12/12/13: White House Press Briefing

December 12, 2013 | 1:11:53 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Download mp4 (717MB) | mp3 (173MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/12/13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:00 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Hello, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  Thank you for giving my deputy the opportunity for brief for an hour and seven minutes yesterday.  I'm going to top that today.  (Laughter.)  I'm going to just go and go and go. 

Q    I left my coffee back there.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  We should have one of those Nespresso --

Q    Nespresso machines.

MR. CARNEY:  Those are excellent. 

Q    There's a Keurig back there. 

MR. CARNEY:  They didn’t have that kind of thing when I worked back there. 

Q    -- Nespresso machine that nobody knows how to work it. 
MR. CARNEY:  I could use one.  Still recovering from the extraordinary trip to South Africa and the many hours in the air. 
Before I take your questions, I will deliver to you a topper, and that is to note that today, as you can see here, we are highlighting how the Affordable Care Act is providing new protections for the up to 17 million children across the country who can no longer be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. 

Because of the health care law, insurance companies have been prohibited from denying health coverage to children with preexisting conditions since 2010.  And starting in 2014, insurance companies will also no longer be able to charge higher premiums based on health status or history. 

These protections are especially important for Americans like Lisa Prandy, whose daughter Zoe was diagnosed with childhood kidney cancer at age three.  Because of the health care law, insurance companies are now prohibited from denying health coverage to children like Zoe who have preexisting conditions.  This not only gives parents peace of mind, it helps ensure that families can focus on helping kids get better instead of worrying whether their insurance company will deny coverage due to preexisting conditions for needed and often lifesaving treatments. 

Unfortunately, if opponents of reform had their way and repealed the law, these protections for children with preexisting conditions would be stripped away, meaning that up to 17 million kids could once again be at risk of being denied health insurance coverage for conditions such as asthma, cancer or diabetes. 

And I will now take your questions.  Jim.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Welcome back. 

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you.

Q    A budget issue, unemployment insurance.  Today, Senator Reid said that that issue probably will come to the -- or he'll try to bring that to the floor in January and make it retroactive so 1.3 million unemployed workers don’t lose their benefits.  Is that a plan that the White House supports?  And isn't it much more difficult to pass something like that without an underlying bill that would help carry it through?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll say a couple of things.  We have been very clear that we strongly support the idea that Congress should extend unemployment insurance benefits to the 1.3 million Americans who will lose those benefits three days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t act.  If it was the right thing to do when President George W. Bush did it, extended unemployment insurance benefits at a time when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, and at a time when the average unemployed person was unemployed for 17 weeks, then it's the right thing to do today, as it has been over the past several years since the Great Recession occurred.

Even though the unemployment rate has been coming down, even though more Americans are going back to work, there are still too many Americans out of work and struggling to find work.  The unemployment rate is 7 percent.  It's come down significantly, but it is still much too high.  And in our view, Congress should take the necessary action to provide the extension of benefits at this incredibly important time so that those Americans can continue the effort of trying to find work without wondering whether or not they can feed their families. 

So we continue to call on Congress to take action.  This is something that, in the past, because it’s emergency aid and it is aid that is phased down as the employment situation improves, therefore it’s not unlimited, has in the past most often been addressed in a way without offsets that could be and should be today addressed in that way.

That remains our position.  Unfortunately, the House is leaving tomorrow.  They’ve made clear that they go on recess for the holiday tomorrow.  And if Congress does not act in time before those benefits expire, we would absolutely expect them to act as soon as possible upon their return.

Q    And if it’s so important, why didn’t the White House insist that this be part of the budget agreement and even threaten perhaps a veto if it did not include it?

MR. CARNEY:  We strongly support the budget agreement.  You saw the statement that we put out from the President, and heard what Josh and others have said about it.  We think it is a small but important step in what we hope is a return to regular order, where the economy isn’t threatened by the obstacles thrown up in its way here in Washington. 

There was an interesting quote today I noted, I think from S&P that referred to the budget agreement as, “a very positive development.  You could see the federal government go from being a drag to being a net positive if this goes through, which is hard to believe.”  Now, that’s a pretty unimpressive bar for Washington to clear, but it reflects that for too long now -- in shutting down the government, in refusing to compromise -- Washington has actually caused problems for the economy, when at the very least it should be neutral, and at its best, which is what the President believes it ought to do, Washington should be taking action that helps the economy grow. 

And what we see in this, again, modest but significant budget deal -- significant in what it represents -- we see the opportunity for mitigation of or buying back of a significant portion of the arbitrary cuts represented by sequester.  We see continued modest deficit reduction.  We see necessary investments in areas like scientific research that can produce discoveries and innovation that, in turn, produce new businesses and jobs. 

And that’s how it should be.  And most importantly, perhaps psychologically, it tells the American people that at least for the next couple of years, if Congress passes it, they don’t have to worry about Republicans deciding to shut down the government again over their ideological disagreements with the President.
Again, not a high hurdle, but clearing it is important for our economy, and we support that. 

We also support strongly the extension of unemployment insurance for the reasons I just mentioned -- because these families deserve it.  I mean, think about it.  Standard unemployment insurance benefits last for 26 weeks.  Today, even after all the progress we’ve made in growth and job creation in the wake of the Great Recession, the average unemployed person is unemployed for 36 weeks -- the average unemployed person.  This is a persistent problem that needs to be addressed, and Washington ought to make sure that these families receive -- continue to receive the benefits that they need now, as we make the necessary policy here in Washington that helps our economy grow instead of doing what has happened in the past -- the government was shut down and making it -- reducing growth and reducing job creation.

So the combination of a budget deal and passage of this extension of unemployment insurance would have significant positive effects on our economy as well as these individual families.  So we call on Congress to do that as soon as possible.

Q    On another subject that we asked about yesterday, but there have been some developments -- this issue of the sign language interpreter in South Africa.  We now find out that apparently he’s had psychotic episodes in the past and that he told one of our reporters that he was afraid of becoming violent while he was doing the sign language interpretation.  Was there
-- is there now a concern, a security concern regarding that episode?  Has the White House spoken to the South African government about the interpreter?

MR. CARNEY:  For matters regarding the President’s security I would refer you to the Secret Service.  And obviously they worked very hard on this trip, which came about on short notice. But they, as they always do, took the precautions necessary to ensure the President’s safety.  But beyond that, for specifics related to this individual, I would either refer you to the government of South Africa or to the Secret Service.


Q    Jay, a follow-up on the budget.  Why didn’t the White House try harder to get the UI extension into this budget bill?

MR. CARNEY:  As I just said to Jim, we strongly support --

Q    I know you do, but why didn’t --

MR. CARNEY:  -- and let me say that we don’t believe that it has to be attached to anything.  We believe Congress could act, as it has often -- under President Reagan, under President George W. Bush, under President Obama in the first four years in the wake of the Great Recession -- to extend unemployment insurance because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps our economy as well as helps these families.

Q    I understand you’re for it.  I was just wondering strategically, you have to have some kind of a strategy to get it done, and just talking about it doesn’t seem to be achieving that.  So what leverage do you have going forward, I guess, since it’s not in this particular bill?  How do you expect, and what will the strategy be to get this passed?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we will continue to work with Congress and press upon Congress our view that these benefits be extended for the reasons I just mentioned. 

It is absolutely the case, as I told Jim, that we support the budget agreement and we believe it needs to be passed because of the good that will do to the economy and for the American middle class, and the certainty it will create for once, or for once in a long while, for the economy and for the middle class.  We want them both, and we think Congress ought to pass them both. And we commend those who crafted the budget deal on the work they did, and we call on the House and the Senate to pass it.

We also strongly support passage of an extension of the unemployment insurance benefits that -- again, it shouldn’t be a quid pro quo, when you talk about the essential need that these families have and the benefit that ensuring that unemployment insurance is extended to the economy.  That was certainly why many Republicans, including Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell and the Majority Leader, Eric Cantor in the House, have supported extension of unemployment insurance benefits in the past.  And it’s why -- again, our view is if it was the right thing to do when the unemployment rate was lower and when the average person was unemployed for fewer weeks, it certainly has to be the right thing to do now.  So we’re going to press forward on this and work with Congress so that they get it done as soon as possible.

Q    Can you just give a flavor at all about how strategically you plan to do that? 

MR. CARNEY:  We’re going to press very aggressively to get it done.  I don’t want to lay out a legislative strategy for you, again, because we see it as a fairly cut-and-dry proposition where it’s the right thing to do for these families, it’s the right thing to do for the economy.  It has, for the vast majority of occasions when it’s been brought up in past, been done so as emergency assistance without offsets.  We certainly think that is appropriate in this case.

So that’s our position, and we’ll work with Congress to press forward on it.  And this is, again, something that has been supported in the past not just by Democrats, but by Republicans, for all the reasons I just mentioned.

Q    And then one separate topic.  Is the President close to naming a number two at the Federal Reserve and is that going to be Stanley Fisher? 

MR. CARNEY:  I have no personnel announcements to make or hints to give.  The President obviously takes these kinds of decisions seriously, and when he has one to announce he’ll let you know.

Go up and back.  April.

Q    Jay, I want to go back to the website issue.  Has anyone in the White House taken onus themselves to go onsite and watch some of the technology as it’s in play being worked on with the website?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Jeff Zients, at the request of the President and Secretary Sebelius, has been working on this issue and overseeing the improvements to the website that have delivered the kind of progress that we've been noting these past days and weeks.  So the answer is, yes, there's a team of people who work on these issues, on the broader implementation of the Affordable Care Act, who work with CMS, work with HHS.  But when it comes to the fixes that you're talking about to the website, Jeff Zients has been the point person on that. 

And as we've noted -- I noticed a USA Today headline this morning that talked about the fact that the number of people enrolled in November was quadruple -- more than quadruple the number in October, reflecting the numbers that were put out by HHS yesterday.  That reflects the progress made through November, and that is obviously even before we met our goal of ensuring that the site was working effectively for the vast majority of users by November 30th.

So we continue to make progress.  They, importantly, continue to make progress, addressing to fix the problems that exist and fixing them.  And I think we've seen in the data that's been released that demand for this remains extremely high.  And our commitment to ensuring that we meet that demand with an effective means to make the purchase or to enroll remains very high.

Q    Jay, what I'm asking is specifically, is someone from the White House as recently as Saturday gone to a site -- specifically CSSI in Columbia, Maryland -- to look hands-on at what is being done?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have everybody's travel plans.  I’m sure that there have been a number of people -- I think it's QSSI that you're talking about, the main contractor -- who have been working on this issue and both onsite and remote 24/7, for all the reasons that we've talked about -- and some of them very unhappy reasons -- that we've talked about since October 1st.

Q    And as the conversations go around the White House about the website, has there been a concern that each contract at the beginning was not integrated with the other contract from other companies to bring the whole system together?  And also, was there a concern about load balances when -- with the anticipation or those who went on the site, it was likened to me like a crowd going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday with Thanksgiving sales, just going in, straight in, versus one group being sent here, one group being sent there, another group being sent there.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that's an excellent analogy, and what we saw in October when the site was functioning so poorly is that there was only one entrance and that entrance was malfunctioning, and that caused all the problems that we've discussed and enumerated from here and elsewhere. 

What we see now with the improvements to the site is both improved capacity, significantly expanded capacity, but also mechanisms in place so that if there are surges, as we saw on December 2nd -- I think that was the Monday, the first workday after November 30th -- that there is a queuing system set up that functions effectively so that the system isn't overloaded, and individuals are placed in a queue, told when to come back,   emailed and communicated with.  And that system has worked very effectively as designed, as I understand it.

Now, for some of the more technical questions -- and I was impressed by your grasp of the issues -- we have, as you know, regular briefings by CMS that include people who are more steeped in the technical aspects of it.  But you hit the nail on the head in describing what some of those early problems were and why there needed to be, if not other doors, places for people to queue so that they have the most effective and efficient experience with the website.

Now, again, not every issue has been resolved, but there is no question -- and I think this was reflected in both the data that's been released and in the anecdotal reporting that we've seen -- that the website has vastly improved, and that a huge increase in the number of Americans enrolling is a welcomed development.  We started from a bad place, and I will -- every day that we talk -- anybody asks me about improvements on the website, I will begin and end by saying we created a lot of problems for ourselves and that's why it was so important to take responsibility for that and ensure that we put the teams in place necessary to make the fixes necessary to deliver on the promise of the Affordable Care Act.

Q    So you're at about 90 percent operational now on that website?

MR. CARNEY:  CMS may have more details for you.  I think we talked about -- the metrics we use have to do with error rates and response times and stability of the system.  They have put some metrics, additional metrics, on it over at CMS.  I don't have them.  But we are -- it is functioning for the vast majority of users effectively, and we continue to make progress on those issues.


Q    To go back to the -- I know you said related to the Secret Service issue -- but can you at least walk us through how the security -- what was the interaction between the President’s security and what was done in advance and the South African government?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, that would be something specifically that the Secret Service would address.

Q    I mean, you do not know if the Secret Service at all had asked for at least the backgrounds of anybody that was going to be on the podium with the President?

MR. CARNEY:  I can't discuss the measures taken by the Secret Service, even the ones that I’m aware of, in order --

Q    So you are aware of this?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I know some of the general things that are done in preparation for trips like these to ensure the President’s security and the security of others traveling with him.

Q    There is a protocol between countries that's done between countries?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, before I get even any further down the road in describing what the Secret Service does and how it does it, I will stop and refer you to the Secret Service, except to assure you that when the President travels -- notably, when he travels abroad and especially in a circumstance like that where there’s obviously -- it’s a big venue with a lot of people, the Secret Service works very hard to take the necessary precautions to ensure the President’s safety.

Q    Was there ever a point that the President himself was concerned?  Can you share that?

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you, having been with him on the entire trip, that I’m not aware that he was ever concerned.

Q    And he never was made aware -- were you guys ever made aware of any security concerns?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Secret Service.  I was not aware of any, beyond just the generic concern that there’s always an issue when you travel.

Q    Did Senate Democrats make a mistake by not including UI in the negotiations?

MR. CARNEY:  Our view is that this can and should be done, and I think Senator Reid has said that he will address it.

Q    He’s not bringing it up this year.  He already said he’s punting until next year.

MR. CARNEY:  I understand.

Q    Which means they will expire, period.  He’s already made that decision.  They're expiring.  We know that for sure.

MR. CARNEY:  The House is leaving, right?  Without the House -- despite the fact that the House, including Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor and others have supported extension of benefits in the past, including times when those benefits have been extended without offsets, it can't get done if the House leaves.  There’s no question about that.  There is still time for the House to change its mind, and then we would see what would happen. 

My only point is that we support the budget deal.  We want to see it passed.  We want to see the House pass it and the Senate pass it.  We do not believe that extension of the unemployment insurance benefits has to be attached to something for it to pass, or that if it’s not attached to something, or to this specific bill, that then Congress is absolved of the responsibility of taking action.  It’s not.  And we hope and expect that Congress will do the right thing by these families, do what they’ve done in the past in circumstances like this by extending benefits, and --

Q    Is there a specific plan?  Do you want to extend it 90 days?  Six months?  Do you want to like be based on when --Senator Tim Kaine said today he'd like it based on an actual percentage of whatever the unemployment rate is.  Then when it hits that mark, okay, then you revert back to 26 weeks.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't seen that proposal or specific proposals.  But it's important to understand that the system already works that way, that when the unemployment rate comes down, the number of weeks is reduced.  And what has happened in these emergency extensions is that the baseline period of 26 weeks has been extended because of the high level of unemployment and the high level of long-term unemployment.  And that’s what a temporary extension would address.  But the program works -- again, I don’t know the specifics, but that’s how the program works.

Q    No, I understand that, but do you want --

MR. CARNEY:  And that’s why I think there has been broad bipartisan support in the past, given current economic conditions and job market conditions, to extending these benefits.  And that’s why we believe, despite the improvements in the economy and the improvements in job creation, that Congress will take the actions that it has in the past.

But on the broader point -- look, we believe they should extend it.  We believe they ought to be extended for a year.

Q    You want to extend it for a full year?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s certainly what we would prefer.  Now, we're --

Q    You’d accept 90 days, 180?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to say what we would accept.  I'm going to say that we will obviously work with Congress on how to do this. 

Again, it's a pretty simple proposition.  Based on the history here, based on where we are in unemployment and long-term unemployment, there is I think an irrefutable argument that this should be done consistent with actions by Congress in the past.  And again, consistent with actions by Congress in the past, we believe that this is something that Congress could do and should do without offsets.  We'll look at proposals by Congress that may address this in a different way.  We believe that benefits ought to be extended.

Let me -- yes.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Do you all think that you'll be able to prevent -- or that Congress won't vote for more Iran sanctions, for sanctions on Iran?
MR. CARNEY:  We continue to make very clear to Congress our view that now is not the time to vote on additional sanctions -- to vote for additional sanctions, because doing so would threaten to divide the P5-plus-1 and to empower Iran's hardliners.

The purpose of sanctions -- and this administration has led the way in building the most comprehensive, effective sanctions regime in history -- wasn't just to punish -- or isn't just to punish Iran for its behavior, but to compel Iran to come to the negotiating table prepared to change its behavior.  And the effectiveness of the sanctions I think have indisputably led to the point where Iran has come to the table and Iran has agreed with a unified P5-plus-1 -- that is a unified position of the United States and our allies on this issue -- the P5 of the United Nations, plus Germany -- to a preliminary agreement that when implemented will halt progress on Iran's nuclear program, will roll it back in certain key aspects, and will maintain the sanctions regime, and will provide only modest, reversible relief to Iran in return for its compliance while there is a six-month time period for the P5-plus-1 to explore whether Iran is serious about reaching a permanent diplomatic solution.

Q    Do you think that message is getting through to Congress, to the point where they won't vote on it?

MR. CARNEY:  I won't predict congressional action.  That's always a risky thing to do.  I will say that we are communicating that message as clearly as we can, and I think, importantly, making the point to those who are focused on this issue that this is not about whether you're for or against sanctions.  This administration has been more aggressively for sanctions than any of its predecessors and in a way that ensured we could create the kind of international consensus behind the view that Iran was the problem than has ever been seen.

And what we believe is that Congress ought to refrain from passing new sanctions unless and until the passage of new sanctions can be most effective.  And that would be the case if Iran failed to comply with its commitments in the preliminary deal or failed to reach a permanent solution, a final solution with the P5-plus-1 after or at any time up to the six-month period that we've been talking about. 

So we have had great partners in Congress in implementing this sanctions regime and we believe that Congress's power here is best used at the moment of maximum leverage if that comes to be necessary.

Q    Can I ask you one thing on jobless benefits?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    You mentioned that President Bush extended unemployment insurance without offsets.  Did he and President Obama talk about that at all when they were on the plane for 16-17 hours?

MR. CARNEY:  A lot more than that, actually.  I'm not going to read out the conversations that the President had with former President Bush, some of which I was present for, some of which I was not.  I know President Obama greatly enjoyed the opportunity to have President and Laura Bush onboard Air Force One for this unique trip for Nelson Mandela's service.  And the two men, as well as the former First Lady and the current First Lady spent a lot of time together.  And I know that President Obama and the First Lady greatly enjoyed that experience and appreciated the time with the Bushes. But I don't have any specific readouts of those conversations.  I think they covered an enormous range of topics, including a lot of topics not related to policy or politics. 

But it is true, separate from that experience, that President Bush, President Reagan did support extension of unemployment insurance when the economy called for it, and President Obama does as well.


Q    Jay, on the website, following on April, given the fact that you say every time you asked about this, you're going to acknowledge there were mistakes made on October 1st.  What's being done differently?  What is that plan to make sure that on January 1st not only is the website working, which appears it's working better now, but there are still questions -- even Secretary Sebelius acknowledged yesterday at the hearing that some of the backend systems are still not ready and there are people out there concerned that even if they have their paperwork in on December 23rd, even if they've sent a check in, are they really covered on January 1st?  What's the game plan?

MR. CARNEY:  That's a great question.  And I would say that there is no higher priority for CMS than making sure that every 834 form -- and I apologize to anybody watching who doesn’t know what that is, but that is the form that goes to the question that you ask -- that’s the information that’s provided as part of the enrollment process to the insurance company that an enrollee chose.  And making sure that those forms are accurate is CMS’s highest priority, and making sure that those forms are accurate, both present-day ones, people who are filling out today, but going all the way to October 1st, are accurate is the top priority. 

So CMS is working with issuers to validate the information on those forms and to validate what they’re seeing in terms of the recent fixes made and, most importantly, to ensure that anyone seeking coverage will know that their enrollment is confirmed and they will be able to access care.

So I think we talked about before that it’s a positive of an unfortunate situation that because there were the problems with the website that we saw on so many aspects of it in October, that the number of enrollees in October are smaller than we hoped but that that universe is not particularly large when the biggest number of problems occurred on the website, including on the backend.  So the universe is one that CMS is able to address and to take action to ensure that everyone who is enrolled and filled out one of those 834 forms has the accurate information that’s necessary.

Secondarily, CMS is taking action to reach out to everyone who’s enrolled to make sure that they are communicating with their insurers, so that they follow through in a way that if they enrolled in order to get insurance on January 1st, they’re taking all the steps necessary, including knowing when their first payment is due so that that insurance kicks in on time.

And again, there’s no higher priority, and --

Q    But you mentioned CMS.  My question is also -- CMS was taking the lead with the contractors on October 1st and they didn’t get the job done by the President’s own admission.  How hands-on is the White House?  How can you reassure the American people that -- you immediately said CMS is doing this, this, and this.  Okay.  But is the White House hands-on this time with a game play saying, are you checking the box, are you doing this, are you doing that?  Are you on top of it this time?

MR. CARNEY:  The answer is, yes, because a lot of has changed in the way this operation is working over at CMS.  A team of experts was brought in to address the problems with the website.  Jeff Zients was placed in a position of managing that effort.  And I think results have been fairly evident.  We’re not there yet; we are still engaged in an effort to make continued progress with the functionality of the website and with other aspects of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  But this is still an operation that emanates out of CMS.  And Jeff Zients in this capacity has been working for CMS, but he is clearly --

Q    Is the President on top of this personally?

MR. CARNEY:  He absolutely is, yes.

Q    Okay.  And just quickly on this and then one other topic.  Is there a plan B?  You thought it was going to work on October 1st; it didn’t.  You have tried to fix it; there are gains being made.  What is the plan B that if somebody does sign up -- and you say all these checks are being made -- but on January 1st somebody, God forbid, is in a car accident, something happens, they go to the hospital.  What is the plan B to make sure that somebody really has insurance?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, we’re taking every step to ensure that this highest priority is acted on, that everyone who has enrolled is being reached out to and that all of the 834 forms are accurate, both past and present.

I mean, I’m not going to speculate, because we believe this issue is being addressed.  There’s no higher priority.  And especially between now and December 23rd, which is when you need to enroll by in order to have insurance on January 1st, an enormous amount of effort is being expended on this particular issue to ensure that those who have enrolled are in a situation where all the steps have been taken care of so that they get their insurance on January 1st.

Q    Last one on access around here.  You saw probably this New York Times op-ed today by the head of AP photo.  He’s charging at the President, and his words is “undemocratic, hypocritical” when it comes to transparency and openness around here because of photographers not having the same access as the official White House photographer here.  Specifically I want you to react to that, but more importantly, substantively, dozens of media organizations wrote to you about this recently.  What substantive steps are being taken beyond the back-and-forth on this?  What’s being done to actually improve that access?

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for that question, and let me tell you at the start here that from the President on down, everyone here believes strongly in the absolute necessity of a free and independent press to cover the presidency, to cover the government, to cover Washington.  I personally, as someone who was a reporter for 21 years, have a great deal of passion about this issue and believe strongly in the necessity of a free and independent press to cover the White House, the government, Washington.  When it comes to photographers, I have enormous regard, and so does the President, for the work that they do, for the power of their images and what they can convey. 

In my career as a reporter, before I got to Washington, I spent some time overseas and occasionally was in dangerous places, and what I always thought was amazing was that every reporter in those situations puts himself or herself at risk, but when you’re a print reporter or a TV reporter and there are bombs or bullets, you duck.  When you’re a cameraman or a photographer, you stand up.  And I have huge admiration for that service to the free flow of information and the unbelievable bravery that cameramen and photographers display, especially overseas in hard areas, in dangerous areas, like Afghanistan, like Syria and elsewhere.

I can commit to you that we are working and have been working on expanding access where we can.  Now, the tension between White Houses and White House press corps over access is longstanding, and I think you and I and others have discussed that.  I remember having debates about these issues when I was sitting in your seat -- or the seat behind you -- and know that this has been an ongoing discussion.  And nevertheless, I believe strongly -- I know Josh does, everybody here -- that we need to listen to those concerns and act on them where we can.

It is always going to be the case, as it has since there have been photographers in the White House, that White House photographers take pictures and White Houses release them.  And we’re obviously going to continue to do that.  There are new technological developments -- the Internet -- that make the way that these images are disseminated different from how it was done in the past when they used to develop film in the basement here and hand it out in the Briefing Room.  But the fundamental here hasn’t really changed, and we’re going to work with everyone here, with the photographers and with the White House Correspondents Association, to address this as much as we can.

Q    Last one, I promise.  But at the Mandela memorial service, the official White House photographer was up on the platform with the President -- the current President, two former Presidents.  You were asked earlier about the possibility of there could have, God forbid, been a terrible incident with this interpreter potential security issue.  The official White House photographer was up there and individual photographers from news organizations that you just hailed were not allowed on that same platform.  That was just a couple days ago.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, a couple of things, Ed.  I mean, I think there were photographers there, and I think if you ask the photographers on the trip, we made --

Q    They were in other areas of the stadium --

MR. CARNEY:  We made -- I think our staff went to great lengths to get as much access for all of our traveling press as we could, in fact, got exceptionally more access for our traveling press than we were told we would get.  And I think if you ask the people who traveled, they would confirm that.  That includes photographers and print reporters and TV reporters.  So that's something when we go overseas we work with all the time. 

Now, the disposition of the photographers when it comes to the way the President is standing or sitting is obviously something that is worked out depending on the host government and what we can do in working with the photographers.  But this is something, I promise you, Ed, we take seriously and we’re going to work hard on addressing in ways that we hope will be responsive.

Q    Can I follow up on that, please?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Just a specific question about that trip just to get a sense of how you -- how this White House approaches this.  The flight on Air Force One, which was what, 20 hours over and 20 hours back, with two Presidents on board, a historic event.  Was there any consideration given to allowing the White House photographers that were there as part of the pool on Air Force One to come up to get a photograph of the two Presidents?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't --

Q    It was a 40-hour flight.   There was plenty of time to do something like that. 

Q    And they were on the plane.

Q    And it was requested.

Q    And they asked.

MR. CARNEY:  I get that.  But remember that we’re --

Q    It was okay for Pete Souza to take those pictures, right? 

MR. CARNEY:  Hasn’t it always been okay for a White House photographer to take pictures?

Q    I'm just saying --

Q    In all the hours that you spoke of, Jay, there was not possible for one second to arrange for --

MR. CARNEY:  I take your point.  The fact is the --

Q    -- the pool to take their pictures?

MR. CARNEY:  -- for a lot of those hours, the President, the former President, the First Lady and the former First Lady were asleep.  So we probably weren’t going to bring in a still pool for that.  Or they were having dinner or something like that.  But look, I think I just made clear that I want to work on this issue.  And I think that it’s --

Q    Is that fair to say that you’re acknowledging it’s an issue? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s certainly an issue and I -- 

Q    We know it’s one for us.  You guys believe -- you believe this is -- needs to be better?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s certainly an issue, and I promise you it’s been an issue for as long as I’ve been in Washington.  And I can show you a letter from the White House News Photographers Association to my predecessor in the Bush administration complaining about this.

Q    But you acknowledged from your end that you think it's -- you think this has not been --

MR. CARNEY:  I would acknowledge that, absolutely, we need to -- we're going to work with the press and with the photographers to try to address some of their concerns.  What I can also assure you is that we will not create a day that has never existed, at least in modern times, when everyone in the White House press corps is satisfied with the amount of access they get to the President.  That would be, I think, impossible to expect.

Q    Jay, but have you ever given consideration to the flip side, which is to say, you guys say to the press, we're not going to let you into an event because we consider it a private event, right -- the conversations between the Presidents, what have you -- and then Pete Souza or whoever takes those photos -- have you ever considered saying to them, you can't release those photos because we have said it's a private event.  Because it surprised all of us when you say it's a private event --

MR. CARNEY:  We put on the schedule when things are open press or closed press.  I don’t know that we designate them "private."  What I can say is that --  Mike, I think -- I really think this is an important discussion to have and I think that it's important to have it within the context of all the changes that are happening in the media.  And here's what I know, is that for years, through presidencies of both parties, there have been White House photographers, official White House photographers, who have, by the nature of their jobs, had been in rooms with the President when others aren't there and taken pictures and released those photos, often on the same day.  And what -- hold on.

Q    -- distribute them.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, so the issue here is -- I think this is the essence of the conversation, and it's not -- it means that -- because I think by that question you're acknowledging that we're not doing -- we're not operating any differently than other White House offices have operated except that the Internet exists and that in the past when White House photos were developed and handed out here, news organizations could decide whether their readers would ever see those photos.

What exists now on the Internet is the ability for everyone -- every one of you, everyone on the street, everyone around the world to take a picture and put it on the Internet.  And the White House posts some pictures on the Internet identified as official White House photographs.  So the fundamental difference here is distribution. 

And I can tell you, again, because of the respect I have for the photographers, in particular, that I am very sensitive to the situation therein -- and that all of us -- when I say us, I was in  -- by the transformation created by the Internet and the pressure that has put on business models.  And I think that's what is often never mentioned in op-eds or in other venues where this issue is raised, but a lot of this -- some of this, anyway, has to do with fundamental transformations in the media of which we and other institutions are simply participants, but we did not create the Internet, this administration, and --

Q    But, Jay --

Q    -- is not an issue on Air Force One --

MR. CARNEY:  Guys --

Q    The Internet had nothing to do with Air Force One. There was constraints --

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on, April. 

Go ahead. 

Q    Our problem is access.  You can put out a million pictures a day from the White House photographer and you bar --

MR. CARNEY:  And I'm saying that --

Q    And you put out pictures from Air Force One --  

MR. CARNEY:  And what I'm saying, Ann, is that we are going to work with -- as past White Houses have done, and we are --

Q    But past White Houses also allowed photos of the front of Air Force One --

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on, Jon.  And so have we.  But just not -- you think that -- hey guys, if you're telling me that on every flight that President Bush took and every flight that President Clinton took --

Q    Well, no, but talking about historic flights --

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on --  

Q    This was not any flight, let's be honest, with two  Presidents on the plane.

MR. CARNEY:  Guys, what I'm saying is we hear you, and I want to address this.  And I want to work with the photographers to improve that situation and see if we can be responsive to your concerns.  All I'm noting, in answer to Michael's question, is that this is part of a bigger transformation that's happening out there that's driven by the ability of everyone to post anything on the Internet free of charge so that you don't have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph.

Q    Jay, no, uh-uh.

MR. CARNEY:  That's true, Ann.  It's true. 

Q    The Internet had nothing to do --

MR. CARNEY:  April.

Q    The Internet had nothing -- on Air Force One, we understand there were constraints in Africa on the ground.  But the Internet had nothing to do on Air Force One, when you had a large group of reporters in the pool -- photographers there, as well -- who could have come up with Pete Souza to the front of Air Force One and taken a couple of pictures.  Maybe not as maybe Pete Souza did, but we were not allowed. 

Q    And you can post as many as you want. 

Q    Yes, but you could have allowed us the availability.

MR. CARNEY:  I hear you, April.  I hear you, and I'm saying that those are the kind of issues --

Q    The Internet had nothing to do with that.

MR. CARNEY:  -- we're going to address, and I want to work with the Correspondents Association and the photographers to see if we can be responsive in a way that allows them more of the access that they seek and obviously allows us to operate the way every other White House has operated.

Q    Did you hear the clicks from these cameras when you started talking about this?  They were letting you know that they're here.  (Laughter.)  Did you hear that?

MR. CARNEY:  I always know they're here.

Q    No, no, no, but, I mean, seriously, did you hear their clicks while they were taking pictures of you, while you were speaking about this issue?  Did you hear them?  That was their form of saying, we are here.

MR. CARNEY:  I get that, April.  Thank you.  (Laughter.) 

Brianna.  Brianna, let's give Brianna a chance.   

Q    You say it's an issue of distribution being different. But isn't it also the difference of the standard that this administration has set for itself?  You say past White Houses have done things similarly.  I mean, anyone here can tell that there's less access than under the Bush administration, and yet it was President Obama who said --

MR. CARNEY:  Did you cover Bush?

Q    I did.  I did at times.  And it was President Obama who talked about transparency being a hallmark of his administration. So isn't it sort of the problem is that he has set up a standard himself that he's not meeting, that his White House is not meeting?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you, Brianna, is every White House, every President has had meetings that the press didn't cover.  Every White House has released photographs of, if they had children, of Presidents and First Ladies with their children that obviously the press didn't cover.  But I understand that also the press corps has always sought and sometimes demanded more access.  And I want to work with and we want to work with the photographers and others to see how we can be more responsive, understanding that I will not live to see the day, and neither will you, when independent journalists who cover the White House will say, you know what, I got all the access I wanted today or this week or next month.  It's not going to happen.

Q    That's not what we're asking for.

MR. CARNEY:  But that is -- there's the issue of access -- I think that's what you just identified -- versus distribution.  So there are two things here.  And what we can address is access.  But I can tell you that in a lot of the conversations I had with photographers, it's also come down to distribution and what they view as competition, because those photographers become available and create competition to them because of the way -- the modern ways that these things can be distributed, not through news organizations. 

And I'm sympathetic to that, and I understand it, and I understand the downward pressure that the Internet creates on media organizations, all of the ones represented here, by and large.  But on the access issue, that's something we can address and we're going to try to address.

Q    When you say that you're going to work to address that, so does that mean that you will allow photographers into --

Q    And reporters.

Q    -- and reporters --

MR. CARNEY:  We're going to try to --

Q    -- and editorial -- producers and reporters into events that you're not -- I mean, you're saying you're working with them.  What does that mean?  Are you actually doing something, or are you just talking about it?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying that we are going to -- we have been meeting with representatives of the White House Correspondents, and we will continue to work to increase access, to be responsive to some of these concerns.  But I can promise you that the outcome of that will not be complete satisfaction, because there are going to be occasions, as there have been with every President, that the press is not present in a meeting or a situation involving the President, where there are existing photographs because the White House photographer took them.  And some of those are national security related.  Some of those --

Q    Are you going to -- concrete examples of turning the dial towards more openness?


Q    So there will be --

MR. CARNEY:  We are going to work on getting more access.  But I can, again, promise that --

Q    What does that mean, "we're going to work on"?  Are you going to give the access?  What does it mean "working on giving" --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying that we're going to work on finding ways to be responsive and provide more access.  What I can promise you, though, is that there will continue to be occasions with this President, as there have been with every one of his 43 predecessors, where there are meetings and events and moments that are not covered by the outside press.

Q    Nobody is saying that --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I know, but I'm saying -- but I'm also saying that what I don't expect in response to improvements that we make that might be welcomed, that everybody will say, okay, now we're satisfied, because then you wouldn’t be doing your job. And I get that. 

Q    But do you acknowledge that this White House has provided less access than previous White Houses, for instance, to the Oval Office?  That you put out --

MR. CARNEY:  I can say that the statement in that piece about the Oval Office was factually wrong.  But I can tell you that in my experience as a reporter -- now, I wasn't a photographer -- the answer to that is I completely reject it. 
Q    So what are you working on then?  You're saying --

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you --

Q    -- you’ve provided more access --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm saying on the issue of photographers, I want to work with giving photographers more access.  They have come to us and been very clear about their concerns, and we want to address those concerns in the best way that we can.

Q    Can I ask a question just about the Newtown anniversary?


Q    Jay, what's the President think of this?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm sorry, I think I called on Brianna. 

Q    I know there's 23 executive actions.  We've seen this announcement about mental health.  What more is the White House planning?  I mean, we're two days away from the anniversary.  Not much has been accomplished. 

MR. CARNEY:  There is no question, as the President made abundantly clear, that he was extremely disappointed in Congress's failure to vote in accordance with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American people in favor of common-sense improvements to our background check system.  And we continue to press Congress to take action.  And we will continue to take action where we can without Congress to reduce gun violence in America, in keeping with the President's view that we can do that without in any way jeopardizing America's Second Amendment rights, which the President believes in.

So there's no question that Congress failed to do the right thing.  And in the end, there's a limit on what a President can do.  Other actions require congressional movement.  We've made our views clear.  We, even before we launched the initiative to try to get legislation passed, made clear that our overall approach would include executive actions, the 23 that you mentioned.  And while Congress, again, rejected the will of the vast majority of the American people, including majorities in the reddest of states in the United States, we pressed forward on the executive actions.  And the mental health issue that you raised is a significant issue and should not be dismissed, even as we all acknowledge our frustration with Congress's failure to act on expanding background checks.

Q    You're talking about pressing Congress.  But I think we really saw it late this summer what it really meant for this White House to kind of unleash a level of engagement with Congress that we haven't seen before.  And it was pressing for the use of force against Syria.  We didn't see that when it came to gun laws.  Why haven't we seen that level of engagement? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I disagree.

Q    You think it was the same? 

MR. CARNEY:  I think there was no issue that you covered more or that we engaged in more in the beginning of this year than that effort.

Q    Well, the level of engagement with members of Congress -- the openness, the briefings, the discussion with members of the media -- you think that when it comes to Syria, that matches what the White House did when it comes to gun control?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I missed the stories where you said that our efforts on Syria were wildly successful with Congress.

Q    Obviously it wasn't successful, but it was a risk.

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is that they were -- that the efforts we made on behalf of that legislation I think by anybody’s fair reporting would be described as substantial and energetic and aggressive.  And I think you saw in what the President said out here in the Rose Garden how disappointed he was in Congress’s rejection of the will of the American people.

Alexis, and then Chris.

Q    Jay, two quick questions.  Just to follow up on the photojournalists, just because this blew up in the briefing publicly, can you close the loop on what the President believes himself is -- now that he’s aware that this is a public issue --

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    -- does he believe that the White House photography is sufficient?  Or is he --

MR. CARNEY:  No, of course, not.  I think I said -- the first thing I said when I got this question was that from the President on down -- and I mean that -- there is absolute agreement that there’s no substitute for a free and independent press reporting on a presidency or the White House, on Congress, on the government.  It’s essential.  Essential.  And that includes photography.  And we will continue to work with photographers to address their concerns.  Let me be clear.  That is the view from the very top.  And I stipulate everything else I said. 

Q    The second question is, related to one of Mr. Souza’s photographs, we saw that President Bush was sharing his new passion, his art, with those in the conference room.  Can you tell us whether President Obama expressed some remarks or opinions about President Bush’s paintings?

MR. CARNEY:  I didn't hear him comment on that.  And as I said earlier, they were private conversations.  I’m not going to read them out, and I wasn’t privy to all of them.  But I think it’s been documented that former President Bush has spent a lot of time on that and I think the results are pretty impressive.

Q    Did you get a chance to see any paintings on the plane?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to get into conversations I might have had with the former President.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Question on Russia.  The President of Germany and a European Union official announced this week that they were going to personally boycott the Olympics in 2014 in Sochi out of concerns of Russia’s human rights record, which, of course, includes the anti-gay propaganda law.  The White House has yet to announce who is going to be leading our delegation to the Sochi Olympics, even though that announcement was made four months ahead of time of the 2012 Olympics to London.  And Michelle Obama was the person who was leading the delegation at that time.  Is concern over Russia’s human rights record the reason why an announcement has not been made for that delegation?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any information on what that delegation will look like or the timing of that announcement.  I can be very clear that our views on the issues that you mention with regard to Russia’s civil rights record have been abundantly clear, and we’ve made it clear that we expect Russia to conduct Olympics in a way that respects the rights of all participants.  And that is what I said when this was an issue we talked about earlier, and it remains the case.

So we don’t have -- I don’t have any information on the delegation or when that will be announced or the particulars of the timing around the announcement except to repeat our views on this matter.

Q    But is the human rights record -- is that a source for anxiety in choosing who’s going to be leading the delegation?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I just don’t have any information on the process of choosing or naming the delegation. 

Q    Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Major, yes, sorry.  In this, I always lose one of you.  You kind of blend together there.  (Laughter.)

Q    Oooh --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m kidding. 

Q    Well, and all you press secretaries. 

MR. CARNEY:  But not you, Major.

Q    Here’s hoping I don’t blend in from this moment forward.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Uh-oh.  Now I just bought myself --

Q    Would you acknowledge it was a missed opportunity not to bring the stills up on Air Force One, considering these conversations are ongoing and it’s an issue raised and you’ve acknowledged, and that it would have been an opportunity not only to provide a moment of history, which it genuinely was, and that there was ample time for it, and that it could have been arranged?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would have to take the question about Air Force One and consider it.  But I would say --

Q    I’m only asking about that.

MR. CARNEY:  I would say broadly that in retrospect, I think we can always find occasions where I would agree that we should have or could have or might have found a way to provide more access.  And again, I think that that reflects some of the discussions that we’ve been having and will have with photographers and others about this matter. 

It is certainly the case that Presidents Obama and Bush as well as the First Ladies were in public together quite a lot and photographed together quite a lot.  So it wasn’t as if that fact was not covered by the independent press.  But on this question and others, again, there are always worthy discussions to be had about what kind of access can be provided, and then also a realistic assessment of why sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it can be difficult or impossible to expand access or extend access to a certain event depending on what it is or who’s involved and what the wishes of others might be who might be covered or photographed.

Q    You can understand why we would consider it a missed opportunity?

MR. CARNEY:  I absolutely do, sure.

Q    Understood.  Beyond the bureaucracy, as I have already talked to the Secret Service -- they said it was the host committee’s responsibility who was on the podium and the interpreter.  Is the White House satisfied with this fact that this person who suggests he might have had dangerous inclinations, but even if he didn’t, he was not an interpreter of merit, and he was possibly -- well, he was definitely in proximity to the President, and possibly things could have gone  -- are you satisfied with that?  I mean, forget about the bureaucracy.

MR. CARNEY:  It’s not about bureaucracy.  I’m saying that the United States Secret Service is responsible for --

Q    Right, and they negotiated with the South African government all the broad, general arrangements.  But the host committee was in charge of who was on the podium.  I’m just saying, is that -- knowing what you know now, are you satisfied with the way this was conducted?  I’m not criticizing the Zuma government or anyone else.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that nobody -- if, in fact, the individual was not signing, that’s unfortunate, because that meant that people who rely on sign language to follow the speeches were not able to, and that’s unfortunate.  But when it comes to the security of the President and what actions and preparations are taken and made by the Secret Service, I have to refer you to the Secret Service, again, because they spend all of their time working on that, and also making assessments about whether, in retrospect, this was a problem or they’re satisfied. That’s just something they would have to assess and provide information on.  I can’t do that.  I just don’t have it and I don’t make those assessments.

Q    On Syria, our reporters and producers have talked to those in the moderate Syrian coalition.  They consider this short-term, or they believe it will be a short-term halting of nonlethal aid.  They expect the spigot to be open again very soon.  And I just wanted to see if you had anything additional you wanted to add on that.  Secretary Hagel said today it’s an incredibly complicated situation.  Setbacks for the moderate forces make it even more so.  What new, if anything, do you have to add on the reestablishment of nonlethal air or the situation on the ground?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the nonlethal aid has been suspended into northern Syria while we evaluate the situation and gather additional details in the wake of the seizure by Islamic Front forces of the Supreme Military Council warehouse that caused this reaction. 

We remain committed to the Supreme Military Council, the Syrian opposition, and we remain committed to a political resolution of this conflict.  The Geneva II talks are the process by which that reconciliation can move forward, and we support Geneva II and are working with our allies and the opposition to help bring about that conference. 

But in terms of the reinstatement of that assistance, I don’t have a date for you.  The evaluation of what happened is ongoing.  And this is about -- this isn’t about changing our minds about the need to provide nonlethal assistance.  We still believe that that is the right thing to do and essential to do.  It’s making -- this is about the security of the material assistance itself, and evaluating what happened, and working to make sure that when assistance resumes, that that assistance is safe and, therefore, distributed appropriately.

Q    Two questions on Iran.  As I understand it, the technical conversations and negotiations are still going on about implementation of phase one, so as a practical matter, the six-month time clock has not actually begun.  Is that true?

MR. CARNEY:  It is my understanding that technical discussions are ongoing, and then once those are set, the clock is turned on and the six-month period begins. 

Q    Okay.  The sanctions talk primarily on the Hill is about if after that six-month time expires and things have not been complied with by the Iranian side, then sanctions would -- new sanctions, tougher sanctions would begin.  So help me understand why the administration believes that is --

MR. CARNEY:  Because Congress can act in six months rather than act now on what they’ll do in six months.  And by --

Q    -- that signal to Iran about the cost of non-compliance?

MR. CARNEY:  I think Iran is fully aware of the cost of non-compliance.  They’re so aware of it that they came to the table. They have been paying the price of non-compliance.  Failure --

Q    But as you well know, Jay, coming to the table and agreeing to something is not the same thing as implementing it.

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely -- which is why if they fail to comply with their agreements in the preliminary round or fail to reach a comprehensive solution with the P5-plus-1, the sanctions regime remains in place, and the modest relief that is provided with the compliance by the Iranians with the first agreement --the preliminary agreement will be reversed.  And we would likely encourage both our partners internationally and Congress to respond to that failure to comply with additional sanctions. 

It is our view that it is absolutely the wrong and worst time to take any action that undermines the chance for a diplomatic solution by dividing the international community and emboldening Iranian hardliners.  And we believe that that’s what passage of new sanctions would do -- again, because the purpose of building this vast, comprehensive, and effective sanctions regime was to compel Iran to the negotiating table and to compel Iran to change its behavior, to make commitments to change its behavior. 

And we have made progress as a result of the effectiveness of the sanctions, and now we need to test whether or not Iran is serious.  And we’ll do that by verifying their actions, verifying that they’re in compliance, and making sure that, through their actions, rather than the documents they sign, or anything they may say, they’re meeting their commitments.  Because ultimately the goal is -- the reason why we are where we are is that Iran has failed to meet its obligations to the United Nations Security Council and to the international community when it comes to development of a nuclear weapons program.

Roger, last one.

Q    Thank you.  First of all, the President, I understand, is going to be meeting with a group of mayors tomorrow.  Is there anything you can say about that -- how many?  Purpose?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  It is true that on Friday the President will meet with a group of newly elected mayors from across the country to discuss the ways in which the Obama administration can serve as an active partner on job creation and ensuring middle-class families have a pathway to opportunity.

This meeting builds on the unprecedented effort of the administration to partner with mayors working to implement policies that lead to high-paying, high-skilled jobs in their communities.  Mayors understand that smart investments in things like American manufacturing and infrastructure help provide good jobs for middle-class families while providing a foundation for long-term economic success.

I have a list of participants if you'd like me to read them, or we can provide them to you after the briefing.  Your call. 

Q    Later.

MR. CARNEY:  Ed says later. 

Q    Either way. 

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  We've got the mayors -- or mayors elect of Los Angeles, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Jersey City, New Jersey; New York, New York; Rochester, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Greensborough, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; Toledo, Ohio; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Seattle, Washington. 

Q    All right.  And a quick follow up -- you started off the briefing with the preexisting announcement.

MR. CARNEY:  Children with preexisting conditions, yes. 

Q    CMS extended that deadline for sign-up for those who are in the program now to January 31st.  Was the reason the concern that the people in the program now haven't had a chance to sign up, or have you found an alternative program?

MR. CARNEY:  The transitional coverage known as the Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan, which was the plan that was established with the ACA -- with Obamacare's passage, to provide in the interim before implementation of the Affordable Care Act those with preexisting conditions who have been denied insurance the opportunity to purchase some insurance.  And that's called PCIP, or Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan.  And as part of our efforts to smooth the transition to the marketplaces for those seeking coverage that begins in January, we are taking steps to ensure that Americans enrolled in that plan, the federal Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan, will not face a lapse in coverage come January.

For example, HHS will be offering individuals currently enrolled in the PCIP who have not yet secured other health insurance the option to remain in that plan for the month of January.  PCIP is and was designed to be a transitional bridge program established under the Affordable Care Act that allowed people with health conditions who, until 2014, could otherwise be shut out of the insurance marketplace, or charged more because of their preexisting condition, the chance to enroll in quality, affordable health insurance until options became available in the marketplaces. 

So this is essentially --

Q    But the point is that people haven't gotten enough coverage yet; that’s why they're being -- the program is being extended?

MR. CARNEY:  In the universe of people -- some have already changed coverage, and this is for those who have not and want an extra month to smooth that transition, again, because this was an option provided to those with preexisting conditions in anticipation of -- a bridge, essentially -- of the period where, by law, insurance companies could no longer deny you coverage and could no longer jack up your rates because you had a preexisting condition.

Thank you all very much.

2:15 P.M. EST

Close Transcript