Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/8/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Read any good books lately, anybody? (Laughter.) I don’t have an announcement at the top, so I’ll take your questions.
Q Have you?
MR. CARNEY: No, actually. Nedra.
Q On that book, we got your statement last night, and clearly you disagree with the former Defense Secretary’s characterization of Vice President Joe Biden. But he’s someone who was in this Cabinet, and I wonder what weight Americans should give to his description of Joe Biden as someone who has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security matter?
MR. CARNEY: I would reiterate that the President and the rest of us here simply just disagree with that assessment. As a senator and as a Vice President, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and he has been an excellent counselor and advisor to the President for the past five years. He’s played a key role in every major national security and foreign policy debate and policy discussion in this administration, in this White House. He played important roles obviously in the policy discussions and carrying-out of the policy decisions that the President made with regards to Iraq and in the policy deliberations over Afghanistan.
The President has said many times that he greatly appreciates the advice and counsel the Vice President gives him on matters both domestic and foreign, and that is absolutely the case.
Q How do you respond to Gates’s charge that the White House is too controlling on national security issues, and brings micro-managing and meddling to a new level, in his words? He said he almost considered resigning over it at one point.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s say a couple of things first -- that as we noted yesterday, the President greatly appreciates Secretary Gates’s service to the President’s administration and to the country. And Secretary Gates was part of a team here that helped bring about an end to the Iraq war; that helped decide upon and implement a far superior and improved policy in Afghanistan that was much more clear in its objectives and that had, as part of that policy, an end to a war, which was a clear policy objective of the President’s and which we are implementing now.
So when it comes to the internal interagency process, the President expects it to be robust and he expects to hear competing points of view from every member of his national security team. A lot of you wrote about or talked about at the time that the President picked a team of rivals -- and when you pick a team of rivals, you do so in part because you expect competing points of view and competing opinions. And that’s very much what the President expects in foreign policy and domestic policy, and that’s what he gets and he’s grateful for it.
Q Real quickly on the NSA meetings over here in the next couple of days. What’s the purpose of those? Is the President informing these people who are coming to them what he’s planning to do, or is he still collecting information from them?
MR. CARNEY: He is still in the process of deliberating over the Review Group’s report and hearing from others on the issues that were raised in the Review Group’s report -- because remember, the President’s overall review includes not just the Review Group but the PCLOB and others involved in assessing how we gather our intelligence and what reforms we might make to the process. So he’s at that stage still where he’s listening and discussing with a variety of stakeholders these issues, and appreciates very much the opinions and counsel he’s getting on these matters.
Q Did the comments in the book about Vice President Biden prompt the White House decision to let photographers into the lunch today?
MR. CARNEY: No. As you know, the President and the Vice President have a standing weekly lunch. When the Vice President is in town, he attends virtually all meetings that the President holds, especially on national security matters. And as you know, because we’ve discussed this a lot at the end of last year, we have been committed to looking for ways to provide greater access for photographers to the White House and the President. And providing a photo opportunity today was part of that commitment -- fulfilling that commitment.
And again, I don’t think anybody who has covered us or knows the President and the Vice President, knows how this White House functions, has any doubt about the President’s faith in Vice President Biden as an advisor and counselor. So we don’t need to reinforce that; it’s a fact.
Q So the timing of the photo is just coincidence then?
MR. CARNEY: It is -- it was coincidence. He has a weekly lunch, so --
Q So he’ll be back next week?
Q No, but it’s not normally on camera.
MR. CARNEY: No, exactly. But we’ve had, as you could ask our friends in the world of photography here, debate and discussion with them about how we can better improve access for them. This has been something that they’ve raised with us in the past. So you guys can decide for yourselves. The President greatly values the counsel of the Vice President on matters foreign and domestic.
Q What would you think if you were sitting here, Jay? I mean, the timing was a coincidence? I mean, obviously you and I had a back-and-forth about this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I can just tell you what the facts are. I mean, you can decide for yourselves what you want to believe.
Q While we’re talking about former advisors, former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said yesterday that he probably would back the Keystone Pipeline if he were still advising the President. And I’m wondering if that endorsement -- what weight that endorsement would carry with the President as he sort of considers this issue going forward.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t discussed that report with the President. The process, as you know, is ongoing, housed at the State Department in keeping with tradition of previous administrations for many years. And I don’t have an update on that.
Q That’s it.
MR. CARNEY: Jon.
Q Looking at the President’s schedule today, I think I counted no fewer than four meetings on the public schedule with Vice President Biden. Anything I should read into that? Or --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I trust that you, Jon, and others who have covered this White House have looked at schedules before and know that every PDB when the Vice President is in town, every major national security meeting when the Vice President and President are both in town, the Vice President attends. There’s nothing new about that. The meetings today that have to do with NSA matters are ones the Vice President would of course attend if he’s not traveling. That’s how it works. The lunch that the President has with the Vice President is one that he has had every week when they’ve been in town since they took office.
Q And we should expect that the photographers should be invited back in the next time they have lunch?
MR. CARNEY: We make decisions based on requests and what we can make happen. We committed to provide -- to find ways to try to provide better access for photographers. We’re going to keep working with them and look at ways that we can do that. As I said back when we were having this discussion, there is no question that whatever we do will not be sufficient -- and I think this is an example of that -- but we will always endeavor to provide better access where we can.
Q What kind of a heads-up did Bob Gates give the White House about this book?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we knew Secretary Gates was writing a book, as everybody I think did, or most people did. But we received the book last night.
Q Last night? And any concern that, I mean, here he is revealing blow-by-blow conversations, confidential conversations he had with the President and his other top national security advisors?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I would say: Anybody who has the privilege of serving in an administration at a high level and who participates in policy discussions and has confidential conversations with principals and presidents and then leaves office makes a decision about how they’re going to talk or write about that experience and when. And that’s everybody’s decision to make for himself or herself.
I would simply say that the President asked Secretary Gates, Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense, and he appreciates the service that he gave to this administration, to this President, and very much valued the role he played in this administration and the advice he gave. For other issues, I’ll leave it to other folks to decide, because everyone makes their own decision in that circumstance. Some people write books. Some people don’t. We’re focused on all the things that we need to work on in 2014, both national security matters, domestic matters, economic matters, matters of providing essential emergency assistance to the uninsured -- I mean the unemployed. And that’s what consumes our days.
Q At his farewell, the President said of Secretary Gates, “Quite simply, he is one of the nation’s finest public servants.” Is there anything in this deluge of confidential information that he’s put out and judgments that he’s made about the President and Vice President that causes the President to reconsider that?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think I answered part of that just now in terms of how the decisions folks make when they leave administrations -- and that’s true of this or any other previous administration. What matters most to the President is the service that his top advisors give him as President, and Secretary Gates provided service to this administration and to previous administrations, and the President is greatly appreciative of that.
And I think it’s important to note, because you see headlines and you see discrete excerpts that tell a story, or one story, or seem to say one thing, but since a lot of what we’re talking about here has to do with the policy review over Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think it’s important to remember that in -- or not remember; maybe some of you haven’t seen this, but it’s been noted in some of the press reports that regarding that policy debate, in his book, Secretary Gates said, “Obama was much criticized by conservatives and hawkish commentators for announcing that the troop surge in Afghanistan would begin to be drawn down in July 2011 and that all U.S. combat troops would be withdrawn and all responsibility for security transferred to the Afghans by the end of 2014. Inside the military there was also much grumbling about the numerical limits he placed on troops. I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” That’s from the book. That’s Secretary Gates’s published opinion on these matters.
Were these substantial, rich discussions? Absolutely, because the policy was so important. And it was much reported on at the time that there were differing views about how we should move forward with our policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. So some of those disagreements or differing views, the reporting here is not different from what we’ve seen in the past.
Q But, Jay, these are some explosive statements that he has made about the President. This is not some outside critic; this was one of his most important, if not most important national security advisor, the guy he chose to keep on to run the Pentagon. And he says that there was a “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials, including the President and the Vice President,” and that this became a big problem for him. I mean, what do you say --
MR. CARNEY: I think I just read to you -- again, you have to take the full picture here, Jon. And I would say on that matter, I think the American people expect that their Commander-in-Chief listen to all of his advisors, civilian and military, when it comes to discussions and debates about matters of war and peace and decisions that affect the lives of our men and women in uniform. And that's how it should be.
The President, the Vice President, everyone in this building who has ever served and worked on these matters has enormous respect for our men and women in uniform, and that includes all of the President’s top senior military advisors.
On policy issues, the President absolutely wants tough questions asked. On matters of national security, he wants, in these discussions and debates, both his military and his civilian advisors to be blunt and candid about their views and to back up their assessments. That’s what you, I think, would expect and want in the kinds of discussions that are held and have been held in previous administrations and previous White Houses, hopefully, when these fateful decisions have to be made.
Q Well, was Gates wrong when he said that the President didn’t believe in his own Afghanistan policy?
MR. CARNEY: I think it is absolutely the case, as many have reported, that it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda while also ensuring that we have a clear path for winding down the war, which will end this year. I mean, these are not separate issues. The mission and the policy included both ramping up and refocusing our mission on al Qaeda as well as making sure we had a policy in place that would wind down that war, because a war without end was not what the President believed was the right policy.
And there were debates about this. So the President believes thoroughly in the mission. He knows it’s difficult, but he believes that our men and women in uniform as well as those civilians in Afghanistan, and others who are working on this issue, have admirably and heroically fulfilled that mission. And they do so today.
Q Can you comment on the inference that Secretary Gates has in the book that both Secretary Clinton and President Obama admitted their opposition to the Iraq surge, that politics played a role in the Iraq mission -- the Iraq surge? It was mostly directed -- there was an inference here that the President also was engaging in this discussion.
MR. CARNEY: What I don't understand about that is anybody who has covered Barack Obama, going all the way back to his race for the Senate, knows that he was opposed to the Iraq war. That was his view running for the Senate; it was his view as a senator; it was his view as a candidate for the presidency. So it would be entirely inconsistent for him not to hold the position that he held with regards to the surge. So I don’t know what conversation that refers to, but it doesn’t track based on what I know and everybody here knows about the President's positions through the years, going back to 2002, on these matters.
Q You have a very real deadline coming up with the Afghanistan government having to do with the decision to keep troops -- what size of force, if any, is there after 2014. Is there a concern by the President that some of the revelations about the President's personal views of Karzai, for instance, is going to make this more difficult.
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, I think that the issues on the table here have to do with the need for the Afghan government to sign the bilateral security agreement, as was envisioned by President Karzai and others, which is a product of the BSA, a good-faith negotiation. And in order for the United States and our allies to plan for a post-2014 mission that would have a military component to it focused on counterterrorism and support and training for Afghan troops, we need this agreement signed promptly. And this is a matter, as I said the other day, of weeks not months.
Q You're not concerned that this book sort of breeds more tension with Karzai?
MR. CARNEY: We have direct and regular communications both from Washington and our embassy in Kabul with President Karzai and his government. And I think these matters are well far along the road, so I don’t anticipate that. He and his government understands our views and our position and the reasoning behind it. And we simply urge prompt action on signing the BSA.
Q Was Secretary Gates's characterization of the President's views of Karzai accurate?
MR. CARNEY: I think President Obama has addressed our policy towards Afghanistan, our relationship with President Karzai. That government and President Karzai, they obviously are in -- it's a challenging situation every day for them, and we work with them every day both through our military and our civilian force there to help them prepare for this transition and to help them in a military way prepare for the increased responsibility for security that comes with it. That has been a clear focus of the mission that the President established after the review of our policy there.
Q But the description was pretty personal: the President can't stand Karzai. Is that --
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t necessarily agree -- I wouldn’t agree with that. And I think the issues here are not about personalities, they're about policies. And the decisions the President makes about sending and keeping military forces, American men and women in uniform, in Afghanistan have to do with U.S. national security interests, not those kinds of issues. And that’s why the signing of the BSA is so important for us and our NATO allies to move forward.
Q Going back to Biden, this is the second book in three months where the President is basically -- in some way you guys have come out and had this sort of defend, buck up, whatever you want to describe it, when it comes to Joe Biden’s place. Why do you think it is that Biden has been derided negatively in a couple of these books?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment. When asked, we and the President and others simply reassert the fundamental fact here, which is that Vice President Biden is a key advisor on national security matters and domestic policy matters and other matters for this President. And the President greatly values the counsel he provides. That’s just the fact. And it’s a fact known to everyone in this building every day --
Q Why do insiders seem to portray him in these books --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think when it comes to debates internally the Vice President was one member and continues to be one member of that team of rivals. This is not somebody who the President chose to be someone who simply affirms what others are thinking.
The Vice President has a lot of experience. The Vice President has done a lot of work on a lot of very complex issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq, including a number of domestic policy issues. And he plays an important role in the discussions here, and that role includes expressing an opinion that isn’t always agreed to by everybody in the room. And if it were, it wouldn’t be what the President wanted.
Let me move up and back. Cheryl.
Q Hi. Different subject altogether. This morning, at the U.S. Chamber, Tom Donohue was talking about the state of business, and he said one of businesses biggest concerns right now is overregulation. He accuses this administration of regulatory overreach. Is the President satisfied with the level of regulation on businesses?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. The President does not believe that we have to choose between protecting the health, welfare, and safety of Americans, and promoting economic growth, job creation, competitiveness, and innovation. We can do both and we are doing both.
The net benefits of rules finalized through the fourth fiscal year of this administration were $159 billion; that’s the net benefits. This is almost four times the net benefits through the fourth fiscal year of the previous administration.
The Obama administration has had a smart, pragmatic approach to ensure we are reducing burdensome regulations. We continue to make significant progress in the President’s unprecedented regulatory retrospective review, or regulatory look-back initiative, where we are streamlining, modifying or repealing regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens and costs. Federal agencies have issued look-back plans detailing over 500 initiatives that will reduce costs, simplify the regulatory system, and eliminate redundancy and inconsistency. And this effort is already on track to save more than $10 billion in regulatory costs in the near term, with more savings to come.
On the broader issues, look, when it comes to helping our businesses grow, helping them create jobs, we are absolutely committed to working with the Chamber and the businesses the Chamber represents, and with members of Congress in both parties on ways that we can do that. Further economic growth and the kind of economic growth that creates jobs that middle-class families can depend on and save money for retirement and for college on, that’s what we’re about, and we want to work with everyone on that. And we just simply don’t agree with assertions that you need to sacrifice the quality of the water our kids drink, or the air they breathe, in order to achieve that. We can do both.
Q Jay, I want to go back to something that Jonathan asked. You said that the President -- well, you said that the White House received the book last night. Who received the book? And did the President get a copy?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know who else has gotten a copy; I got a copy.
Q Okay. And did you disperse that amongst the White House? Who’s reading it?
MR. CARNEY: Others have looked at it. I haven’t had the time to look at it yet.
Q Okay. And what message does it send to the troops when in this book Gates is talking about how the President was skeptical, if not convinced, that his strategy in Afghanistan would fail? We’ve had so many people die, so many people wounded in Afghanistan. I mean, what does this send to the troops? This is your man of war, your former man of war.
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, as I was saying, it’s well known that the President is committed to the mission that he has asked our men and women in the military to perform in Afghanistan. And one of the principles that underlies the policy decision-making process that this President engages in when it comes to these kinds of issues is that we need to -- when we decide to send -- when he decides to send our military into harm's way, we need to have a clear mission.
And as you know, and everybody here who covered it knows, when President Obama came into office, we inherited a policy in Afghanistan that was in disarray by the judgment of many people on the outside and inside, Republicans and Democrats alike. I think it was -- something said at the time that when you went to Afghanistan and talked to our civilian and military leaders at the end of 2008, early 2009 and asked them what the mission was, and you talked to maybe five or ten different people, you got five or ten different answers.
And this President, as you know, when he campaigned for President, made clear that he felt that we needed to refocus as a nation on the effort in Afghanistan; that the effort in Iraq had been -- which the President had opposed -- had resulted in the United States taking its focus off of the wholly necessary mission to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda core in Afghanistan in the Af-Pak region.
So that was what that policy review was all about -- was producing clarity for our troops and for every American who cared deeply about the fact that we had tens of thousands of troops -- more than 100,000 troops combined in Afghanistan and Iraq. They deserved the clarity that the President's policy, which he devised with Secretary Gates and other members of his national security team -- and that’s why he went about doing it.
Q If he had a chance to talk to Secretary Gates right now -- if the President had a chance to talk to him, what would he say? I mean, these are some strong accusations in this book.
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, I think -- I wouldn’t speculate, but I think our response about the President's appreciation for Bob Gates's service reflects what the President feels and what we all feel.
On the fact that there have been -- that there were some debates in the prolonged policy review over Afghanistan is hardly news. But that process led to a stronger, better policy for our troops and for our national security because it was focused on what the original purpose of going to Afghanistan was about, which was holding responsible those who attacked the United States and killed Americans on September 11th, 2001, and assisting the new Afghan government and the Afghan security forces and helping build them up so that they could eventually be responsible for their own security. Because it was not the President's view -- in fact, it was his stated commitment that he would not endorse a policy that foresaw war in Afghanistan without end. He thought it was very important to ensure that we had a withdrawal date; that even after we surged our forces as part of refocusing the mission and bringing pressure on al Qaeda central, that we would also begin the drawdown -- or after that, begin the drawdown.
And that is the commitment he has made and it is the commitment he's keeping. And it's what the American people expected him to do, he said he would do and he has done. And that applies to Iraq, as well.
Q Thanks, Jay. So when you say that the President thoroughly believed in the mission in the surge in Afghanistan, when Secretary Gates says that Obama was "skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail," about sending 30,000 more troops in, are you saying that he’s wrong?
MR. CARNEY: I'm saying that the President devised the mission and has great faith in the troops who carry out the mission and in the mission itself -- that it’s the right mission to pursue in Afghanistan, it has been. I think that's been borne out. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a challenge. Of course, it is. That's why these debates were so --
Q So Bob Gates is mistaken in his assessment?
MR. CARNEY: You guys can assess the lines -- each line in the book. I'm simply telling you --
Q Well, but you’re in a position obviously to assess it better than we are.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm telling you what the President believes and I think what has been demonstrated again and again by his policy decisions and his statements on these issues. The President oversaw a process to review our policy in Afghanistan and in the Af-Pak region precisely because the circumstances with regards to that policy when he took office were in disarray. And I think that was attested to by many people. There was a need to refocus our strategy in Afghanistan to -- I think Secretary Gates says this -- again, I haven't read the book but I've read some accounts of it -- says this somewhere that it was a good thing to do -- one of the right decisions that Secretary Gates talks about the President making on Afghanistan -- to narrow the mission, refocus it, make sure that it was clear to our troops and our civilian leaders and our military commanders what the mission was, because we owe that to them.
Q But it’s obviously a very serious charge to say that President Obama was sending 30,000 troops into harm’s way without really believing in the mission. Why do you think that he came to that conclusion then?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think you should ask Secretary Gates or others about the meaning of each sentence in his book. What I can tell you is that he also wrote, as I noted earlier, about all the decisions President Obama made on Afghanistan -- “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” He also says, “I believe the President cared deeply about the troops and their families. I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops.” And I think that's a sentiment that we all recognize to be true.
So the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has to make decisions about when and where we deploy U.S. military forces, and he is extremely conscious of the responsibility that that authority bestows upon him and those who hold his office. And therefore, he would not make decisions about surging U.S. troops without a thorough debate of the policy objectives and the options available to him to achieve those objectives, and a thorough debate about what the proper focus of the mission ought to be.
And I think that that process produced a policy that, as Secretary Gates and others have said -- and Secretary Gates was one of the co-authors, if you will, of the policy -- that did just that: refocused our mission; made it clear for our troops and civilians in Afghanistan what the mission was about, why we were in Afghanistan and why it was necessary to be clear that we weren’t staying in Afghanistan in a combat mission forever. That was the President’s commitment to the American people, and he is upholding that commitment.
Q On unemployment, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday indicating that he wants the short-term bill as is and then is open to talking about offsets, proposing the Republican plan of taking it to his caucus for a longer-term extension of long-term unemployment benefits. And as I understand it, that’s something that has come to in consultation with the White House. There’s a feeling that you all are on the same page, so correct me if I’m wrong on that. How open are you to discussing offsets, and what type of offsets are you thinking?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said yesterday, Brianna, we believe the House -- the Senate ought to continue its deliberation on this matter and pass the three-month extension without offsets of this emergency assistance. The House ought to follow suit -- it has been done before by previous Congresses and previous administrations, Republican and Democratic -- because it’s the right thing to do. And because this is not -- the kinds of debates about how you put a longer-term policy together and what that looks like take time, for one thing, and the families who had their assistance cut off last week don’t have the luxury of time.
Q But I’m asking about the long-term --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, what I said yesterday holds true today, which is that we firmly believe that Congress ought to pass the bill that is currently being considered in the Senate, a three-month extension, and we are happy to discuss with Congress how to move forward beyond the three months. But they have to take care of these families. They used to. They did in the past, Republicans, and they did so 14 out of 17 times without offsets. This kind of assistance is obviously beneficial and a lifeline to many millions of Americans -- 1.3 million in this case with those who were cut off and their families -- but it’s also beneficial directly, economists have told us, to the economy, because this is the kind of funding that goes directly back into the economy and then it spurs economic growth and job creation.
So we hope the House will -- the Senate will complete its work and the House will take similar action. And as we said yesterday and Gene said the day before, we’re of course willing to have conversations about what further --
Q But you won’t have those until the short-term is passed and you won’t say what kind of offsets you might be amenable to?
MR. CARNEY: We want to see Congress act on the three-month, short-term extension of emergency benefits. We are absolutely willing to listen and have conversations about how we move forward beyond the three months. But this is, again, not an esoteric debate. There are families who are without this assistance who fear they will not see that assistance renewed, and in many cases rely on that assistance to put food on the table and to pay their gas and electric bills, which are challenging in parts of the country now because of the severe cold.
Q One of the senators that was -- Republican senators who was critical to this cloture happening yesterday, Rob Portman, was on the floor recently and said that it was very important to him that there be offsets, and he proposed two that would cover the short-term extension, which he says were things that were proposed in the President’s budget: no double dipping on SSI and unemployment benefits, and some reforms to unemployment benefits that apparently the President has proposed before. So are these unreasonable proposals?
MR. CARNEY: Again, when it comes to the absolute necessity to pass a bill that would extend emergency assistance to these 1.3 million Americans and their families, our position is clear: Congress ought to do it now; the bill that’s in the Senate, they should do it now. And looking in the President’s budget, which is a document that was balanced and dealt with a number of issues and finding items that you want to apply here or apply there -- there’s time for discussion about how we pay for things. If you remember, in the President’s budget that’s balanced, it was a balance between revenues and savings. That’s the approach he’s always taken. It’s the approach he believes that has helped lead us out of this recovery, helped create the sustained economic growth we’ve seen, helped create the sustained job creation we’ve seen, and helped bring about the dramatic deficit reduction we’ve seen.
But we need to do more and we need to be focused on economic growth. We need to be focused on middle-class families. We need to be focused on those families and those Americans who are looking for work and need this assistance. They’re not any different from the Americans who needed that assistance in the previous administration, when President Bush signed extensions of the assistance without offsets. They’re the same kinds of people and they deserve the same kind of treatment from Washington, from Congress, from both parties.
Q Were there any assurances made to the Republican senators who the President or others in the administration spoke to about any changes to the unemployment program or offsets in later discussions, or any assurances at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said, I’m not reading out individual conversations that the President has had with lawmakers. But I can tell you that in the conversations he and others have had, we’ve made clear what our view is: We ought to pass this; we ought to take care of these Americans; we ought to, in doing so, appreciate the positive economic effect that extending these benefits would have. And we are open to then having discussions about how to move forward for a full-year extension. But beyond that, I don’t have more to read out.
Q On the Afghan surge, Gates writes, “The President doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out”. Given that there’s a copy of the book floating around, has the President been made aware of that? Is there a reaction to it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there are numerous press reports about the book. I don’t know whether the President read them. What I can tell you is that the statement that we put out and the statements I’ve made today about the President’s appreciation for Secretary Gates’s service reflect the President’s views. Generally, when I speak for the President, I don’t do it by osmosis. I do it because I know what his views are.
Q Generally? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Good catch. Must be the beard.
Again, I can’t analyze every sentence of a book that I haven’t read, but I’ve read press reports of it. I know that --
Q Has the President read it?
MR. CARNEY: No, he has not read it.
Q Will he read it?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked him.
Q Did you give it to him? Is it on his desk?
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t have my copy. (Laughter.) But what I can say -- again, I can’t analyze or interpret for you every sentence of this book, even if I had read it all. What I can tell you is that the President believes we ought to wind down and end the war in Afghanistan is not a revelation. It was his stated commitment to the American people. So that is why, as part of his policy review, he insisted that we both surge troops and set a date for the beginning of a drawdown and for the completion of that drawdown at the end of 2014. That’s the policy we are continuing to implement. And it is fully in keeping with the President's publicly stated views and commitments.
Q What's the purpose of tomorrow's NSA discussion with leaders in Congress? He's not still seeking information from them, is he?
MR. CARNEY: I know he wants to hear from them to discuss with them the status of his review, which is ongoing. The Review Group's report was publicly released, as you know, so everybody has had a chance to digest that. The President certainly has spent time with it, and as we've said, he believes, with the exception of the one recommendation on which a decision has already been made, a personnel issue, he wants serious consideration of every recommendation from the Review Group.
But there are other pieces of the overall review that are ongoing. And, as you know, when the President has made decisions about what recommendations he will call for implementing and what he will want to further review, and what he may decide we should not pursue, he's going to speak about. And that will happen before the State of the Union address.
Q Jay, on your point about the book a moment ago with Bill that you can't focus on every line in here and analyze it, then why in the statement last night did the White House not refute any of the allegations against the President, but went out of your way to defend the Vice President and analyze at least that part of the book? And when you said to Chuck their relationship is great, he relies on him -- we've heard that before. Why if it's such a strong relationship do you have to go out of your way to defend him?
MR. CARNEY: It might be because the press constantly asks in response to --
Q Well, we also asked about the allegations against the President and that statement did not address it, is my point.
MR. CARNEY: Again, this was in response to a single sentence that made a categorical statement of opinion by Secretary Gates about the Vice President and his views that in that case we could say clearly that the President disagrees with that.
Q On the lunch with the Vice President, you let the photographers in and that is a great positive step, but you did not let any reporters in. And we see this more and more, that you seem to think giving more access is letting photographers in -- which we support -- but we can't have anybody shout a question, we can't have -- if the President wants to defend the Vice President --
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t. Ed, can I tell you, we let photographers in because he knows he doesn’t need to. We let photographers in because we've had an ongoing discussion about access for photographers. And I thought that was a good thing.
Q And we have an ongoing discussion with reporters as well, though. You're leaving out that we've had an ongoing discussion.
MR. CARNEY: And you're leaving out that word for word, minute for minute, question for question, this President has answered more questions from the free and independent press, or at least as many as his immediate predecessors, which we've discussed.
Q So why not today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know of any President in history who's taken questions every day.
Q Not every day. He hasn't taken a question since, what, was it December 20th, the last press conference?
MR. CARNEY: Well you and he were away for quite some time.
Q Yes, absolutely. But it's been a long time.
MR. CARNEY: I'm sure he'll be taking questions, Ed, again soon.
Q We're looking forward to that. Okay, two other quick things. You've stressed the President's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, given the book. Senators Graham and McCain just came back from Afghanistan. They spoke to President Karzai and they claim that President Obama has not spoken to President Karzai since June or July. How is it that the two leaders -- if he's committed to the mission, how could the two leaders, as you're negotiating a status of forces agreement, how could the two leaders not talk in months?
MR. CARNEY: When did we go to South Africa?
MR. EARNEST: December 15th [sic].
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was physically in the presence of both Presidents when President Karzai and President Obama exchanged greetings.
Q Great. But they had a substantive discussion about the status of --
MR. CARNEY: The President and President Karzai have had discussions in the past. There’s not a lot of mystery about our views on this document that was negotiated in good faith and the need to sign it on the part of the Afghan government. So we have robust and constant communication with the Afghan government, both from Washington and from our embassy in Kabul as well as through our military commanders.
Q When was the last time the President spoke to the lead U.S. commander in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the question. I don't --
Q We're in a war footing right now and you don't know the last time he spoke to the commanding general?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the question, Ed.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
Q Yesterday, the D.C. public schools were open, as well as many other inner-city schools were open, despite
minus-20 degree wind chills. Some of the reasons that the officials are giving is that this is the only place young kids could actually get two warm meals. On the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty, what does this say about America, and how far do we still need to come?
MR. CARNEY: I think it says that we've made progress -- as those of you who have read the report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers know is our view and the President’s view; those of you who saw the President’s statement regarding the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty know -- but that we have work to do. And the President is committed to engaging in that work, because we need to provide ladders of opportunity to Americans who are in poverty, to those who are in the bottom rungs of the middle class, who are struggling to pay their bills every day, every week. We need to provide the kind of opportunity to our kids so that they can enjoy the economic mobility that made this country great and that made it an accepted fact about the United States of America that no matter what your circumstances, you could be anyone and do anything.
That is the heart of the President’s message that he delivered in Anacostia in December. It is what animates much of his deliberation about and policy decisions about economic matters and strengthening the middle class, creating opportunities for those who strive for the middle class. And you will be hearing the President talk about it again and again, as you have throughout his history in public debate.
Q Jay, I’m wondering if you could go beyond the written statement that you all put out on the President’s call to Chancellor Merkel. Did they discuss any further the questions about eavesdropping on foreign leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a further readout on that. I believe the President made the call because of her injury.
Q Do you know if he reached her on a hard line or a mobile phone? (Laughter.) It’s a serious question.
MR. CARNEY: I believe the President calls foreign leaders on a hard line.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q There’s still a lot of emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Does this administration believe that all the other problems in the Middle East will be settled if that issue is resolved?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the need to make progress on the Middle East peace process is I think clear to the President, clear to his team, and it’s why Secretary Kerry and others at the President’s direction continue to work so hard on it. I don’t think anybody would agree with an assertion that resolving that conflict resolves all conflicts, but it is certainly a very important issue that merits the focus that Secretary Kerry and the President and other members of his team are giving it.
Q Does the White House have any concern that these growing al Qaeda enclaves in Iraq and Syria could pose a direct threat to U.S. security interests here or abroad and could become a similar kind of thing that we saw in Afghanistan before September 11th?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that as the President’s national security team and the President make decisions about and assessments about the threats against the United States, they are very focused on those extremist groups and individuals and elements that have as their objective doing harm to the United States and harm to Americans and harm to our allies, and those who are more local in their focus.
This is without -- I’m not making a judgment about that, but you can be sure that in terms of the al Qaeda presence in Iraq, we are, as you know -- but that’s how we view these things. And it is absolutely a higher order of concern when we see al Qaeda in a manifestation that represents a threat to the United States, a threat to the American people and a threat to our allies.
And I think that one thing that all of us have observed and learned over the years since 9/11 and even prior to it is that there has been -- there are evolutions and developments in the nature of these extremist movements and their focus. And it’s important to be knowledgeable and understanding of the difference between various groups and their affiliations and their objectives. That’s a broad statement, not about Anbar province.
I think I’ve noted in the past several days the military assistance that we have been working to provide the Iraq government and the consultations that we are undertaking with Iraqi leaders, including the Prime Minister and others, on the essentially two-part strategy that we believe needs to be undertaken and that we are seeing the Iraqi government undertake, which is one that is military in nature and one that is focused on reconciliation and working with Sunni tribes and others in the region to expel al Qaeda from those cities and territories because the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people do not support and do not want al Qaeda in their midst.
Q The Vice President spoke again, made some calls to Iraq this morning. Does the U.S. think that Maliki could have done more to forestall the rise of these groups by reaching out more to Sunnis in Iraq’s political process?
MR. CARNEY: This is a subject that is an ongoing part of the conversations that we have with leaders in the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Maliki. In the call that he made to the Prime Minister, the Vice President encouraged him to continue his outreach to local, tribal, and national leaders. The Vice President also welcomed the Council of Ministers’ decision to extend state benefits to tribal forces killed or injured in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He also welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement affirming that Iraqi elections will occur as scheduled, as well as the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensuring that humanitarian aid is reaching people in need. The Vice President underscored that America will support and assist Iraq in its fight against international terrorism.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just to follow up, as for Syria, the fighting we see and we hear about between ISIL and the moderate rebels, who remain, many of them, Islamists -- does the administration know not only if the aid to the rebels in Syria goes to these moderate still Islamist rebels? Do you know?
MR. CARNEY: You’re asking do we know if the assistance is going where we want it to go?
Q The one -- yes, exactly. And the ones fighting ISIL.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know specifically the answer to that question. I can tell you, as we’ve discussed over the months, that we carefully evaluate in the provision of assistance where it’s going, and obviously want our assistance -- the humanitarian assistance to go to the people who need humanitarian assistance, the Syrian people who are suffering, and the other forms of assistance to go into the hands of those who have the desires and hopes of the Syrian people as their objective in their efforts and their desire for more democracy and freedom.
So I don’t think that view has changed. I can’t say if we know -- if you’re talking about a particular shipment or -- I mean, these are -- this process is carefully vetted for the reasons that I think underlie your question.
Q How can it be monitored? How is it monitored, these things?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s a question best directed to State and Defense in terms of the mechanics of that. But it is a concern. As you know, with regards to some aid, it was suspended in a part of the country because of the situation with a warehouse, and that goes to the heart of your question. But that is a reflection of the seriousness with which we take these matters and the need to get aid into the hands of those in Syria for whom it was meant.
Last one, Dan.
Q Can I just follow up on that? What was the result of that investigation in terms of the warehouse and --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to direct you to Defense for that. I don’t know.
Q Is it possible to get a list of the kinds of weapons or the monetary level of flow that is now going to the opposition?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s going to be a question for State or Defense.
Sorry, I missed you, Jared.
Q Thanks. Two questions, both timing things. Is the President going to wait to give this surveillance speech until he gets the -- I think it's two reports from PCLOB, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board?
MR. CARNEY: The President, as you know, meets with and has had discussions with members of that board and others on this issue. I'm not sure about the timing of their review, but he's certainly in conversations with them about their views.
So what we've said is that the President will be making his decision and talking about them in remarks prior to the State of the Union address on January 28th. I'm not sure about the timing for that report, but what I can tell you is the the President has been and will be fully briefed on their views.
Q Do you have a timing yet for the budget? I know last year was delayed a couple of weeks.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I don’t have anything on that. Thanks.
Q Preview of tomorrow's event?
MR. CARNEY: We'll get something for you on that. I don’t have anything for you.
Q Thanks, Jay.
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