Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/16/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here, as ever, for your White House briefing. I do not have any announcements or discussions of my weekend for the top, and therefore, I will go straight to Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. Does the White House support this deal that's emerging in the Senate to move forward on some of the President’s nominees?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a couple things. One, any agreement that there might be between senators has yet to be formally announced, and so we will not get ahead of such an announcement if and when it comes.
We have worked very closely with Senator Reid and we have made clear our support for Senator Reid’s position in this because we share -- the President shares his frustration over the obstructionism that we've seen from Republicans in the Senate when it comes to the confirmation of the President’s nominees. And we would be glad to see a resolution that results in the speedy confirmation of the President’s qualified nominees to these positions that have been at issue. And that includes Rich Cordray at CFPB; it includes Gina McCarthy at EPA and Tom Perez at Labor, and others.
So we won't have a full comment on an agreement that is yet to be announced, but we hope there is one. We simply hope that there’s a resolution that allows for the confirmation of the President’s nominees, which is why we supported all along Senator Reid in his approach to this matter.
Q Senator McCain, who has been quite involved in this process, says that he spoke with Vice President Biden and Denis McDonough over the past few days on this. Can you tell us what the White House’s role was in trying to break this impasse?
MR. CARNEY: The White House was not involved in negotiating. The White House provided information and answered questions when it came to working with Senate Republicans, including, of course, Senator McCain, who, again, as I understand it, based on what we've seen, deserves significant credit for his efforts in trying to find a resolution here -- a resolution that allows for hopefully the speedy confirmation of the President’s nominees.
But this has been a -- this solution that has been sought has been one that has been sought and negotiated by senators. And our position has been to communicate with and work with Senator Reid and other Democrats on this issue. But the negotiating between Democrats and Republicans has happened between senators.
Q Also, Edward Snowden has applied for temporary asylum in Russia. Has the White House reached out to the Russians since he filed his application? Is there any general comment on his taking this step?
MR. CARNEY: There are regular communications between the U.S. government and the Russian government on a host of matters, including this one. I don't know that there have been any communications today, but there may have been -- certainly not out of the White House that I'm aware of.
But our position on this remains what it was and is quite clear, which is that we believe there is ample legal justification for the return of Mr. Snowden to the United States, where he has been charged with serious felonies. And it should be clear when we see discussions about -- or suppositions or discussions about the idea that Mr. Snowden is somehow being persecuted, he is a United States citizen who has been charged with crimes, and under our system of law, he should be afforded every bit of due process here in the United States, and he should return here to face trial. And that’s our position, and it's the position we've taken in our conversations with the Russians and with other governments who have had an interest in this or which might be transit points or end destinations, potentially, for Mr. Snowden if that were to come about.
But our interest has always been in seeing him expelled from Russia and returned to the United States.
Q Thank you. Staying on Snowden, how would the President feel if Russia did, in fact, give him temporary asylum status?
MR. CARNEY: Again, as I said to Julie, our position is that Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled and returned to the United States and that he should not be allowed to engage in further international travel except as necessary to return to the United States. He is not a human right activist. He is not a dissident. He's accused of leaking classified information. He's been charged with three felony counts related to the leaking of classified information. And for those reasons, he should be returned to the United States.
The fact of the matter is, our message has been clear and consistent with every government in this regard. And Mr. Snowden has all of the rights that every American citizen charged with a crime in the United States has, and he should be returned here where he can stand trial and take advantage of those rights. So that’s the conversation we're having with foreign governments; that’s the conversations we're having with our Russian counterparts.
Q The President is scheduled to go to Russia for an international summit in September. Could Russia's decision on Snowden impact the President's decision to attend that summit?
MR. CARNEY: The President intends to travel to Russia in September for the G20 Summit, and I don’t have any further announcements with regard to that travel.
Q Moving back here, Senator Gillibrand's legislation on sexual assault in the military is gaining supporters, including Senators Cruz and Paul. The chairman of the committee responsible for the military has a separate bill. People in the military question whether you should bypass the chain of command on that issue. Does Senator Gillibrand's bill contain anything that the President thinks would be useful in addressing this problem? How does he think we should go forward on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, as the President said earlier this summer when he met with Secretary Hagel, Chairman Dempsey and our senior civilian and military leaderships, sexual assault is a crime. It is shameful, and it is disgraceful. And nowhere is our responsible -- responsibility, rather, greater than in the military.
Women and men who step forward to serve our country must be protected from this devastating crime, and offenders must be appropriately held accountable. The men and women serving our nation deserve nothing less. And those who engage in sexual assault are dishonoring the uniform that they wear.
Now, when it comes to proposed solutions to this continuing problem, we are open to consideration of any ideas, and that includes proposed legislation. And we will work with Congress and we will work with the Department of Defense on ways to deal with and improve the prosecution and prevention and victim support when it comes to sexual military -- sexual assault in the military.
Q As Commander-in-Chief could the President back a piece of legislation that the military appears to have concerns about?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll work with the Congress on proposed legislation. We haven’t taken a position on or seen specific legislation, but we’ll review any idea that addresses this problem, and we’ll work with the Congress and we’ll work with the Defense Department to move forward because it’s an issue that is of great concern to the President.
Q Can we just skip to Egypt for a second?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q There’s renewed violence there and reports of seven more deaths. When the U.S. envoy, Ambassador Burns, was there apparently groups -- major groups on both sides of the issue, the pro-Morsi and protest groups declined to meet with him. What is -- what message does Burns have for the Egyptians in this sort of turbulent environment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, Deputy Secretary Burns met with a number of people from a variety of groups, and he held a roundtable with political activists. And this roundtable included representatives from Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, el-Dastour, al-Wafd, and the April 6th movement. So that was a pretty broad representation. And Tamarod, I think which is one of the parties that you are referring to, was invited but did not attend. State would have more information about that.
Our interest in this visit and in our communications in general is to speak to representatives of all groups and factions and parties of all the Egyptian people and urge upon them a peaceful effort towards reconciliation as opposed to polarization. And we’ve made that clear to the current government -- we’ve made it clear to the current government and the military that we want to see maximum restraint exercised by the military, and we want all sides to refrain from violence, because we believe that that is the only path forward for Egypt in resolving this crisis and moving towards a restoration of a democratically elected civilian government.
Q First, just following up on Egypt. It’s been almost two weeks since the unrest began. Does the President fear that the messages he’s conveyed and others in the administration have conveyed to leaders there are not being heeded? And would he like to see more from the leadership there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when we have seen violence, we’ve been very clear that we condemn the violence. We’ve been very clear that we believe all parties need to move towards reconciliation and away from polarization; that a transition back to a democratically elected civilian government requires the participation of all groups; that there should not be arbitrary arrests or detentions, especially arrests that target specific groups. And those messages are being communicated daily. And we are monitoring the progress being made -- and, in some cases, the lack of progress being made -- in Egypt as we engage with Egyptians from across the board.
Our interest is -- and we try to make this clear -- not in the success or failure of an individual or a party, but in the success of the process, a democratic process that allows for all Egyptian voices to be heard and represented and that allows for peaceful reconciliation and negotiation and compromise.
And I take your point that it's been two weeks, but I could also say it's been two weeks. And the path towards the future of Egypt that we all hope for and that we believe the vast majority of Egyptians hope for, which is a peaceful democratic future that allows for the fulfillment of Egypt's enormous potential economically and culturally and politically, is not an easy one. And it has not been for a long time. But it is an important one and it's one that we support.
In every conversation we have, we make our position clear. We make clear that we don't favor groups here or individuals or parties. We favor a process that is peaceful and that has as its foundation reconciliation rather than polarization.
Q I have a quick question on Snowden, and then Panama. Does the President believe the Russian government's claim that President Putin has absolutely no say in whether Snowden is granted asylum in Russia?
MR. CARNEY: We have had discussions with the Russian government about our belief that he ought to be expelled.
Q But on the Putin question?
MR. CARNEY: Well, President Putin is the President of the country and we believe that the government obviously has a role to play here, as we made clear when we expressed our disappointment in the government's role in allowing for the press conference, if you will, with human rights organizations -- if only to make clear that the Russian government has an opportunity here to work with us through the normal channels to expel Mr. Snowden.
Because it is in our view, as well as the view expressed by Russian leaders, including President Putin, that this should not be something that causes long-term problems for U.S.-Russian relations -- those relations are very important and they see the countries engaging on a number of important issues, both economic and security-related issues. And we want to continue that relationship unimpeded by this issue.
And we believe there's a way to move forward here that allows for Mr. Snowden to return to the United States and be afforded all of the rights and protections that he, as a citizen of this country and a defendant in court, enjoys, and for Russia to resolve this situation that they have been dealing with now for three weeks.
Q And then, on Panama, does the U.S. have any more clarity now on what was on the North Korean-flagged vessel, where it was headed and for whom?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have any more information on that at this time. If we get more, we can answer those questions. But I don't have anything yet, anything more than we've provided thus far.
Q On Trayvon Martin, which continues to be a subject of national discussion, when you look at what's being said on the Internet, on cable, especially from African American parents, there seems to be a deep concern and sentiment that their children are less safe today than they were before this verdict -- that they're deeply concerned that the law does not protect young black males as much as it protects everybody else. The President, as an African American parent, does he have anything to say to those parents, reassuring them in any way about whether or not the law is going to step up and protect their children? And this is regarding their sentiments being expressed.
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question and I think I'll take it in pieces. When the President spoke about this in early days, he made a very personal statement that I think goes to some of what you're asking about, and that is that if President Obama had a son, that that son would look like Trayvon Martin. And I think that in saying that he was reflecting in a personal way his understanding of the pain that Trayvon Martin's parents were experiencing then and obviously have experienced ever since, and pain that they are experiencing in the wake of the verdict.
The President also said in his statement on Sunday that he understands that passions have been running high in general in response to this case, and in particular in the wake of the verdict. But it is also the case that a court heard this case and a jury has spoken, and he echoes the call for calm reflection that Trayvon Martin's parents made in the wake of the verdict.
Broadly, on the issue of laws -- and again, I think I need to note without reference to this specific case the President's views on issues like racial profiling have been well known. It's something that he worked on in the state Senate in Illinois. But when it comes to this case, which obviously the Justice Department is continuing to look into, we're not going to get out ahead of that and we're not going to comment on any particulars.
Right now, the President views this as a tragedy, the loss of a young person, for his family, for the community and for the country. And it's a reflection of the tragedy that we see daily when we see young victims of gun violence lose their lives. And he urges upon all communities to examine what we can do and to reflect upon what we can do to bring our communities closer together; to consider what we can do to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening in the future; and to reduce gun violence in general; and to look at our laws and examine whether those laws that we have serve to reduce gun violence or, in some cases, inadvertently make the problem worse. And that’s been his view, and that’s why he pursues and continues to pursue common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.
Q If I could just change to immigration briefly. The President this morning had several interviews with local Hispanic stations. Did he express any more concern than he has, or any other new strategies about how to move along immigration reform, which does, according to many pundits, seem to be stalled?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won't get ahead of the broadcasting of those interviews. It wouldn’t be fair to those news organizations that did interview the President earlier today. I think it's fair to say that immigration and the progress of immigration reform was discussed. It is a topic very much on the minds of a lot of people across the country, and certainly one that is getting a lot of attention here in Washington, and it's one that the President is very focused on.
And let's review where we are. A bipartisan majority -- significant bipartisan majority passed landmark legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, legislation that meets all four principles that the President laid out two years ago and has reiterated ever since when it comes to border security and an earned path to citizenship and making sure everyone plays by the same set of rules when it comes to holding our businesses accountable and improving and streamlining our legal immigration system.
That is no small victory. But it is not the ultimate victory here, which would see the passage of comprehensive immigration law by the whole Congress -- a bill by the whole Congress and signed into law by the President. So there’s a lot of work to do.
The President believes that this will happen, or that it should happen because there is such an unprecedentedly broad coalition that supports it. So this is a choice here, when it comes to House Republicans who are dealing with it now. This is a matter of volition. They can move forward in support of a proposition that has the backing of business and labor, faith communities and law enforcement communities, Republicans and Democrats; a measure that does significant good for our economy, including reducing the deficit -- so there is much in here for conservatives to like. Or they can choose to block it. But the choice really is theirs.
And the President is confident that the American people and all the stakeholders who want to see this move forward will, in the end, prevail upon lawmakers to do the right thing, which is to pass comprehensive immigration reform that meets the standards that the President laid out.
Q So right now is the strategy of staying out of the process, is that still the right strategy at this point in time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. One is we have approached this strategically with an eye towards getting it done, and getting it done in a way that meets the standards set by the President.
The idea that we’re staying out of it is a fallacy, and has been forever. We wouldn’t be where we are if the President hadn’t been reelected and made comprehensive immigration reform one of his top priorities. We wouldn’t be where we are with a bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support if it hadn’t been for the role the President played -- which is not to diminish, because it was vital, the role played by that bipartisan group in the Senate that crafted the legislation that met the principles the President set. Because the President knew all along that the only way this would happen is if -- would be if there were substantial bipartisan support for it.
So we look at this at every step of the way through the prism of what’s the best approach we can take to ensure that it gets done. But it’s an active approach in all cases, and that includes speeches and weekly addresses and interviews. It includes phone calls and meetings with lawmakers and stakeholders. And it includes direct and constant consultation with lawmakers as they move forward on this important piece of business.
Q Jay, I want to follow on Jim with the Trayvon Martin case. After the “beer summit,” there was talk here, back in 2009, that it was sort of a teachable moment on race. The President made comments after that saying he thought it was a friendly, thoughtful conversation and some progress had been made. So my question now is do you feel similarly that this is a teachable moment for the country right now?
MR. CARNEY: The President put out a statement in response to the verdict, and I think that his words on this are the best representation of how he views it and what he hopes will come front it, which is the sort of peaceful reflection and conversation by communities across the country. And that conversation is taking place both in private and in the public sphere on a range of issues. So I don’t -- I would simply say that these conversations and this reflection is taking place in a lot of communities across the country, and that’s a good thing in the President’s view.
Q That conversation includes -- the Attorney General will be at the NAACP Annual Convention today in Orlando, very close to the courthouse where the trial went down. Back in 2009, the Attorney General said at one point in a speech that “we’re a nation of cowards” when it comes to race. And I think he meant that we’re -- people are not always frank and honest about it, it’s a difficult conversation. Based on what you just said a moment ago, you seem to think this conversation is happening. Have we made progress? Are we no longer a nation of cowards, in his words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would obviously refer you to the Department of Justice and to the Attorney General for an examination of statements by the Attorney General. But I would say that this President believes, and he has long believed, that this is a conversation that we have to continually have. And he’s said that in the past and said it repeatedly.
So I’m not going to make an assessment about where we are on that continuum. There’s no question that we’ve made enormous progress. There’s no question that we still have progress to make. And that’s a broad statement, not a specific statement about a case, but a statement about where we are as a country as we move forward and make progress on this issue.
Q Lastly and briefly, I want to ask you about the IRS. The Washington Times has a story today saying that the Treasury Department’s inspector general is doing a report or an investigation of some kind where there are allegations that various political candidates were targeted improperly with audits, that government officials may have looked at their tax records improperly. Some of this dates back to 2006, so it would have been in the Bush administration. And it’s not clear so far whether these were Democrats or Republicans who were targeted, I want to make clear as well. My question is -- the President put a new chief in place in Danny Werfel. How confident are you, as these various things trickle out there, that some of these problems -- again, might go back to 2006, they may be systemic -- how confident are you and the President that Danny Werfel, now in place, can reform the IRS?
MR. CARNEY: The President has a lot of confidence in Danny Werfel. He's made clear from the day he started his intention to examine the practices of the past and to make the necessary corrections where they're needed.
With regards to that story I think -- and I appreciate you filling in all the caveats. I think one that I read -- it was hard when you get to the bottom of the story -- was both the examples that they cite happened prior to this administration, and even the four that they cite, three of them were deemed inadvertent. And I think a Senate Republican was saying it's not indicative of anything broad. But any problems is a problem that obviously needs to be looked at. And that’s a general statement, not one with regards to this report, which I only read but I don’t know more about.
So I'm sure that when it comes to the President's confidence in Mr. Werfel, it is strong. And he is pleased with the performance we've seen so far since he's taken over.
Q Jay, I want to ask you about the health care reform act very quickly. A number of restaurants and low-wage employers recently have said that they're increasing their staffs largely by hiring part-time employees as opposed to full-time employees. In the act, right now the 30-hour-per-week mark is where full-time is set. I'm curious if that’s a concern to the President, that 30-hour mark, where some people are lowering the number of hours they give to their employees or hiring employees for a limited number of hours only -- if it's one that the White House would consider any change, in keeping with some other changes taking place in terms of --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say broadly that if you look at the economic data, the suggestion that the ACA is reducing full-time employment is belied by the facts. So what the ACA allows is the opportunity for individuals who could not, prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, afford insurance, to get insurance. And it provides subsidies for those who need help in affording it. And it assists businesses in that effort so that they can provide insurance to their employees.
And again, the broader data here does not reflect that assertion. I don’t have a specific response to the story you're citing, but I think the data is very clear on this.
Q The 30-hour limit, though, is that one that the White House has any plans to, or is even considering --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have a response to your specific story here. What I can say is that the data reflects that there is not support for the proposition that businesses are not hiring full-time employees because of the Affordable Care Act.
Q That 30-hour limit, that wasn't from my story. Part of the question was from the story.
Let me ask you on a separate topic quickly that’s been making headlines here in our area -- and you may not have any particular news to share with us today -- but given the headlines that have surrounded Governor Bob McDonnell in recent weeks and the scandals that are now swirling in this community, does the President have any intentions to visit Virginia in any forum to support the candidacy of the Democrat in that race, Terry McAuliffe? Given the fact that each of the last nine state gubernatorial elections have voted for the party opposite the President, this would be a history-making election.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President has already appeared in support of Terry McAuliffe’s candidacy.
Q I'm asking about going forward here.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don't have any scheduling announcements to make, but he certainly supports the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, in that race.
April, and then Mara.
Q Jay, in the aftermath of the verdict this weekend, I’m asking you about next steps -- a couple of things on next steps. When it comes to racial profiling, as you just talked to Jim about, looking back at the statement the he made in 2007, he said he was very proud that he passed the first racial profiling legislation in Illinois. And if I’m correct, it also involved videotaping interrogation. If he was hands-on and has a knowledge of this, is the White House looking at ways of possibly talking to states to review their racial profiling laws and things of that nature in the aftermath of what happened?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I want to hesitate from commenting on this in a way that ties it directly to any specific case. I would simply point out that the President does have a history on this issue and has long opposed racial profiling. And he did, as you noted, work successfully to pass legislation in the Illinois state senate that enjoyed bipartisan support on this issue. But I don't have any process to announce today going forward except to say that the President worked on this in Illinois, and he worked on it as a United States senator, and believes it’s an issue worthy of consideration and action.
Q So you’re saying, if I’m understanding you, “worthy of consideration” but action is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m simply stating that that has long been his view because he’s opposed to it.
Q All right. And then -- and lastly, since you can't talk about the next steps, Bill Clinton in his second term conducted the race initiative and it was found that we can't really legislate against the heart. It’s a heart issue. Do you think, at this point, with the feelings, the emotions that are going on in this country from everyone, to include Stevie Wonder, who -- a friend of the President, who has just decided not to perform in Florida anymore -- do you think it might be time to have conversations about race?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President does believe we should have an ongoing conversation about it in our communities and churches and in the public square. And the President, as you know, has spoken about the issue of race quite prominently in the past.
But if you take a step back, there is something else here that's important, and it goes to your question when you talked about efforts in the past to address these issues, and that is that everything the President stands for has as its focus the need to expand the middle class, the need for us as a country to make sure that opportunity is available to all Americans. And that is the foundation of his economic agenda. It is the foundation of everything he does to try to move this country forward. It’s why he ran for President and why he ran for reelection. And that opportunity, if broadly shared, will empower this country and move it forward. It is what has made us great in the past and it is what will make us great continually in the future.
So the focus of his economic agenda has been in making the middle class more secure, and providing opportunities for those who aspire to the middle class to attain that status. And that is the focus of his economic agenda, it's the focus of his education agenda, and it is the focus of his vision, and has been for a long time, when it comes to the future of this country.
And I think that goes to the part that there are -- we have to address these issues in a number of ways, and that includes conversations at every level. But it also includes taking concrete actions that improve the lot of the American people, and improve and expand the size and security of the middle class. And that's been his focus.
Q Like Bill Clinton -- since you said the President believes that we should have these conversations, would President Obama be willing to lead these conversations, as Bill Clinton did, around the country in various spots?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the President believes two things. One, he has spoken about this. I remember a very prominent speech in Philadelphia on the issue of race that then-candidate Obama delivered. But he also believes that we need to empower Americans and improve the lot of Americans through concrete actions.
Conversation is important, but it's in many ways equally important at the local and community and church level as it is at the national level. And action is important, too, when it comes to doing things through education and economic growth that expand the size of the middle class and move this country forward.
Q Jay, it sounds like what you're saying is that he thinks the conversation is important, but going forward he doesn't feel that he has a specific role in the conversation other than to push his broader agenda?
MR. CARNEY: Mara, we could parse this a million ways. The President has spoken about this and when he is asked about it, he speaks about it. But his focus as President has always been on taking action to improve the lives of everyday Americans across the country. And that includes taking actions to lift Americans who aspire to the middle class into the middle class, and to provide hope to those Americans who are struggling economically, through initiatives that empower them and help them move forward.
And that's sort of the essence of his economic agenda and his domestic agenda. And he will continue with that as his principal focus. But he'll continue obviously to discuss and answer questions about these other issues. So I think you can't separate it out. And I'm not going to announce future speeches on this subject or any other, but the President has always taken an approach that he believes offers -- through the policies he espouses and the actions that he has taken -- that he hopes will and believes will improve the lot of as many Americans as possible.
Q Well, you mentioned something specific today about whether laws are reducing gun violence or inadvertently making things worse. And when the President made his statement about "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," he also mentioned the need to take a look at these laws. And I'm assuming you guys are referring to the “stand your ground” laws -- is that correct? And what does he want to do about this?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there are questions you could ask about state laws across the country when it comes to these issues. And what I think the President is saying and what I'm saying is that it is worthwhile to look at the laws that we have at the state level and consider them through the prism of gun violence, and ask whether or not they are improving the situation with regards to gun violence, or inadvertently making that situation worse. I'm not judging any particular law here. I'm saying at the state level -- since that’s where these laws are written and passed or overturned -- that these are the conversations that ought to take place.
Q So the President is going to encourage people -- I just -- I'm not sure what --
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're asking me for a view on a specific law, which I'm not going to offer. I'm simply saying that, as the President has said and which I just said, is that at every level, we ought to examine laws and evaluate them in terms of whether or not they make the situation with gun violence better or worse.
Q Does he have a role in examining those laws or encouraging -- specifically encouraging people to do that? What -- that’s what I don’t understand.
MR. CARNEY: It's been an incredibly busy year, but I'd say that this year demonstrates that he has a role in advancing the cause of common-sense measures that reduce gun violence.
Q As part of this conversation you're talking about, has the President had any private talks in the last three days with civil rights leaders or other who have been sort of talking about the Zimmerman verdict in public? I mean, has he had phone calls? Has he had any meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any -- beyond what we've provided, I don’t have any conversations or phone calls to read out.
Q Okay. And on a separate issue, to piggyback on Peter's question about Governor McDonnell in Virginia, does the President believe he should be able to serve out the rest of his term?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don’t have a comment on that situation.
Roger, and then Mark, and then Mark.
Q You mentioned a while ago that the President intends to go to Russia, in response to a question. Does that include the leg of the trip to Moscow that was announced at the G8?
MR. CARNEY: I answered your question inadvertently without it being asked, which is the President intends to travel to Russia in September. And I don’t have anything to add to our previous announcements on presidential travel.
Q You're not making a distinction of Moscow?
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying that the President intends to go to Russia. There is a G20 --
Q That isn't in Moscow.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have anything to add to our previous announcements.
Q Do you mean to leave that intentionally vague? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything to add. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
Q Jay, where are you going this weekend?
MR. CARNEY: Not Russia. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, now that Bill Burns has been to Egypt, does it move the White House any closer to a decision on whether there was a coup in Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: Our focus is on reinforcing our key messages, and that’s what Deputy Secretary Burns did during his visit, which is, namely, our support for an inclusive process in which all political parties and groups as well as sectors of society are represented, and the need to make a transition to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
Deputy Secretary Burns also expressed our concerns about the violence that has claimed the lives of too many Egyptians on all sides, and stressed the immediate need for all political leaders to work to prevent violence and incitement.
When it comes to the issue of our assistance programs, our position remains that we do not believe it is in the best interest of the United States to immediately suspend or other ways alter are assistance programs. We are evaluating our legal obligations and consulting with Congress about steps forward, and taking the time necessary to do that in a way that allows, in our view, our focus to be on working with the Egyptian authorities to help bring about the transition back to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
Q How long does it take?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a timeline.
Q It’s almost self-evident, though, that you’re not willing to recognize what is apparent to everybody else.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said in the immediate wake of the situation there that resulted in President Morsi’s removal from power, there are millions of Egyptians who do not view what happened there as a coup and who were demanding a new government and who were extremely unhappy with the undemocratic governance of President Morsi and his administration. And we are mindful of the significance of the designation that we’re talking about, and we’re mindful of it because we care about our long-term relationship with Egypt and our ability to work with Egypt and assist Egypt in its transition to return to democratically elected civilian governance.
`So I think at the time I was trying to be clear that we believe that -- we’re being very deliberate about this because we believe that's in our national security interests and in the interests of our policy in Egypt.
Let me -- Mark, did you have one?
Q Yes, actually, could I quickly follow up -- because it was right off of what Mark asked. You’ve made the point a few times now that you want to see a process where all the groups are included. One thing that did happen overnight is that the interim President announced a new Cabinet, and in that Cabinet he gave the head of the Egyptian armed forces, General al-Sisi, an expanded title of first deputy prime minister, which is a title that almost by definition assures the military a larger political role in this interim period. So I guess picking up on what Mark was pressing you on, how can the White House not acknowledge that the military not only engineered a change of power, but now in the aftermath of that shift, is assuming a political role in the administration of the country, which really makes it, by anyone’s definition, a coup? Doesn't that seem to you to be kind of an unfavorable development in this process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that anything that moves Egypt away from reconciliation and towards further polarization is an unfavorable development. And that includes some of the violence we’ve seen, as well as some of the arbitrary arrests and detentions that we’ve seen. And we’ve made that view clear to the Egyptian authorities, the existing transitional government included.
So our view is, though, that we need to use our good offices to try to encourage reconciliation over polarization, transition back to democratically elected government. And that's what we’re in the process of doing. That's what Deputy Secretary Burns’s visit was about and the conversations that we have continually with Egyptian authorities.
If your point is that not everything that we’ve seen happen in the last two weeks demonstrates progress towards reconciliation, I wouldn’t argue with that, although there have been some steps that represent progress. And that's why we’re working with the Egyptian authorities and observing what happens, and working with Egyptians to help facilitate in any way that we can, providing any assistance we can, to a return towards democratically elected civilian government. Because we think the position we’ve taken provides us the best opportunity to bring about a positive result.
But there's no question that we are at a critical stage here in Egypt, and that Egypt's future here is at stake -- certainly its potential for a democratic future is at stake; and that our view is that the only way out of this crisis is through reconciliation, and that if there is not reconciliation, if there is increased polarization and increased chaos and increased violence, that Egypt's prospects will be diminished. And that will be bad, most especially for the Egyptians, as well as for the United States.
Q Does giving Egypt's senior military official an additional civilian title contribute to reconciliation or polarization in your view?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific response to any position that has been filled. I would simply say that we are making clear to Egyptian authorities that they need -- that it is in the interest of Egypt and the Egyptian people to take steps towards a return to a democratically elected civilian government, and to take steps towards reconciliation and a process that allows for the views of all Egyptians to be heard and considered, and for all Egyptians to participate in the process. And the steps that go in the opposite direction are not helpful, and in the end, won't serve Egypt's interests particularly well, in our view.
I wanted to call on -- Adriana Vargas is here. Is she here?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Did you have a question?
Q Yes, thank you very much. I would like to know -- I'm going back to the case of Mr. Snowden, and I would like to know what is the position of the White House regarding other Latin American countries such as Nicaragua, such as Venezuela, even Ecuador, even though it was a backup -- they seem to have offered asylum, another kind of backup for Mr. Snowden -- so I would like to know what is the position regarding those governments. And do you take it as a defeat -- is this any kind of defeat for the White House coming from these Latin American nations?
MR. CARNEY: We've made clear to governments in Latin America as we have to other governments around the world that we believe that Mr. Snowden should be returned to the United States and not permitted to travel to other destinations; that he's wanted here on felony charges, and he is afforded here all the rights and all the due process that our laws allow -- and they're considerable.
And so we've had conversations with governments around Latin America and the message has been the same with every one, and that is that Mr. Snowden ought to be returned to the United States, that precedent and legal justification is clear here, and that he should not be allowed to travel elsewhere.
So, as of now, Mr. Snowden is where he is -- and I took questions earlier about our conversations with the Russian government. But we have had, as I've said in the past, conversations with other governments that have been suggested as possible either transit points or end destinations for Mr. Snowden, and the message has been the same with all of them.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I'll take Christi, and then if León Krauze is here. Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. Can you say if the President is open to the idea of pulling back two of his appointees to the NLRB and sending up replacement appointments?
MR. CARNEY: The President has long taken the position that a President's qualified nominees for critical position ought to be considered and confirmed in a timely fashion by the United States Senate. And the fact that we have not seen qualified nominees considered and confirmed in a timely fashion in case after case is sort of the crux of the problem here and the conflict. And that has been I think ably expressed by Senator Reid and by President Obama.
We are for a resolution that allows for the confirmation of the President's qualified nominees -- his nominees. And I don’t want to get ahead of any potential settlement that’s reached through negotiation among senators except to say that our view has always been -- and I think we share this with Senator Reid and Democrats in the Senate -- that the President's nominees ought to be afforded timely consideration and, if they're qualified, confirmation. And this has come about precisely because there has been so much obstructionism in the cases of very qualified nominees to a host of positions.
Q So if those two nominees meet that criteria you just outlined, would the President object in principle to --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics unless and until there's a settlement or deal announced by Senate leaders. What I would say is that the issue at stake here is that the President ought to be able to nominate individuals, and if they are qualified, they should be considered and confirmed in a timely fashion. And the President hopes and expects that this conflict will be resolved in a way that allows for his nominees to be confirmed.
Q If the resolution did involve sending new people, do you have a pool of candidates who are vetted and ready to go?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm just not going to get ahead of Senate leadership here. I don’t want to jinx anything.
Q Has the President been asked to drop two nominees?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, I want to get to León.
Q Is Labor Day the deadline for immigration reform for the administration? Is there a deadline, even a tacit deadline, for negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Our view and the President's view is that the House ought to act on this right away. There has been significant debate, there has been significant work done by the Senate and by members of the House who have examined comprehensive immigration reform and looked at ways to achieve it. So we believe that this ought to be acted on right away. It certainly could be.
Now, we’ll see what the House does. And as I said earlier, this is really a choice for House Republicans and the House Republican leadership. There is a possibility here of getting something significant done for the country that would reduce the deficit, improve border security, provide an earned path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people in this country; that would make sure that businesses are all playing by the same set of rules; that would improve vastly our legal immigration system; that, in turn, would enhance the development of innovative job-creating businesses here in the United States.
The benefits here are significant and broad. They would add -- immigration reform would add to GDP. It would add to labor productivity. It would add to wage growth as well as, as I said, deficit reduction and the creation of new businesses by entrepreneurs. Against all that you have some House Republicans who at least are considering blocking what is the will of a broad-based majority in this country and a broad base of shareholders who don’t always see -- or stakeholders who don’t normally see eye-to-eye when it comes to business or labor, for example.
So we can’t, in the end, obviously dictate what happens in the House. But we believe, and the President strongly believes, that the opportunity is here. And we are optimistic that the opportunity will be seized -- not because President Obama believes we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, or Democrats and Republicans in the Senate believe it, but because so many Americans across the country believe it’s the right thing to do for our economy, for the middle class, for our businesses, for our security.
And the President’s view is that the sooner the House gets around to doing it, the better. And we obviously want that to be as soon as possible. But I don’t have a deadline to provide to you except that we hope and expect that action will be taken.
Thanks very much.
1:50 P.M. EDT
November 27, 2015
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