Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/14/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions, I wanted to say something about today’s CBO report, which is welcome news. This report demonstrates the Affordable Care Act is working. It shows that marketplace health care costs have gone down because premium estimates have gone down. Additionally, the effort to constrain health care costs more broadly is showing continued momentum as evidenced by the further reduction in projected Medicare spending.
The CBO estimates that about 5 million people will enroll in plans that meet the ACA standards outside the marketplace. That is in addition to the millions who have signed up through the marketplaces or gained coverage on Medicaid, or have been able to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 because of the law.
This is historic progress and shows how the Affordable Care Act is working as it was supposed to -- by helping more Americans get coverage while making historic progress and slowing health care cost growth and improving our nation’s fiscal outlook by lowering deficits.
And with that, I’ll go to the Associated Press. Julie.
Q Thanks, Jay. I had a couple of questions about the situation in Ukraine. A U.S. military official says that a Russian fighter jet made multiple close-range passes near an American warship in the Black Sea. I’m wondering if the U.S. sees that as an attempt by Russia to try to escalate tensions in the region.
MR. CARNEY: I believe the Pentagon has assessed that and called it provocative and unprofessional. I don’t have anything to add to it. We are obviously very concerned about Russian actions in Ukraine, attempts to destabilize Ukraine. We’re concerned about the many thousands of troops, Russian troops, that remain on the Ukrainian border. We’re concerned about provocation actions assisted by or sponsored by Russia that are taking place in eastern Ukraine. And we continue to commend the Ukrainian government in the restraint that they have shown in handling a very difficult situation.
Q The President has obviously talked multiple times about how Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine would warrant additional sanctions, the sector sanctions, as they’re called. Does he believe that the actions that Russia has taken so far in trying to destabilize eastern Ukraine crosses that line and makes it so that he will have to implement sector sanctions? Or does he see that as a response to only basically taking those tens of thousands of forces and actually having them cross the border?
MR. CARNEY: Julie, the United States has been and continues to consult actively with our European partners on the matter of sanctions, and we are doing that even as I speak on these issues -- because as you note, Russia continues to engage in provocative actions in eastern Ukraine. The mere presence of the troops, in addition to what else they’ve done inside Ukraine, creates a threat of destabilization within Ukraine. And we will consider next steps in concert with our European partners.
I would simply note that the authorities the President created by signing the executive orders allow for all kinds of different sanctions, including the ones that you mention. And we have already imposed sanctions under those authorities, and have the capacity because of the executive orders to do more. And we will take action as appropriate.
Q But I guess my question is, do the actions that Russia has already taken warrant those tougher sanctions, or have they not crossed that line yet?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say, Julie, is that we are actively evaluating what is happening in eastern Ukraine -- what actions Russia has taken, what transgressions they’ve engaged in. And we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose. But I don’t have an announcement at this time when it comes to further sanctions.
Q But, I mean, I guess you can kind of see our confusion here a little bit. I’m just trying to narrow in on whether you feel like they have taken action in eastern Ukraine that does warrant a further U.S. response, or whether they have still stopped short of that kind of action.
MR. CARNEY: And I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that we’re assessing what they’ve done, even as we continue to impose the sanctions that we’ve already imposed. And as part of the assessment, we’ll make judgments in coordination with our partners about what further actions to take. But I can assure you that Russia’s provocations -- further transgressions and provocations will come with a cost. And I’m not here to specify what cost will come from which specific action, but there have already been costs imposed on Russia; there will be further costs imposed on Russia. And certainly if they go further down the road of attempting to destabilize Ukraine, rather than choosing the path of deescalation, that the cost will continue to grow.
Q And again, just quickly, there have been some reports in Russian media that John Brennan was in Ukraine over the weekend. Can you confirm that he was there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we don’t normally comment on the CIA Director’s travel, but given the extraordinary circumstances in this case and the false claims being leveled by the Russians at the CIA, we can confirm that the Director was in Kyiv this weekend as part of a trip to Europe. Senior-level visits of intelligence officials are a standard means of fostering mutually beneficial security cooperation, including U.S.-Russian intelligence collaboration going back to the beginnings of the post-Cold War era. U.S. and Russian intelligence officials have met over the years -- to imply that U.S. officials meeting with their counterparts is anything other than in the same spirit is absurd.
Q Thanks, Jay. With regard to Ukraine, the EU is apparently considering an emergency meeting to discuss sanctions. Would the U.S. participate in that meeting and support such a meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure of the report that you’re referring to. I can say that we are coordinating very closely with our European partners on this issue, on Ukraine in general, on steps that might be taken in reaction to Russian provocations. But the form that that consultation will take in the future I can't say.
Q And among the things that the European Union is considering are a mission to support police and law enforcement in Ukraine. Would the U.S. support that kind of an intervention?
MR. CARNEY: We have, as I think you heard from Secretary Lew this morning, been involved in an effort to actively support the Ukrainian government in this difficult time, to try to help it stabilize its economy as it moves towards May 25th elections. And we are certainly engaged in diplomatic efforts to assist Ukraine as it tries to stabilize a situation in that country, obviously facing a lot of counterproductive acts by Russia as we do that. But we’re doing all of that in coordination with our European allies.
I don’t have a list of possible measures of support that we may engage in with Europe except to say that we’re obviously very interested in assisting Ukraine as they move forward -- as the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian people move forward with new elections and efforts to stabilize and improve their economy.
Q And just to step back and ask the broader question -- given further sanctions under consideration, what will the effectiveness of that be since Russia appears not to have stopped the actions that the United States and the European Union object to in eastern Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Russia has to decide what costs it is willing to bear in order to destabilize Ukraine, to maintain the illegal occupation of Crimea, and to engage in the kind of actions that isolate Russia, create a sort of chilling effect globally in terms of the international community’s relationships with Russia. So we can’t make those decisions for them.
What we and our allies and partners can do is make clear that there are costs for this kind of behavior when you violate a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity, when you engage in clearly provocative efforts to destabilize a sovereign nation. Those actions incur costs, and the United States stands with our European friends in imposing those costs. Those costs will go up the more that Russia pursues this course of action. What I obviously can’t predict to you is how high the costs that Russia is willing to pay are.
Q I have one question about the CBO report. The CBO report apparently only assigns 6 million people as having signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which would suggest that the 7 million figure that we heard so much about overstates the actual number of people. Do you dispute that 6 million figure?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. CBO uses a technical average-over-the-year estimate in which folks who came in late count for less than somebody who came in early for the purposes of calculating tax credits and so forth. So if you signed up on March 31st, you don’t get insurance until May 1st, you will count essentially as two-thirds of a person in that calculation of what the year averages for people who have signed up. We know for a fact that more than 7.5 million people have signed up through the marketplaces.
And we’re obviously working on teasing apart those figures to provide more information about the makeup of that population of people who signed up. But in terms of CBO’s estimates, this is a technical average-over-the-year number that they compiled that doesn’t take into account what I just described to you, which is that if you only have insurance this year because you enrolled for a portion of the year then you don’t count as one whole person in that 6 million figure.
Q Clearly, Russia does not care about the threat of further sanctions, including sector sanctions. I mean, really nothing has changed in their behavior before or after what’s going on there right now. And this administration has talked a lot about sending a message. And when we’re looking at sector sanctions, clearly that would affect Europe’s economy much more than the U.S.’s if those were imposed. So would the U.S. act unilaterally in imposing sanctions like that if sending a message is still important?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s more than sending a message, Michelle, first of all. The actions that we and our partners have taken thus far have come at a cost to Russia. We’ve seen it in terms of how the economic growth figures have been downgraded for Russia. We’ve seen it in terms of the impact on Russian markets. We’ve seen it in terms of the views of international investors as to whether or not they would make the decision to further invest in Russia given the flagrant violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity that Russia has engaged in.
Now, the kinds of sanctions that the authorities we have allow us to impose would obviously bring higher costs to Russia and to the Russian economy. As the President said on the morning that he announced them, the sanctions that affected sectors of the Russian economy would come at a cost to the global economy -- not as severe as the cost that Russia would feel, but certainly the United States and our allies in Europe would feel an impact from those sanctions as well.
But what I think you’ve heard from Europeans is that, if necessary, we together would take that kind of action because of the importance of making clear that it is a severe violation of international law to engage in the kind of behavior that Russia has engaged in to violate a sovereign state’s territorial integrity, to engage in the kind of provocative activity that Russia has engaged in, clearly in an attempt to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine and to provoke a reaction from the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian security forces.
So obviously we’re working very closely and coordinating with our European partners. I think you’ve seen that all along. You saw it during the President’s trip to Europe -- his meetings in Belgium and the Netherlands. And that coordination continues today.
Q So we would only act with them --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we would never rule out unilateral action. We’ve taken unilateral action in the sanctions that we’ve imposed already. There is overlap, but not 100 percent overlap with the actions that Europe has taken.
Q It just seems like if sanctions are increased, it’s going to affect Europe so much, especially Britain, with the flow of money between Russia and Britain as one example. There’s so little between Russia and the U.S. investment-wise, commerce-wise. So I just don’t understand with the outrageousness of the situation and some of the statements that have been made why the U.S. doesn’t do something right now. I mean, surely the administration agrees that what’s going on there is outrageous.
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question. And, again, I would point you to the fact that we have acted unilaterally -- but this morning I think, through the Treasury Department, initiated the billion dollars in loan guarantees to Ukraine, which is unilateral assistance. And we’ll continue to do that. But we will also continue to closely coordinate with our European partners, precisely because we have spoken in one voice in opposition to what Russia has done in Ukraine, and we’ll continue to do that.
Let’s move around. Major.
Q Jay, the interim Ukrainian President today kind of reversed field and said he was open to the concept of a national referendum added on to the May 25th elections that could create, or at least raise the question of autonomous regions within Ukraine, something that has been an issue pressed by those Russian speakers and ethnic Russians within Ukraine. Is the administration comfortable with that reversal of field?
MR. CARNEY: The Ukrainian government has for some time now said that it is absolutely interested in having discussions about creating greater autonomy for regions within Russia Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has approached this whole challenge in a manner that I think demonstrated professionalism and restraint, and an interest in resolving this crisis in a way that is most beneficial for the Ukrainian people and the nation of Ukraine.
So I don’t have a comment on every point that Ukrainian leaders have made, but I think that they have demonstrated a willingness to try to resolve these issues -- and the suggestion that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are somehow being mistreated or underrepresented -- in a thoughtful and respectful way.
It bears remembering that the parliament in Ukraine, the Rada, is the same parliament in Ukraine that existed under the previous President, including with representatives of the party that that President hailed from. And that parliament has been acting responsibly in dealing with these challenges. So it doesn’t surprise that Ukrainian leaders have continued to try to resolve these challenges in a fair and diplomatic way.
Q Well, the reason I raise that is this administration has pointed to the May 25th elections as a potential turning point or place where Ukraine can form a new government and have a chance to resolve some of these issues. Adding a referendum on the question of creating either autonomous regions or a federated system within the country seems like a not insignificant move and a concession from the interim President toward Russia. And I’m just curious if the administration sees it that way, number one. Number two --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific response to the remarks that you’re citing. What I can tell you is that we commend the Ukrainian government in the manner that it has dealt with a very challenging situation and the manner that it has dealt with a series of provocations, beginning with actions by Russia in Crimea that were viewed by the entire world as illegal, and continuing with the provocative actions that we see on the Ukrainian border and within eastern Ukraine by the Russians and those supported by Russia.
So I don’t have an assessment of that proposal, but I can tell you that we continue to point to the fact that the Ukrainian government has been managing a situation that is very difficult and very challenging in a very responsible manner.
Q Is there any doubt in this administration’s mind that those types of forces that went into Crimea -- no insignia, advanced weaponry, tactics that looked very organized and cohesive -- is also what’s happening in Kharkiv and these other places?
MR. CARNEY: The similarities are striking. The evidence is compelling that Russia is supporting these efforts and involved in these efforts. The Ukrainian government has arrested a number of Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine, many of them armed. There’s evidence that protestors have been paid to take the actions that they’ve taken. And, as you note, you saw this coordinated effort in a number of cities across eastern Ukraine all at once that sure didn’t look organic to observers from the outside.
What I think this tells us is that Russia continues to pursue a course aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, and that is very concerning to the United States and to our partners and allies. It is for the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves what Ukraine’s future looks like, what its relationship with Europe looks like, what its relationship with Russia -- a country with which it has long and important cultural and historical and economic ties -- looks like. But only for the Ukrainian people. It is not something that another nation from the outside can dictate or should dictate.
Q Just picking up on Michelle’s question -- last one -- you just said it: Russia continues to destabilize the situation, act in a provocative way, now buzzing a U.S. warship. Isn’t there a sense in the administration and in the European capitals with which you are collaboratively dealing with that what is going on is not working? That whatever signals you’re sending, they’re either not being heeded or misread; and this entire approach, which is to not escalate, isn’t working and everything the Russians are doing is continuing to escalate the situation, overriding what they may see and some editorial critics have regarded as passivity by the West?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, Major, because the premise of the question is based on the notion that all the United States ever has to do when something happens in the world that we don’t like is say stop it and they’ll stop. We are taking concerted action with our allies and partners that is imposing costs on Russia for what Russia has done, making clear that much more significant costs will be imposed on Russia should they continue down this path. And it is a simple fact that in the world that we live in today and the interconnected global economy that every nation, including Russia, participates in, that the impact of those costs on Russia, if we have to impose them, will be severe. And in the end, that’s clearly bad for Russia, for the Russian government. It’s bad for the Russian people. And it only serves to further isolate Russia at a time when so much of the world is moving forward economically and democratically.
So what we can do -- again, going back to my answer before in terms of assessing how far Russia is willing to go and what Russia’s motivations are -- what we can do is make clear that the kind of violations of a nation’s sovereignty that we’ve seen from Russia are not acceptable; make clear that there are costs that will come as a result of that; and to increase those costs appropriately as Russia’s actions dictate.
Q For those Americans who are not paying -- who have not been paying detailed attention to what’s going on in the faraway border of Ukraine and Russia, today’s provocation of an American ship may have perked up their ears. And I’m wondering whether or not you could right now tell us what the status is of U.S.-Russia relationship. Are we in a Cold War again? Is war inevitable along the Ukrainian border? Is America being drawn into another conflict with Russia?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll start at the top. We’re not in a Cold War because I think it’s important to remember what the dynamics of the Cold War were. They were -- you had two super powers, you had two economic blocs, you had two military blocs. There aren’t two of any of those things today. Russia is not the Soviet Union; there is no Warsaw Pact. There is no Soviet economic bloc.
And the United States is working with partners and allies from around the world and especially in Europe -- including partners and allies that are nations that used to fall within the Soviet bloc -- in pursuit of the simple proposition that a nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty have to be respected and should not be violated; and that should violations occur, should a nation’s sovereignty be violated, then there have be actions and responses and costs incurred. And that’s what you’ve seen the United States do, working with our partners and allies.
There’s no question that the current relationship that we have with Russia has been strained by the actions, provocative behavior of Russia in Ukraine. But we as an administration and as a country pursue a relationship with Russia that’s very clear-eyed, which is, as I’m doing today and we’ve been doing for some time now -- makes clear when we have profound disagreements with what Russia is doing, and if necessary that we impose costs working with our partners and allies in response to what Russia is doing, but continues to work with Russia when it is in our interest to do so and in Russia’s interest -- for example, in the P5-plus-1 negotiations. So that’s where we are.
The question about is military conflict inevitable between Russia and Ukraine, the answer is no. Russia has the opportunity to deescalate rather than escalate. And we have in our conversations with Russian government officials and in coordination with the Ukrainian government and our European allies made clear that that path is available to Russia, and it includes pulling back its forces from the border. It includes engaging in a dialogue with the Ukrainian government, with international partners. And it includes taking steps in general that help deescalate the situation rather than create more of a crisis atmosphere.
So we have worked with Russia in making clear to Russia that that avenue is available to it, and we continue to press that case even as we work with our partners and allies to respond to provocations as they occur.
Q But Americans have -- certainly in the last decade, dismissed Russia as a threat, certainly as a threat that it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s. Is Russia a threat again?
MR. CARNEY: Russia is clearly a threat to Ukraine. Russia -- as I think the President mentioned not that long ago -- is a regional power, to be sure. And Russia has the capacity, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, to take action that causes a great deal of concern across the globe.
Q Is it a threat to the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the fact is, we have profound differences with Russia, and we confront those differences directly and address them directly. The best course of action for Russia is to deescalate. That’s the best course of action for Europe and for the world, and the United States, obviously. And that’s what we’re pressing Russia to do.
Q I presume you’re going to tell us about the President’s call to President Hollande today. And does he agree with President Hollande’s call for graduated sanctions against Russia?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t read out a call that hasn’t happened yet, as I understand, or that we’re not --
Q The French said it happened.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, so it has happened. Yes, the President spoke with President Hollande. I don’t have a full readout for you, but I think it demonstrates the fact that we have been consulting regularly with our allies and partners on Ukraine and other issues. The President spoke with Chancellor Merkel last week, President Hollande today. We continue those conversations not just with our allies and partners but with Russia, as well importantly as well as with Ukraine.
But in terms of what course of action we’re going to take when it comes to sanctions, we’re working that through with our partners and internally as we assess what Russia is doing.
Q What about the Ukrainian interim President’s call for U.N. peacekeepers?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can’t evaluate every proposal that’s being put on the table, except to say that we’re going to look at the actions that we should be taking. We have endorsed as a general principle the presence of international observers from the U.N. and the OSCE in Ukraine -- observers who can assess whether or not Russia’s complaints about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Ukraine have any merit. There is no evidence that they have merit, but we are perfectly willing and -- in fact, to accept and in fact endorse a proposal that would place international observers in Ukraine to make that assessment independently.
Q Do you reject the Washington Post’s criticism of the President’s actions in Ukraine as being not nearly enough, not strong enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, what I can say is that we have been very forceful in making clear that there are costs associated with Russia’s behavior. We have imposed costs already that have had an impact on the Russian economy. We have created authorities that allow additional costs to be imposed that could have a much greater impact on the Russian economy. And we have worked very closely with our international allies and partners to make sure that we’re speaking with one voice on this matter and that we’re all taking action to impose costs on Russia for its behavior. I think that is --
Q But you haven’t changed Russia’s behavior.
MR. CARNEY: That, again, goes back to the suggestion -- and perhaps critics have the magic words that allow for the United States to simply say don’t do this or impose an action and then suddenly it stops happening. The fact is, in a conflict like this, in a crisis like this, it is incumbent upon the United States to lead, and we have done that and we have coordinated closely with Europe appropriately given the location of this crisis in order to make sure that we’re together imposing costs on Russia. And I think that has made clear to Russia that its actions only further isolate Moscow from the rest of the world.
Q Jay, given the coordinated effort that you referred to taking place and your acknowledgement that just because we say something doesn’t mean anything necessarily happens, what can the U.S. point to right now that demonstrates that it is succeeding as a deterrent from further incursions or invasions of the sort that are happening right now?
MR. CARNEY: I continue to make clear that the United States has imposed sanctions. The United States has authorities --
Q How does that served as a deterrent?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, that’s like saying that the arms buildup wasn’t a deterrent for 50 years until -- or 40 years -- until the Soviet Union collapsed. I mean, it’s not -- again, stretching the Cold War analogy here -- but the fact of the matter is, when Russia behaves this way, we have made clear that it cannot do so without incurring a cost. And we have imposed costs. We’ve made clear, through the authorities that have been created under the executive orders the President signed, that we are willing to escalate those costs significantly as necessary in response to further action by Russia. And we’ve seen damage to the Russian economy already because of the actions that we and others have taken.
And I think no one doubts that should further costs be imposed there will be further significant damage done to the Russian economy and further isolation of Russia within the international community. Those are concrete costs, and we are going to make clear that the kind of conduct that Russia has engaged in, the kind of crude propaganda that they have promulgated that flies in the face of all the facts that we know about what’s happening on the ground, only serve to isolate Russia further and make clear the necessity of imposing costs because of Russian activity.
Q Can you give us a better sense of the President’s position in terms of the provision of nonlethal supplies or small arms to those in Ukraine that are trying to fight off this incursion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that we are looking at a variety of ways to demonstrate our strong support for Ukraine, including diplomatically and economically. With regard to any potential military assistance to Ukraine, we don’t have any announcements to make. But our main focus continues to be on supporting economic and diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation. And as the President said, we do not see a military solution to this crisis. We’re not actively considering lethal aid, but we are reviewing the kinds of assistance that we can provide and have already provided, as you know, or taken action to provide economic assistance to Ukraine.
Q And then also on the CBO numbers, very briefly, I know you touted those at the beginning of today’s briefing. Only a couple months ago, the top economist, Jason Furman, in the same room disputed CBO numbers that raising the federal minimum wage to I think $10.10, he said, would in fact cost up to 500,000 jobs implemented in the second half of 2016. So critics will accuse the White House of cherry-picking the CBO’s figures on days like today saying, look, the CBO, this is the arbiter of all things good and it’s on our side, and on other days it’s not. So which way is it?
MR. CARNEY: What Jason said at the time is that on the specific issue that was considered when it came to the minimum wage, the authorities on that subject were not resident at the CBO. There’s a lot of outside economic analysis that we could point to where experts in the field have come to a different judgment.
On this issue, the CBO has obviously expended a great deal of energy and expertise on evaluating an actual implemented policy, the Affordable Care Act, in combination with the evaluations it does on the state of our economy and on our deficits and debt. There was another report today that I think you probably saw but I don’t expect to be asked about, which is that shows that our deficit is falling even faster than CBO predicted in February.
And so these are things that CBO is quite skilled at analyzing. But on that specific instance, I would point you to the very full explanation for why we did not view that report in the same way the CBO did.
Q Has the administration gone any further in establishing whether Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in this latest attack? And if it’s proven to be so, and it is in fact chlorine gas -- which wasn’t under the previous deal -- would you still see that as an infringement of the deal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to speculate about that, because we’re aware of the reports and the specific report that you mention, and we’re looking into them but we have not been able to corroborate those claims at this time. I would note that the OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission’s confirmation of the removal of 65 percent of Syria’s declared chemical weapons was just made. And Syria remains behind the schedule agreed to by the OPCW Executive Council, and we continue to press the Syrian regime to transfer these chemicals to Latakia for removal by April 27th. They have the ability to do so; now they need to meet their obligation by expediting removals to meet the June 30th destruction deadline. But I think that it is important to note, nevertheless, that OPCW-U.N. has confirmed the removal of 65 percent of Syria’s declared chemicals.
Q Thanks, Jay. You’ve commended the Ukrainian government a couple of times on their restraint, and I wonder if the administration supports their deployment of counterterrorism forces to the east and the ultimatum they’ve given.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, in terms of the actual actions that the Ukrainian government has taken, I think they’ve demonstrated again and again -- both in the restraint they’ve shown and in the offers they’ve made, including amnesty and a commitment to resolve these situations peacefully -- that that is their absolute preferred course of action.
All I would say on the other matter is the idea that you hear from Russia that somehow Ukraine, a sovereign state, should not be able to respond to potential threats posed within its borders is novel given where Russian has been in the past on that issue.
So what I can tell you is on actions by the Ukrainian government and the multiple offers they’ve made to try to resolve these situations peacefully, I think speak to the restraint that the Ukrainian government has shown.
Q Is it consistent with the President’s assessment that there is no military solution to this crisis?
MR. CARNEY: Is what consistent? The fact --
Q The deployment of troops to eastern Ukraine.
MR. CARNEY: There is no military, in our view, solution to this crisis. But again, you’re talking about a situation internally and in cities in a region of the nation. What I can again reiterate is that again and again the Ukrainian government has demonstrated its willingness to try to resolve these issues peacefully; has made clear their willingness to look at reforming -- going back to Major’s question -- reforming their constitution and other laws that have to do with the relative autonomy that certain regions might have from the center.
This is a government that, contrary to the propaganda you see coming out of Moscow, was put in a place by a parliament that preexisted the point after which President Yanukovych fled the country. And it consists of members of his own party that now support what the current government has been doing and the way it’s been handling this situation.
So I’m not going to flyspeck every action or decision made. But overall, I think it’s incontestable that the Ukrainian government has tried to resolve this in a peaceful, diplomatic way.
Q Does the President have any plans to speak with President Putin any time soon?
MR. CARNEY: I think you can expect that the President will speak with President Putin again very soon, perhaps today. But if and when that happens, we’ll have a readout.
Q And finally, getting back to sort of trying to change the dynamic of the last six weeks or so, this kind of call-and-response dynamic that’s taking place -- the President says don’t go into Crimea, Russia goes into Crimea; impose sanctions, they annex Crimea. What’s the downside of flipping that a bit and imposing sanctions before Russia takes the next step rolling troops over the border formally --
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s strains credulity to suggest that Russia went into Crimea because the West said don’t. That’s not a fair representation of what the motives are.
Q But I’m saying, the difficulty of trying to unravel something that’s already happened through sanctions has not seemed to work with Russia yet, and I’m wondering if there’s an argument taking place inside the administration on, well, before that happens, before these troops may come over the border on this pretext, let’s show them the pain ahead of time rather than threaten the pain afterwards.
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we are involved in assessing what Russia has been doing, what it’s doing now, what its possible next actions might be. And we’re doing that in the context of what costs we might impose -- we collectively might impose on Russia for the actions they undertake. And the kinds of permutations of that conversation are many, and I wouldn’t rule out sort of a way that you’ve looked at them as a possibility under consideration.
But I would say that there have been costs imposed, and any doubt about that can be refuted by the fact that $70 billion of capital flight took place out of Russia in the first quarter. And that, I think, demonstrates basically a vote of no confidence, by those who have capital in Russia, in the actions that Russia is taking and the fact that those actions have resulted in costs being imposed on the Russian economy and individuals and entities, and that more costs are coming if Russia continues to act in this way.
Q The Vice President’s trip on April 22nd -- what does he hope to accomplish and what does he hope to take away from his visit to the Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to preview it too far in advance except to say that it demonstrates this administration’s and this country’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It’s a reflection of the support that we’ve shown already in the economic package that has moved forward, and the work that we’re doing with the IMF to make sure that further economic assistance is available to Ukraine, and all the diplomatic efforts that are underway to try to deescalate the situation between Russia and Ukraine.
So I’m sure we’ll have more to say as the Vice President’s trip comes closer, but I think it reflects the commitment that we have made to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, the democratic aspirations of Ukraine -- the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people.
Q Jay, two questions on different subjects. Just to follow up on the President’s potential call to President Putin today -- because of the range of conversations they’ve had in the past, can you clarify does the President have a continuation of the warnings that he’s been issuing, or does he have something to advise him about in the way of additional sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Once the call is completed we’ll have a readout for you, so I’m not -- I don’t have more for you on it now. Obviously, we have been communicating at multiple levels with the Russian government, extensively through the Foreign Minister channel -- the Secretary of State with Foreign Minister Lavrov -- and at the presidential level. President Obama has had a number of conversations during this crisis with President Putin, making clear both our strenuous objection to Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and our fundamental belief that Russia has an opportunity to avail itself of a path of deescalation and that we would work with the international community and Russia and the Ukrainian government in seeing that path pursued.
So that is where we’ve been and that’s been the nature of the conversations that the President has had with President Putin, and that Secretary Kerry has had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, so I’m sure that that is the frame in which further conversations will take place. But once appropriate we will have a readout of the call.
Q Change of subject -- on the Affordable Care Act and Sylvia Burwell’s upcoming confirmation hearing. Is it the President’s hope that HHS will have unpacked all of the enrollment numbers and the demographic breakdowns before Congress would be questioning his new nominee for that position? Or would those numbers come out after the confirmation hearings?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that HHS and CMS are working to crunch the numbers and assess the data, and to collect it in a way that provides as much information as possible along the lines that you mentioned, including the demographic breakdown. I don’t have a timetable for when that’s going to happen. I think it is separate from the timetable for the consideration of the President’s nominee to the position of Secretary of HHS. But you can expect that HHS and CMS are acting with all due deliberation to make sure that they can collect as much data as possible to provide it to the public.
But in answer to your question, I have no doubt that no matter what we provide there will be assertions or questions about how we haven’t provided enough.
Q You mentioned that President Obama is going to call President Putin today. And I’m wondering -- it’s been I think a little over a week, maybe two weeks since the public has heard from President Obama about Ukraine. And given all the uncertainty about what’s happening on the border of Ukraine and eastern Ukraine, why haven’t we heard from him on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President was recently on a foreign trip where he took a lot of questions about Ukraine. And he’s I’m sure going to speak about Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, especially in encounters with the press if reporters ask him about it. I don’t have any other scheduling announcements to make in terms of when the President will be speaking on this issue. But I don’t think there’s any doubt, if you look back at how many times the President has discussed this in the past weeks, that this has been a priority subject here in the White House in the national security arena, and that the President is very directly engaged in it.
Q Did you hint there that there is going to be a chance for us to ask him about this coming up soon?
MR. CARNEY: No, I just mean in general. Sometimes when the press gets a chance to ask about a variety of subjects they don’t always ask about the ones that you might think they would. But we’ll see.
Q The U.S. will withdraw American troops in Afghanistan unless BSA is signed. On the contrary, Russian influence has slowly, but constantly increasing in Central Asia as a result of Customs Union and other (inaudible). Do you think the U.S. is losing in the region?
MR. CARNEY: Is losing --
Q Losing in the region influence and --
MR. CARNEY: In terms of Afghanistan and the troop --
Q Central Asia.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously have bilateral relationships with -- if you’re referring to the former Soviet republics and now independent nations of Central Asia, we have bilateral relationships with all of them. Some of them involve extensive cooperation and relatively deep ties. So I’m not sure that I understand the question as related to U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.
We have a policy with regards to Afghanistan that I think is very focused on the mission that sent U.S. troops to Afghanistan -- the President refocused our attention on upon review of our Afghan policy. And we continue to pursue that policy, and that includes drawing down forces this year. It also includes the possibility of a troop presence beyond 2014 if, and only if, a bilateral security agreement is signed by Afghanistan. So there are some ifs in there, and so we’ll have to see what happens in the coming months.
Q On the broad sector sanctions that the President has signed the EO for and agreed with the G7 partners for, is there a trigger by which those sanctions -- a threshold by which those sanctions would be triggered? Are you intentionally leaving it ambiguous? And if you are leaving it ambiguous, I mean, would it, for example, be triggered if Russian troops pour over the border with Ukraine? And if you are leaving it ambiguous, then how can you be sure the G7 is going to follow through with the commitments that you reached in The Hague?
MR. CARNEY: Mike, what I can say and said at the top of the briefing is that we are in regular consultations with our European partners about assessing further costs on Russia for the actions Russia has taken in Ukraine, and those conversations and assessments continue. What is clear is that what Russia has already done in Crimea and Ukraine has led to costs being imposed on it. We have authorities to impose further costs, and are evaluating our options and working with our partners in terms of next steps. So I don't have --
Q But if you’re continuing to consult, that leaves the impression or the implication that there is no hard threshold, no hard trigger to impose those sanctions.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that there have been costs; the effect of those costs have been clear. There will be more costs if Russia continues down this path, and they will be more severe. But I’m not going to attach this sanction in response to this action not least because Russia could then do a whole bunch of other things except for that specific action. So that's now how this works.
We are working very closely with our European partners and allies. We ourselves internally are assessing the powers that we have and the actions that we could take, which could include more sanctions. And there’s a variety of options available, even within the realm of sanctions. So we’ll continue in those deliberations and obviously let you know if and when we’re making -- or taking further action.
Q Just to follow up on what you said about organic -- the eastern Ukraine uprisings not looking organic from the outside. Has the administration completely ruled out the possibility that the Ukrainians could have organized those uprisings in eastern Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: There is such overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise, including evidence that suggests that some of the organizers weren’t locals, weren’t even from the places that they were protesting; evidence that members were paid. It’s not often that you suddenly have in a variety of cities all at the same time a bunch of men wearing military gear without insignias, including bullet-proof vests, suddenly sprout up organically in the form of protests.
It’s kind of a heavy-handed approach, but an approach that Russia has familiarity with, having taken it in the past, including in the Soviet past. But it’s not fooling anybody. And it’s probably not fooling even that many people within Russia who are subjected to the controlled media in Russia where this kind of stuff is promulgated most broadly.
To the contrary, what we’ve seen is a general lack of support for or interest in the activities of protesters, even within the cities and regions of eastern Ukraine, where it’s taken place. We’ve seen rejection -- official rejection from local governmental bodies of the assertions of independence or autonomy that some of these alleged organic protest groups have made. And I have a little experience with this, and you know it when you see it, and it’s just not on the level.
Q Jay, Kansas shootings?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President speak about the terrible shooting in Kansas. He issued a statement yesterday and spoke about it this morning, and our thoughts and prayers go out the families and friends who’ve lost a loved one and everyone affected by yesterday’s shooting in Overland Park, Kansas.
The President has asked his team to stay in close touch with our federal, state, and local partners and to provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation. While we do not know all of the details surrounding the shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking. As you saw yesterday, the President offered his condolences to all of the families trying to make sense of this difficult situation. And he pledged the full support from the federal government as we heal and cope during this trying time.
I think you saw statements from the Department of Justice about how they are viewing this crime and investigating it, but for more details on that, I would refer you to them.
Q Well, now that they’ve said it is a hate crime, as have --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they're pursuing it as such, yes.
Q Did the President ask them to look at it in this light?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think the President had to. I think the Department of Justice, the Attorney General are fully capable of --
Q Is he surprised at a day and time like this, that a shooting like this, a hate crime like this could happen?
MR. CARNEY: I think he’s heartbroken by it. I think most Americans are. And I think you heard him address it this morning. It’s just terrible to imagine that this kind of thing could happen. Unfortunately, it happens too often.
Q May I follow on --
MR. CARNEY: I got to run. Thank you.
2:09 P.M. EDT
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