Press Briefing

February 06, 2014 | 45:50 | Public Domain

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

Download mp4 (457MB) | mp3 (110MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/6/2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon.  Life is full of transitions, changes for everyone.  One happens tomorrow when Jamie Smith has her last day with us, and we are going to be extremely sad to see her go.  This is her last briefing with me because I’ll be traveling tomorrow, so I wanted to thank Jamie here in the briefing for everything she’s done for our operation behind that door and for you here in the press.  So thank you, Jamie.  (Applause.)

Another transition, I want to congratulate Brianna Keilar on her promotion.

But some things don't change, even as others do, so I’d like to congratulate Ann Compton on her Lifetime Achievement Award.  That was remarkable.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)  Indeed, really that's terrific and well deserved.

I have no other announcements.  I certainly couldn’t top those, so I’ll go straight to your questions.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Speaker Boehner in talking about immigration says that it will be hard to get anything through the House unless the President is able to regain some trust.  He’s pointing to things such as the liberties that the administration has taken in implementing the health care law.  If you take the Speaker at his word that this is a real obstacle for Republicans, then is there anything that the President can do to help restore that trust?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’d say a couple of things.  First of all, we remain optimistic about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in 2014.  We’ve seen significant movement among Republicans on this issue, and it is heartening to see that Republican leaders in Congress -- including the Speaker of the House and others -- identify immigration reform as a necessary priority.  That's a good thing.

When it comes to the President’s record on issues encompassed within comprehensive immigration reform I think it’s very important to look at what he’s done already in helping build a bipartisan consensus, in helping build the most effective border enforcement that we’ve ever seen.  Over the five years that he’s been President, we’ve seen significant improvement in our border security.  CBP employs over 21,000 Border Patrol agents, keeping staffing levels at an all-time high.  And they’ve deployed proven, effective surveillance technology tailored to the operational requirements along the highest traffic areas, making progress toward a safer, stronger and more secure border. 
That's an issue that I think has been a particular concern to Republicans as well as Democrats.  And I think it’s reflected in the fact that the legislation in the Senate that the President supports further enhances border security.  And when it comes to the President’s record on that, I think it speaks for itself. 

But look, nothing like this -- nothing this important, nothing this comprehensive ever comes fast or easy in Washington, so this won’t be any different.  But it remains an absolute fact that we’ve made enormous progress in building that consensus, and that even the Republican Party, which had as its operative policy position not that long ago on this issue self-deportation, has come a significant way towards the middle, if you will, or towards the consensus that’s now shared by businesses big and small, labor, law enforcement, religious communities, Republicans and Democrats across the country.  So we continue to see positive progress, and we’re going to work with Congress to get this done.

Q    In spite of your optimism, the person who is running the chamber that's holding this up says he doesn’t see the likelihood of this happening this year.  So I’m wondering if there comes a point or will come a point when the President -- like he did on climate change and other things -- will say if Congress won’t act, I will, and you’ll consider what could be done without Congress.

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no alternative to comprehensive immigration reform passing through Congress.  It requires legislation.  And the President has made that clear in the past, and that continues to be his view.  That's why we need to work together to build on the existing bipartisan consensus to see it help deliver a bill through the House and then a bill that can ultimately reach the President’s desk.

I think that the challenges within the Republican Party on this issue are well known and they certainly don't have anything to do with the President.  But, as I noted before, the progress has been significant.  I think that there is a genuine recognition among leaders in the Republican Party that this is the right thing to do for our economy.  It’s the right thing to do for our middle class.  It’s the right thing to do for our businesses.  When we talk about expanding growth and opportunity, comprehensive immigration reform is very much a part of achieving that and achieving it together.
So we're just going to work steadily on this issue and we believe that it will get done.

Q    And on raising the debt ceiling, it seems like even some of the things that Republicans would like to extract from you in exchange for raising the debt ceiling wouldn't be able to win enough support from Republicans who just don't want it raised at all -- the Speaker saying he probably couldn't even get 218 votes to canonize Mother Teresa.  So I'm wondering, considering that he’s also saying we're not going to default, does this make you more optimistic that we'll be able to raise the debt ceiling without having a prolonged fight that could rattle the markets and create more uncertainty?

MR. CARNEY:  We certainly believe Republican leaders who say that we have to raise the debt ceiling.  It’s the responsibility of Congress to ensure that bills that have already been incurred are paid in a timely fashion so that the United States doesn’t default.  Our position, the President’s position is what it has been for a long time, which is that we are not going to pay ransom in return for Congress fulfilling this basic responsibility.

So this is something that has to be worked out in Congress.  Secretary Lew has spoken about the timing on this and the need to move promptly, and we certainly hope and expect that that will happen.

Yes, Jeff.

Q    Jay, a couple of foreign policy questions for you.  Is the United States intervening in Ukraine in any way?  Arming protesters or otherwise doing anything to help in that conflict?

MR. CARNEY:  We have been playing a direct role in urging the government to refrain from violence and to sit down and work with the opposition.  You know, because it's been read out, that the Vice President has had a number of phone calls with President Yanukovych, and we're committed to working with both the government and the opposition to help deescalate this crisis so that the Ukrainian people themselves can decide their own future.

We condemn violence by any party in Ukraine, and Russian officials should be doing the same.  Nonviolence has been the hallmark of the main protest in opposition leaders, and we support that.  And we believe that part of the discussion has to be an acceptance by the government that peaceful protest needs to be allowed and that that is a fundamental principle of participatory democracy.
So the answer is the assistance we've provided has been consultation with both sides urging them to deescalate the crisis.

Q    You mentioned Russian officials.  A Kremlin aide essentially accused Washington today of intervening, of arming the rebels.  Are there any -- my question is --

MR. CARNEY:  The opposition movement has been peaceful, and they are peaceful protests.  That is the hallmark of this opposition.  So I don't know honestly what he’s talking about.  The assistance that we have provided has been through conversations that reflect our urging of both sides to    deescalate the crisis; urging the government directly to refrain from violence; urging discussion with the opposition so that a path forward can be decided upon that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people.

Q    Is the White House aware of a video that’s been posted on YouTube that apparently it has a conversation between a State Department official and the U.S. ambassador talking about a future Ukraine government and using a fairly colorful expletive about the EU?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ve seen reports about it.  I think the State Department obviously is aware of it.  We don’t discuss private diplomatic conversations.  It’s certainly no secret that our ambassador and Assistant Secretary have been working with the government of Ukraine, with the opposition, with business and civil society leaders to support their efforts to find a peaceful solution through dialogue and political and economic reform.  Ultimately, it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future.


Q    Do you think the call may be real?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the State Department.  I mean, I think that Assistant Secretary Nuland has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and relations with the EU are stronger than ever.  And there’s no question that we are working -- Assistant Secretary Nuland, who has a lot of experience in this area, and our ambassador in Ukraine -- with the opposition and with the government to try to help deescalate the crisis.

Q    How concerned are you that a phone call like this could be out there -- what’s supposed to be private conversation, very candid conversation, it appears, between diplomats?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, if you’re talking about profanity --

Q    No, I’m not.  I’m talking about -- I mean, they’re speaking very -- I’m actually not talking about the profanity.

MR. CARNEY:  So you’re just talking about --

Q    Well, for instance, Victoria Nuland in the call appears to put her one opposition candidate over another, saying she doesn’t think it’s a good idea that a certain --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to comment on the content of private diplomatic conversations.  I would say that --

Q    But, I mean, it’s not private anymore.  That’s -- what’s your concern over that?

MR. CARNEY:  -- since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role.  But the content of the conversation is not something I’m going to comment on.

Q    Are you saying Russia tapped this phone call?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not.  I’m just noting that they tweeted it out.

Q    What does it say about their role?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d refer you to the State Department.

Q    A private conversation now does appear to be public.
Is that really the stance that a diplomat should be taking, in favoring one candidate over another?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to discuss the conversation, Brianna.  What I can tell you is that the Assistant Secretary and our Ambassador and others have been working with the opposition, with the government, with business and civic leaders in Ukraine to help deescalate the crisis -- because that’s in Ukraine’s best interest and in the best interest of the Ukrainian people.


Q    Thank you.  Back to Speaker Boehner.  Would you address specifically his complaint this morning that there’s a lack of trust in the President?  The Speaker said that the President is running around the country telling people he’s going to act on his own, he’s got a phone and a pen.  And he’s feeding the distrust because members of his caucus don’t believe the President would actually enforce or respect the rule of law.  He’s already changed health care, some of the health care provisions, and they don’t believe that the President would enforce security on the border.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think, Ann, what I can say on that last point is that the President has an exceptional record of improving border security.  On his watch, there are more CBP agents on the border now than ever consistently.  And that’s his record.
When it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, it requires legislation.  That’s why we have worked with members of both parties, why we support bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate with significant majority -- legislation that doesn’t reflect word for word the way the President would have written the bill, but does reflect his principles, very much so -- and why we support efforts to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform in the House.  I think that, as I said earlier to Josh, these kinds of issues take time.  And this has certainly taken some time.  There was an effort under the previous President, Republican President George W. Bush to pass immigration reform.

Q    But you’re saying that the Republicans should trust the President, and he’s gone as far as he can go on deportations and border security -- that the rest has to be legislation?

MR. CARNEY:   Again, I think that the President’s record on border security has been well documented and has been testified to by Democrats and Republicans.

Q    Can they trust the President?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  And I think that, again, the President’s record on this issue bears that out.  Moreover, when it comes to executive actions versus legislation, we’ve been saying from the beginning that this is a question of doing both.  And immigration reform is something that needs to be done through the legislature, through the Congress.  So we’re going to keep working.  We believe that there’s been significant progress.  We believe that -- and we note the significant movement that we’ve seen from Republicans, especially in the House, on this issue.  And we acknowledge that this has been historically a difficult issue for the Republican Party.

But we are confident that Republican leaders and a lot of people who Republican officials listen to, strongly support immigration reform -- and that includes in business and law enforcement and faith communities.  So we’re going to get this done.  It’s not going to be easy.  If it were easy, it would have been done already.  But we’re confident that we’re making progress, and we’re confident that 2014 presents the best opportunity we’ve ever had to get comprehensive immigration reform passed and signed into law.


Q    Thanks.  To follow on immigration, the CBO report this week -- this is totally separate from health care -- found that the labor force would be slowing after 2017, in part because of baby boomer retirements.  Are you using that, or can you use that as an argument for immigration reform?

MR. CARNEY:  Can you restate that?  I’m not sure I track.  But say it again.
Q    The labor force is going to be slowing after 2017, because of baby boomer retirements.  Is that a good case for immigration reform?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that the economic growth that outside experts have said would come from passing immigration reform is a strong argument for immigration reform.  And that economic growth would be spurred in a variety of ways if immigration reform were to pass.  And that may well be one of them.  When it comes to innovation and ensuring that some of the smartest young people in the world who study in our universities are able to stay here and start businesses, that’s certainly another way to have immigration reform spur further economic growth and job creation.

So this is, as I’ve said in the past, something that has associated with it some pretty strong conservative talking points.  There is a strong conservative case to be made for passing comprehensive immigration reform.  And that’s why the President believes that the consensus that’s been built around it will ultimately lead to it passing and to him being able to sign it into law -- because, going back to some of these other questions, it’s not about him.  We are fully confident that House Republicans aren’t going to support immigration reform, because President Obama believes it’s the right thing to do.  They’re going to do it, ultimately, because it’s the right thing for our economy, it’s the right thing for the middle class, it’s the right thing for security, and because they're hearing that from a lot of different quarters -- from business, from labor, from law enforcement, from religious leaders.  So that kind of consensus is not often achieved here, and I think that reflects why there’s such a strong case for getting comprehensive immigration reform done.

Q    Is the Obama administration scaling back its drone program in Pakistan?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you know I can't talk about operational matters.  What I can say is that the President made clear in his NDU speech that by the end of 2014, in the Afghan war theater, we will no longer have the same need for force protection and the progress we’ve made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.  Again, so that's something that the President spoke clearly about in his speech at NDU.  So we’ve made significant progress against core al Qaeda. 

We will also have either no troops or a significantly reduced number of troops in Afghanistan after 2014, and that obviously lessens the force protection needs that we have.  So I think those factors play into what the President said about a reduced need for unmanned strikes.

Q    DNI Clapper said last week that al Qaeda is getting better at evading U.S. detection.  Does that also play into the decision?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I didn't see that particular point that the DNI said, but --

Q    -- had stepped up its measures to evade U.S. detection, which doesn’t seem on its face to be all that unusual.  But does that play into the decision --

MR. CARNEY:  But I’m not sure -- again, since I didn't see that testimony, I’m not sure what the context, if we’re talking about core al Qaeda or other affiliates and movements elsewhere in the region.

It’s certainly the case that we are constantly assessing al Qaeda and core al Qaeda, as well as its affiliates, and we continue the fight against al Qaeda.  But when it comes to core al Qaeda in the AfPak region, there’s no question that we’ve made significant progress against them, and because of that we will -- and because of, as I mentioned, the reduced need for force protection, the President said we would be able to reduce our need for unmanned strikes.

Q    Jay, one quick one on Ukraine, and then another topic. Given all the revelations about U.S. surveillance and the back-and-forth with Germany and others, haven’t there been steps taken to make sure that senior U.S. diplomats are speaking on phones that are secure?

MR. CARNEY:  Ed, I just don't have anything more for you on that.  I would refer you to the State Department for more on that issue, that story.

Q    Okay.  On health care, a lot of stories today, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, about doctor choices being limited for folks, and also saying that the federal government is trying to push back and that regulators are taking a look at this, seeing whether insurance regulators are going too far with limiting choices on doctors.  Insurers say they need to do this to keep costs down.  How concerned are you that while the website may be getting better, while the enrollments are going up, that once folks do enroll, they may have a problem keeping their doctor?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there are many ways that the Affordable Care Act helps keep costs down, Ed, and including requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on care instead of overhead, requiring insurers to justify rate increases of 10 percent or more, and providing incentives for providers to deliver smarter care resulting in better outcomes and lower costs for consumers.

We have put protections in place to ensure that consumers have a choice of providers through standards for networks of providers.  That's something that's new.  Consumer protections and federal and state law require health plans to include a sufficient choice of providers, as well as essential community providers.  And the ACA allows individuals to appeal their insurance company’s decisions about what is or is not covered.

And for 2015, HHS plans to have even more aggressive efforts in place to ensure that consumers have good networks of doctors, community providers and specialists.  So I think there’s a number of protections in place now, and in 2015, HHS will be launching even more aggressive efforts to ensure that consumers have good networks.

Q    The chief of AOL, Tim Armstrong, did some interviews today with various TV networks because their earnings are out.  And he claimed that one cost for him right now is it’s costing $7 million to implement the President’s health care law.  And he claims he’s going to make a change to 401(k) benefits to pay for that in part.  Are you concerned that some companies may be making decisions like that?  He’s on the record saying that.  We don't know how many others may, saying, look, you may get better health benefits, but we’re going to have to cut your 401(k) benefits?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can't speak to any individual company’s decisions or the reasons for or rationales expressed for the decisions they make.  What has been the case for a long time is that employers have been making changes to health care benefits or eliminating health insurance entirely.  That is a trend that has gone on for some time, long predating the ACA.  And there are certainly changes that have been made, as all of you in the private sector know, to other benefit programs, including 4019(k)s, long predating the ACA.

What I would say is that every major business in America that provides health insurance to its employees benefits enormously from the historic reduced increase in growth rates and cost rates that we’ve seen in health care.  That company -- any company that was projecting what their health care costs were going to be five years ago were basing those projections on estimates of health care costs inflation that turned out to be much higher than reality, resulting in significant savings.  And that is tied in part -- in significant part, in our view -- to the Affordable Care Act becoming a reality.
Q    You’re not concerned about a shift where they may say, okay, we’re going to do a better job with health care, but --

MR. CARNEY:  Every company -- and this has been the case for a lot longer than the ACA has been around -- has been making decisions like that.  And what I can tell you is that when it comes to the planning that companies make -- the plans that companies make with regards to their health care costs, those decisions are made easier by the fact that health care costs have been growing at the slowest pace in 50 years, since the Affordable Care Act was passed into law.
Critics proclaimed with great assurance that the opposite would happen.  It turns out they were wrong.  Some of those same critics proclaimed that the Clinton budget, when it passed, would lead to recession.  We saw the longest period of economic growth in modern history.  Sometimes, the critics are wrong.


Q    I want to ask you, Jay, if I can about the terror threat that says that terrorists may be trying to smuggle explosives through toothpaste tubes and other similar containers into Russia right now.  The Former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Morell, said this morning, “I’m not overly concerned about this particular threat.” Is this administration concerned about this threat?  Or more importantly, should Americans be concerned about this threat?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is that out of an abundance of caution, DHS routinely shares relevant information with its domestic and international partners, including those associated with international events such as the Sochi Olympics.  And this is an example of that regular communication.  DHS has provided more detail, and I’d refer you to DHS for more detail.

Now, as we have said, if we should receive information in the coming days and weeks that changes our assessment of whether people should travel to Sochi, we will make that information public through the State Department’s usual channels.  The travel alert that the State Department put out earlier in the year in January remains in effect, and it does not advise Americans not to go to Sochi; it advises precautions that those who do go to Sochi should take, including registering with the State Department so that they can get quick information should they need it.  

With regard to this particular notice that went out, I would note that over the years -- certainly since 9/11 -- there have been many threats to aviation that have resulted in us sharing information with airlines.  And our job has always been to provide information to our partners so that, collaboratively, we can best mitigate the threat.  And we’re doing so again in this case.

Q    So I guess the question then -- for a lot of Americans, there were some -- not mixed messages from you guys perhaps, but the way this way reported out, there was what appeared to be perhaps not an imminent threat, but real concern.  And then, this morning there were some reporting that there was not as much concern.  So I guess, what is the threshold for you guys to communicate threats of this sort?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, for that discussion, I think I’d have to refer you to DHS and TSA, because they evaluate the information, as does our intelligence community, and decide whether it crosses the threshold. 

Q    There’s got to be some concern if it’s communicated out.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there’s no question.  And we have noted that -- and that’s broadly speaking -- that we have noted there’s been an uptick in the threat reporting in the run-up to the Sochi Games.  And that is of concern.  It is also something that you would expect, and we did expect, in this case.  In this kind of event, it's not unusual.  But our intelligence community is quite focused on Sochi.  And we’re not going to be able to comment on each reported threat; we’re going to take them all seriously and monitor them.  And, again, if there’s information that the IC receives that changes our assessment about whether or not Americans ought to travel to Sochi, we would certainly make that information available and change our public statements on it to that effect. 

And you know, I think, because we read it out, that the President convened a meeting earlier this week in the White House Situation Room to receive an update from his team on the U.S. government’s efforts to support security for the Olympic Games.  So this is something that obviously has the attention of and focus of the intelligence community and other elements of our national security apparatus, and obviously the attention of the President.  So we’re going to keep monitoring it and provide information if necessary, if it changes our view about the security situation.   

Q    To follow on yesterday’s meetings at Nats Park with Senate Democrats -- I think as one of the my colleagues referred to as the “Field of Dems,” which I found to be memorable -- a Democrat who was there said that the President basically talked a little bit about his standing in some states and to that effect. So does the President concede that his appearance in some states where he is unpopular would do more harm than good?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is going to assist Democrats in every way that he can.
Q    But does he do more harm than good in some states?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that the decisions about how different candidates campaign and what they would like in terms of assistance is something you can ask those individual candidates about. 

Q    But he doesn’t think that, at least?  He doesn’t think there are places --
MR. CARNEY:  I think that the President is just going to do what he can to assist Democrats.  I think he has and he will.  And I don’t think the environment this year is qualitatively different than it’s been most of the years I’ve been in Washington when it comes to election cycles.  So the President is taking an approach that he believes will be of assistance to Democrats, because he and the Democrats he supports share the same priorities when it comes to expanding opportunity and taking action that rewards hard work and responsibility.

Q    Briefly, on a lighter note, the President was the first-ever sitting President to sit on Jay Leno’s couch on the “Tonight Show.”  After a decades-long run of the “Tonight Show,” he’s leaving.  Has the President had any conversations with Jay Leno?  Is he a fan of Jay Leno?  What does he have to say about it?

MR. CARNEY:  He is a fan and he has enjoyed his times on the set with Jay Leno.  And it’s just the end of an era I think for a lot of folks who have watched him on the “Tonight Show” over all these years.  So the President wishes him well.  We all do.  And like I said, we’ve enjoyed -- I’ve enjoyed being with the President in the times he has been out there.  And I know he has enjoyed the experience.


Q    So will the President stick to his absolutist position on no concessions for the debt limit raise, even if enough members of the Republican caucus can cause trouble and demand something for doing so?

MR. CARNEY:  Bill, all I would say is our position, the President’s position, hasn’t changed.  It’s the same as it was in the fall, and that is that he is not going to pay ransom on behalf of the American people so that Congress does its job.  This is a core responsibility that Congress has.  You charge some things on a credit card, on the nation’s card, you have an obligation to pay the bill when it comes.  And that's all this is.  That's what raising the debt ceiling is about.

So he expects that Congress will fulfill its responsibility. Republican leaders have said again and again that they will do that; that will ensure that the United States pays its bills and that the United States doesn’t default.  So we're hopeful that that will take place in a timely fashion.

Q    Not all the members are apparently not on board yet.

MR. CARNEY:  There’s been a lot of reporting about that.  You guys would know better than I about the different discussions.  I can just say that we're over here making very clear what our position is, what the President’s position is, which is that this is something Congress needs to do.  And we're hearing that Republican leaders are saying that it’s going to get done and should get done because we can't threaten the American economy or the global economy in order to try to extract ransom on some issue or the other.

So that's been our position and it’s not changing.

Q    But even if it comes to that?

MR. CARNEY:  What?  It comes to what?  The President’s views are clear.  The Republican leaders have said they won't let the country default, that they understand it’s the responsibility of Congress to ensure that our bills are paid.  So our position hasn’t changed and we expect Congress to act.

Q    He won't negotiate?

MR. CARNEY:  He’s not going to pay ransom.

Anybody else?

Q    Just to follow up on that, does the President -- how does the President interpret the fact that none of the things that the Republicans are talking about even theoretically attaching to the debt limit have had anything to do with spending or the deficit or the debt?  That's kind of a change from years past when Boehner always had insisted on dollar for dollar.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think there’s been a lot of reporting about those discussions, so I'm not going to characterize that reporting.  I'll simply say what our position is, which is we're not going to pay ransom.  The American people should not have to, and the President insists they will not pay ransom to Congress or to House Republicans in order for Congress to fulfill its basic responsibility.  That position won't change.

Last year they shut the government down in an effort to do what, by shutting the government down and by trying to hold the economy hostage, they couldn't do through legislation or through the election or through the Supreme Court when it came to the Affordable Care Act.  So I think that ended badly -- certainly for the Republican Party, but much more importantly, for the economy and the American people.  So we're hopeful that that is not a path Republicans want to travel again.

Q    Last year, you guys agreed to something for the debt limit -- there was a “no budget, no pay” provision basically requiring the Senate actually to pass a budget resolution, take a lot of difficult votes.  I mean, it wasn’t necessarily a ransom or you weren’t actually paying something; the Senate Democrats were going to do something.  Is that kind of procedural kind of sidecar something that could resolve the differences here?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, our position is the same as it was last time, the same as it was last fall:  No ransom.  How leaders on Capitol Hill figure out the way forward is up to them, but we're not going to pay a ransom in order for Congress to do its job.

Leslie, and then Roger.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  The President meets later today with the President of Haiti.  One of the concerns -- and I'm wondering how concerned the United States is that the country hasn’t held elections yet.  Do you know if that will be addressed?

MR. CARNEY:  I know that the President looks forward to welcoming President Martelly of Haiti to the White House this afternoon.  As you know, the United States has stood with Haiti throughout its recovery from the devastating earthquake of 2010. But our relationship with Haiti is broader and deeper than short- term reconstruction alone.  Together with Haiti we are working to create the conditions for sustainable, long-term development, stability, growth and prosperity.
We note that nearly all earthquake rubble has been cleared away.  More than 90 percent of Haitians have transitioned out of camps and into housing.  HIV-AIDS is on the decline.  Cholera is down 83 percent from 2011, and the rate of fatality is below 1 percent.  Crime is down.  GDP growth is on the rise.  Reliable access to electricity is up.
When it comes to elections, we want to see elections that are free, fair and transparent, that allow Haitians to express their views as part of the political process and that provide the political stability that is critical for Haiti’s continued progress.

We know that building a vibrant democracy is not easy and it does not take place overnight.  The United States has been at it for 237 years, and we continue to work at it every day.  But we do see great hope and great potential in Haiti, and we will continue to work closely together to build the brighter, more prosperous future that the Haitian people deserve.

Q    Can we expect a readout after the meeting?

MR. CARNEY:  We'll see.  I expect some sort of readout.

Yes, Roger.

Q    Yes, thanks.  Mr. Boehner had his newser this morning on immigration and talked about rallying his own troops, but he also added this -- he said the President is going to have to provide some votes.  Do you have a response to that?

MR. CARNEY:  On which issue?  Sorry.

Q    Immigration.

MR. CARNEY:  Provide some votes?  I think that the Democratic Party is strongly in support of immigration reform.  I'm not sure that it would disagree with Speaker Boehner that he can expect Democratic support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Q    Following up on immigration -- the Speaker last week seemed to put out signals that they really -- the leadership, at least, wanted to pursue some sort of immigration reform, and today comes out and says some remarks that seemed to throw cold water on that -- at least that's some of the interpretation.  Does the White House see this as a strategy by the Speaker to move this really contentious issue in a delicate way forward, and that that’s an effective strategy so far?  Or do you read it as they’re not sure what they want to do and this is a bit reactionary depending on which way the wind is blowing?

MR. CARNEY:  We’re just focused on working with Congress to try to move this forward and doing that in a way that reflects the principles the President laid out, reflects the principles embodied in the Senate bill, and reflects the views not just of the President or the Democratic Party, but of this broad and deep consensus across the country.

So we know that this is a difficult issue for the Republican Party, and we note the substantial progress that we’ve seen in terms of views about it among the leadership and the rank and file.  So we’re going to continue to work with the House, and look forward to progress on this issue, and ultimately, as I said earlier, to legislation passing that the President can sign.


Q    But if that’s going to take more than a year -- and House Republicans made that clear -- would the President consider, even as an interim measure, some kind of executive action slowing or stopping deportation?
MR. CARNEY:  The President has addressed this many times, and I have, too.  This is -- you need a permanent solution to these problems, and that’s what comprehensive immigration reform represents.  He has to enforce the law.  We operate under prosecutorial discretion and enforcement discretion so that the focus is on criminals.  But when it comes to the broader issues that need to be resolved here, that has to happen through legislation.  That has to happen through comprehensive immigration reform. 

And the hypotheticals that you lay out, Christi, are not ones that we are here to accept.  We believe that there’s been significant progress and that this is an opportunity for the consensus that’s built out in the country as well as here in Washington to push this thing over the finish line.
And it won’t be easy.  Nothing comes easy in Washington -- nothing except possibly the naming of a post office.  So we’re not under any illusion that this isn’t hard work by our friends in the House or by any stakeholder.  But it’s the right thing to do for the economy, the right thing to do for the middle class, the right thing to do for our security, the right thing to do for our businesses, the right thing to do for innovation.  And ultimately, because of that, we believe this will get done.

Q    Just a follow up, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Connie.

Q    On the President’s trip to Europe and to Saudi Arabia, was any consideration given to going to Israel and to Palestine to try to butt heads together on that issue?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have readouts of our travel discussions.  You know the travel that we’ve announced.  Obviously, Secretary Kerry has been very engaged on that issue, and we continue to work hard to help move the Middle East peace process forward.

Q    -- the President made reference to anti-Semitism.  Is he going to bring up the issue with President Hollande?  Because there’s growing anti-Semitism in France.

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a preview of his meeting with President Hollande.  As the President noted this morning, anti-Semitism is an issue that we are always concerned about and vigilant about.  In terms of this specific conversation, I don’t have a preview for you.
Q    Jay, real quick -- I know you addressed this earlier in the briefing, but I think I misheard you.  Did you say that there are now more border agents in place than ever before?  I didn’t catch the phrase. 

MR. CARNEY:  To be precise, CBP employs over 21,000 border patrol agents, keeping staffing levels at an all-time high.  So I read “all-time high” as all-time.  And they have deployed proven, effective surveillance technology tailored to the operational requirements along the highest traffic areas.  So not only are they putting boots on the ground, but they’re using technology to make the effort more effective and efficient.  The combination of manpower and improvements in technology makes our border even more secure.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Last one.

Q    Jay, on Friday, White House counselor John Podesta told Bloomberg News that the executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination was under consideration and being looked at by the White House.  Now, that same day, you called that executive order hypothetical.  Is there a reevaluation taking place on this?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that what we said is we don’t have any updates for you on that issue.  We are pushing Congress to move forward on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  We look at and consider a lot of things.  Our focus is on getting Congress to pass something that is comprehensive, that represents the President’s view that we need to extend equal rights to the LGBT community.  And we’re working with Congress to move that issue forward.

So I don’t have any updates on that hypothetical EO.  I can tell you that we strongly support action by the House, in keeping with what the Senate did, to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law.  If you look at the data on this issue -- and specifically on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- I think it is overwhelmingly demonstrated that this has the support of the American people across the country.

And as I’ve said again and again, this is -- history is moving on this issue in the right direction, and opposing these kinds of things means finding yourself on the wrong side of history.  And I don’t think, ultimately, that any member of Congress wants to be on the wrong side of history.  So hopefully we’ll see progress.  Nobody thought -- or at least a lot of people didn’t think we would see this move through the Senate.  It did.  And we remain hopeful that it will move through the House.

Q    If the strategy is for comprehensive federal legislation, why do an EO for the minimum wage for federal contractors?

MR. CARNEY:  I take your point, Justin.  What I can tell you is that our position on this hasn’t changed.  I don’t have any update for you on other potential or hypothetical EOs.  What I can tell you is that we’re supporting legislation when it comes to ENDA.  And we continue to press hard for Congress to take action on the minimum wage, because that’s that right thing to do.  The President has made that clear again and again.

So, again, I think it’s important to note that Americans’ views on these issues have become increasingly clear and to oppose legislation that enshrines equal rights is to oppose the tide of history.  And we certainly hope that in the end, members of Congress, members of the House don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.

Thank you all very much.

1:06 P.M. EST

Close Transcript