information.
Again, as far as this individual's account, it's one individual's account. I just can't comment on it.
Yes, Kristen. And then I'll move back. Sorry, guys.
Q Jay, I wanted to just follow up on the announcement that you made at the top of the briefing. Is the President considering visiting the area that was impacted by Isaac?
MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling announcements to make. We certainly are monitoring the situation very carefully. As is always the case when you have disasters like this, we are very mindful of the work that needs to be done and that needs to be focused on by first responders and others in the states and localities that are affected. But in terms of presidential travel, I have no announcements.
Q And yesterday, during his Reddit interview, President Obama said, "I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United." Does that mean that he's thinking about spearheading that process? And what would his timeline be? Would that be a top priority for him if he were to be reelected?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply point you to what he said, which is that he thinks we may need to consider this, because there are obviously -- there's been a Supreme Court decision, which, as you know, the President thought was wrongly decided and that has had, as we've all seen, a profound impact on the financing of political campaigns, has resulted in a situation where anonymous individuals and companies can funnel tens of millions of dollars into campaigns that affect how our elections are conducted and what ultimately the choices are made.
So that's a position he's held all along since the decision. And he spoke about this in his State of the Union address. And I and others have talked about the possibility that it may require a constitutional amendment to address because of the Supreme Court ruling.
I don't have anything more than what the President said in terms of if and when that moves from considering this possible course of action to actually implementing it. I think what you heard him or read that he said in his answer is it reflects his concern about the impact that decision has had.
Q Does he lose credibility on this issue though, given that he's endorsed --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he made very clear at the time when that decision was made that his position on the Citizens United decision had not changed, but that it was simply -- and I should start by saying the campaign obviously can offer you more information on this. But that it was simply implausible to engage in this campaign this year without taking the action that our campaign did.
That doesn’t change the fact that the effects of the decision, and the impact of the capacity of individuals to anonymously stroke checks for $10 million or more to fund advertising campaigns against or for candidates, has had a profound impact and will have profound impact on our electoral system.
Q And, Jay, I just want to ask you one on Syria. The New York Times is reporting today that Dr. Naser Danan, who is part of a group that backs the rebels in Syria, believes that President Obama’s pronouncement that the use -- movement of chemical weapons would be a red line is “amounting to a green light for Mr. Assad to use as much conventional force as possible.” Does he have a point?
MR. CARNEY: No. I would strongly disagree with that. The President I think spoke very clearly about his concern and made clear his warnings to the Assad regime about any proliferation of or use of chemical weapons by the regime.
We have roundly and consistently condemned the brutal assault by Assad’s regime against Syrian citizens, and his actions are depraved and deplorable. And when he says, as he did I believe yesterday, in a propagandistic interview that things are getting better in Syria, it shows how delusional he has become. Only if “better” means more Syrian people -- innocent Syrian people -- are dying at the hands of his soldiers; only “better” if it means that his thugs are moving through the streets of various cities and rounding people up. We could not condemn in stronger terms the actions of the Assad regime in its use of force of all kinds against its own people.
Q But the condemnation hasn’t stopped the violence. And you point to the interview yesterday -- the violence seems to be continuing, and President Bashar al Assad was speaking out, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the momentum is clearly -- I mean, contrary to the delusional interview that Assad gave, the momentum continues to be with opposition forces. The fact is the United States, together with our partners, have taken action to isolate Assad and deprive him of the resources he needs to continue to finance his brutal assault against his own people.
And the quickest way, as we have said all along, to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people is for Assad to recognize that the Syrian people will not allow him to continue in power, and to step aside to enable a peaceful, Syrian-led political transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Syrian people.
We will continue to work with all our partners in this effort, and we have provided substantial humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, as well as non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition as part of our efforts in Syria.
Let me move around. Jen.
Q Thanks, Jay. So you didn’t actually watch Paul Ryan’s speech last night, right? You read about it?
MR. CARNEY: I did, yes.
Q So you haven’t seen it?
MR. CARNEY: I did not see it. You know, the Nationals were on a losing streak and I had to make sure they won. (Laughter.) And they did. But I caught some of the video this morning.
Q Well, the AP, for one, has characterized some of the things that Paul Ryan said as "factual short-cuts." I'm wondering if you would agree that some of the things he said were factual short-cuts.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you'd have to ask me more specifically. I think we made very clear that -- and I think I got some of this earlier on in the briefing -- that we agree with assessments by reporters and independent fact-checkers that many of the assertions being made by the Romney campaign are inaccurate about the President's policies.
And our focus is on the facts. And when it comes to, for example, Medicare, this is a choice between the President's reform as well as his ideas which strengthen Medicare and protects beneficiaries, as AARP has said, or an agenda -- a Romney/Ryan agenda that turns Medicare into a voucher system and hoists costs onto seniors, estimated at $6,400 per person per year.
Well, that's a clear choice. And it is at odds, I understand, with some of the claims being made in Tampa. But we're focused on what the President's proposals are and what the truth is about what his opponent's proposals are.
Q So whether it was on Medicare, or the stimulus, or his remarks on the GM plant, or the debt commission -- at any point would you say that Paul Ryan flat-out lied?
MR. CARNEY: I think the campaign has addressed this and put out a statement on the speeches last night, including Congressman Ryan, so I would refer you to that. I'm focused on -- I would point you to what Neil Newhouse -- I believe he's the pollster for the campaign, for the Romney campaign -- said rather, I think, boldly and proudly to a number of your colleagues that they weren’t going to let facts get in the way, essentially; that they would not be dictated to by fact-checkers.
And I think that for you and my former compatriots in the media world who in many ways are the folks who have to make judgments about what’s true and false, I think that's a real challenge, a real sort of -- “we don't care what you think. We don't care. We know it’s not true, but -- and we know you’re saying it’s not true, but it doesn't matter. We’re going to keep doing it.” I think that's, as a journalism and media story, sort of interesting.
Our focus, the President’s focus, is on his agenda to strengthen our economy, to help it grow from the middle out, not from the top down; to move forward with investments in education and innovation and infrastructure that help the economy grow; to continue to move forward with investments in clean energy, because as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will enhance our energy security in the future, you have to invest in renewables like wind and solar. You have to take action like he has to invest in nuclear energy. And you have to take action like he has to increase domestic oil and gas production.
And the result of all of that has been that we’re now at a 15- or 20-year low in our dependence on foreign oil. We’re at a 14- or 15-year high in domestic oil production, and an all-time high in natural gas production. We have doubled production of renewable energy in this country since President Obama took office.
That is a stark contrast with the agenda that is being put forward by Republicans, which is essentially one that says, if you liked what we did in the last decade, that's great because we’re going to do it only more so, if we’re elected. I mean, that is essentially -- whether it’s on foreign policy or on domestic policy -- that's the promise being made. And we simply disagree with that agenda.
Q The IAEA is out with a report today on Iran’s nuclear activities. It says Iran has doubled its underground nuclear capacity and has engaged in extensive activities at the Parchin nuclear site that would hamper an investigation. Does this increase the sense of urgency about what Iran is doing there? And is the administration intensifying its activities accordingly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. Iran’s continued failure to work with the IAEA to resolve questions about its activities to develop a nuclear weapon, and the fact that Iran won’t even conclude an agreement on the process needed to address these questions, underscores the lack of seriousness with which Iran takes its international nuclear obligations.
This administration has presented a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: Comply with its international nuclear obligations and benefit from the greater economic, political, and security integration that come with being part of the international community, or face growing consequences for noncompliance.
We are closely studying the details of the report, but broadly speaking it is not surprising that Iran is continuing to violate its obligations. As the report illustrates, we are in a position to closely observe Iran's program and to detect any effort by Iran to begin production of weapons-grade uranium.
And just to reiterate, the President has made clear frequently that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and he has led an unprecedented effort to pressure Iran to live up to its obligations. The window of opportunity to resolve this diplomatically remains open, but it will not remain open indefinitely.
So long as the Iranian regime refuses to comply with its international obligations, the United States with its allies will continue to take actions to further isolate and penalize Iran and the regime.
Q That being the case, does the administration still believe that there's time and space to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position has been that there is time and space, as I just reiterated, to resolve this diplomatically. And, as I just said, we have the ability to see clearly -- have eyes on developments in the Iranian nuclear program. And as I've said in the past, we would know if they made a breakout move towards building a nuclear weapon.
But it is also clear that the window that is open now to resolve this diplomatically will not remain open indefinitely. And the President has made clear that all options are on the table and that he is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Ben, I know you -- I just owe a couple of people. Kate and then Mark.
Q On SPR, when you say that the White House is studying our options, can you talk a little bit about how often these meetings are? Is the President himself involved in these discussions about releasing oil?
MR. CARNEY: I'm just not going to get into details about the various options that have been on the table and continue to be on the table with regards to any potential disruptions in international oil markets or international oil supply rather. Our position really hasn't changed, which is that those options are on the table and we're closely monitoring all the developments that affect the supply and price of oil.
Q Governor Jeb Bush said during the convention in an interview that Obama doesn't even call John Boehner to try to work in a bipartisan way. And he said, Bill Clinton worked with the other party, why doesn't Obama? I'm wondering if you have any reaction to what he had to say.
MR. CARNEY: I didn't see that. I have great respect for Governor Bush, but I simply would disagree, having been here so many times when Speaker Boehner was here and knowing that the President has worked with him.
And despite our profound differences to achieve some real results when it comes to extending the payroll tax cut or unemployment insurance, when it comes to making sure that loan rates for students -- millions of students across the country did not double so that they can continue to go to college affordably, and other accomplishments that have been achieved despite the real disagreements between us and despite what we believe is unfortunate sort of partisan intransigence when it comes to some of the bigger issues like I was talking about with Jake, like dealing with our broader fiscal challenges.
The President is committed to results, and he has engaged with Congress in a granular way, with congressional leaders. He has also, when he believes results are more likely to be achieved, taken his case out to the country, to the American people.
And he is committed to achieving results that help the middle class grow, help students, help seniors, help our economy. And the path there is not the issue. The issue is do you get those results, and is your vision and are your proposals the right ones for the American people and for the middle class.
Mark, the last one.
Q Jay, in his campaign speeches, President Obama often talks about the end of the war in Iraq, supporting military and military families. Why shouldn’t tomorrow's trip be seen as a campaign visit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's an official visit, Mark.
Q I know that.
MR. CARNEY: And the fact is he does talk about his record. His record is a substantive record when it comes to the profound commitment and decision to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. And his record is substantial when it comes to supporting our veterans.
And what he will focus on tomorrow is the effort that his administration is continuing to make and steps that the administration is continuing to take that are essential to ensure that those who fought for us overseas are being fought for by us here at home. And that is a responsibility the President believes is incredibly profound, and it's a matter of substantive policy. And he looks forward to the trip tomorrow.
Thank you, all.
Q Can you tell us whether he has watched any of the convention?
MR. CARNEY: I'll see.
2:14 P.M. EDT
October 24, 2016
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