Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/23/2013
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:01 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome to your White House briefing. I'm glad you're all here, and I'm here to take your questions and to provide candid and succinct answers. (Laughter.) Josh.
Q Thanks, Jay. To start with immigration, Republicans are taking issue with that tweet this morning from Dan Pfeiffer, saying that a Spanish language newspaper had nailed the cruel hypocrisy, the GOP plan, to allow legalization just for the DREAMers. I'm wondering if you can clarify, does the White House oppose that piece of legislation?
MR. CARNEY: What Dan was pointing out is that La Opinion opposes the approach being taken by some Republicans, which would avoid the essential responsibility to address immigration reform in a comprehensive way. And what La Opinion makes clear is that a bill that would allow some so-called DREAMers to stay in this country and become the Americans that they've long felt they were, because of their status and the fact that they came here when they were so young, but then deport their parents is hardly a workable solution.
The President believes that we have to address this in a comprehensive way. That is the right thing to do. And the idea that you can, oh, I don't know, declare yourself to have been more committed than anyone to improve our immigration system and then have nothing to show for it is a little laughable.
Q But are you concerned that by throwing cold water on that notion that they're looking at, that you're essentially closing the door to having something emerge through the House that you could have a conference committee with the signed bill that you do like? I mean, isn't that ultimately what the goal is here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let's just be realistic about what we're saying here. Republicans opposed the DREAM Act when it was presented as a possibility, just like they opposed comprehensive immigration reform previously. The President has taken action to make sure that there is prosecutorial discretion, if you will, in the enforcement of our immigration laws that has provided relief to some DREAMers, DREAM Act kids. And, meanwhile, he has pressed for comprehensive immigration reform, and that effort has enjoyed substantial bipartisan support in the Senate and around the country. Businesses, labor, law enforcement communities, faith communities support this effort.
It's good for the economy. It reduces the deficit. It extends the solvency and viability of Social Security. Some of the goals that conservatives say they most cherish are addressed in comprehensive immigration reform.
And what I think the editorial in La Opinion reflects is the need for all of us, but perhaps mostly Republican leaders, to pay some attention to the Spanish-language media in this country, because that media are making clear that they expect action from Congress and that they hold those who oppose common-sense solutions to this challenge responsible for failure, if failure is what we see.
Now, we don't think that's going to happen. We think that the consensus is so broad here behind the need for comprehensive immigration reform that ultimately a bill will land on the President’s desk that meets his principles and he can sign into law.
Q And to touch on what you just mentioned a minute ago about Speaker Boehner’s comments about having worked harder than anyone on this, are you disputing the notion that Speaker Boehner is committed to immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY: Maybe it was predictive; maybe it was anticipatory. And maybe if the House does in the end do the right thing and take action on comprehensive immigration reform and support it, then the credit for that will accrue to the Speaker as well as to other people. But thus far, we have not seen any evidence from House Republican leaders, anyway, of a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform as we've seen it from Republicans in the Senate.
Q And the AP is reporting that the DHS inspector general is investigating Alejandro Mayorkas, the Obama administration’s pick to be number two at DHS, and to whether he helped a company obtain an investor visa for a Chinese official. Considering that he would likely be the interim leader of that agency before any replacement for Napolitano is picked, do you have any comment on that investigation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s an investigation, as I understand it. I've just seen the report. I would refer you to the IG, which, apparently, according to this report, is conducting an investigation into DHS.
I'm going to go to Steve and then I'm going to bounce it around. We had another situation yesterday where the front row kind of dominated. It’s part of the candid and succinct approach. (Laughter.)
Q Now that the deadlock has been broken in getting Syrian rebels the weapons, how quickly do you expect the weapons to get there? What impact do you expect them to have? Is there still time to stop Assad, who seems to be winning at this point?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that Assad, with the support of Hezbollah and Iran, is continuing to wage a brutal assault on the Syrian people. And because of the support he’s gotten from other bad actors in the region, that assault has intensified. And that is why it is so important that the United States and our allies and our partners provide the assistance that the opposition needs to strengthen itself and so that it can withstand the Assad forces and the Hezbollah and Iranian-backed forces.
As I said all along, conversations with Congress, especially ones that are behind closed doors, I'm just not going to get into. And I'm not going to catalogue or detail all of the assistance that we're providing the Syrian opposition. But we have been providing assistance to the Syrian opposition and to the Syrian military council, and we will continue to. And the President, as he made clear not long ago, is committed to ramping up that assistance as necessary because of the circumstances that we find, and because of the need for the opposition to further strengthen and unify.
Q But are there any concerns that it’s coming too late, that Assad may just win the thing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said the other day, Assad will never control Syria again, will never rule Syria again. And it is our firm position that the Syrian people will not allow, and we will not abide Assad as leader of Syria into the future. The transition has to be a post-Assad transition. And that is what we're working towards with the opposition, with our allies and partners in the region to help bring about that day when we can have a transition in place that can begin to rebuild Syria, that will bring about an end to the horror and the bloodshed, and can create an opportunity to transition to a government that is responsive to the will of the Syrian people.
Q Jay, two personal questions. You served with her here -- do you have any personal reflections from your time with Helen Thomas?
MR. CARNEY: You know, Helen was a legend, and I did -- covering the Clinton White House and the George W. Bush White House, first term each -- have an opportunity to work with her. And as the President noted in his statement, we are all appreciative of her many years in that chair and her career, and offer our condolences to her family and friends.
Q The second is, have you read Mark Leibovich’s book? And do you think it accurately reflects this town and this White House?
MR. CARNEY: You see the value of going to the back early? (Laughter.) Let me say two things. I have not read the book, but I expect an invitation to the book party. (Laughter.)
Q So noted. Are you on the A list?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly wasn’t expecting this question. (Laughter.)
Yes, do you have one?
Q Yes. So, on a more serious note, administration officials have said that the purpose of providing some assistance to rebels in Syria is to keep them alive and to keep them hanging on. Why would we help them do anything short of topple Assad?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure who you're quoting. But the fact of the matter is the Syrian opposition needs the assistance that we're providing, and which many of our partners and allies are providing, in order to strengthen the cohesion of the opposition and to improve their circumstances as they deal with the assault that's being waged upon them by Assad’s forces.
And there is no way out of this that doesn’t include a transition to a post-Assad Syria. And the Syrian people will not stand for it, and the Syrian opposition and the military opposition will continue to resist Assad, and resist with the assistance of the United States and many partners and allies in the effort.
Bashar al-Assad will now go down in history as one of the worst tyrants of his era and with just a terrible amount of blood on his hands, the blood of his own people. And that is why we have pursued the policy that we are pursuing and why we believe it's essential to continue to provide assistance to the opposition, assistance to the military council, and humanitarian assistance to the many displaced Syrians who are suffering tremendously because of this conflict.
Q Is the administration at a place where you'd see this as a slow bleed?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that it's a challenging situation in Syria, which is why we have to provide this assistance. If you're asking me do we believe that Assad will prevail, the answer is no, he will not -- and not because we say so, but because the Syrian people will not stand for it.
Q But you're also acknowledging this isn't going to make him go.
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn't say that. I’m not acknowledging -- I have no crystal ball here to predict when Assad will go. But I have no doubt, and we have no doubt, that the Syrian people will not --
Q I guess I'm asking, is the aid intended for the purpose of toppling him?
MR. CARNEY: The aid is intended to assist the opposition in its effort to resist Assad and to ultimately prevail over Assad and his forces.
Q And a much lighter question.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Book parties and --
Q Following up from yesterday, have did the Obamas decided what to give the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- (laughter) -- for the birth of their first child?
MR. CARNEY: I have no new information about potential gifts. I would like to say that I think James would be an excellent choice in name -- (laughter) -- just a thought.
Q If I could follow up on immigration, you mentioned prosecutorial discretion that the White House now uses in the issue of the DREAMers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the White House doesn't.
Q The administration.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Certainly sanctioned by the White House.
MR. CARNEY: It's actually a Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol matter. It’s not a White House -- but it is a policy that we believe is the right one, to use the necessary discretion so that we're allocating the resources in our enforcement areas -- in our enforcement efforts to the appropriate areas.
Q So if you're doing it that way for the DREAMers, allowing them to stay, but you continue to deport hundreds of people, part of the 11 million -- the United States continues to deport them back to Mexico or other South American countries -- aren't you now doing exactly what the Republicans are trying to do with their House bill, which is allow the DREAMers to stay, but the remaining 11 million continue to be deported?
MR. CARNEY: It's a very fair question. First of all, when the guidelines were put into place, the President made, and Secretary Napolitano made clear that this was a temporary measure. This was not a resolution to the long-term problem. The long-term problem has to be addressed through comprehensive immigration reform. Everyone on Capitol Hill knows that, including Republicans in the House who have yet to stake out a position on this. And that's just a fact.
Secondly, we of course must continue to enforce the law. That is our responsibility and that is any administration's responsibility. What we can do and what we have done is make sure that guidelines are in place so that the law is being enforced in a way that makes sure that when it comes to deportations we're focused on criminals and the like, as opposed to in the case of DREAMers, DREAM Act kids, people -- individuals who were brought here when they were often infants and have known nothing else but the United States and are American in every way except for citizenship and papers.
Q But there have been those on the left, in the Democratic Party, including Congressman Gutierrez, who has continued to ask the White House and the administration to stop deporting the 11 million until this is resolved in a permanent way, but the White House continues to not use prosecutorial discretion in this way and is deporting.
MR. CARNEY: I think the point -- and lawyers are more likely to address this with precision -- but I think the point I would make is that we are not in a position where we can stop enforcing the law. The circumstance that you identify and that others have identified merely reflects even more the need to address this in a comprehensive way through immigration reform that achieves not just a resolution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country and a clear path to citizenship that has many hurdles on that path that includes paying fines and taxes and earning that path to citizenship, but includes enhanced border security, which the President has long insisted be part of comprehensive immigration reform. It includes systems like E-Verify to make sure that our businesses are all playing by the same rules, so that businesses that play by the rules aren’t punished and don't suffer because others engage in hiring practices that aren’t legal.
It also provides for improved and streamlined legal immigration so that we are making sure that we capture here in the United States the talent and the entrepreneurial capability that so many immigrants represent. We have that situation in this country where brilliant young immigrants come to this country, study in our universities and want to start businesses here, or do research here, and face obstacles to doing that, and they take their ideas and their talent to other countries.
And there are remarkable studies that show that the disproportionate share that new immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants represent when it comes to creating new businesses in this country. So we need to harness that for the sake of our economy.
So it is that whole picture that is so important to look at, and that's why we’re pressing ahead with the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the strong support of the business community and the strong support of the labor community, and the strong support of the faith community and the strong support of the law enforcement community, and so many others -- outside stakeholders who believe and know that this is the right thing to do.
Q Let me just try one more time.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q But there are those who would argue with the deportations that this doesn't make sense, that the administration which supports having the 11 million come out of the shadows is now deporting some of those 11 million. How are those --
MR. CARNEY: We have to enforce the law, including, obviously, deporting criminals and others, and that's what we’re doing. We do have in place prosecutorial discretion so that we’re using our resources wisely in enforcing the law. We need to address this in a comprehensive way for that reason and the others that I discussed.
MR. CARNEY: Let me move around. Goyal, you’re going to get that question on India.
Q Thank you, sir. Two questions, if I may, please. One, just following immigration, across the street at the U.S.-India Business Council they’re making, last week, 38 years of U.S.-India business, trade relations. And they supported the President’s economic and business trade with India, U.S.-India. And also, they supported basically the President’s call on immigration. What they're asking the President is also that as far as the business community is concerned, a 500 Fortune company member, they are worried about that visa for those company visas. If the President is going to address that also?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of the specific issue that you’ve raised, but one of the reasons that we need comprehensive immigration reform is to streamline our immigration practices for the sake of businesses that depend on and can utilize the talent of immigrants who bring new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit here to the United States. So there’s that.
And you had a second?
Q Second also on India. As far as Vice President Biden’s visit to India, I understand that he’s enjoying his visit with his wife, of course, the Second Lady. My question is that if he’s carrying a special message from the President and if he’s carrying also any letter to invite the Prime Minister of India to the White House in September. And finally, when the President is going to take the First Family and the First Lady to the Taj Mahal, which he missed last time during his visit to India.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I hope if they go they take me, because I’ve never been and I’d like to go. (Laughter.) So I have no announcements on travel or invitations. I can say, as you noted, that the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden are currently on a six-day trip to India and Singapore. And the answer to your question about the message, the message that the Vice President is carrying in his meetings with Indian officials, is that we want to continue to enhance our economic and strategic engagement with India. There are enormous opportunities for our two countries to work together and to work together even more closely than we have as this relationship has evolved in a positive direction now for so many years.
When it comes to economic growth, trade, energy and climate change, as well as security issues and education issues, there’s a lot that the Vice President is discussing in India. And tomorrow in Mumbai he will deliver a speech on U.S.-India relations and meet with business and community leaders and students.
So I know, having spoken with him before he departed, that he was very much looking forward to this trip. He and the President highly value our relationship with India, and are looking for ways to make it even stronger and more cooperative.
Q Can I ask you a question on --
MR. CARNEY: Let me move on here. Major.
Q Are you suggesting that the arms to the Syrian opposition will be decisive?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just answered that. I can’t predict into the future. I think that assistance that the Syrian opposition is receiving comes from the United States as well as many other places, and that that assistance is provided and designed to assist the -- or help the opposition in its efforts against the horrific war being waged on the Syrian people by the Assad regime.
We obviously support the Syrian opposition and support their efforts to combat Assad militarily, because that is necessary as we move to a point where a political transition can take place. And the brutality being engaged in by the Assad regime needs to be countered. And we are providing assistance for the Syrian opposition in their efforts to do that.
Q If it not decisive, is it understood by those in Congress you’ve been working with that it will escalate in order to bring about the inevitability of this --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can’t predict. The President has made clear that we have significantly --
Q I know you can’t predict the outcome. But if it’s not decisive, will it escalate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I can’t predict, but I can note and deduce from the way that we have steadily increased our assistance to the Syrian opposition, as that opposition has become more unified and strengthened, that the President’s commitment will continue. And he believes we need to continue to step up our assistance because of the imperative that Assad not be allowed to essentially murder an entire nation.
Q We are in this until he falls, in other words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the opposition -- it’s not us. We’re not alone here. We are supporting an opposition here, and we are supporting an opposition, together with many allies and partners who cannot abide what Assad has done in his country and to his people. There is broad international consensus with a very short list of holdouts when it comes to opposing Assad and insisting on his departure from the scene.
Unfortunately, those holdouts have prevented the passage of United Nations Security Council resolutions, but they have not prevented us from working with other partners and allies in providing assistance to the Syrian opposition.
Q I’ve been gone a few days.
MR. CARNEY: Welcome back.
Q Thank you. The last time I was here you extracted from the House Republican private conference some generally positive assessments that they said they needed to get something done, and you thought that was generally a good sign. Like I said, I’ve been away a few days. It now sounds like you’re more pessimistic about their approach, their methodology, and what it’s going to result in.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t mean to sound more pessimistic. I was responding to some statements that had been made.
Q But this White House set that in motion by highlighting this La Opinion editorial and taking a pretty aggressive stance against --
MR. CARNEY: We’re not going to shy away from our support for comprehensive immigration reform. We’re going to press that and we will not be alone in pressing that, as you have noted and others have seen.
What remains the case is that even House Republican leaders have acknowledged that they have to take action on this issue; and action, in our view, needs to be comprehensive. That is a view that is shared, again, broadly, across the country by Democrats and Republicans. It’s shared by a bipartisan majority, a significant bipartisan majority in the Senate. It’s one shared and pressed and espoused by the business community and the labor community, the law enforcement community and the faith community. And there’s a reason for that because of the essential need of providing the benefits that comprehensive immigration reform would provide.
Q But when you respond to the Speaker’s assertion that he’s worked hard on this, you say that’s almost laughable. Does that create a climate where -- it doesn’t sound like it’s pessimistic in mocking --
MR. CARNEY: I was saying that in connecting it to another issue. I would simply say that I hope that’s the case, that when we emerge from this process, House leaders in the Republican Party will be able to claim rightfully that they helped bring about passages of a very significant piece of legislation that comprehensively reforms our immigration system and provides the deficit reduction and the productivity increase and the wage increase that the Senate bill would provide as analyzed by CBO and others, and that would make sure our businesses are all playing the same rules, make sure that our border security is further resourced and enhanced, and make sure that 11 million undocumented immigrants here are provided a path to citizenship.
Q Thank you, Jay. As the President writes these economic speeches that are coming up, he says, for the next couple of months, is he going to address the burden on middle-class families of the higher -- the steep increase in gasoline prices and what it does to the economy? And has anybody at the White House asked the State Department what’s taking so long on the Keystone XL decision?
MR. CARNEY: On the second part, there’s a process in place that has been in place through administrations of both parties whereby an international pipeline that crosses an international border is reviewed by the State Department, and that process is housed at the State Department.
The delay that we’ve seen thus far was precipitated by actions taken by Republicans in Congress, as you know. So I don't have any updates on that process. I would refer you to the State Department.
Q And taking months or years is okay with the President?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that when you have to review these applications, you have to do it in a deliberate way. And I don't think that this review process is any different from ones that preceded it, including ones that were approved under this administration.
Secondly, gas prices are -- when they go up, that creates a burden on American families. And it is why the President has embraced an all-of-the-above approach to our energy policy and energy needs, one that has seen steady increase in domestic production of oil, one that has led to record levels of production of natural gas, a significant reduction in our dependence on imports of foreign oil and foreign energy, and huge increases in the production of renewable energies in this country. And all of these developments help mitigate the harm caused by higher prices at the pump.
And when we see these spikes that come about for various reasons, it only reinforces the need to embrace an all-of-the-above energy strategy so that we can continue to move towards energy independence, which is something this President has talked a lot about and which his record in office reflects a commitment to.
Q So he can't offer the middle-class Americans who will be listening to these speeches any activist --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to preview the specifics of the speech. I think that on the issue of energy, the President’s commitment is clear. He is for an all-of-the-above approach, and that includes increased production of traditional forms of fossil fuels. He is doing that and has done that. We now have record production of natural gas. We now have a balance of imports versus domestic production that is better than we've seen in 20 years or more.
And that reflects his approach, as does the investment in and a substantial increase in the production of renewable energy -- as does, very importantly, action he took in his first term, executive action, to reduce -- or rather to increase fuel efficiency standards for automobile production that is already producing savings for the American people and will produce enormous savings in the coming years as the fleet of cars driven out there on the roads in the United States becomes more fuel efficient and, therefore, saves every American who has to buy gas money at the pump.
Q If they change their vehicle. But none of this --
MR. CARNEY: Well, eventually, obviously every year there are more new vehicles that meet fuel efficiency standards on the road as has been the case historically. And the fact is, as the reports out of American automobile manufacturers demonstrate, people are buying cars and they're buying American cars. And they're buying fuel-efficient American cars. And that creates benefits for the American people. Because if you didn't have those standards put into place, again, because of the action taken by the President and this administration, you would not -- all that money that will be saved this year and in years in the future would instead be paid out by the American people at the pump.
Q Jay, Speaker Boehner's office says the one thing we should look out for tomorrow in the speech is an Obama-induced government shutdown threat. They're pointing to the statements of administration policy on the individual spending bills, the ones that say the President’s advisors can't accept that -- accept those. If the Congress cannot accept spending limits that are more appropriate to the President's liking, is the President going to be pointing to specific spending bills and saying, look, these are unacceptable; we need to have agreement on this stuff, and without that there's going to be a government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I can pretty much predict that he won't say what you just said. (Laughter.) But without further previewing the speech, I'll say a couple of things. We absolutely oppose efforts by Congress to break their agreement in terms of spending levels and to do so in ways that gut investments in the very things that help the middle class grow and help the middle class feel more secure, while holding harmless companies that receive tax subsidies or the wealthiest Americans. It's simply unacceptable.
The President believes, and history proves, that this country grows best and competes best when the middle class is rising and thriving. And in order to do that, we need to make wise investments in education and innovation and infrastructure, and not cut those programs and decimate those programs so that we can protect special interests. That's the approach we've seen in Republican budgets, and that's an approach that this President will never support because it's bad for the American people and bad for the economy -- because we don't have to do it. We can responsibly reduce our deficit while making sure that we reserve money for the necessary investments in education, the necessary investments in infrastructure and transportation, the necessary investments in science and medical research. We've proven that. The deficit has come down significantly in the last several years at a pace that we have not seen since demobilization after World War II.
And we need to continue that trend by making responsible budget choices that include balance and a respect for the fundamental principle that the greatness of America is highly dependent on the strength and greatness of the middle class. That was the case when America became the preeminent economic power in the world and the envy of the world. And it has to be the case in the 21st century, because the alternative is to see a constantly diminished sense of the greatness of America and a constantly stressed middle class that sees its capacities diminished and its size shrunk. We can't accept that.
Q So if Republicans don't accept the obvious wisdom of this argument, is a government shutdown in --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that you would have to ask Republicans about what their plan is for investing in America’s future, what their plan is for making sure that Americans have health care security, what their plan is -- I mean, they spend a great deal of time, for example, voting again and again and again in different forms to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
What they don't spend any time on is an alternative -- an alternative that if you don't provide it, would mean that if you repeal Obamacare, half of the country that has to deal with preexisting conditions could be out of luck; that all those seniors who are getting benefits through the Affordable Care Act now in reduced prescription drug prices are out of luck.
And if you ask Republicans who spend so much of their time on Capitol Hill drafting different ways, different bills to in theory repeal the Affordable Care Act, they can't tell you what their alternative is because they haven’t put one forth. And any effort to put one forth has been met with and shut down by a wing of the party that seems not to believe that elected officials were sent here to find solutions to the challenges that the middle class faces.
Q On that question on the middle class, the mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, was on ABC this weekend saying that it’s not just Detroit in trouble. He believes there are about a hundred urban cities in America that are on the brink in some way -- maybe not ready to file for bankruptcy, but with deep debt problems right now. As the President gets ready for these economic speeches, is there a feeling that these cities have to work it out on their own, or is there going to be some sort of coordinated federal response? Because presumably, if more cities have to file for bankruptcy, that's going to have an impact on the economy.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have addressed the issue of Detroit’s insolvency and the fact that Detroit with Michigan will be, as they have said -- leaders in the city and state have said will be resolving that issue with the city’s creditors.
It is a matter of course that this administration will work with Detroit and talk about policy ideas and engage with Detroit and other cities to provide the kinds of assistance that can help Detroit continue to move forward. But if your question is basically a version of the question, but expanded, that we’ve had for the past several days, then my answer hasn’t changed -- which is when it comes to the matter of the city’s insolvency, that has to be resolved by local leaders and creditors.
Q But when you say the federal government can provide assistance, is assistance another word for a bailout or are you closing --
MR. CARNEY: It is absolutely not. And the kind of assistance that we have provided to cities that -- in terms of creating investment opportunities or dealing with blighted neighborhoods, I mean, that’s the kind of assistance that we’ve been providing through different programs since the Great Recession was in full bloom. And we’ve provided an enormous amount of assistance to urban areas across the country to deal with some of the problems that were, if not created, greatly exacerbated by the Great Recession.
Q So we can say you’re closing the door on a federal bailout for Detroit or any other major city?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I’ve said, again, and I’ll say it for the third straight day, that the administration agrees with what leaders in Michigan and Detroit have said, which is that the issue of the insolvency that Detroit faces has to be resolved by --
Q But you know as well as anyone they may not be able to work that out, they have deep debt problems. Are you closing the door on a bailout?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they have that -- we have no plans to provide the kind of assistance you’re talking about. The city has to and the state have to work that out with the city’s creditors.
Q And what do you say to labor union leaders who will say, well, wait a second, the federal government, starting with the Bush administration, continued and then winded down by the Obama administration, bailed out the big banks? You’ve now got union workers, auto workers in Detroit who might lose their pensions. If the federal government helped the banks, why don’t they help --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think that I’ve been clear about what our position is on the issues, the insolvency issues that Detroit faces. We will of course work with Detroit and have engaged with Detroit from our administration, and will continue to as it moves forward and deals with the challenges that face it. And that is true of other areas that might be under stress. But on the question that you raise, I think I’ve made pretty clear what our answer is.
Q Jay, thanks. There are reports that Edward Snowden might get his travel documents in Russia any day now, possibly as early as Wednesday. Is that the administration’s understanding? And in light of that, have there been recent conversations between President Obama or other senior administration officials and Russian officials?
MR. CARNEY: I have no new understanding about those reports. I would simply say that our position is the same as it has been, which is that we believe Mr. Snowden ought to be expelled and returned to the United States, where he faces felony charges, and that there is ample legal justification for that and precedent in terms of cooperation with Russia in the law enforcement arena that would allow for that. But I have no new information on his disposition, if you will.
And while I am confident that conversations are ongoing between the administration and the Russian government on this and many issues, I don’t have any White House conversations to read out.
Q And is the President still traveling to Moscow?
MR. CARNEY: As I’ve said, the President intends to travel to Russia for the G20, and we have no further announcements to make beyond what we’ve said in the past about that travel.
Q And, Jay, some Russian officials are accusing the United States of a double standard, saying that the U.S. has repeatedly refused extradition requests; one official saying, “We’ve been denied the extradition of murderers, bandits and bribe-takers.” Is that a fair assessment? What’s your reaction? Is that harming your efforts to try to get Snowden?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you would have to give me a specific case. The fact is that we have worked with Russia to -- in this arena, in both directions, and as well as with other countries, so we believe there’s ample precedent here. And our position has been conveyed to the Russian government, much as it has been conveyed by me and others publicly, which is that Mr. Snowden is not a dissident, he’s not a human rights activist. In the view of the government which brought the case, he very clearly violated the law in disclosing classified information. And he, as a citizen charged in this country, will be afforded all of the many rights given to defendants in our country, in our system of justice, when he returns.
Q And, Jay, just one on Syria. I just want to understand what you’re saying, because you’ve said Assad will never rule Syria again, he will not prevail. What is giving you that confidence? Because it seems like right now he does have the upper hand.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I took that question moments ago, and I would simply say that Assad has waged a bloody war against his own people. And it is for the Syrian --
Q But I mean, what proof do you have?
MR. CARNEY: Proof of what? Does Assad rule Russia? I mean, does Assad rule Syria right now? And will --
Q But he seems to have the upper hand.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure. There are ebbs and flows in conflicts like this. There is no question that with the assistance of Iran and Hezbollah, a couple of very bad actors -- notable friends, you might say, friends that say a lot about Assad in a situation like this -- he has inflicted even more harm on the Syrian people. And for that reason and others, it’s incumbent upon the United States and friends and allies who support the Syrian people in their battle against Bashar al-Assad to provide the assistance and the stepped-up assistance that we’re providing.
But the reason why I’m confident is because the Syrian people will not allow it, and they’ve made that clear.
Q Mr. Boehner addressed the debt limit this morning. He said we’re not going to raise the debt limit -- debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. What’s your response to that?
MR. CARNEY: That we will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills that Congress racked up. It is highly irresponsible to even flirt with that prospect. We saw what happened when a rump group, again, driving the train in the House in many ways, flirted with that possibility back in the summer of 2011. And the impact was highly negative for the economy, and most importantly, for American families.
Again, when it comes to deficit reduction, while this President has been in office and negotiated with Congress, we have seen the sharpest reduction in our deficit since demobilization -- since the ‘40s. That’s a fact, an incontrovertible fact.
This President is committed to responsibly dealing with our deficit and debt challenges in the mid and long term. As we see our near-term deficits drop significantly, we still have to deal with our mid- and long-term challenges. And unlike, thus far, Republicans, he has put forward a proposal that represents sincere compromise that everyone here, for the most part I would say, has acknowledged is both detailed and reflects tough choices for a Democratic leader, for this President to make. Because he believes that if we do this responsibly and in a balanced way, we can continue to invest in the right areas of our economy and invest in the middle class, and invest in those who aspire to the middle class, even as we responsibly reduce our deficit and deal with our long-term debt challenges.
That’s the way to do it. And he has engaged every Republican lawmaker who has expressed an interest in finding common ground on these issues. And he will continue to do that. And we hope that a compromise is available through those consultations, but it requires a seriousness that, A, begins with the conviction that we will not default. We are the United States. We do not default. It is unthinkable for the greatest country on Earth to default for the first time in its history. And I believe that Republican leaders share that conviction, and the President believes that Republican leaders share that conviction. We certainly know that business leaders around the country share that conviction.
Q The Treasury says that if -- we probably have another couple of months before we have to raise the limit, until we get to the limit. Jack Lew has approached it this way -- he’s tried to compartmentalize it, doing a one clean bill thing, and then a compromise thing. Do you think -- is there any way that that can work?
MR. CARNEY: I can't possibly negotiate through a bunch of hypotheticals.
Now, what I think is essential is that Congress act responsibly, make sure that not only do we not default, but we don't flirt with default, and that Congress engage with the administration and find solutions to the budget challenges that continue to face us -- responsible, balanced solutions to those challenges.
Q Jay, with all that said about what you’re saying of the economy in this major speech tomorrow, what is the state simply of our economy?
MR. CARNEY: Strong but not strong enough; growing but not growing fast enough; creating jobs but not creating enough jobs.
And that's been clearly stated by the President and others in this administration for some time now. We need to continue the recovery. We need to continue the progress we make -- that we have made, and we have made significant progress. It seems like an eternity ago because of all that has transpired since then, but it was only four and a half years ago that the President took office amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression, when we were losing, in the month he was sworn into office, north of 800,000 jobs -- in a month. And the fact is for 40 straight months now, we’ve seen private sector job creation to the tune of 7.2 million jobs -- and that's a lot of jobs.
But we need to create more jobs. We need to create jobs faster, and we need to take action to invest in the middle class and those who aspire to the middle class so that we solidify the gains we’ve made and expand on them. And that's what the President will talk about tomorrow -- that we have to keep our eye on the ball here, what the North Star is when it comes to moving our economy forward.
And it’s built around the basic notion that a thriving middle class that feels secure and is expanding has always been the driving force behind the American economy at its best, and that was the case in the last century. That condition began to erode over the course of several decades. That's something that the President talked about in his speech at Knox College in 2005, before the recession, because we had a condition where because of trends globally, as well as policy decisions made here in Washington, you were seeing a reinforcement of a winner-take-all approach to the economy where benefits accrued rapidly and in some cases exponentially to the top 1 percent while the middle class -- almost everybody else -- saw their situation either stagnate or get worse.
And this is a long-term project. It’s not enough just to see the stock market bounce back. It’s not enough just to see retirement accounts replenished because of the return of the markets. It’s not enough to see the rebound in housing that we’ve seen. It’s not enough to see even the 7.2 million jobs that we’ve seen created. We need to do more and we need to make the right policy choices so that the middle class feels like they're getting their interests addressed here in Washington, as opposed to ignored through policies that only do harm to the middle class.
Q So it's a long-term project. Will there be any absolutes for the middle class in the speech tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Any absolutes? An absolute focus on the middle class and an absolute commitment to expanding the middle class.
Q No, no, no -- wait a minute. And also, Thursday, the President goes to Florida -- Jacksonville, Florida -- at a time when Florida is in the news. Is he going to make mention -- as he is talking about the economy broadly, will he make mention of some other things that are going on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the trip is meant to focus again on the economy, to build on the President's speech tomorrow. So I think that will be the focus. I would simply say that the President is still working on the speech he is giving tomorrow, so I don’t have any more details about future speeches.
Q If I could ask, Senator McConnell was just on the floor talking about comprehensive tax reform. Will the President, as part of his economic speeches either tomorrow or in his series, is he still interested in tax reform? And is that something he is going to --
MR. CARNEY: Without previewing this speech or the others, I would simply say that the President has long been committed to tax reform. What he is not committed to when it comes to individual tax reform is an effort by some Republicans to undo, while sticking it to the middle class, the improvements in tax fairness that were achieved through the debt ceiling negotiation. That won't do. That's not the kind of reform that the middle class is looking for. But broadly, of course -- and he has made that clear for a long time now.
Anita, last one.
Q A few times over the last few days, including Dan's email on Sunday night, there's been sort of a reference -- you might have even said it earlier today -- about taking our eye off the ball that we have to go back to the economy as you're talking about these speeches. Where does that sort of leave immigration? Does that sort of get Congress off the hook a little bit that the number one thing is the economy? You're asking the House to take this up, so doesn't that take the pressure off them a little bit? And before you say it's part of --
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand. It’s a fair question.
Q Yes, but you're going to say immigration is part of the economy and I understand that. (Laughter.) But the speeches -- because you said that last time. The speeches in the next couple of days, as you all have indicated, are going to be much broader than one little piece of immigration. So you understand my question. I'm just trying to understand how that fits in.
MR. CARNEY: The President will make clear that we need to return our focus here in Washington to the issues that matter most to the middle class and that are so essential to growing and expanding the middle class and making the middle class more secure. He will note -- as I have and others -- that of course there are other things that we have to focus on.
But what has been lost in some regards, because of real issues that we've had to deal with, including overseas, but also because of some phony scandals that have captured the attention of many here in Washington only to dissipate, there has not been enough attention paid, in the President's view, to this central idea that we here in Washington ought to be doing everything we can to help the middle class and provide it with the tools it needs -- and those who aspire to the middle class, the tools they need -- to move forward and gain ground in this economy.
So that's what you'll hear from him. But we will not let up in our push for immigration reform. It is a huge priority for the President. It's a central priority for the country. And it is an economic issue that once, if it is passed and signed into law, will provide the many economic benefits -- micro and macro -- that have been described by independent analysts, as well as by us. So it's very much a piece of the President's economic strategy, although I accept that it is also unique as a pursuit here, a legislative pursuit.
And we will continue to work with the House and with stakeholders to make sure that we get that done, because it's in the interest of the country and in the interest of both parties in our view.
Thanks very much.
12:55 P.M. EDT
December 14, 2015
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