Daily Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 05/06/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here and for attending your daily briefing. I do not have any announcements at the top, so I will go straight to questions. Julie.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask about the climate report put out this morning. It paints a pretty grim picture of the impact of climate change on Americans’ lives. And some Republicans have said that you're trying to employ scare tactics in order to get more regulations and more spending. Putting the politics of their comments aside, I'm wondering if that actually is part of your strategy here, to basically try to scare Americans into dealing with the consequences of climate change.
MR. CARNEY: No. The purpose of the --
Q I'm scared. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: -- of the third National Climate Assessment is to provide information in a form that is understandable and comprehensive for Americans across the country to use and review, so that they can better understand the effects of a changing climate on their regions of the country and understand that the changing climate is creating impacts everywhere in the country, not just in isolated areas.
It's happening now. I think that is the bottom-line result of this assessment or point that the assessment makes. And it is a really remarkable document produced over the course of four years, much more comprehensive than its predecessors, and it makes clear that carbon pollution has increased dramatically in recent decades; that climate change is threatening human health and well-being through more extreme weather events, changes in disease transmission and decreased air quality; that severe droughts are leading to crop losses and wildfires in the West and the rate of sea level rise has sped up in recent decades. But the purpose of the report is not just to inform, but also to make clear that there are things we can do practically that can affect the direction of climate change and prepare us for the impacts of climate change.
As you know, the President issued a broad-based Climate Action Plan last June, announcing a series of executive actions to cut carbon pollution, prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global climate change. And he has been moving forward on that Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and -- for example, through the rules on power plants and to make federal lands available for renewable energy production, to support innovative and advanced fossil energy, as John Podesta spoke about yesterday, and to fund clean energy manufacturing.
I mean, one of the very encouraging signs that John talked about yesterday is not only are we producing more domestic oil than we're importing for the first time in so long, but we are now the largest natural gas producer in the world. And natural gas is a bridge fuel, fossil fuel that burns much more cleanly than traditional fossil fuels and it allows for reduced carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It also, the use of it, increases our energy security, our national security, which is a good thing.
And that is combined with -- as part of an all-of-the-above strategy the President has embraced that includes investing in renewable energy, reducing our carbon emissions, introducing new energy efficiency standards. I mean, one of the major accomplishments of the first term that is often overlooked was the new car rule that raises fuel efficiency standards and will essentially withdraw from the atmosphere an enormous amount of carbon pollution as a result. It will also save American car owners money, which is a good thing, obviously.
So all of this is part of a very clear-eyed look at the challenge we face as a nation and a world, but makes clear that there are steps that we can and should take to prepare for the impacts.
Q You were just talking about actions. Can you give us a sense of what the President is going to be announcing on Friday when he’s out in California? Is it basically going to be just rehashing what he’s doing today? Is he going to be making a policy announcement?
MR. CARNEY: Are you asking me if you have to work Friday and cover this?
Q Pretty much. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would never get ahead of the President so far in advance. I can tell you that he will talk about, broadly speaking, some of the efforts that we can make with the private sector to advance the aims of greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon emission. But beyond that, I'll leave it to the President and to further announcements from us as to what he's doing on Friday.
Q And then just on Russia. Lavrov said that Russia would be open to another round of international negotiations, but only if the pro-Russian insurgents that are in Ukraine could have a seat at the table. Can you foresee any scenario in which the U.S. would accept that?
MR. CARNEY: Russia committed itself in Geneva to a dialogue with the Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian government represents the people of Ukraine. The Ukrainian government -- in stark contrast to the approach taken by the Russian government, including Foreign Minister Lavrov -- has truly exercised both great restraint and demonstrated its seriousness about addressing some of the concerns that people living in the east and the south of Ukraine have with regards to their relative autonomy from the center, the protection of their civil rights. There is I think ample evidence that the Ukrainian government takes these issues seriously and wants to move forward in a way that’s peaceful.
The Russian government and the Russian -- pro-Russian separatists that have sowed so much violence and chaos in the east and the south have taken a different approach. I mean, this is not something you do -- you don’t establish decentralization or local autonomy by taking hostages, by occupying buildings, by shooting down helicopters, and by provoking violence against your fellow citizens. And I think Russia’s credibility here is most seriously in question.
What Russia needs to do is keep the commitments it made in Geneva, and among them is engaging in a dialogue with the Ukrainian government. Among them also is to use its influence with the pro-Russian separatist groups to get them to disarm and vacate the buildings they have occupied, and to take down the blockades that they’ve placed on roads, and to stop creating chaos, which is in an effort that is clearly aimed at trying to destabilize the presidential elections scheduled on May 25.
Our focus continues to be on supporting a free and fair presidential election on May 25 because that is the best demonstration of what this is all about, which is the right of a sovereign nation -- a sovereign democratic nation to empower its citizens to choose their own future through elections. And that’s what our focus has to be on, and that’s what the Ukrainian government’s focus is on. And we call on Russia to stop trying to destabilize Ukraine in the run-up to that election.
Q So that’s a no, you would not have talks with the pro-Russian insurgents?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think that -- it is absolutely not for an outside nation to dictate to a sovereign nation who its representatives are or how it should organize its government or its constitution. And I think that the conflict we have right here -- right now in Ukraine has to do with Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine is a sovereign state, a sovereign nation that has to be allowed to maintain its territorial integrity and to decide for itself its future on behalf of its citizens.
Q Back on climate, how do you plan to use the release of this report today to set the stage for the regulations you’re going to roll out in June?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any specific timetable for you on any regulations related to emissions. I can tell you that the purpose -- this is the next installment of a climate assessment that, in this case, is more comprehensive than its predecessors, but it’s not the first of its kind. And I think the purpose is to inform both you and, through you, the American people -- or even not through you, because Americans can go on the website and read -- and download the assessment themselves.
What is unique about it is the specificity that it provides to folks who want to find out about the impacts of climate change on their region of the country. And also, it’s the practicality of it when it comes to steps that can be taken to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to mitigate against them. This is a challenge that is real, and it’s not one that we are predicting awaits us in the future -- “we” being the scientists who assess this information -- but which is here facing us now and which presents us with challenges now and challenges that we can meet, and in so doing, can improve the way that we as a nation and the rest of the world handle the effects of climate change in the future.
Q And, secondly, there are a number of calls today for the resignation of the VA Secretary over the VA treatment of veterans. Is the President confident that he’s the person who can lead this review and fix what needs to be fixed there?
MR. CARNEY: As the President said last week, we take the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously. That’s why he immediately directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate. And Secretary Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review. We must ensure that our nation’s veterans get the benefits and the services that they deserve and they have earned. The President remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings.
Q Going along with that, I know that some have been trying to sit down and talk with Shinseki, including CNN -- we’ve been asking him for an interview since November. Why won’t he just come out and speak about this or talk to some of these interested parties?
MR. CARNEY: You’re asking me for an interview?
Q And, yes, can the White House direct him to --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the department for the Director’s schedule -- sorry, the Secretary’s schedule.
Q And also, there have been some calls today for the Nigerian President to accept international help that’s now been offered by the U.S. and by Britain. Does the White House feel like Nigeria is open to the help that is out there? And is it cooperating with efforts coming from elsewhere?
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you asked, because this morning, Secretary Kerry called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to reiterate our offer of assistance. President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response to this horrific event, these kidnappings.
Our embassy is prepared to form an interdisciplinary team that could provide expertise on intelligence investigations and hostage negotiations, could help facilitate information sharing and provide victim assistance. It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response. President Obama has directed that we do everything we can to help the Nigerian government find and free these girls. The President and Secretary Kerry will discuss this very issue in their meeting later today.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Ann.
Q Are you saying that the United States is actually going to send an additional -- offer of personnel? Seven months ago, when President Obama and President Jonathan sat down together in New York, President Obama said that we want to be cooperative in the process of building the capacity inside of Nigeria to deal with this dangerous group.
MR. CARNEY: With Boko Haram.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that is certainly the case.
Q What has happened in the last --
MR. CARNEY: This is in addition to -- this is the product of a conversation that Secretary Kerry had with the Nigerian President this morning, where he reiterated our offer of assistance. And President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the U.S. can help Nigeria in its response to this specific incident. So this would be a team that would be focused on this issue, not just on the broader Boko Haram challenge that Nigeria faces.
Q How would the United States assess what the Nigerian government has done so far? Has it been enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that it is certainly Nigeria’s responsibility to maintain the safety and security of its citizens. These girls were captured and kidnapped 22 days ago and time is of the essence. Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed.
We urge the Nigerian government to ensure that it is bringing all appropriate resources to bear in a concerted effort to ensure their safe return. We are absolutely committed to helping Nigeria, but it is the Nigerian government’s responsibility, first and foremost, to maintain the safety and security of its citizens. And we urge the Nigerian government to take action to ensure that it is bringing all appropriate resources to bear in the effort to find them and free them.
Q There are U.S. forces on the ground in Africa looking for Joseph Kony. Can you imagine American resources being used in that kind of sense?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re not considering at this point military resources. We would urge Nigeria to ensure that any operation to free the girls would protect civilians and human rights.
MR. CARNEY: Chuck.
Q Considering how much urgency there was in this climate report, is it fair to say the President regrets not bringing this same sense of urgency to the climate issue in the first term when he had a Congress that would have worked with him? He had to make choices, and I understand health care over politics of carbon issues, and they backed off of it. Is there regrets now considering -- this report definitely has an urgency to it, but the decision was made to pause in ’09 and ’10 on that front.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure you don't forget that we actually pushed legislation that did not make it through Congress --
Q -- did not make it through a Democratic Senate.
MR. CARNEY: Correct, and the Congress has not taken up this issue in a way that we obviously felt at the time was necessary. But what the President has demonstrated with his Climate Action Plan is that he is going to move forward using his executive authority. And this is an area I think many people recognize as one where he -- a President can have a significant impact using his executive powers. And he has done that. He has done that already in the car rule that was negotiated with all the major automobile manufacturers, and he has done that in the efforts that he’s undertaken to reduce carbon emissions and to invest in renewable energy, which was an action he did take.
One of the most neglected stories of the Recovery Act was the significant investment it represented in clean energy technology. And those investments have and will continue to pay off as part of the broad, all-of-the-above strategy to deal with our energy challenges.
So this President is looking for every avenue to address this important challenge. And I think you can see that reflected in the actions he’s already taken as part of his Climate Action Plan and the efforts that he will engage in. He’s absolutely always looking for partners, and that would include Congress. But as he has said repeatedly this year, if Congress is sitting still, he won’t.
Q Is there some part in this that the President realizes is a public relations campaign of sorts, to try to bring it -- does he believe that part of his job is to simply bring attention to this issue?
MR. CARNEY: I think, broadly speaking, this office, this building affords its occupants an opportunity to bring attention to issues that are priorities for the nation and the world. And I think that’s the case here.
Q This is a case where the public doesn’t see it as a priority. And I understand the President does. Is he hoping to sort of change that conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President feels that it is his responsibility as President, as Commander-In-Chief, to address the serious challenges that face the nation. And that’s reflected in his Climate Action Plan. That doesn’t make it a sole priority; far from it. As you know, his principal focus has and will continue to be on growing the economy, expanding the middle class, making sure that those who work hard to take care of themselves and their families are rewarded for that work and don’t have to live in poverty even as they work hard.
Those are his principal objectives, but this is a serious challenge and it needs to be addressed. He welcomes the release of the National Climate Assessment and notes, as we all do, what the assessment makes clear, which is that climate change is with us now and it’s having an effect now on all the regions of the country. And it also makes clear that there are steps we can take to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to mitigate against those impacts in the future.
Q On Nigeria, would you go so far as saying the Nigerian government is sort of standing in the way of U.S. help, the U.S. helping?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t say that. I would simply say that it is Nigeria’s responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure the safety of its citizens, and that these girls were abducted 22 days ago -- time is of the essence, obviously, in a situation like this.
Q The bottom line is we can’t help, though, until the Nigerian government lets us in -- that’s obviously the point you’re making.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know -- I think I noted that President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to help them work on this specific issue.
Q What does that mean, offered? He welcomes the offer, or he actually says, yes, we’ll take it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t speak for the Nigerian government, but we took it to mean that the offer was accepted.
Q That it was accepted?
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Okay. And one final question. There’s a senators-only briefing today on Ukraine. What are you -- can you at least give us -- tell us a little bit more about this briefing? Who’s giving the briefing? Is this --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure. We give briefings to members of Congress of both Houses on national security issues with great regularity. This would be an update on the situation as we see it in Ukraine, the efforts that we’ve engaged in with our partners to steer Russia towards a path of deescalation, the costs that we have imposed and are prepared to impose on Russia should Russia choose not to follow that path. I think that's -- it's an update on the situation and our policy towards it.
Q Jay, if I understood you correctly, you said the Nigerian government welcomed a team to come there to talk about how the United States could help. Is that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think before we can specifically and directly assist there needs to be a focused discussion on what forms of assistance are available and would be useful in this instance. First and foremost, this is obviously the Nigerian government’s responsibility. The President has directed that we do everything we can to help the Nigerian government to find and free these girls, which is why President Secretary Kerry made the offer to send this team, and we are gratified that President Jonathan welcomed that offer.
Q Just to tie together something I think Chuck was trying to get at, that if time is of the essence -- clearly it is -- it sounds as if the United States is offering to do more than the Nigerian government is willing to accept at this stage.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I wouldn't characterize it that way. I would say that there’s no question that --
Q It seems to be a very low-wattage effort, considering how time is of the essence. You can have that conversation anytime -- you can have it on the phone. You don't need to have a team go there to talk about how you're going to help.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that's a mischaracterization of what it would mean to send a team there of experts who would bring to bear specific knowledge about how to deal with these situations. As you know, and I said, the embassy is prepared to form an interdisciplinary team that could provide expertise on all the range of issues here that could be applied in the search for these girls and the effort to find and free them.
So that's pretty comprehensive. And what Secretary Kerry offered and what President Jonathan accepted will hopefully lead to further assistance being provided by the United States in this effort.
Q Sorry, when you said that he reiterated that offer, does that mean that the first time Nigeria didn’t really act on it or accept it?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department, but we have obviously made clear that we are prepared to help. I did yesterday make clear that the President had directed that we do everything we can to help. The specific from this call is that President Jonathan welcomed the Secretary’s offer to send a team. And we are interested in doing, as the President has directed his team to make clear, everything we can to help the Nigerian government find these girls and free them.
Q Various Russian officials have expressed skepticism about the capability of Ukraine to carry out the May 25th elections, saying it's hard to have an election after such chaos.
MR. CARNEY: Who’s expressed that?
Q Lavrov and I think some people speaking for Vladimir Putin have said that in the last couple of days.
MR. CARNEY: That's pretty rich, I would say.
Q Please continue.
MR. CARNEY: It is ironic to hear Russian governmental leaders say that it would be hard to have elections when there is chaos in the region that they, themselves, are helping to sow. The chaos we have seen in eastern and southern Ukraine is a direct result of Russian influence and intervention, and the direct result of the absence of an effort by Russia to use its influence on pro-Russian militants to persuade them to disarm and vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, and to cease perpetrating violence against their fellow citizens.
So it certainly isn’t a surprise to see Russian leaders question the ability of Ukraine to have an election because they have made clear I think in the actions that they’ve taken that they’re not particularly interested in Ukraine being able to exercise its sovereign right to hold a free and fair presidential election.
We and our partners as well as the Ukrainian government are focused on just that, which is making sure that Ukraine does have that ability. And it's important to remember that despite the violence and chaos that we've seen in some cities of Ukraine that the majority of the nation -- the significant majority of the nation -- is calm, and we expect that elections will proceed and that Ukrainians will be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote for a candidate for president. And it is very important that they be allowed to do so.
Q Would you say it's fair to characterize the debate over a carbon tax essentially dead for the foreseeable future and that the President will use regulatory means enshrined by the Supreme Court recent decisions and urge states and localities, as his report talks about, to adapt and take other actions to deal with climate change because the issue of a carbon tax effectively at the federal level is dead?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when you say the debate is dead -- I mean, we can't prevent people from talking about different options. We've made clear that we are not pursuing that and have not and have no plans to. So I suppose that would make its vivaciousness a little limited here. But there are numerous approaches that we can take and the President has -- that's probably a terrible use of the word, but --
Q I quite enjoyed it. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: There are the approaches that the President has already undertaken and will continue to undertake as part of his Climate Action Plan that have had an impact on carbon emissions, will continue to have a positive impact on carbon emissions, will have the added benefit of increasing our energy independence and security. And he is going to pursue all of them as part of his all-of-the-above approach to these matters.
And it is very important to look at this, as he does, as a whole -- that it’s about addressing America’s energy security and independence, it is about addressing the challenges of climate change, and they are part of the same whole, because if you increase your energy independence and you do so through the use of cleaner burning fossil fuels and investments in renewable energy and in the reduction of the use of traditional fossil fuels by raising fuel efficiency standards, you are also having a positive impact on the effects of climate change. And that's the approach the President has taken. And it has numerous benefits, and he’ll continue to push forward on.
Q Jay, a couple on Nigeria. I’m just trying to understand what the President and Secretary Kerry are going to discuss today. Are they discussing the composition, the size, the leadership, the rules of engagement -- for lack of a better term -- of the team that the embassy would put together?
MR. CARNEY: No, they're going to discuss the broader issue that was obviously the subject of Secretary Kerry’s conversation with the Nigerian President this morning. I obviously can’t read out a meeting that hasn’t happened yet, but my point was simply to make clear that this will be one of the topics of conversation in what is the regular standing meetings Secretary Kerry has with the President.
Q And then when you talked about the composition of this -- of the, I guess, potential embassy team, you said it would include U.S. military personnel, and then later you said we’re not considering at this point military resources. And I guess I don’t understand the difference.
MR. CARNEY: I think the distinction is I was asked would we be bringing essentially military force to bear or troops to bear, and we don’t -- we are not considering that at this point. But there are obviously -- there’s a utility to having U.S. military personnel as well as experts on intelligence and investigations and hostage negotiations to assist and advise the Nigerian government as they deal with this challenge.
Q You have cited substantial U.S. advances in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but what good is that if you don’t get reductions from China and India?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I guess two answers to that question. It’s no good at all if you don’t believe that climate change is real, so that’s where you have to start. But on the second point, it is absolutely essential that nations that produce high levels of carbon emissions be responsible in addressing this challenge. And that is something that we as a nation, at the level of President and below that level, discuss regularly with the Chinese and other nations that are producing increasing amounts of carbon emissions. Because your point is well taken that this has to be something that we address together with other nations around the world, and that’s the approach we’ve taken.
It still is additionally very valuable to our national security interests to reduce our dependence on imports of energy. It is absolutely in our national security interests and energy interests to diversify our sources of energy. And that is why, as I noted earlier, approaching this as a whole as opposed to addressing each piece of it is essential to improving both our preparation for the impacts of climate change and enhancing our capacity to actually mitigate the damage that climate change can cause.
Q Senator McConnell has accused the President of politics, basically pandering to a group he describes as “liberal elites who leave a giant carbon footprint and then lecture everybody else about low-flow toilets.” Do you have a response?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Jay. The National Security Advisor is going with a team of people to Israel in the coming days, and I just wonder whether we should interpret that as a sign that the Iran nuclear negotiations are reaching sort of a more critical phase. There’s been talk that at the next meeting of the P5 they’ll begin to sort of put down some ideas, draft ideas for the outline of the deal. Can you tell us a bit about the purpose of her trip and how that plays into the Iran nuclear talks?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. National Security Advisor Susan Rice will lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group meetings May 7th and 8th. The U.S. delegation includes senior representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, and the intelligence community. The U.S.-Israel Consultative Group meets regularly for strategic interagency consultations with senior members of the U.S. and Israeli governments to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional security issues.
Ambassador Rice looks forward to her first visit to Israel as National Security Advisor, and will attend bilateral meetings with President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu in addition to the Consultative Group meetings.
So this is a Consultative Group meeting that preexists Ambassador Rice’s visit and which she will be attending as the lead of the U.S. delegation. And it is reflective of the intense security cooperation that we have with Israel, and the commitment that the United States and, very strongly and in particular, this administration has to Israel’s security. Numerous members of the Israeli government have testified to the fact that there has never been greater cooperation, security cooperation between our two countries.
On the matter of Iran, there’s no question that that issue will come up. The U.S.-Israel Consultative Group meetings are strategic consultations designed to focus on Israel’s security. So it wouldn’t be the sole topic, but Iran would certainly come up in that regard in addition to other bilateral and regional topics.
What this meeting will not produce is any new development on the Iran front. It would be an opportunity for representatives from the United States and Israel at high levels to discuss that issue, among many others. Obviously we are involved very deeply in a P5-plus-1 process in pursuit of a comprehensive agreement to deal with the challenge posed by Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, but that process is not complete, and this will be more of a discussion and update on that situation.
Q David Barron’s nomination is slightly held up or something, and there’s a memo that apparently members of the Senate will be allowed to read. Do you have any more details or confirmation on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, sure. I can tell you that David Barron is an exceptionally qualified judicial nominee. He is a respected member of the Harvard Law School faculty, a former acting assistant attorney general at the DOJ, and a former Supreme Court clerk. He will bring outstanding credentials, legal expertise and dedication to the rule of law to the federal bench.
We defer to Leader Reid on the timing of votes on judicial nominees. I can confirm that the administration is working to ensure that any remaining questions members of the Senate have about Mr. Barron’s legal work at the Department of Justice are addressed, including making available in a classified setting a copy of the al-Awlaki opinion to any senator who wishes to review it prior to Mr. Barron’s confirmation vote.
It should be noted that last year, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had access to the memo. And in his committee vote, Mr. Barron received unanimous Democratic support. We are confident that David Barron will be confirmed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals and that he will serve with distinction.
Q On the Arkansas trip, will there be any announcements, or aid, or anything like that? Or is this really a consoler-in-chief meeting with people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President already issued a disaster declaration. And he looks forward to meeting with victims, their family members, first responders, and local and state government officials in the wake of this storm and these tornadoes. I don’t have a preview beyond that for what he’ll be saying or the issues that he may raise, but he certainly looks forward to the visit.
Q Interfax News Service in Russia have reported today that Mr. Putin is thinking about or discussing attending the Normandy anniversary of D-Day. If he does, would the President seek a meeting with him?
MR. CARNEY: The President and President Putin have spoken with some frequency over the past weeks since the situation in Ukraine arose and I don’t foresee a meeting. Obviously, you’re asking me to speculate, “if he attends, will there be.” But obviously, the commemoration at Normandy is of a hugely important historic event that represents enormous sacrifice by many nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, which was an ally in World War II, in the fight against the Nazis and the Axis powers. So I think that should be noted. But I don’t have any -- I can’t predict beyond the fact that that’s what the purpose of the visit is. I can’t add anything to that.
Q Do you know if Russia or our allies in Europe have suggested that the President --
MR. CARNEY: I certainly haven’t heard that. Again, I don’t think there is an absence of communication between the United States and Russia on this issue. There have been direct and multiple conversations between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. There have been direct and lengthy conversations between Presidents Obama and Putin. Our views are quite clear. They happen to coincide with the views of the vast majority of leaders in nations in the world about what’s happening in Ukraine and the unacceptable actions that Russia has engaged in. But I don’t see, again, an absence of communication to be the problem here.
Q Jay, just to follow up on the question about the meeting on the Hill about Ukraine, because there is legislation that Senator Corker has introduced related to tougher sanctions, as you know, and NATO status and all of that. Is this briefing going to also incorporate Republicans and brief them on the --
MR. CARNEY: I confess that although your colleague raised it, I wasn’t specifically aware of this briefing. I know that we brief members of Congress with some frequency on the situation in Ukraine and other such issues around the world. So I don’t know the makeup of the meeting or who’s attending. These kinds of meetings are meant for members of both parties as a rule and are focused on updating what we know about a situation like you have in Ukraine and what our policy approach is.
Q Do you happen to know whether the administration has conveyed to Senator Corker its disposition towards the legislation that he and I think it’s 22 or 23 other senators --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know about any specific conversation with Senator Corker. I think that we’ve made clear what our views are in terms of the approach that we’ve taken. We have, together with our European and G7 partners, taken steps to raise the costs on Russia for the actions that Russia has taken. And we are prepared, as the President said in the Rose Garden last week with Chancellor Merkel, to increase those costs through the imposition of more severe sanctions should Russia continue to pursue a path of destabilization and engage in an effort to undermine the free and fair presidential elections that will take place in Ukraine on May 25.
Q One quick follow-up on Nigeria. The interdisciplinary team or the group that you describe, are those personnel on the continent already? Because you were talking about how speed is really important here. How quickly could the United States get that team together to be helpful on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: Well, for more specifics, I would refer you to the State Department. This is reflective of the fact that the embassy is prepared to form such a team, and obviously that would include personnel on the ground -- U.S. personnel on the ground in Nigeria. But for more specifics, I think the State Department is best suited to answer.
Q Would you say it would be correct to say within days?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a timetable, I’m afraid.
Q With the Ukraine elections less than three weeks away, beside the threat of more stringent sanctions, what can the U.S. and her allies do in advance of May 25 to ensure that these elections do take place, and if they do take place, that they will be fair and they will be free?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that despite the provocations in the east, Ukrainian election preparations are on track countrywide, including voter registration, printing and distribution of ballots, the forming of local elections bodies, and the deployment of election observers. As in many other countries that hold elections despite ongoing violence, the Ukrainians are working to ensure that every voter is able to vote, including through the establishment of alternate polling sites -- and that includes for those in Crimea.
As I said earlier, the vast majority of Ukraine remains calm. Concurrent with this, Ukrainian officials continue their outreach to citizens in regions in the eastern part of the country about the government’s plan to establish decentralization and local autonomy, making clear that there are legitimate ways to reconcile any grievances local populations might have -- legitimate ways which contrast sharply with the tactics employed by pro-Russian militants and supported by Russia, violent tactics that include taking hostages and seizing buildings and setting up roadblocks.
There is, as I noted earlier, absolute evidence that the Ukrainian government has made an extra effort to indicate its commitment to addressing the concerns of local populations in the east, of implementing reforms that would decentralize power in Ukraine and provide greater local autonomy. And it is through that process, a political, peaceful, negotiated process, that these kinds of changes should occur. They should not happen at the end of the barrel of a gun. They should not happen as a result of intimidation or force -- certainly not intimidation and force supported and influenced by another nation, in this case Russia.
Q Regarding actually, the election day, can you share with us any information as to whether U.S. or her allies on any level in the region are supporting any form of monitoring of the elections there in Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: In terms of monitors? I think I would refer you to the -- we support the United Nations and OSCE and their efforts. I would refer you to the Ukrainian government for what I mentioned earlier, which was the efforts already underway to deploy election observers. I don't know the makeup of --
Q It’s up to them to invite these --
MR. CARNEY: They have, as a general matter, as we’ve discussed in the past, invited OSCE and United Nations monitors, and that was true in the run-up to the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and to the unrest that we’ve seen in the east. But for more specifics, I would refer you to the Ukrainian government.
Q Today Germany’s economic affairs minister talking in Rome, in a meeting G7 energy meeting, he said there is no quick fix for Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. So since Europe is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply, I’m wondering which kind of options will the U.S. offer Europe to relieve -- actually to relieve Europe if sanctions affect the supply?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that energy security is a collective responsibility. Secretary Moniz and his G7 counterparts in Rome agreed that our countries need to take concrete steps together and individually to make sure that no country can be susceptible to energy as a political weapon. They noted that energy security in today’s world depends not only on diversified supplies of energy, but also on diversified fuel sources, reliant energy infrastructure, open and transparent markets, highly energy-efficient technologies and low-carbon energy systems. Secretary Moniz and the energy ministers proposed to create a Rome G7 initiative for energy security for continued action to achieve this aim.
When it comes to the specific issue of Russian gas and the problem of Ukraine, we’ve addressed this in the past in terms of the surplus supplies that exist and also in terms of the impact on Russia, should it choose to further try to use gas supplies as a political weapon. But I don’t have anything new for you on that. And I think that it reflects the fact that the kinds of meetings that you -- the kind of meeting that you saw in Rome are necessary so that we address energy security in a collaborative, collective way.
Mike. Good to have you.
Q Thank you. Forgive the -- I'm still recovering from surgery. I was hoping to discuss something that could seem to be a bit of a contradiction. Today with the National Climate Assessment, the argument was that one of the measurable effects of climate change is short or warmer winters, and yet one week ago, in light of the first quarter GDP numbers, which were tepid, the explanation that was given by the White House was a “unusually severe winter.” In fact, the Council of Economic Advisers, using the measure of I think it was “home to green” days, “heating to green” days -- said it was the harshest winter in 60 years. Is this a contradiction? I mean, it could seem to some that the administration is going both ways when it comes to the weather.
MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of things. One, I would note that you haven’t lost your capacity to quip, even as you recover from surgery. But most importantly, I would say that the impacts of climate change on weather are severe in both directions. And there was much discussion about that around the so-called polar vortex that we experienced here and other areas of the country experienced. And I think that the fact that the severe winter that much of the country endured had an impact on GDP wasn’t an assessment that we here alone made, but economists, independent, on the outside, made and that nobody disagrees with.
The fact is that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change. But the increase in the severity of weather that we have seen is attributable, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists who study this issue, to the changing climate. And that has significant impacts on our nation, on our people, on our economy. You see longer, hotter, drier droughts. You see more severe storms, like we saw with Sandy. And it will only get worse, again, according to the science.
I understand that there is an inclination upon some to doubt the science, despite the overwhelming evidence and the overwhelming percentage in the 97 percent range of scientists who study this issue who agree that climate change is real and that it is the result of human activity. But that denial doesn’t help the country, the economy or the American people as it deals with a fact that is confronting us now, impacts that are real now.
The good news is that there are things we can do, practical things we can do to mitigate the challenges that climate change poses in the future, but also to prepare for the impacts that we are already experiencing and will experience because of climate change. And I think if you look at the National Climate Assessment, you can find a great deal of information that serves both points, to inform about what is real and what is happening and what is expected when it comes to climate change, and then also what steps we can take to address it.
Q Just so I can be clear on what you’re saying, are you saying then that that winter was an anomaly, an outlier?
MR. CARNEY: Mike, you can I think properly address scientists and people who study the climate with this question. I understand where it comes from, that people want to say it was a cold winter -- “people” being people who want to politicize this issue in the opposite direction. But who benefits from that? And I think it would be foolhardy to do that because the science is overwhelming, and to deny science is foolhardy in and of itself.
I think I got the hook, but I’ll go all the way to Laura.
Q Thank you. An hour ago, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said about Ukraine that the situation is extremely serious; “I’m calling all parties to deescalate.” Do you agree with the French position?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
That was easy. Have a good day, everybody. (Laughter.)
1:36 P.M. EDT
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