Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/12/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:41 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone -- or still morning, rather. Good morning. Thanks for being here.
Before we start, I just thought I’d say, if I might, in what you could consider a point of personal privilege, setting aside assessments of winners and losers, as someone who worked with the Vice President for two years and traveled with him around the country and the world, I took extreme pleasure in watching the debate last night because of the way that he demonstrated his passion and his wisdom and the joy that he brings to the job of serving the American people as Vice President, and of working with this President to bring about positive change for the middle class and for this country.
I thought he presented a remarkably strong case for the policies that this President has put in place and the policies that he believes are the right ones to move the country forward. It was -- it capped off what for me was an extraordinary day because I had the distinct pleasure of bringing my son for his birthday to the Nationals game yesterday. That’s why I was not traveling, and I have to say that was a brilliant finish to a great game. Way to go, Nats.
And with that I’ll take your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask you about Libya and the Vice President’s response yesterday in the debate. Martha Raddatz mentioned to him that U.S. officials in Libya had asked for more security there, and the Vice President replied, “Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again.”
That wasn’t the testimony at the oversight hearing on Wednesday. Charlene Lamb conceded that she had refused requests for more security. So I’m wondering, what did the Vice President mean? What did he mean “we”? Did he mean the administration? Did he mean the White House?
MR. CARNEY: He was speaking directly for himself and for the President. He meant the White House. In over four hours of testimony, the testimony that you just referenced the other day, no one who testified about this matter suggested that requests for additional security were made to the President or the White House. These are issues appropriately that are handled by security professionals at the State Department. And that’s what he was talking about.
Again, if you look at the testimony, four-plus hours about it, there was no discussion of requests for personnel made here. Those are things that are handled by security personnel at the State Department. So that, I think -- it was very clear if you look at it in context in terms of what the Vice President was responding to.
Q Okay. But his answer came after that testimony. It seemed that he could have at least conceded that --
MR. CARNEY: I think the attack by, in what has largely been a political attack by Republicans, and in this case by Congressman Ryan, was to try to suggest that the President and the White House was responsible for assessing security in a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. And as is of course appropriate, these kinds of issues are handled in the State Department by security professionals. And I think that’s the context of that conversation.
Q If I could follow up with a broader context. The argument given for rejecting expanded security from the State Department was a desire to turn over security to Libyan forces. That desire to rely on national security forces is one that the administration has used for withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Given the incident in Libya, given the green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan, does this give you pause, does it give the President pause? Does it make you reconsider whether the sole motivation here should be to withdraw troops even though the security impact could be upon our own people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are a variety of issue areas that that question touches upon, and let me go first to this point.
As I said the other day, there is no question that an attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans demonstrated that there was not adequate security to protect those Americans. That is why the President and the Secretary of State acted so quickly to take action to ensure that our diplomatic personnel around the world were protected and why the Secretary of State, at the President’s direction, created an Accountability Review Board that will assess and investigate these very issues regarding security at diplomatic facilities.
Secondly, this President is very concerned about the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world. One way to measure that is in the budget priorities that he has put forward in his budgets. And what he has done is fought every year to restore funding for diplomatic security that has been slashed by Republicans, especially in the House, including Congressman Ryan.
So I think going back to last night’s debate, the lack of understanding about how this works may explain by Congressman Ryan consistently supported and authored budgets that slashed spending for diplomatic security, and he now takes a different position on these matters in the aftermath, which is clearly part of an effort to politicize what should not be politicized.
This was obviously a tragedy, and it is an incident that is under investigation both by the FBI, and when it comes to diplomatic security and the security of our diplomatic facilities by the Accountability Review Board established by Secretary Clinton.
More broadly, I thought, again, this was a topic as a matter of policy that was discussed in an enlightening way last night in this debate when it comes to Afghanistan. The President, working with countless allies, has established a policy to draw down our forces in Afghanistan and to end that war by 2014. What you saw last night was a debate about whether or not that is wise policy. And this President is committed to bringing our forces home from Afghanistan.
And the purpose, as the Vice President said, of setting a deadline is to make it clear to the government in Kabul, as it was made clear to the government in Baghdad, in Iraq, that they need to begin to take increasing responsibility for their own security so that when it comes to fighting and sometimes dying for the sake of Afghan and the Afghan -- for Afghanistan and the Afghan people, that Afghan forces increasingly take on that responsibility, not American men and women. And that is why we are drawing down those forces there.
The President is very committed to this. He made clear in the campaign for President in 2008 that he would end the war in Iraq -- he did. He has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has. And he has made clear that this is not a war without end, where we will insert American forces to do the job that should be done, once they’re trained up, by Afghan forces. And he is happy to have that debate.
Q So, Jay, are you saying on Libya -- can you say on Libya that basically the buck stops with the State Department on security then -- it doesn’t stop at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s an un-artful, made-for-television phrasing, Ed. But the fact of the matter --
Q You’re saying that it’s up to the State Department. The President can’t deal -- that basically he doesn’t make those assessments is what you’re saying to us.
MR. CARNEY: There are thousands of diplomatic personnel around the world. There are countless facilities around the world. And I am saying that when it comes to the number of personnel who are in place at consulates and embassies and other diplomatic facilities around the world, those decisions are appropriately made at the State Department by security personnel.
When it comes to funding, yes, this President fights to make sure that embassy security and diplomatic security is adequately funded, make sure that that funding is restored when efforts on Capitol Hill are made -- principally by House Republicans, including Congressman Ryan -- to slash it in order to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent in this country. You bet -- that’s the President’s responsibility, and he has demonstrated that he’s kept that responsibility.
Q So to be clear, you are saying from this podium that the President and the Vice President have never been briefed about the fact that security -- more security was needed in Benghazi. You’re saying they were never, in the presidential daily briefing, never briefed.
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that matters of security personnel are appropriately discussed and decided upon at the State Department by those responsible for it.
Obviously, it is the case that everyone responsible for national security in this administration and those I believe who are knowledgeable about it on Capitol Hill have long been aware of the fact that Libya is a dangerous place, in particular --
Q So then why did the Vice President say that he and the President were not briefed, if you’re saying that --
MR. CARNEY: What you are doing, Ed, and I know you’re conscious of it, is actually saying something that was not said last night. What the Vice President said was that --
Q “We weren’t told they wanted more security there” is what he said. That’s a quote.
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct. And he is talking about --
Q So he was never briefed, that’s clear. He was never briefed that more security was needed.
MR. CARNEY: There was a four-and-a-half hour public hearing where this issue was talked about, where the very specifics of requests for security personnel were made, were adjudicated at the State Department. Unless you were listening to another briefing that I wasn’t --
Q I heard all of that.
MR. CARNEY: -- that there was no -- there was --
Q But it never made it past the State Department? I just want to be clear. It was never in the presidential daily brief or anything like that, you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to sit and talk to you about the detail --
Q Okay, well, you’re hedging --
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m not, Ed. I’m saying that matters of how many personnel are assigned to embassies and consulates and other diplomatic facilities are not decided at the White House. They’re decided at the State Department.
Q Okay. And so, then on September 10th, you put out a press release that said that the President himself was briefed -- not the State Department -- the President was briefed about consulates and other installations around the world, and the security posture ahead of the 9/11 anniversary. So are you now also saying that in that briefing, the President was not told about security problems at Benghazi, a consulate that had been targeted? He was not briefed that day?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you absolutely that there was no actionable intelligence that suggested there would be an attack at the Benghazi facility. Absolutely, categorically, that is a fact.
Q So what was he briefed on that day? This is a consulate that was targeted several times. He was not told the day before the 9/11 --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, it an anniversary in advance of which this administration, just like the previous administration, took action to prepare for potential acts against the United States or our allies that might take place as part of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
What I can say is that there was no actionable intelligence indicating there would be an attack at the Benghazi facility.
Q That’s different, though. What I'm asking is, actionable intelligence -- I understand that distinction. But you're saying the President, on 9/10, was not told, broadly, about the consulate in Benghazi being targeted several times, there being problems, there being concerns about it, the ambassador wanting more security? He wasn't told about any of that?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, again, I cannot get into the specific details of a classified briefing and a classified document. What I can tell you --
Q Right, but the Vice President last night said he was not told. So I just want to be clear. You can't --
MR. CARNEY: You're conflating a lot of things.
Q No I'm not. He said they were not told.
MR. CARNEY: What I'm saying is that there was no actionable intelligence, and I think that is pretty clear. What I'm saying and what I obviously cannot discuss in detail is covert -- I mean, rather, classified information.
There was no actionable intelligence regarding the Benghazi facility. I understand an effort here to politicize this, to turn this into an issue in the campaign. The President, from the minute it happened, has been focused on finding who is responsible for those who killed four Americans; making sure that our diplomatic personnel around the world are secure; investigating what happened and following the facts wherever they may lead; and ensuring, through his directive to the Secretary of State, that actions are taken and a review is undertaken to find out what happened with regards to security in Benghazi and what our posture ought to be moving forward at that facility and other facilities around the world that are in places that are considered dangerous.
Q Last thing. When you dismiss it as politics, four Americans were killed. And the mother of Sean Smith told CNN a couple nights ago, told Anderson Cooper that she doesn’t feel like the administration is getting to the bottom of this. What do you say to her? I don’t think she's making politics out of this. She just said, I want to know what happened to my son.
MR. CARNEY: Well, and nobody wants to know more than the President of the United States. So rather than speculate and hypothesize and take political shots on TV, this President has made sure that the FBI is investigating what happened, that the State Department set up the Accountability Review Board to assess what happened in terms of the security posture in Benghazi. And that is underway.
And as the Secretary of State said just moments ago, what has always been the case is that we have been very transparent about what we know, and made clear that as hours and days and weeks have passed by and more facts have come to light, and more has been revealed through the investigations underway, that we have gained a clearer picture of what happened and what did not happen. And we've been very transparent about that.
From the beginning, what we have seen -- unfortunately, because this is not our tradition -- an effort by some to turn this into a partisan fight. And that's a shame when we're talking about brave men and women in our diplomatic service who served Democrats and Republicans, who represent the United States and the American people and America's interest abroad often in very dangerous parts of the world. And that is sometimes forgotten by many because much due attention is paid to our men and women in uniform who are in dangerous parts of the world.
But the fact is that we have a lot of civilian personnel in places like Libya, in places like Afghanistan and in Iraq and other regions of the world where there is risk involved in serving your country and representing America's interests. And the President is focused on finding who is responsible, bringing them to justice, investigating to the end what happened, and taking appropriate action to ensure it does not happen again.
Q So still on the subject of the Benghazi consulate attack, I mean, the three State Department officials and former Libya security chief all testified that a request had been made for additional security for the Benghazi consulate and either had been ignored or rejected. So I guess I want to clarify, that request or those requests never made their way to the White House? I know you said they hadn't made their way to the President or the Vice President.
MR. CARNEY: Requests for individual personnel at thousands of facilities around the country do not -- are not adjudicated at the White House. They are decided at the State Department appropriately, and the State Department has to make assessments. And this is all under review by the Accountability Review Board. And that process should be allowed to continue and not be prejudged.
But it is certainly not the case that assignment of security personnel at diplomatic facilities is made here at the White House, nor should it be. What is the case is that the President sets his priorities in his budgets. And the President has set levels of funding for diplomatic security in his budgets that have been routinely slashed by Republicans, especially in the House.
So I find it rich that charges are made about concern over diplomatic security by those who routinely slash funding for diplomatic security in order to pay for tax cuts.
Q I guess what we're trying to get at is who knew what, when.
MR. CARNEY: And this is all under investigation and review. But what I think is obvious to anybody who understands how this works, matters -- requests for additional security are not made to the White House at diplomatic facilities. They're made to the State Department, which is where the appropriate security personnel assess these requests.
Q But the Vice President's comments last night in the debate were widely interpreted as saying that he was -- the administration was absolved. He said, we weren't told. So you're saying the State Department was told --
MR. CARNEY: The Vice President was speaking about himself, and the President and the White House. He was not referring to the administration, clearly, since there was a public hearing for four and a half hours where it was discussed openly by individuals working at the State Department requests that were made.
Obviously, he was referring to -- he wasn't talking about the administration writ large. He was speaking about himself, and the President and the White House.
Q Okay. And of course the Vice President made a much more aggressive and expressive presentation of the administration and of Obama campaign’s views yesterday in his debate performance, which was much better received than the President’s himself in his past debate. What, if any, lessons does the President take away from having watched that debate? And what kind of changes in his preparation in Williamsburg can we expect? Will he change his debate partner to reflect a different approach?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things. Questions about campaign strategy and debate prep are more appropriately addressed to my colleagues on the campaign. I can't tell you that, as you know, the President watched the debate last night, thought the Vice President did an excellent job presenting this administration’s case, this President’s case, and this Vice President’s case for why we need to continue to move forward, why we need to make decisions about our economic policy that allows our economy to grow from the middle out instead of from the top down; and why we have taken the actions that we have, and need to continue to take the actions that we have to enhance America’s national security interests around the world.
The President watched the debate on Air Force One, flying back from Florida, with a number of staff who were traveling with him, including our own Josh Earnest. And I think he spoke to reporters afterwards and made clear that he was very pleased with the Vice President’s presentation last night.
This is about -- without getting into campaign strategy -- this is about very serious issues of public policy, very serious matters about the choices we make and budget priorities, and we were just talking about one of them. The President believes, as the Vice President made so clear yesterday, that we cannot afford to put back in place the policies that helped precipitate the worst financial crisis in our history, or at least since our lives, since the Great Depression.
We cannot afford to raise taxes on the middle class in order to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. We can’t afford our seniors -- and future seniors cannot afford to have their health security undermined by a system that would turn Medicare, one of the greatest accomplishments for older Americans in the history of this country, into a voucher system that puts seniors at the mercy of insurance companies.
This President will not do that. And I’m confident that he will make that case when he has the opportunity to go before the American again in a debate next week. I know that he feels the Vice President made that case very well last night.
Let me go to Dan.
Q Thank you, Jay. I want to go back to Libya again. In answering the question, you keep referring to the process. And I don’t think anyone argues with the fact that the State Department takes the lead in deciding security issues and so forth, but no one is really talking about that. What the question is --
MR. CARNEY: They are, actually.
Q Well, we’re not -- the question we’re trying to get at is, did the Vice President and did the President, were they aware of this? Not that they had to make a decision about additional forces or security -- but were they even aware that there was a request out there?
MR. CARNEY: I think the Vice President spoke to that very clearly last night, that when it comes to requests for security personnel at diplomatic facilities, those requests are made to and reviewed by the appropriate security personnel at the State Department.
It is certainly the case, as I noted earlier, that everyone involved in national security in this building and around the administration and around Washington, both on Capitol Hill and those of you who are familiar with national security, understand that Libya was and remains a very volatile place; that eastern Libya in particular has been and continues to be a volatile place where there are militias and extremists and dangerous characters. And that is something that is part of our understanding of both the country and the region.
Going to the point I tried to make to Ed, I can say that there was no actionable intelligence suggesting that there would be an assault on the Benghazi facility.
Q But we’re not talking about that, about the actionable intelligence. It’s whether or not he knew that there was a request.
MR. CARNEY: And again, I think the Vice President answered that question clearly last night.
Q Now, more people were watching the debate than probably were watching the testimony in Congress. And so the Vice President’s answer could have implied to someone who was unaware of the testimony that the administration didn’t know there was a request, the administration broadly. Shouldn’t he have been more specific and said he personally was not aware even though testimony shows the administration did know about it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the Vice President certainly was aware of the testimony on the Hill. Everyone in this room, including people who pretend otherwise, were aware of testimony.
Q Right, but someone watching at home who probably wasn’t reading about it and didn’t know about it, the testimony --
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying -- what I and others are saying now in answer to your questions is designed to make clear what we know you understand but others may not, which is that there obviously were requests made, as openly discussed in a public hearing on Capitol Hill the other day, by individuals to the State Department, where those kinds of requests are routinely reviewed. Nowhere in those four hours of testimony was it suggested that those requests were made to or sent to the White House because that’s not how this works.
The issue about actionable intelligence is important because it goes to the question about what happened last night, and it I think answers the question that Ed asked about the general briefing that the President gets regularly in advance of significant dates that might potentially create risk because of potentially increased activity, like the anniversary of 9/11, or Christmas or other holidays. And that’s the kind of briefing he routinely gets and we routinely make you aware of.
Q You referred to the Vice President’s performance as passionate. A lot of people out there, conservatives, certainly, saw it as aggressive. Would you disagree with that?
MR. CARNEY: I think he made a passionate case for why we can’t stick the middle class with the bill for getting our fiscal house in order with a $5 trillion tax cut and the voucherization of Medicare. Yes, I think he was very forceful. But I also think he demonstrated a remarkable degree of precision when it comes to the wealth of experience he brings to this office, how deeply he understands both the policies that this administration has put into place and the policy proposals of both the other ticket and Republicans in general on Capitol Hill, because he has lived this stuff, he has negotiated it through his years as Vice President and as senator.
He demonstrated his vast experience on matter of national security, foreign policy. And I think he reflected what -- those of you who have covered him and I certainly know, which is that he is deeply rooted in his own background, in his own neighborhoods, and has never lost touch with the fundamental rationale behind his public service, which is he is here to fight for middle-class Americans, for people who just deserve a fair shot, for people who you cannot write off because they’re senior citizens and aren’t paying income taxes, you cannot write off because they’re veterans receiving government benefits because of their service to this country. And I thought that was both forceful and compelling.
Q Does the President stand behind everything Vice President Biden said, that he heard in the debate last night? And I’ll give you one example. When the Vice President said, “People making a million dollars or more will begin to contribute slightly more,” is the President now moving the goal post from $250,000 to a million?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. And I appreciate the question, because this goes to the Vice President’s extreme command of his brief and of his facts. Our position on the Bush tax cuts has not changed. The President proposed a way to ensure that 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of businesses do not see their taxes go up at the beginning of next year, and that’s a goal the Vice President reiterated throughout the debate last night.
The Senate has passed a bill that would do that, and we have called on the House to do the same. All that needs to happen now is for Republicans in Washington to stop holding the middle class hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
When the Vice President was talking about people making a million or more, he was explaining the numbers. He repeated our proposal -- will ensure that taxes do not go up on 97 percent of American businesses. Why is that statistic important? Because, as you know, that’s the $250,000 threshold, as he made clear, that 97 percent of American businesses do not have taxable income above $250,000 -- which goes right to the threshold the President has set since he ran for office back in 2007.
The trillion -- he was using a million dollars as an example, and he made clear that he knew his brief, because of the trillion dollars in that tax cut, 80 percent goes to households over $1 million, and that’s the point he was making.
Q The President’s reaction to the testimony of those State Department security officials -- when he heard what they said and the pleas that they -- and that one security officer said he knew now that they would not get -- they didn’t want more security, they wanted to keep what they had, and he knew that wouldn’t be allowed until after there was an incident. Did that make the President angry?
MR. CARNEY: The President wants to get to the bottom of what happened. Your own network interviewed the President and asked him about the situation in Benghazi, so I would refer to what the President said.
He is committed to finding out what happened. He is committed to making sure that those who killed four Americans are brought to justice, and he is committed to ensuring that actions are taken after the Accountability Review Board thoroughly assesses this matter, to make sure that what happened in Benghazi never happens again.
It is important to note that part of doing that is maintaining, through your budget, the priority of ensuring that diplomatic security is properly funded -- a fact that others don’t seem -- or have not seemed in the past to think is important.
Q Did those security officials making the decision not to increase or maintain security, are they -- if they're still following the President's policy, is the President's policy, it's better to get security into the hands of -- and train local forces, or is he blaming it simply on the dollars that are on the books at the State Department?
MR. CARNEY: He's not blaming it on anything. This is under review, it is under investigation. And I would encourage everyone to assess that review when it's completed.
When it comes to matters like Afghanistan -- as the Vice President made clear so effectively last night -- absolutely, it is our policy that after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, after he took a policy that was wildly adrift and unfocused and under-resourced in Afghanistan, and made clear what our priorities there should be and executed on a mission that has effectively gone after al Qaeda central in the AfPak region, has delivered severe blows to the senior leadership in al Qaeda, and has created the time and space to build up Afghan security forces -- that, yes, it is time to bring American forces home, and to turn over, increasingly, responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. And that is absolutely the President's policy.
Q Was the denial -- the security request denial for Libya based on budgetary considerations?
MR. CARNEY: I will repeat, again, that decisions made about requests for security personnel and security matters are made at the State Department. This is something that is under review at the President's direction and the Secretary of State's direction by an Accountability Review Board headed up by an esteemed former diplomat. And these assessments will be made by those who are investigating it.
Q Isn't that something that’s immediately knowable, though? Isn't that something that you would want to know, given the fact that, as you described, there are many dangerous people out there in dangerous places?
MR. CARNEY: I would encourage you -- I'm not sure if you watched or you read the testimony -- but this was -- there was a lot of discussion about the specific requests and how they were handled in a public hearing up on Capitol Hill. I think that those individuals who dealt with these kinds of issues are best suited to answer that.
Again, these kinds of requests are not presented to or reviewed by the White House; they are handled at the State Department.
Q But given all that, why would you be critical, then, of the GOP, House GOP insisting on a lower number for diplomatic security if you're not even sure that that had anything to do with --
MR. CARNEY: Listen, I am not -- look, what happened and why is under investigation. And I am not in any way suggesting that one caused the other. I am simply saying that this President has demonstrated --
Q Well, why then bring it up?
MR. CARNEY: Because this President has demonstrated his commitment to diplomatic security through his budget priorities. And I was saying that it is another indication of how there is an effort to politicize this tragedy because some of the very people who are politicizing it have routinely presented budgets that slash funding for diplomatic security.
Q Okay. And finally, following up on Dan’s question, there was a lot of chatter in real time on Twitter afterwards about the demonstrative reactions that the Vice President had during the split screen last night. What is your reaction to those who would criticize the Vice President as being perhaps a little condescending and patronizing in his body language?
MR. CARNEY: I think it is for the American people to decide. And the person I saw up there last night was somebody who was absolutely passionate about fighting for and defending the middle class, absolutely committed to the national security interests and the national security agenda of this -- of the country, and the national security agenda of this President and this administration, and who comes to his job this many years in to serving his country in the Senate and now the White House with an enormous amount of passion and joy.
And I’ll give you an example. When you talk about him smiling, when you had -- and this is a matter of policy -- when Congressman Ryan starts attacking the administration over the Recovery Act, and the split screen shows the Vice President smiling, I can tell you -- I can guess why he was smiling, because he knew how hypocritical that was because he had seen the letters written by Congressman Ryan requesting Recovery Act funding because it would help the economy in Wisconsin.
Well, guess what, the Recovery Act, which this President fought for, which was passed and signed into law and that the Vice President implemented, prevented a Great Depression in this country, or helped to prevent a Great Depression -- together with the other policy initiatives that this President fought for. And that's a record we’re proud of. And it is extremely hypocritical to, on the one hand, attack that, and on the other, be asking for money from it because you know it will help the economy in your state.
Q Thanks. Jay, I have two questions. One is about the EU and the other is about the State Department. On the EU, what’s the President’s reaction to the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken with him about it, so I don't have a personal reaction for you. I can say obviously that if you step back and look at what has happened in Europe in the wake -- in the last 60 some odd years since the end of World War II, it is a remarkable accomplishment. You’re talking about a region of the world that was engulfed in war twice in the first half of the 20th century, and that through the project of the European Union has demonstrated that resolving differences through politics and through policy is a far better path than through war.
And we are all mostly too young to remember that Europe. But we have grandparents who remember it and we have the history books that tell us about it. And it is rather remarkable, if you think about it, even as it deals with its challenges and as it has dealt with them in the past, what Europe looks like today, now unified in the post-Soviet era and the end of the Cold War, compared to what it looked like in 1945 or 1955.
Q If I can do my State Department question real quick. I know we've sort of been over this, but does the White House agree that the State Department really never did conclude that the attack in Benghazi was triggered by a spontaneous demonstration? And if so, why did Ambassador Rice say that on September 16th?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I did go over this two days ago. The Secretary of State was asked about this an hour or so ago. But I can simply tell you what Pat Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, I believe, a multi-decade career veteran of the Foreign Service can say -- somebody who has worked under Democrats and Republican -- Democratic and Republican administrations -- and he said, "No one in the administration has claimed to know all the answers." The Secretary of State said the same thing just an hour ago.
"We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved. For example, if any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point." And this is Pat Kennedy speaking.
"As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack. But as the process moves forward and more information becomes available, we will be sure to continue consulting with you." And that was Pat Kennedy's testimony to Congress on Capitol Hill just two days ago.
Q Is the distinction that the State Department never concluded, but the intelligence department -- intelligence community originally did, and that's the talking points that she was speaking from, not the State Department's?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think what the State Department said, in the voice of Pat Kennedy, is that the information that they had was the same as the information that Ambassador Rice had. And they would have said the same thing that Ambassador Rice said, the things that I said, based on the -- and as you recall, the DNI put out a letter explaining how the intelligence that they were able to collect and assess has evolved over time.
Q The State Department said that they never concluded that it was a spontaneous demonstration. Is it the technicalities of like the actual verbiage, the word "concluded" that they thought it might be and that's what they were going on, but --
MR. CARNEY: First of all, let me just take a step back and say there's a lot that's under investigation here. And I think it does not help to grab on to one bit of information and one fact and make conclusions from them.
There's been some confusion and conflation around things like protests or reactions to protests. The fact of the matter is there was -- what was happening in Cairo was being seen around the world, in terms of the protests and demonstrations in Cairo. There were protests and demonstrations in other parts of the world in reaction to that video. And it was certainly a focus of concern here in the White House and at the State Department and elsewhere that action be taken to ensure that our diplomatic personnel in the wake of Benghazi were adequately secured and that our facilities were protected.
And one of the misstatements last night that was put forward was an attack on the President for mentioning the video at the United Nations.
It is simply a fact -- setting aside the attack in Benghazi -- that it was absolutely vital that we do two things, that the President do two things in his statements, which he did immediately after Benghazi and going forward: to make clear that we found the video reprehensible and that the United States government had nothing to do with it, but to say that it was absolutely unacceptable, regardless, to react to that video with violence.
And it is the case that this was a matter of concern around the world. And actions were taken at the President’s direction to ensure that our diplomatic facilities and diplomatic personnel around the world were protected.
Anybody else -- yes.
Q Can I follow on taxes? You said that -- or I wonder if Vice President Biden made news or misspoke. He said that, when he was talking about the economy and how he wants Republicans to get out of the way, he says, "If they get out of the way and let us pass the tax cut for the middle class, make it permanent." I thought you only wanted that extended.
MR. CARNEY: The President’s position has always been to make the middle class tax cuts permanent. Yes. He was extremely precise.
Q Thanks, Jay. I have two questions for you. One is on Afghanistan and the drawdown date. I’m a little confused -- there’s been different things said. Obviously the Vice President said last night, “We are leaving in 2014, period.” Prior, the President has said there might be a leave-behind force and then the President said, no, we’re going to be out. So where exactly do we stand?
MR. CARNEY: It’s our policy to withdraw our forces by 2014. That’s what the Vice President made clear. That’s what the President has made clear. It’s what -- it’s an issue around which Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan have been extraordinarily unclear, repeatedly and habitually.
But the President’s position is based on a policy and a strategy that was adopted by all of our allies engaged in this effort, and has been implemented beginning with the surge and now with the drawdown of the surge, with the training up of Afghan security forces, and with the transfer of security responsibility gradually over to those Afghan forces.
And it is -- I think the point that the Vice President made that was so significant is that when you blithely say, well, we shouldn’t have drawn down the surge forces and we shouldn’t set timelines, the Vice President made clear that, as he knows from his experience overseeing Iraq policy and a policy that led to the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to bring our troops home from Iraq, you need to be very clear with, in the case of Iraq, the Iraqis in Baghdad, and in the case of Afghanistan, with the Afghans in Kabul, what we’re doing and what our timeline is, and how they are going to have to gradually step up and take responsibility for their own security so that Americans are not in the lead in eastern Afghanistan or elsewhere, fighting and dying for Afghans when they have gradually developed the capacity to do that for themselves.
Q So is there no leave-behind force? Or are you open to leaving a door open for that?
MR. CARNEY: I think as was the case with Iraq, there are always conversations about future relations between our country and a country like Iraq or with Afghanistan. But in terms of the forces that are there now and the policy of this President, as was the case with Iraq, we are ending that war in 2014. That is the policy of the President of the United States.
Q I want to follow on Ann’s question. She asked if the President was upset when he learned that he had not been told about these requests for extra security and that kind of thing. Has he now asked to be informed about such security requests? Or has he given any instructions that they should not be turned down, or that he or his designate should be informed?
MR. CARNEY: It is absolutely the case the President is intensely focused on and committed to bringing to justice those who killed four Americans. He is focused on the investigations continuing so that they can follow the facts all the way to the end so we know what happened and why. He is committed to ensuring that we take the appropriate actions after the Accountability Review Board to ensure that what happened in Benghazi does not happen again.
What is also the case is that requests from the hundreds of diplomatic facilities around the country for security personnel or other related matters are made to the State Department. They are not made to the White House. And that’s just a simple statement of fact. It is certainly the case that this President believes that we need to assess what happened in Benghazi and we need to take action -- appropriate action to ensure that it does not happen again.
Q Jay, going back on the issue of assessment, and it's a real simple question -- on the onset of what happened in Benghazi, can you gauge or assess intelligence that you gathered on the onset? I mean, a month out now.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Can you gauge or assess the intelligence information that you gained on the onset of what happened in Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to -- I mean, we have given you information that we can, based on what we know, have known at the time, and that has been the case from the beginning. And it has been all of us -- these assessments are not made by our impressions watching cable TV, they are made based on the assessments made by intelligence professionals.
And what has always been the case is that Ambassador Rice made clear, I made clear and others have made clear -- the Secretary of State made clear today -- that those assessments are preliminary until we have all the facts, and that those assessments could change depending on new evidence and new facts that come to light. That’s what Ambassador Rice said, and that’s what I have tried to make clear throughout this.
So I'm not going to give you a running assessment of intelligence. I can simply tell you that as the DNI statement made clear, they made initial assessments based on what they knew, and those assessment evolved as new information came in.
Q Now, I just want to just go back with what you just said. So basically what I'm gleaning is we have better intelligence information now than we had at the onset.
MR. CARNEY: I think it's unquestionable that as we gather more facts, we have a better and clearer picture of what happened. But that process is ongoing and is not complete. And it is the case, as Secretary Clinton said today, that even now there are things that are still open to question and assessment as more facts come in, and that's why the investigation is continuing.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Let me go to Mike. How are you, man? Good to have you back.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: And then after I’ll have a week ahead.
Q I want to get historical with you here. This Sunday is going to be the 50th anniversary of the overflights -- U-2 overflights over Cuba that discovered the Russian SAM sites that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. We find ourselves now in a similar -- in at least another nuclear standoff, the one with Iran. I just wanted to get your thoughts on how you think history will look at the President’s role in this standoff. Will it be a "profile in courage"?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you this, that when the President took office it was a fact that the world was divided on this issue and Iran was united. The President made clear that there was an avenue open to Iran to rejoin the community of nations, to get right with the world if it abided by its international obligations and if it gave up in a verifiable way its nuclear weapons ambitions.
He also made clear that failure to do that would result in increasingly punitive sanctions and increasingly problematic isolation for the regime in Tehran. And we have made significant progress in implementing what is unquestionably seen as the most punitive and comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran in history.
And that has come about because it’s not just the United States -- and this was suggested last night that somehow Congress alone could act to sanction Iran in an effective way -- because the fact is, the only way you can put the kind of pressure on Iran that we’ve been able to do through the sanctions regime is by having an international consensus behind it, because it’s a global marketplace and the ability to pressure Iran through economic sanctions requires international cooperation.
And what this President has achieved because of his approach is a level of international consensus on this, a level of recognition that Iran is the problem that has allowed for the implementation of a broad set of sanctions that has put enormous pressure on the Iranian economy, as well as on Iranian political institutions.
The goal and the President’s red line, if you will, is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There is time and space to allow this approach to go forward. What the President has also made clear is that he will take no tool off the table, no option off the table, in ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. But is absolutely the case that the best way to ensure that is to pressure Iran to the point where it makes the decision, the regime makes the decision to forsake its nuclear weapons because the cost is too high, and to forsake that program in a verifiable way. And that's what the President is pursuing.
Q Just a quick follow-up -- follow-on. You called the Vice President’s performance excellent. I was just wondering, will we see the President try to emulate that? Will we see a feistier performance from him?
MR. CARNEY: I got a version of that earlier, and I’m not going to preview the President’s performance. I will simply say that he’s looking forward, as he always does, to the opportunity to present to the American people in a forum like this upcoming debate his vision for how we need to continue to move the country forward, how we need to grow the economy from the middle out, how focusing on the middle class and helping the middle class grow is the way that we have always grown most effectively as a country. And next week, next Tuesday is an opportunity to do that. And I look forward to that I’m sure as much as you do.
Thanks, guys. Oh, wait --
Q The week ahead.
MR. CARNEY: Speaking of next week, on Monday, the President will remain in Williamsburg, Virginia.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Hempstead, New York, where he will participate in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. The First Lady will also attend. The President will return to Washington D.C. later in the evening.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Athens, Ohio for campaign events. The President will return to Washington D.C. that evening.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Manchester, New Hampshire for a campaign event. And also on Thursday, the President will deliver remarks at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City. The President will return to Washington that evening.
And on Friday, the President will travel to Camp David, where he will remain overnight.
Thank you all.
Q Just overnight?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s my week ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
12:35 P.M. EDT
July 6, 2016
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July 1, 2016
President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
June 30, 2016