Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/20/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Let me just, if I may, begin by making a few observations that reviews where we are. On Monday, the President, as you know, put forward to Speaker of the House Boehner a compromise proposal that would achieve significant long-term deficit reduction for our country; that would protect the middle class, protect seniors, and help our economy continue to grow and create jobs.
The difference between the proposal that the President put forward -- which, by every measure, demonstrates his willingness to come at least halfway to the Republicans -- and the proposal that Speaker Boehner had previously put forward was not that great. Unfortunately, the Speaker’s response to that proposal thus far has been to walk away from it and to pursue what he called “Plan B.”
Plan B, which is the only thing the House of Representatives, the Republicans in the House, are focused on right now is a multi-day exercise in futility at a time when we do not have the luxury of exercises in futility. The Speaker and his lieutenants have spent days trying to twist arms and wrangle votes within their own conference. It’s an exercise in Republican vote counting that will not result in anything for the American people. It cannot pass the Senate. The President would veto it if it got to his desk.
Moreover, as I think you know, plan B represents -- or would represent a major step backward in these discussions and a major step backward for the American people. Its proposals would give, on average, a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires of $50,000 -- hardly what the American people thought they were getting as a result of the debates and the election.
It would, in the name of protecting millionaires and billionaires, give people making between $200,000 and $500,000 a year, a $260 tax cut. So let’s be clear: You’re a millionaire or billionaire, you get John Boehner -- Speaker Boehner’s plan, you get a $50,000 tax cut. If you’re a wealthy American who makes between $200,000 and $500,000 a year, your reward for this exercise, if it were to become law, is a $260 tax cut. And of course, if you make less than that, you get less. And 25 million American families get a tax hike.
This is not what the American people want. This is not what the American people are looking for. This is -- would be a giant step backward. And it's the wrong way to go.
There is still an opportunity for compromise on a big deal, a deal that doesn't just resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, but reduces our deficits by, when taken together, $4 trillion over 10 years; that helps our economy grow and create jobs, put people back to work; that protects the middle class and seniors; that strengthens our entitlement programs. That's the deal the President put on the table. And again, by every measure, whether it's on revenue or spending cuts, it demonstrates his good-faith effort and his absolute factual willingness to come halfway towards the Republicans.
And even if you were to say -- if you're the House Republicans and you simply have no capacity to reach a compromise on a big deal, there is a fallback that has been languishing in the House of Representatives that would extend tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people, and has been languishing there for months and months, would give tax cuts to everyone making under $250,000. It would not give a $50,000 tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. It would not stick it to 25 million working American families. Unfortunately, that's where we are at this moment. I'll take your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple of topics. I'll start with where you started. We know that this bill if it passes the House is not going to be taken up by the Senate, according to Senator Reid. Is it possible -- I'm wondering what the President's next step here is. Is it possible for him to go to the Democrats in the Senate and just say, here's my plan -- you guys pass it and send it back?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President is not interested in, well, first of all, strategizing through the media. He is interested in resolving this in a way that's beneficial for the American people. There remains, even at this late date, an opportunity to do something big and good for the American people. But what we know about this exercise -- and we have seen this movie before -- is that when there was the opportunity for a compromise on something big and significant, the Republican leadership walked away and pursued something that was irrelevant to the rest of America, that is only a matter of internal House Republican politics. And it does nothing for the effort to achieve a bipartisan compromise. It produces nothing that will become law. It does nothing but bring us closer to the fiscal cliff. And it does nothing to resolve our long-term deficit challenges.
That is not what the American people expected to be the reaction of some of their leaders in the wake of this election. They expected, as the President said, that the message they sent on November 6th was that they wanted their leaders to work together, to compromise, to think about the greater good and to do big things in a manner that's balanced, that protects the middle class and helps the economy grow. They certainly didn't send the signal on November 6th that what they really wanted to see five days before Christmas was a bill become law that gives millionaires and billionaires a $50,000 tax cut on average. I guarantee you that is something you could not divine from the exit polls, because it does not exist.
Q Different topic. Does the President accept the conclusions of the scathing independent report about what happened in Benghazi? And does he still feel that he is ultimately responsible, as he said in one of the debates with Governor Romney?
MR. CARNEY: The President does accept the report. He believes that Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering have provided an important service to their country in this report. His administration, as you know, is adopting -- and the Secretary of State is adopting all of the recommendations of the report. And some of those recommendations are being acted on and have been acted on already prior to the issuance of the report.
What happened that day in Benghazi is a tragedy, and we lost the lives of four brave Americans. And we have an obligation to them, to their families, and all other Americans serving abroad to figure out exactly what happened, and learn from those mistakes so that we can prevent this from happening again. That was the purpose of the establishment of the Accountability Review Board.
As the President said at the time, clearly it is unacceptable and there is a problem that needs to be fixed when four Americans die, as they did in Benghazi. The President's priority is the safety of Americans serving abroad. The board has put forward a set of clear recommendations, and Secretary Clinton said we will have implementation of every recommendation underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. I read that sentence not to solicit questions about personnel moves, because I have no personnel announcements to make.
But the President and Secretary haven't just been waiting for these recommendations. As I said, the administration has worked to review the security posture of all our overseas facilities to ensure that our personnel are safe and secure, and able to do their jobs. And, as you know, again, as you heard from senior members of the State Department today on Capitol Hill, action is already being taken in response to this report.
Q One quick follow about something the President said yesterday at the lectern about how to approach the issue of gun violence. He said, "We're going to need to look more closely at the culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence." Does the President feel that as part of this review it's the role of government to potentially monitor and change things like video games, music, a broader cultural influence on guns and gun violence?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that this is a complex problem, a multifaceted problem that requires a response and a solution that takes that into consideration. In other words, there is not a single piece of legislation that deals with access to guns that will solve this problem. There’s not an action that we could take in terms of providing mental health services that would solve this problem. There are a variety of things that we can and should do that could help address this problem.
When it comes to matters -- cultural matters, I think that that's an area that bears exploration and is one of the areas that the President hopes will be a topic of the conversation that he wants to undertake, and he wants to hear ideas and proposals from a lot of stakeholders, not just experts within his administration or lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but from a broad array of sources of people who might have ideas about how to pursue this.
I don't have a specific proposal when it comes to cultural matters. But it is certainly the case that we in Washington have the potential, anyway, to help elevate issues that are of concern, elevate issues that contribute to the scourge of gun violence in this country, and that has been the case in the past and it certainly could be in the future. But I don't have a specific prescription on any matter related to that bucket of issues, if you will.
Q If I could just jump to the fiscal cliff.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Majority Leader Cantor says he has enough votes to pass Speaker Boehner’s plan B. Majority Leader Reid says he has no intention of voting on it. At what point does the President insert himself in the process again?
MR. CARNEY: The idea that the President hasn’t been in the process I think is refuted by all the evidence. But the President cannot do the work that Congress has to do. The President cannot force the House to accept what is by any measure a reasonable compromise, a compromise that achieves one of their stated goals -- a dollar of spending cuts for a dollar of revenue; a compromise that contains within it some very tough choices made by the President and by Democrats that address some of the concerns that Republicans say they care most about. And it’s balanced, and it protects seniors, and it helps the middle class, and it continues needed investments that will help our economy grow and create jobs.
Instead of taking the opportunity that was presented to them to continue to negotiate what could be a very helpful, large deal for the American people, the Republicans in the House have decided to run down an alley that has no exit while we all watch. And again, it’s something we've seen in the past that produces nothing positive except perhaps copy for Hill reporters; and does not bring us any closer to resolution of either the fiscal cliff or our deficit issues, challenges; and does not help the cause of trying to find a compromise.
Q Another topic. Senator Hagel has come under some fire recently with his positions on issues like Iran, Iraq, and other issues. Is the President still impressed with Senator Hagel’s record? Is he still the kind of person the President would want in a senior Cabinet position?
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about personnel matters. I can simply say that Senator Hagel has been a remarkable servant to this country, a recipient of two Purple Hearts. He fought for this country and has served this country admirably in a number of capacities. Beyond that, I think I’ll let the President make any announcements about personnel when the time is right.
Let me move back. Alexis.
Q Can you follow up on what Mark was asking? After the Republicans run down the alley, from which there is no exit, will the President be standing there or calling them? I think that’s what we’re asking is, after tonight, what does he do?
MR. CARNEY: The dangers of throwing out metaphors is that people pick them up. (Laughter.) What I’m confident of is that they don’t have at the end of that alley, like, a Batplane to fly out to their own rescue. Do you remember that scene? It was good. It was a good scene. (Laughter.)
Q -- that’s where you going with it.
MR. CARNEY: (Laughter.) It wasn’t where I was going with it.
Q You’ve could have gone with Spiderman --
Q Does the President have a Batplane?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t talk about that. It’s classified. (Laughter.)
Look, the President is ready right now to negotiate a compromise along the lines of the one he put forward. It’s available, it’s a good deal. At some point, House Republicans need to know how to say yes, and need to recognize that in a compromise, they don’t get everything want, but they do, in this compromise, get something very significant that they claim they have always wanted, which is significant deficit reduction -- something they weren’t able to get, by the way, when they were in control of both houses of Congress and had a Republican President in office.
It’s right here. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, has put it forward. It’s a good, fair deal, and a balanced deal, and they ought to continue to negotiate to try to achieve something big for the American people.
Short of that, there has been a bill languishing in the House for months now that would extend tax cuts for all but 2 percent of the American people -- all the working Americans, all the middle class -- everybody except the top 2 percent. That would create a lot of certainty if the House were to pass it for the American people. It would avert a significant portion of the cliff. And it would not be something so twisted around that it ends up, as plan B does, doing the opposite of what the goal was supposed to be here, which is rewarding millionaires and billionaires with a big old tax cut, and sticking it to 25 million working American families. That cannot be what the message was that Republicans received from this election, that that’s the path they ought to pursue.
Q Quick follow-up. Does the President see this exercise in the House as any way strengthening Speaker Boehner's hand to make a final deal before the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: I hesitate to, on his behalf or even mine, to analyze or try to divine the motivations behind the strategy, if you can call it that, that is being pursued. What we know is that at present it is leading nowhere that is good for the American people; nowhere that brings us closer to a deal or a compromise. And it certainly brings us closer to the fiscal cliff.
So your colleagues know certainly more than we do, perhaps, about what's behind the strategy, if you can call it that. But it's not, in our eyes, a useful exercise.
Q Are you saying that the offer that the President has made is his final word --
MR. CARNEY: I am not saying that. I am saying that there is an offer on the table from the President, and there was an offer that supposedly, because it was proffered by the Speaker of the House, had the support of his members -- at least a measure of them -- that is not all that far from what the President was offering. And there is, within reason, room to compromise.
Instead of engaging in that process, unfortunately the Speaker has pursued this so-called plan B option that is, again, an exercise in futility. It does not help anyone. I'm not even sure it helps him. But again, that goes to the previous question about motivations and machinations within the House Republican conference. I don't have -- it's a little too opaque for me to see what's happening.
Q Is he prepared to go further on both sides of the equation -- spending and revenues?
MR. CARNEY: I think that I'll leave it at simply that he never said either in private or in public that this was his final offer. He understands that to reach a deal it would require some further negotiation. There is not much further he could go, because after all, unlike his counterparts in this negotiation, he has already gone halfway on both sides of the equation.
But he remains -- while adhering to his principles -- hopeful that we can get a bigger deal, because it would be of such great benefit to the economy and to the American middle class. And he really believes that that's what the American people want their leaders in Washington to achieve.
Q Senator Reid has apparently said that the Senate may soon go out and come back next Thursday. If that indeed happens, what then for the President? Will he take a brief trip to Hawaii for the holiday? What?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any scheduling announcements to make, and obviously, it's a fairly fluid situation. I think that what Senator Reid is indicating here is that plan B has no prospects in the Senate. The Senate has already voted on and sent to the House a bill that would extend tax cuts for the vast majority of the American people, and do it in a way that is eminently more fair than what plan B represents.
And what remains the case is that when you talk about a larger deal, one that actually addresses our deficits -- because after all, plan B, this is what is so perplexing about this option that they're pursuing, the plan B option, is that it -- instead of taking a deal that actually would reduce our deficit all told by $4 trillion over 10 years, that would substantially reduce spending in a responsible way, that would address some of the ways that they have demanded health care entitlement spending, they're saying that the better alternative is to take a deal that does none of that. And that just doesn't seem like a great option and it's certainly not one that's going to become law.
So scheduling, I just don't have for you. We're obviously closely monitoring developments on Capitol Hill. We hope that an opportunity presents itself to achieve something good for the American people, but we can't do their jobs for them.
Q He's not going tomorrow, right?
MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling announcements to make.
Q First, just a quick follow-up on the question about Senator Hagel. One of the reasons he's been criticized lately is he was quoted saying that, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here” -- when he was a senator. “I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator." He currently serves in a role for the administration, so I just want to give you an opportunity to address this. Does he deny having said that and does the administration --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think you ought to address that question to Senator Hagel. I'm not -- we're not in a process -- and we've been through this before with Ambassador Rice where there's an effort to go after somebody. And we haven't nominated anyone. We have made no personnel announcements, and I'm not going to engage in that.
What I can tell you is that Senator Hagel fought and bled for his country. He served his country well. He was an excellent senator. And I say that as somebody who covered him as much as somebody who is speaking for the White House. Beyond that, I just don't -- I'm not going to engage in this kind of process.
Q So moving on to the guns issue -- yesterday the President was given an opportunity to address some of what he has done to try to curb guns, gun violence in the nation during his first term, and he didn’t take the opportunity. Why?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just be clear here that the President said very clearly on Sunday that we have not done enough as a nation and we must do more, we must take action. And I think you heard him reiterate his commitment again yesterday when he stood here with Vice President Biden.
When it comes to measures that were taken in the President’s first term, you know -- or you could know if you asked the Department of Justice -- that among the steps taken by this administration to stem illegal firearms trafficking, we have been successfully seeking an increase in sentencing guidelines for firearms trafficking offenses, including increases in offense level for straw purchases and enhancement for trafficking guns across the U.S. border; also establishing a rule under which firearms dealers in the four Southwest border states provide information to ATF on multiple sales of long guns, including assault weapons, in order to give law enforcement agents real-time investigative leads on potential firearms trafficking.
Now, to anticipate your next question, nobody is suggesting that that is enough. And that is why you heard the President commit himself to take rapid action to move this forward, and already called right away on Congress to ban the sale of military assault weapons, to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, to pass a law that requires background checks before all gun purchases so that criminals cannot take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won't take the responsibility of doing a background check at all; and also to take action to improve coordination between the federal government and state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals by confirming the head of an agency whose responsibility is to do just that -- the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
So not enough has been done; more needs to be done. The President, as you saw yesterday, is committed to doing it and to doing it quickly, and to not just calling on Congress to do these things -- because as he made clear yesterday, this is something that even these steps will not alone address if all of them are achieved by Congress. Much more needs to be done. We have to look at areas of education and mental health, as well as other areas of law enforcement, areas of culture -- as was asked earlier. And that's why the President has asked the Vice President, who, by the way, authored the Crime Bill in 1994, to oversee this effort.
Q The President sounded defensive in answer to that question yesterday. Does he think that -- do you think that politics got in the way of his own principles on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don't. I think that what the President said happens to be true, which is that when he took office we were in an economic financial global meltdown.
Q You can walk and chew gum -- we hear all these sayings in the office right now.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. And the President -- his administration did take steps that I -- several of which I just discussed.
But make no mistake, he believes that we did not do enough. He is committed to doing more. And you saw I think from him yesterday how seriously he plans to address this.
Q Has the President read the Accountability Review Board report?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I know he has been briefed on it. I don’t know if he has read it word for word, but he is a voracious reader, so he may have.
Q I believe one person has resigned and three have been -- stepped down from their current duties, but are still State Department employees. There might have been an update to that since I last read about it. Is that sufficient for the President? Is that enough accountability from the Accountability Review Board?
MR. CARNEY: I think by every measure, the report has been assessed to be -- to have been sharply critical and very blunt and clear-eyed about both problems that exist, problems that need to be fixed, and the need for accountability. And actions are already -- have been taken, as you just noted.
Q I'm not questioning the report. I'm just -- I'm wondering, is that enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think -- independent experts here, Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering, oversaw the Accountability Review Board, which I think everyone is judging to have been quite -- and the recommendations that they have made are being adopted in full. And there has already been, in this very short period of time, actions that demonstrate accountability as being upheld.
I haven't had a discussion with the President, but I think he is both appreciative of Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen for the service they provided to the nation here; for the depth that they delved into in this report; and the seriousness of their recommendations, the speed with which they acted. And he intends to make sure that the administration, as the Secretary of State has said, begins implementation of all of these recommendations before the next Secretary of State takes office.
Some of this has to do -- some of it will have to do with working with Congress to ensure that Congress provides the necessary funds to allow for enhanced security at our diplomatic missions around the world.
So there is obviously more action that needs to be taken. But this is a very serious report, and the President has indicated that he expects it to be implemented fully.
Q Again, I'm not besmirching the report, I'm just wondering if the personnel --
MR. CARNEY: I think I made clear I don’t have another answer for you. Four people have already, in one way or another, been held accountable -- fairly senior people.
Q Is that sufficient for the President? That’s the only question.
MR. CARNEY: I believe the President believes that the recommendations and the actions taken have been the right ones.
Q Okay. One other thing I wanted to ask about, though -- the mental health ramifications following Sandy Hook, and that is, there have been some interesting personal stories in the media about parents -- often single parents, but not exclusively -- struggling with children who are mentally ill, some of them violently so, most of them not, who do not have enough help from society; they fall through some holes, some cracks in the system. I'm just wondering if the President has seen any of these, have read any of the essays that have been written and caught any of them on television. Because it's actually been remarkable to hear, because normally you don’t hear stories like this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven't had that discussion with him. He is someone who reads widely, and it would surprise me if he hasn't read or seen some of the reports that you're talking about; probably more likely to have read rather than seen, with all due respect to the broadcast media. But the fact is that he believes very strongly that mental health is one of the major areas that needs to be addressed as we take a kind of comprehensive approach to this problem.
It's why, setting aside the issue of gun violence, but the issue of mental health in general is extremely important to -- in the President's view -- to what our overall approach to health care in this country ought to be, which is why, as you know, he made sure that the health care law that he passed with Congress will ensure 30 million more Americans have access to mental health services. And that law also makes recommended mental health services available without a co-pay or a deductible -- again, part of the effort here to make it clear that issues of mental health are as important both for the individual and for the society as issues of physical health.
But as it relates to gun violence, there is no question that this is something that needs more exploration and likely more action, which is why the President has taken the action that he has.
Q You said hereby officials yesterday that the lines of communication remain open, but no one is using them. Is that true today as well?
MR. CARNEY: I have no communications to report to you. It is certainly true that as the President made clear from here yesterday, that he would like to work with the Republican leadership to achieve a compromise on a big deal. Unfortunately, since the President put forward his compromise, the reaction from House leadership on the Republican side has been to pursue what they have deemed to be plan B, rather than engage on a negotiation to bridge the gap that exists between the President's offer and the Speaker's last offer, which is unfortunate.
The President would like to see that dynamic changed, but he cannot negotiate on behalf of House Republicans. He cannot bring the House Republican conference to vote on his own. That requires the leadership in the House to act. And unfortunately, they're wasting a lot of time, as I was saying, on an effort that is pointless and futile. And it's really -- I mean, what is remarkable about it, it's not even -- I mean, if it were just symbolic and it took a few hours, but it's taking days, because they're clearly spending an enormous amount of time twisting arms and getting votes together for something that achieves nothing.
Q Does that lack of communication also include members of the President's senior staff that had been having regular conversations with representatives of the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: I have no -- and this is not an effort to be opaque, I am not aware of any additional conversations.
Q As you may be aware, and maybe the President is aware and maybe the Vice President is aware -- as the country has looked at the renewed interest in gun control, gun purchases are increasing before our very eyes. High-capacity ammunition clips, those sales are also going up. There are some members of the House already who are talking about the flaw they potentially see in the assault weapons ban that Senator Feinstein has of grandfathering in all these purchases.
What I'm curious about is if this administration is open to the concept suggested by others of a federal buy-back program of, under some circumstance, purchasing back -- as some states have -- ammunition clips, certain types of weapons, other things like that as part of way to deal with two things that are happening. The President wants limited access, reduced violence. But these weapons are being purchased in very large numbers in anticipation of something changing.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the effort that the Vice President will oversee will examine a variety of proposals and will do so quickly. I don't know whether that's one of them. I haven't heard that discussed, but this process is ongoing.
Q Does it sound like something the administration might
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would hesitate to speculate on any specific hypothetical legislation beyond the ones that we've discussed -- the areas where the President himself yesterday said he would like to see action on. I think that the point you make about possible problems in legislation like the assault weapons ban or -- the fact is, as we've seen in the past, that any single piece of legislation will not solve the problem. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue them. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t improve them. But we need to recognize from the outset, as the President said, we'll never stop all gun violence in America, but we need to reduce it. We need to take action to do everything we can to prevent the kinds of appalling atrocities like the one we saw in Connecticut on Friday.
But beyond that, beyond the specific proposals that he wants to see Congress act on right away, others are being discussed and will be discussed in the effort led by the Vice President.
Q Let me follow up on Jake for a second. The report on Benghazi said a lot of things, but one of the phrases that came up over and over was “systematic failure.” It also said while there was no clear warning of this specific attack, there were warning signs that should have sounded alarm bells. Does the President accept both of those things as being true, that there was systematic failure in all this and that there should have been a better and more nimble and more aware response to warning bells that came before that attack?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President accepts the report and wants every recommendation implemented. I think he believes that the report and the work done is extremely helpful, and he appreciates the efforts of both Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen.
Clearly, as the report demonstrates, but we knew before, there was not security adequate enough in Benghazi to prevent the deaths of four brave Americans, including our Ambassador. So we needed to find out, in that effort, what went wrong, why, and what we needed to do and hold accountable people who should be held accountable, and then take actions to ensure that we're doing everything we can to protect our diplomats overseas -- but also be mindful of the fact that Secretary Clinton has said that we cannot hermetically seal our diplomats because they would not be able to do their jobs. There is risk inherent in the work that they do on behalf of their country, on behalf of the American people, and taking risks is, unfortunately, part of the job. But we can certainly do better, as the report demonstrates and the President insists that we do.
Q And just to clarify what Jake asked, all the accountability that is required has been achieved -- is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the President believes that --
Q You just said the President wants people held accountable who were responsible for this systematic failure. And I’m just asking, has that all been achieved?
MR. CARNEY: Beyond the actions already taken, I mean, I would refer you to the State Department about whether other actions are being contemplated. I think that it’s been fairly sophisticated in its analysis, blunt in its criticism, effective in its prescriptions, and the President accepts and endorses all of that.
I would note, if I may, because nobody has asked, but there has been also in that report a discussion of the interagency process of which there had been a great deal of reporting and, as it turns out, much of it inaccurate, because it says -- and I quote -- “the interagency response was timely and appropriate but there was simply not enough time, given the speed of the attacks, for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference. Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks and continued through the night.” And as you know, when the President was notified, that was the first thing he ordered, was that the Defense Department, the CIA and others do everything they can as quickly as they could to assist.
“The board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision-making, or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response, and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans. In addition, at the State Department's request, the Defense Department also provided a Marine FAST team, a Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team, as additional security support for Embassy Tripoli on September 12th.”
Q Jay, on that question of accountability, though, when Ben I think made the point that before the election, the President in a debate said he took responsibility for Benghazi; before the election Secretary Clinton did a series of interviews I think in Peru where she said she took responsibility. But now, after the election, after the report comes out, we hear about three or four State Department people taking the fall. How is it that they're taking responsibility when the President and Secretary of State say --
MR. CARNEY: So let me just get this straight -- the President and Secretary of State order immediately an Accountability Review Board headed by two individuals who are admired broadly across the political spectrum in Washington who have served their country admirably in a diplomatic service and in the military. That report is extremely detailed, it is very critical of both inadequacies in our security and in decisions and actions that were taken. Immediately, accountability has been brought to bear with regard to four individuals who are very senior. And your question is, why aren't they -- this is the State Department -- the Secretary of State said she understood that State Department embassy security was on her watch and action has been taken.
Q Okay. But those people are taking the fall. I'm just asking, since the Secretary of State --
MR. CARNEY: They're not taking the fall.
Q Well, what are they doing? Somebody resigned, other people --
MR. CARNEY: Taking the fall suggests that this isn't accountability and responsibility. That’s what it is. What are you suggesting?
Q I'm just asking a question as to whether -- as was asked already -- about whether the accountability ends with those people. People at higher levels said before the election that the buck stopped with them.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure what you're suggesting.
Q Did they say that before the election?
MR. CARNEY: There were some individuals who made a lot of reporting that turned out to be entirely false, based on the paragraph I just read, Ed.
MR. CARNEY: And the facts in the report are the facts. The accountability is being taken. And I think it demonstrates the President's seriousness on this issue -- a seriousness that is not just limited to steps we need to take to improve our security for our diplomats around the world, but also the steps that we are continuing to take to make sure that the individuals who took the lives of four brave Americans are brought to justice. And that effort continues.
Q Question about Secretary Clinton. The public learned last Saturday that she had fallen and got a concussion. Did the -- but that had happened days earlier. When was the President informed, when was the White House informed that she had fallen and got a concussion? Was it Saturday?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a day for you. I know that the President spoke with Secretary Clinton on Saturday, but I don’t have any more information --
Q But had that been revealed to the White House sooner and you just hadn't told the public? Or did it --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think the State Department has been informing the public about the fact that she was ill and then that she fell. And the President spoke with the Secretary on Saturday. But I don't have any more information for you on it.
Q Is he speaking with her regularly? The question of if she is unable --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just told you, he spoke with her on Saturday.
Q On Saturday, but --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have another conversation to read out to you.
Q Okay, well, the question is she's still the Secretary of State until someone else is nominated and confirmed. And there are a lot of foreign policy issues all around the world from Syria to Iran, North Korea, et cetera. She couldn't testify on Capitol Hill because she's ill. Is he talking to her on a regular basis to figure out if somebody else is going to fill in? On a regular basis now, is she able to do her job?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would refer questions about her health to the State Department. There are obviously enormously able people at the State Department, including the Deputy Secretary of State both for policy and for administration, and a number of very able advisors to the President on matters of national security and foreign policy.
And the President has spoken with Secretary Clinton. She is ill and recovering. But the State Department remains under her watch and ably administrated by Secretary Burns and Secretary Nides and others. I just don't have any more information on that for you.
Q Has he spoken with her since Saturday?
MR. CARNEY: I just said that he spoke to her on Saturday. I don't have any other calls to read out.
Q But not since?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q The NRA, the National Rifle Association, will make its first public comments during a news conference scheduled for tomorrow. I'm curious, given the announcement made by the President yesterday, if the President has spoken to the NRA to invite them to be a part of this task force that he's set up led by the Vice President, or if the Vice President has done that yet.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is not issuing invitations. I think as you saw yesterday, the Vice President is overseeing this effort with Cabinet secretaries and others. I think the President -- I'm not aware of any conversations that have taken place with members or representatives of the leadership of the NRA.
I would simply echo what the President said, and this is in the end, an organization like that is made up of members who are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Everyone in America has a stake in doing something to end the scourge of gun violence in our country that, as we saw in Newtown, Connecticut, is a threat to the most vulnerable citizens, the most vulnerable Americans, the children who it should be our first duty to protect.
Q So given they have those shared sensitivities, and mothers and fathers, why not engage them in the task force?
MR. CARNEY: Who said that we weren't? I'm saying that I haven't -- I'm not aware of any invitations. Again, the President just spoke yesterday about the effort that Vice President Biden is undertaking on the President's behalf and that process will be ongoing.
I certainly believe that it is the President's view and the Vice President's view that any stakeholder in this -- which should be everyone -- who wants to help in an effort to take steps that would help end this problem is welcome -- constructive steps. What we have seen, as the President noted, is a number of individuals who have publicly talked about how they are viewing this differently in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown -- I'm referring now to elected officials -- that their previously held positions when it came to opposing measures like the assault weapons ban and others, that they are reevaluating those positions or changing them because of a recognition that we need to do something. And that is certainly, I think, reflective of what's been happening around the country in response to this terrible tragedy.
Q And given the fact that the President also said that he spoke to Americans during -- he eulogized the victims of the tragedy, and again yesterday, not just as President but as a father, I'm curious -- you're a father as well. In conversations you may have had with the President, what was the conversation he had with his own daughters about what happened, given that this one touches so close to home?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's an excellent question, but it's not one that I would talk about. He might at some time, as he has on occasion, discussed some of the conversations he has as a parent with his children. But I wouldn't do that on his behalf.
Q What does he encourage parents to tell their children?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I wouldn't speak for him on that. I think that all of us as parents look to our fellow parents for guidance, sort of a communal effort deciding how to discuss this, especially with younger children and even teenagers. And it's not easy, as those of us who are parents know.
Q Thanks so much, Jay. Two people now -- Susan Rice and Chuck Hagel -- have come under pretty intense criticism, even before they had been nominated for any Cabinet posts. Does the White House have any obligation to provide a support structure in defense of some of these people whose names have been mentioned as potential Cabinet nominees in the interim or while they're in this limbo waiting for a formal announcement?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware of an obligation to do anything beyond what we've been doing, which is, in the case of Ambassador Rice, who has performed with excellence as our United Nations Ambassador and is enormously qualified for any foreign policy assignment, national security assignment that she might be given by this President or any other, and then in the case of Senator Hagel, who has served admirably both in uniform and as a senator, to make clear our views on that. But what we're not going to do is engage in a process that is a side-door way of talking about decisions on personnel that the President has not made, nor announced. But I admire the effort.
Q Jay, Attorney General Holder mentioned the prospect of executive orders on the gun violence issue. To what extent has the White House already examined prospects for executive orders on this?
MR. CARNEY: I think the process that's underway will look at a variety of avenues to help bring about the change that we need. Beyond that, I don't have a way to answer that question further. But there are specific things already that the President has called on Congress to do and will continue to call on Congress to do. There will be other efforts that will require congressional action, I suspect.
But it doesn't -- as we said from the beginning, it does not begin and end with congressional action. There are numerous other things that we need to do as a nation, and that we in Washington can do. And that’s part of the reason -- that is the reason why the President has asked the Vice President to undertake this effort.
Q You know of some of the executive -- possibly executive order options that were considered after the Tucson shootings. Are they still in the hopper?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to give you a sneak preview of actions that we might be evaluating or considering. We're not -- beyond the four legislative items that I mentioned earlier that the President has called on Congress to act on as soon as possible, we're not at a point of putting forward more proposals that we would like to see taken or that we plan to take.
Margaret, and then Steve.
Q There are memorial services planned for the late Senator Inouye in town and also in his home state, and I'm wondering whether the President has plans to attend or speak at either, and what the message is that he wants to convey beyond his formal statements already made about Senator Inouye's legacy.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no scheduling announcements to make from here at this time. Obviously, the President served with Inouye. He was raised -- born and raised in Hawaii, and has enormous regard for Senator Inouye's remarkable career and that -- he served for so long that I think a lot of Americans have no idea the extent of his heroism and his service. And I think it's entirely fitting that we will hear a lot about that in the coming days. He is certainly someone the President will miss, and someone whose service the President greatly appreciates and admires.
Q I have a fiscal cliff question, also, believe it or not.
MR. CARNEY: Can't believe that.
Q There is something -- you had talked about the initial weekend negotiations, and you said that there had supposedly been an offer or counteroffer by the Speaker prior to plan B that you said must have had at least some support from his caucus, and I'm wondering if you wanted to elaborate on that. If you believe that you put that out, why do you believe you're not -- that you're not talking about that anymore right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that we can speculate, but in the end we don’t whip votes in the House Republican conference. And we engage with -- the President engages with the leaders of the other party in Congress in an effort to reach compromises that are good for the country, good for the middle class and good for the economy, and that is the effort that he undertook in his conversations with the Speaker that included a series of proposals and counterproposals and new offers.
And unfortunately, that process stopped when it seemed possible that it might bear fruit. And we hope that it is renewed because, as the President said yesterday, it’s certainly the case that after the year we've had and some of the things that have happened to this country in recent weeks and months, at the very least we should be doing the things we can do to help the country and help the middle class. And this is eminently doable. The deal is there; they should take this opportunity, we believe. And it’s obviously up to them, but in terms of analyzing their politics, I can't see that clearly into the process.
Q When you say it’s eminently doable, do you think that the votes exist in the House Republican caucus?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that there is an entirely reasonable deal available that achieves goals that they say they have long sought that would be extremely good for the economy, for the middle class, for job creation, that is balanced, that protects seniors. This is what we all talked about wanting to achieve. And the President has demonstrated in the offers he’s made and the statements he’s made and the questions he’s answered that he is willing to make tough decisions, but that he believes that's the right thing to do for the country. And he hopes and expects that Republicans will do the same.
I think Scott and then -- sorry, Steve, I think I said you, and then Scott.
Q Thanks. The White House threatened to veto the Defense Authorization bill because of provisions on detaining transfers which would make it all but impossible to close Guantanamo Bay. The bill has gone through the conference and the language is still in there. Does that veto threat still stand?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly have no updates on it for you.
Q A lot of people on the Hill think that the President would maybe do a signing statement but not a veto.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, what we put out is still our position, and I don't have any updates on it for you.
Q Just to follow on Major a bit, so the President said specifically yesterday, calling on Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Some of the language in the bills on the Hill are “transfer and possession.” So he --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we would have to look at legislative language. I mean, what has -- when people talk about a renewal of the assault weapons ban, they’re talking about the portion of the Crime Bill that was passed in 1994 and, sadly, expired in 2004, which was a price of getting it done, as you probably remember. And I believe that -- the Crime Bill and the assault weapons ban portion of it included the ban on the sale.
But whatever bill comes forward we're going to evaluate. He believes that we should take action on the so-called assault weapons ban.
Q Okay. One last thing. The OMB, I guess, has been sending out memos to some of the agencies about possible furloughs as a result of sequestration. How should federal workers sort of be dealing with this right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what’s happening is part of good governance and it is the responsibility of OMB to give these notifications. We remain, as I’ve been discussing, focused on reaching agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that prevents us from going over the fiscal cliff and avoids sequestration. And we believe even now that that agreement is within reach if there is a partner with whom to agree.
But with less than two weeks left before a potential sequestration order -- and you know when I say sequestration, to the extent that anybody out there is watching -- you can hear the remotes just turning off -- (laughter) -- sequestration. With less than two weeks left -- I know it’s very -- I revealed my -- (laughter) -- they don’t work like that anymore. I meant this.
Q -- pretty good with the bunny ears. (Laughter.)
Q I understood what you were saying. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Jackie, thank you.
As I was saying, OMB is taking further steps with just two weeks left to ensure that the administration is ready to issue such an order should Congress fail to act. So this is simply the responsible thing to do. It should not be read as predictive of any outcome. If we were five minutes away from achieving a deal it would still be the responsible thing to do.
Thank you all very much.
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May 23, 2015
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