Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/31/2011
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Hope everyone is well on this cold and rainy day.
I don’t have much. I just wanted to -- to start with, rather -- I just wanted everyone to take note of the fact that this morning at 6 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, 12 days after the launch of the military action in Libya, NATO took sole command of international air operations over Libya. The alliance effort, dubbed “Operation Unified Protector,” has assets in place and is now leading efforts to enforce the arms embargo and the no-fly zone, and to protect Libyan civilians. As you’ll remember, the President pledged to the American people at the start of our effort in Libya that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead in days and not weeks. And again, as I began, this happened 12 days into the operation.
And with that, I will take questions -- from the Associated Press.
Q Thank you, Jay. Let me --
Q You always start with them. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, what was the time?
Q Greenwich Mean Time?
MR. CARNEY: Six a.m. Greenwich Mean Time.
Q And is “Odyssey Dawn” done?
MR. CARNEY: The mission as I understand it has a new name, I believe. But the people who get to name the missions, you should ask them.
Q It’s a good job. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, on --
Q You’re losing control.
Q -- something you just said there, about limited in duration, I mean, the President has talked about the mission being limited, not putting ground troops in, the U.S. role on the front end, transferring responsibility. But how could you say it’s limited in duration? How do you know when the U.S. role will end?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the lead role that the United States took at the beginning, the quite substantial role that the United States took because of its unique capacities to shape the battlefield, to create conditions under which a no-fly zone could be enforced effectively, and also to take measures very quickly that would protect Libyan civilians was very limited in duration, and the transition has now taken place.
More broadly, the President believes that the mission itself will be limited in duration, but of course we don’t have crystal balls and we cannot predict when it will end, and it is obviously also part of a coalition effort that the United States is engaged in.
But the point that I was making at the top is that the substantial role that the United States played at the beginning, because of its unique capacities, has ended, the transition has taken place, in days, not weeks.
Q Okay, but on that broader point, the President you said also believes that the overall mission will be limited in duration, even with the U.S. in a support role. What gives you confidence that it would be limited? How do you know?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know, we can’t predict, and obviously this could go on for a certain amount of time. The scope of the U.S. involvement will be limited. But the -- we remain confident that the Libyan people will be able to decide their future -- they certainly should be -- and that we are taking measures, separate from the military mission, together with our international partners, to put the kind of pressure on Muammar Qaddafi that needs to be placed on him to isolate him, to bring him -- help bring him to the conclusion that he can no longer stay in power, and that for the good of his people and for the good of Libya’s future, he needs to step aside.
And I think that an important bit of news that’s happened in the last 24 hours is the defection of one of his most trusted aides. If there was ever a sign that the sort of inner circle surrounding Muammar Qaddafi was crumbling, it was the defection of Moussa Koussa yesterday to the United Kingdom. So we believe that the pressure is obviously having an effect, and we will keep it up with our partners.
Q One other question. On the issue of arming the rebels, the President has said that that issue has not been ruled in or out, something you underscored in a statement yesterday. So as the White House weighs that option with its partners, I’m wondering about the broader policy issue. Is that something -- arming the rebels -- that the White House thinks is consistent with the U.N. resolution? Is that a humanitarian option?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is the -- the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians, and obviously the United States was a participant in that and continues to be.
The United States with its partners are also looking at various ways to help support the opposition. We are already taking measures that are non-lethal and looking at ways that we can help the opposition through humanitarian assistance and other non-lethal things that we can do to help them. And we are meeting with the opposition, as the Secretary of State has on several occasions now.
So the decision -- a decision on whether or not assistance would include weapons has not been made. We haven’t ruled it in or out, but it’s clearly something that is under consideration.
Q And consistent with the U.N. resolution?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Jay, on the budget talks, now that a number has emerged, everybody is negotiating about the details. What are the President’s red lines? What are the things in the budget that he is absolutely going to protect? I know you’ve talked about education and research and development, but could you be more specific about that? And also, what about some of these things like the EPA budget, enforcing greenhouse gas emissions -- are those things things you’re really going to go to the mat for?
MR. CARNEY: You’re right that the negotiations for the budget, the continuing resolution to fund the enforcement of this fiscal year, are ongoing and we’re engaged in them. The Vice President, as you know, was on the Hill last night and spoke to reporters afterwards. We believe that there is -- and I think Speaker Boehner also echoed this today -- that there is a general agreement on a target figure, which I think demonstrates some positive momentum here that shows that -- the willingness the President has shown and the Democrats have shown to go beyond their comfort zone to accept things that in an ideal world they would not have to accept but are willing to accept because they believe that the American people expect us to find common ground and reach a deal -- they are doing. And now the Republicans have indicated that they, too, are willing to do that, and that is a positive sign.
A lot has to be negotiated between here and there, but we remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached.
The President -- to go to the rest of your question -- has made clear in a statement of administration policy in reaction to the passage of House Resolution 1 that there are lines that obviously he will not cross; that there are fundamental investments in education, research and development, infrastructure that need to be made in order to keep the economy going, to keep this fragile recovery that we’ve been experiencing that has led to economic growth and job creation -- to keep it going.
Because no budget deal is worth the paper it’s printed on if it doesn’t help the economy. That’s the President’s fundamental principle as he approaches this. But he has shown himself willing to reduce spending, reduce the deficit. He thinks it’s important and he has shown himself willing to make choices, make tough choices that he would not make in an ideal situation. And he thinks that everyone needs to do that and the American people expect that. They expect that we can get this done.
With all the issues that we’re facing right now, not to be able to come to an agreement to fund the government, to reduce spending for the next six months, just doesn’t seem acceptable, and the American people shouldn’t find it acceptable. If everyone is reasonable, everyone works hard, we can get this done.
Q Can you talk about what his role has been behind the scenes? As you know, there are some who say that he’s stayed too far above the fray. What is he actually doing? I know the Vice President was up on the Hill and has been involved in the details of this, but --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President -- there have been meetings and phone calls that I have read out and others have read out that the President has participated in, led, made on the budget. He continues to be engaged and to meet on this subject with his senior advisors regularly. And I think it’s important to note that the Vice President, who is the number one surrogate for the President, was up on the Hill last night working on this and has spoken with Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid recently. This is a high level of engagement from the White House.
Within the context of the fact that this is a process that Congress has to produce -- we don’t, from the White House, pass legislation. We’re an active participant. But we obviously are not the sole participant.
Q Lindsey Graham last night raised concern in an interview with Wolf Blitzer that once the U.S. transitions to only a support role and its NATO command, that U.S. weaponry, ships, yadda, yadda, yadda, will not be able to fly -- will not be able to be used under NATO command. How would that work?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to NATO and the Defense Department. But we are part of NATO. We are obviously an important part of NATO. The supreme commander of Europe is an American. But this is a coalition effort here. We are not in the lead anymore, as the President made clear in his initial statement and again when he spoke to the people on Monday night.
But as to what assets the United States military continues to use, I would refer you for specifics to the Defense Department. But we’ve made clear that we continue to participate with intelligence, with jamming, with refueling. I mean, we are still obviously a participant in the coalition.
Q Secretary Gates today said that the opposition in Libya needs training and command and control assistance, but that someone other than the United States should do it. Does the President agree with that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he does. And I think that what we have made clear is that there are no boots -- I mean, rather that U.S. troops will not go into Libya, that the President made that clear when he announced U.S. military action and he made it clear again the other night. There are forms of assistance we can provide to the opposition, working with our coalition partners. But he has no intention to put U.S. military personnel, U.S. troops on the ground in Libya.
Q Jay, MoveOn has joined with former senator Russ Feingold’s group in calling for the GE CEO to resign from the President’s job council. In a statement they released yesterday, they said that this is a slap in the face to every hardworking, taxpaying American. Can you respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure -- you probably know, but I’ve taken this question in a variety of forms over the past few days, and I would simply make the point that the President did not create the jobs council so that he could have a lot of people who agree with him on every issue sit around a table and tell him how much they agree with him on every issue. He wanted a diverse group of people that could bring diverse opinions to the table to talk about measures that we could take -- and that business could take -- to increase American competitiveness and create jobs.
On the issue of taxes, corporate taxes, the President has made clear that he believes we need to reform our corporate tax system. He believes we need to -- that we can lower our corporate tax rate without diminishing revenues if we go after a lot of the loopholes that exist, a lot of the complexity in the tax code that exists. And he’s committed to doing that, and I believe that some portion of the membership of the jobs council is probably committed to doing that, maybe a large portion.
So that’s his position on this.
Q What about the optics of this? What sort of message does that send to Americans to keep him on that council?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- look, there is no question the people who are -- who read that story, and I believe it was The New York Times, might say, what the heck, I don’t get this. And it is -- the President shares that opinion in the sense that he believes that our corporate tax structure needs to be reformed to be simpler, and that the purpose behind it would be fairness and competitiveness -- principally competitiveness -- to drive the kind of economic growth and competitiveness we need to create jobs and win the future economically against a pretty competitive playing field.
Q One more on Libya. Our reporters on the ground there are seeing that the opposition is publicly starting to echo what a lot of them are seeing on the ground, and that we’re -- they’re asking, where are the air strikes?
If that is the stance now, then what’s going to happen when the U.S. scales back?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the transition has occurred, first of all; let’s make that clear. Secondly, this operation continues, this military operation continues. I think NATO and the Defense Department would be able to give you more specifics. There are a variety of reasons, as I understand it, as a layperson on this, about how missions are flown and when and why. But the commitment to protecting Libyan civilians is as firm today as it was last week, and the mission will continue.
Q Jay, following up on the Gates question, correct me if you have a different interpretation, but I believe he went beyond just saying no boots on the ground, and he was asked about equipping the rebels. And he said if there’s going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States. It sounded like he was saying he does not want to arm or equip the rebels.
MR. CARNEY: Well, just on what you read to me, there’s no contradiction at all. There are of course obviously plenty of sources for equipment to the opposition besides the United States. But what the President has said and what his position is, is that he has not ruled in or out this notion.
Q Was Gates ruling it out?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t hear him rule it out. I think he made a statement of fact that obviously there are other sources for assistance to the opposition that exist in the world besides the United States.
Q Well, that’s kind of parsing his words. I think he was saying it should be other sources than the United States.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m just -- the point is what the President said is that he’s not ruling it in or out. The fact that we are working together with a coalition, and how assistance, whether it’s non-lethal or lethal, the origin, source of origin of it, how it’s put together and packaged, whether it’s medical supplies or, if that decision were to be made, military equipment, is something for the coalition itself to decide.
I think the point is, we are part of this effort. It is not a unilateral United States effort, and that is a good thing, for a variety of reasons, not just because sharing the burden with our allies reduces costs and risk for American -- for the American military, and not just because we have a lot of other commitments around the world, but because the President is focused, in this and in all things, on the end result. And he believes that working together with coalition partners that include the Arab -- that include Arab nations, the Arab League, and our partners in NATO at the United Nations, enhances the chance of success, that this will end well. And that was the approach he took to Egypt, and it’s the approach he took around the region, and it’s the approach he takes, frankly, to domestic issues as well as international ones -- that the point is not to do or say what feels good today, from a political point of view. It is to make decisions and evaluate your options and make choices based on where you hope a situation will end, and you hope it will end -- with a goal of having it end in a way that is best for the American people and U.S. interests.
Q Are the President and his advisors getting more information every day about who the rebels are?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q And what is the understanding, as of today, of who the rebels are?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to give you a dissection of all of the opposition groups. It’s obviously -- there’s a certain amount of diversity there. What I can tell you is that the leaders of the council that the Secretary of State has met with and that the -- are saying the right things, they have been vetted by us and our partners, and they are committing themselves, through their statements, to a process that we would support, a process that embraces democratic reform, that embraces free and fair elections, that espouses tolerance, that embraces universal rights of freedom of assembly and speech, the right to petition your government, the right not be assaulted by your government when you are peacefully petitioning. So these are all good things.
Q Right, but the people on the ground who are actually doing the fighting, what do you know about them, and is there anything more on the “flickers” of al Qaeda?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are learning as we go more and more about the opposition in Libya.
Q And are you getting good news and bad news?
MR. CARNEY: And what is important to remember is that this is a broad and diverse opposition. And I mean that in the sense that as we saw in other countries, these are lawyers, doctors, merchants, agricultural workers, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. This is not a single segment of society or slice of society that represents only a small constituency. The opposition to Qaddafi is widespread and broad in Libya.
But to answer your question specifically, we continue to evaluate that, and as the President makes decisions about our engagement with the opposition and the kind of assistance we would provide to it, he is obviously eager for more information about them.
Q Last question. Are there ongoing discussions on the possibility of changing the goal here to actually, at some point, saying the military goal is to remove Qaddafi? Are there any --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q There are no discussions of that?
MR. CARNEY: No. We have been very clear. And the point is, again, to go back to what your end goal here is, does the United States have the capacity to unilaterally with military force produce regime change in Libya or another country? It probably does. We probably do. Is that a desirable action to take when you have your eye on the long game here in terms of Libya’s future, the future -- the interests of the United States and the region? No. It is best to pursue the policy the President has chosen to pursue, which is the coalition backing military force with a limited mission aimed at protecting Libyan civilians, in response to the request from the Libyan opposition, requests from the Arab League, and in concert with our partners in the United Nations, separately pursuing, as a political, diplomatic, economic policy, the idea that Qaddafi is no longer fit to lead and should step down, and pursuing all those measures unilaterally and collectively that help drive towards that goal.
This is a decision that he thinks is the right course, and he thinks that one of the reasons why he looked forward to speaking with the American people Monday night was to spell out his decision-making process and why he chose the path he chose -- because he thinks it has the best chance of producing the best result for the American people.
Q Jay, if the President decides to arm the rebels, is there concern about who trains them?
MR. CARNEY: You’re getting your “if, if” compound hypothetical -- and I would simply say that most of the questions surrounding this issue are very sensible, as is yours. These are -- these issues are what you would expect a President, his national security advisors and others to analyze and discuss. But we haven’t even gotten to the point of making a decision on providing military assistance.
So I think you can expect that part of the evaluation process of a decision like that would include these very legitimate questions.
Q You broke down some of the opposition. Have there been any discoveries in terms of al Qaeda or extremists who are fighting against Qaddafi’s regime?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that it almost goes without saying that because the opposition to Qaddafi is so widespread and diverse within Libya that there are people there who oppose Qaddafi and are actively working for his downfall who don’t necessarily support the United States and whom we would not support. That is not the opposition leadership, but it must surely be the case in an opposition that broad in that region.
But I would also note that Ambassador Rice made the point, I think, on Fox yesterday that we have not seen anything to be of great concern with regards to al Qaeda. And I say that, and she says that, and others say that within the context of understanding that of course al Qaeda and AQAP [AQIM] and others will always be looking for opportunities to exploit unrest and turbulence in the region. And we expect that and we look for it and we watch for it every day.
Q On the CR, is it safe to assume the White House is concerned about making sure that Democrats on the Hill are with you?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe that Democrats on the Hill are with us and that the Democrats on the Hill have demonstrated their willingness to make the tough choices to go beyond their starting position, in terms of the kind of spending cuts that were envisioned for this fiscal year, precisely because they, too, believe that we need to get this done, cut spending, and fund the government for the rest of the year so that we don’t do anything that interrupts or disrupts or harms the economic growth we’ve been seeing, and that we get on to some of these bigger issues that need to be addressed and the American people expect us to tackle.
So I think we are obviously working with Democrats, we’re working with Republicans, and we’re driving towards a goal that should not be that hard to reach as long as we focus on a funding bill, spending cuts that we all can agree on, and then get it done.
Q Well, I ask because the Vice President came out of a meeting with Senate Democrats. It wasn’t like he had left the meeting with the Speaker. So I was just --
MR. CARNEY: No, but he had, I think, as I pointed out from here yesterday, he did recently speak with the Speaker of the House on the phone as well as Majority Leader Reid. And our conversations with Republicans at the leader and staff level continue all the time.
Q Two questions. Does CIA assets in Libya equate to -- not count as troops on the ground, boots on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I think you know, and you knew before you asked that question, that I will not and cannot discuss intelligence matters from the podium.
Q Do boots on the ground only stand for military?
MR. CARNEY: Again, what the President has made clear is that he will not send, has not sent and will not send American troops on the ground into Libya. And that is his position and it has not changed.
Q From this podium I think it was three weeks ago you did talk about an expansive list of American intelligence capabilities being used in Libya. Does that still stand?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in a broad sense, we obviously use our intelligence capabilities and, as I’ve talked about, in our role after this transition that we will continue to provide intelligence capabilities to the coalition in the broader effort of enforcing U.N. Resolution -- U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. But what I won’t talk about is intelligence matters or specific intelligence operations. I just -- it cannot be done.
Q When was the last time somebody from the administration briefed Congress and the Intelligence Committee about anything you guys might be doing on Libya?
MR. CARNEY: There’s plenty of things I could say about this, but regularly and frequently.
Q And on the CR, you guys usually say you don’t want to negotiate in public, so why did Vice President Biden last night announce the number as if it’s a done deal in order --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, he --
Q Was this a way to sort of put Speaker Boehner on the record to say no deal?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think if you look at what the Vice President said, which the Speaker echoed, is that we have agreed on a target number and that nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. I think they both used that phrase, probably. And I think that the Vice President was simply demonstrating that progress is being made, that a lot of work needs to be done, but the American people should take heart in the fact that people are rolling up their sleeves and trying to get this done. And we understand that there are issues that need to be resolved and that there’s not a lot of time here to waste and --
Q Are you disappointed that Speaker Boehner said there’s no agreement?
MR. CARNEY: No, he said that -- what the Vice President also said, there’s no agreement until everything is agreed upon. But there is a target number and --
Q So you feel like they’re in agreement in what they said --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I think that the Speaker echoed what the Vice President said. And neither the Vice President -- well, I will speak for the Vice President. I know the Vice President would not disagree with the idea, and did not last night, that there are hurdles to clear before we get from here to a deal, but that there is progress being made.
And, look, the number is significant but it is not the matter of sole significance. There is a content of how you get to that number that’s very important and obviously needs to be fully negotiated.
Q But Speaker Boehner is saying that there is no agreement on a number, where the Vice President is saying there is an agreement on a number. So --
MR. CARNEY: I think what the Vice President said is there is a target number that we have --
Q And the Speaker is saying that’s not --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s not how I read what he said. I think that what we --
Q He said there’s no agreement on numbers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, but I think -- I don’t want to interpret what the Speaker said. What I believe is that the Vice President made clear, and we’ve made clear, that obviously we do not have a deal but that there is a target number from which the details can be worked out.
And, look, let’s just say that that is the target number. It represents quite a substantial movement by the President and the Democratic Party, and we believe also necessary movement by the Republicans, because the --
Q What makes you think that he’s not -- he’s just --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate the final deal here, and it’s obviously possible that -- like I said, there are hurdles to get there -- that a deal will not be made. But what is clear is that the issues that remain to be debated are not about -- look, we have a very large budget. It is -- I don’t think the American people will be very satisfied with their representatives in Washington if they can’t reach an agreement in a budget our size, the size of the United States’ budget, over a few billion dollars.
So the number should not be the source of a problem here. Obviously how you get to that number is important and that’s what needs to be worked out.
Q So what is the biggest obstacle in the budget --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate the individual items of the budget here. There’s obviously a lot of work to be done, but there is progress that has been made.
Q Is the Vice President still the lead negotiator for the White House?
MR. CARNEY: We have a team of highly skilled negotiators that includes Jack Lew -- been around this track before; Gene Sperling -- another veteran of a bygone era when Democrats and Republicans came together, balanced -- reached a budget agreement that eventually led to the only budget surpluses we’ve seen this country in a long time. But obviously the Vice President is very engaged, the President is very engaged, and everybody is a player.
Q Did the President ask him to go last night?
MR. CARNEY: We all serve the President.
Q How can it be progress when Speaker Boehner is saying that he still thinks Democrats want a government shutdown rather than giving on budget cuts?
MR. CARNEY: We do not believe that any of the leaders in the Congress, Democratic side or the Republican side, want a shutdown, because we believe that the folks we’ve been talking to understand that a government shutdown would harm the economy, would affect our ability to create jobs and might upset this fragile economic recovery that we have been experiencing. It’s simply not the case.
And I think that House Republicans passed a resolution, as I think the Speaker pointed out, and no contesting that, and that resolution went down in the Senate. It’s not viable. Senate Democrats put forth a bill that did not pass. It’s not viable. We are now finding common ground. That is the goal of these negotiations.
Q On Libya, would you expect the U.S. to seek to question Moussa Koussa?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that this is a development that happened fairly recently. I would note that the United Kingdom has said that no immunity has been given to Mr. Koussa, and I think that we obviously are consulting with our British allies on this. But I have nothing specific on that.
Let me move through the line here.
Q Jay, back to the CR for a moment. There have been some suggestions up on the Hill as recently as this morning that while the talks on the budget have centered mostly on discretionary items so far, some of them -- some people have wanted to move to taxes. Is there any room for the White House to move on taxes, or agree to some tax increases or revenue enhancers on this CR? Or are you maybe saving that more for the 2012 budget debate?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you about this CR is that we believe -- we are open to ideas to getting to a resolution of this issue. But whatever we are able to do in the six remaining -- funding of the six remaining months of fiscal year 2011 will not, obviously, address in any complete way -- cannot possibly -- the need for longer-term reform of entitlement programs and tax reform, tax expenditures, and the drivers of long-term debt.
And so those issues will obviously be -- whatever the contents, the individual elements that help reduce the spending in the CR agreement that we hope we reach, there will still be much work to do on these longer-term issues. And we think those are very important issues, and the President wants to engage in that process, again, in a bipartisan way, because there’s no other way to get it done.
Q So they should be considered off the table.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t --
Q I understand --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate the particulars of that deal. What I can tell you is that whatever pieces are part of the pie -- slices are part of the pie in the CR for 2011 -- will not satisfy the need for broader -- to more broadly address tax reform and tax expenditures, Medicare and Medicaid, strengthening Social Security, and some of the other drivers of our long-term debt. And those issues will remain on the table. And I would simply -- I would point to the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget proposal that actually contains some of those issues within them, also not the final word, not everything that needs to be done. But he has demonstrated, as he did with the Affordable Care Act and other measures he has taken, his understanding that we need to address some of the drivers of these long-term debt issues. And health care spending is one of them.
Q Jay, I have a question about the riders. There’s an AP story that yesterday the President left open the possibility in a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus that he would accept at least one of the EPA riders. I’m wondering --
MR. CARNEY: That story is false.
Q Okay. Are you --
MR. CARNEY: It was not discussed. And I believe the chairman of the CBC -- I was told, anyway, before I came out here -- made that clear earlier today.
Q But on the issue of the riders, are you insisting on a clean, rider-free CR? Or are you open to some riders, so long as they don’t violate your important priorities?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll be honest with you, Mara, I’m not even sure what a rider -- you know, what we are -- what the President has said, and what I have said, is that this is not the appropriate vehicle, a budget resolution, a budget funding bill, to -- on which to stack a lot of contentious ideological or politicized issues that honestly will derail the process.
We need a deal -- the American people expect us to get a deal. And if members of Congress on some of these issues that they feel strongly about want a debate on some of these issues, then they should write a bill and it should be debated in the House or the Senate accordingly. But it should not -- those issues that are -- make a deal extremely hard to get and probably impossible should not be a part of a partial-year funding bill. It simply should not be.
But I’m not going to go into lines of the budget. Thank God, it’s not my -- that’s not my job. (Laughter.)
Q On the overall number, the target number, which seems very close to what the original Boehner-Ryan number was before they got kind of pulled to their right by their freshmen, do you -- does the President have any thoughts about the fact that the original instincts of the Speaker and his budget chair are now the center of this budget debate?
MR. CARNEY: I think the point I would make about that is what -- it demonstrates the fact that the President is committed to reducing spending, to cutting spending and reducing the deficit. We -- Democrats, Republicans, the President -- that is not a debate. We are committed to it. And we have shown ourselves willing to make hard choices. The President has shown himself willing to make tough choices to reduce spending and to get an agreement, because he thinks the American people expect us to do that and to be reasonable. I think spitball fights are not what the public want at all.
Q But if it turns out that the number that Boehner and Ryan put forward was a reasonable number.
MR. CARNEY: That’s an interesting point. Obviously the content of how you get to that number is very important too. I mean, how you -- what you choose to cut says a lot about what your priorities are. And the President has made very clear what his priorities are and what cannot -- what he would not find acceptable, because he thinks it is -- it would be mad, insane to cut education, which is so foundational to our future economic growth; to reduce -- to cut research and development spending. To go after those things that drive economic growth, create jobs would be foolhardy.
Q And I just have one quick question on the boots on the ground issue. Granted they’re not going to be ours, but does the President now believe, given what he’s seen about the rebels’ capabilities and behavior, and what we know historically about the limits of air power, will boots on the ground from somebody be necessary?
MR. CARNEY: What I would point you to is that one of Muammar Qaddafi’s most trusted aides jumped ship. And I think that is the most significant development of the past 24 hours, in terms of an indicator of where this is headed. Again, I’m not predicting that this won’t take a certain amount of time or -- but it is -- when you look at trend lines, rather than measuring who’s driving along what road in which direction, what series of pickup trucks are going in which direction at any given time, the point is the pressure on Qaddafi is intense. The people around him are realizing that their days -- the days of this regime are numbered. The NATO mission continues.
There are a lot of factors that go into the kind of operations that can be implemented on any given day at any hour, in terms of enforcing the no-fly zone and enforcing the provisions of civilian protection. But the trend, I think, is in a positive direction.
Q I mean, yes, but does the -- has the President reached any conclusions about whether somebody’s boots, not ours, will be needed on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: He has not.
Q He has not, okay.
MR. CARNEY: Jackie, did you have a question?
Q Yes, I did. To follow up on that, does the -- the defector, do we have a policy -- does the United States have a policy as to whether, since he has not asked for immunity from prosecution for war crimes or crimes against humanity, regardless of what help he may provide by way of intelligence, do we think he should be prosecuted for those?
MR. CARNEY: What I would tell you is that the investigation of Lockerbie continues. And obviously new information and new facts I’m sure will be looked at. But this is a relatively new development. We take note of the fact that the British have said that no immunity deal has been made. And we are consulting with the British on this issue.
Q May I follow up?
MR. CARNEY: Jon-Christopher. My guess is my answer is going to be exactly what I just said.
Q Well, it is, but I want to mention the “E” word, if you don’t mind, whether or not the U.S. considers extradition since he did -- he was, by many, considered responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. You can give the same answer if you like. I’m happy with that.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll try to --
Q I want to get specific on --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll mix it up. This was a new development, Jon-Christopher, and the -- I would simply say that no immunity has been granted. Mr. Koussa chose to sever his ties with Muammar Qaddafi, which we think is a significant development and demonstrates the circumstances of Qaddafi’s regime. And we’re consulting with the British about this. But I don’t have any --
Q Possibility of --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going into details of what -- there’s an investigation into Lockerbie, if that’s specifically what you’re talking about. And I don’t want to prejudge any actions.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q And one on a budget issue. As you know, there’s a number of proposals that Democrats in Congress are talking about to get revenues, so I’m following up on a tax question -- to get revenues from wealthy taxpayers -- and one would be a surtax on millionaires. Would the President consider something like a surtax on millionaires something that he couldn’t agree to through 2012 because of his -- the deal he cut with congressional Republican leaders in December to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think I have an answer to that question because I -- but what I can tell you is that the President’s 2012 budget proposal addresses the need to end the extension of the tax break for those who make a substantial amount of money, precisely because we can’t afford to continue that tax break in a situation where we have long-term debt issues and deficit issues. But on that specific provision, I don’t have a presidential position.
Q Hi. The president, or the head, of Walmart says that there’s very serious inflation coming in food, clothing, retail. He says there’s already -- inflation is coming on at a rapid rate. Is that something that the President’s own economic advisors have warned him about? Is there anything that the President of the United States can do to rein in a flood of inflation coming through?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously the President has his own economic team, and he studies and reads up on the forecasts of economists outside the government. But I have not, in the meetings I’ve been in with him involving economic discussions, have not heard any reference to those particular forecasts.
We watch these things very closely, and obviously one price that has gone up substantially, which is why -- which was an issue he addressed in a major speech yesterday, had to do with oil and gas prices.
So -- but I haven’t heard -- I don’t have any reaction to that.
Q This is a businessman who says they are already seeing inflation at a rapid rate moving through those corporate --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I haven’t heard that discussed with the President.
Q Is there anything the President can do?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed that with the President. I think that what the President can and is doing is pursuing economic policies that represent sound policies to drive growth and create jobs. But in terms of one person’s prediction about inflation, I don’t have a reaction to that.
Q Thank you, Jay. This mission in Libya was described as one that would protect civilians, stand up a no-fly zone. Has there already been some mission creep, in the sense that we’ve got bombs landing near Qaddafi’s residential compound, we have destruction of armor, destruction of tanks, cruise missile attacks? Was there any embroidering of the way this mission was sort of sold to the public?
MR. CARNEY: Peter, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 specifically says -- authorizes the use of all necessary measures to protect the civilian population of Libya. All necessary measures includes going after the assets of Qaddafi’s forces that were being used and are continuing to be used to attack Libyan civilians. So, no creep.
Q Do you accept the premise of my question?
MR. CARNEY: I do not. (Laughter.) Actually, I heard the question, and I answered it.
Q He used the “C” word.
Q One about the budget negotiations. There’s a lot of heated rhetoric being thrown around on both sides of this issue in the public. Is that being mirrored privately? Is Speaker Boehner and other negotiators, are they going into the room and saying a lot of the things that they’re saying to reporters outside of the room?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve had productive conversations with Democrats and Republicans about the choices that we have to make, the time frame that we’re operating under, and we hope to continue to have those productive conversations and meetings.
There’s always heated rhetoric in Washington. I think that your heat scale has to be -- sort of tolerate a certain level that’s inevitable but --
Q Where’s the heat scale?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a precise measure today, but I think that our overall perception at the moment -- and this is clearly fluid and there are a lot of issues to be dealt with -- is that there continues to be reason to be optimistic that if those people in the room who are negotiating are all focused on the idea that there is room for compromise, there is a deal that can be had here, that this should not be that hard, given the challenges that we face, that we’ll get a deal. And that’s what matters -- not the rhetoric that’s delivered outside the room.
Q So when you say that the negotiations have been productive, are you saying that Speaker Boehner has been cooperative in private and that your relationship at the White House is -- or the relationship between him and the White House is functioning well?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve had a lot of conversations with the Speaker of the House, with other leaders in the House and in the Senate. The Speaker of the House is the leader of the Republican Party in the House, the House Republicans, and he was elected by his caucus to lead, and we obviously are negotiating with him and have had productive conversations with him.
Q When was the last time that Speaker Boehner and the President spoke on this issue or on another?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to check. It certainly wasn’t very long ago.
Q Jay, a couple questions. What is the involvement with AFRICOM now that operations have been transferred to NATO?
MR. CARNEY: I honestly think you need to ask the Department of Defense. I don’t know what AFRICOM’s involvement is. It’s obviously a significant command within the U.S. military, but I don’t know within the structure now with the NATO lead what role AFRICOM plays.
Q What I’m asking is, is AFRICOM somewhat a support, like a fallback support for things they may not have? Because my understanding that we have intelligence things that the world body doesn’t have. We have things that they just don’t have. And are we still going to be a fallback, a fall guy --
MR. CARNEY: We are providing in many ways unique -- even in a support role, unique capabilities that we have in terms of intelligence and jamming and refueling tankers and things like that. What I simply don’t know is where those assets are coming from and who’s commanding them within the U.S. military structure. It could be AFRICOM -- I just don’t know.
Q Okay. On the economy, we know that the President met with the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday, the leadership, the executive leadership of the CBC. But what other groups of his base has the President tapped into, especially when it comes to the budget and these cuts?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, the President and his team have discussions and meet with representatives of a broad variety of constituencies and interests, but I don’t -- beyond that, I don’t have -- I’d have to look at his -- if you’re asking like when was the last time he met with another group, I’d have to look at the schedule.
Q A Hispanic group and other African American groups -- I mean, just his base. But I’m asking that because the National Urban --
MR. CARNEY: Hey, April, his base is the American people. (Laughter.)
Q That was good. That was really good. I like that. Universal approach. All right.
Getting back to my question. The National Urban League put out their State of Black America report today for 2011, and Marc Morial, who has talked with the President on occasion, said that the President needs to make across-the-board cuts; if not, no cuts at all. What say you about this?
MR. CARNEY: He needs to make --
Q He needs to make across-the-board cuts; if not, no cuts at all -- especially at a time when we’re trying to climb out of --
MR. CARNEY: You mean that the pain should be shared --
Q The pain should be shared across the board.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President believes that, and I think that -- but he also believes there are certain priorities that need to be spared because they are so important. And that would bring me back to those areas like education, and research and development, and infrastructure that are simply too important to our economic future to shortchange now because of what they can do for us going forward.
Q Thanks. Two questions. On Libya, can you confirm the reports that the U.S. is strongly warning rebels that they could get hit if they start attacking civilians, and how is that being conveyed? Has it happened yet?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information on warnings given to the rebels.
Q Is it correct that since the --
MR. CARNEY: The mission of the coalition is to protect civilians, Libyan civilians, and I’m sure that the actions that the alliance takes will be in order to protect Libyan civilians. But I, again, I don’t have any information on warnings to any specific group beyond Qaddafi’s forces.
Q And then a domestic question. What should be the takeaway from the CR debate on the influence of the Tea Party? Do you think that they have shown themselves to be a major force to be reckoned with, or do you think that they have peaked or are peaking and are being marginalized by the way this budget deal is going to get cut? And how do you see the relationship between the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican Party?
MR. CARNEY: An easy one that I can simply say that I’m not going to analyze Republican Party politics. There are too many other things I have to analyze. I would simply say that all Americans have an interest in -- regardless of the party of which they are a member, or if they’re not a member of any party -- to Washington working and working effectively, and taking care of the key issues that are important to Americans. There’s economic growth, job creation, reducing spending and the deficit -- because that is important to economic growth and job creation, if it’s done responsibly. And so I think members of all parties will be well served if we get a deal that reduces spending responsibly and allows us now, then, to move forward and to tackle some of these other big issues that Americans continue to be concerned about.
Q Has the Tea Party been a constructive force in helping?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s a largely -- that’s a question largely about this sort of cross-occurrence within the Republican Party that I’m not comfortable answering. I know that we are negotiating with and trying to work with leaders of Congress from the Republican and Democratic Party, and how -- what the influences are I don’t -- I wouldn’t venture to guess from here.
Q He’s not working with anyone within the tea party --
MR. CARNEY: We’re working with the leaders of Congress and appropriators on this deal.
Q On Côte d’Ivoire, senior administration officials hinted earlier this year and last year that the U.S. would be ready or willing to help President -- outgoing President Gbagbo to exit -- to leave power gracefully or honorably. Now that the outgoing leader seems to be holed up in Abidjan, would such an offer still stand?
MR. CARNEY: What I think I should say on this is that we are waiting to hear whether President Gbagbo -- or Mr. Laurent Gbagbo speaks and that we’re looking forward to him making a decision that -- taking an action that is in the best interests of the people of Côte d’Ivoire by avoiding war and stepping down and honoring the results of the election. We have been -- the United States has been a leader in this process in forging an international coalition to speak with one voice in response to the election results and the way that Mr. Gbagbo have responded to them.
And we were -- I’d point you to the 15-0 vote yesterday in favor of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1975, which obviously the United States supports. And it was its strongest statement to date on the Côte d’Ivoire crisis since it began. And we think that there is a unified view in the international community that the legitimately elected President should assume office.
Laura -- I think you have a follow-up, right?
Q I have a follow-up. Thanks. There is 1 million displaced at this moment in this part of the world. With the redefinition of the U.S. foreign policy placed on a humanitarian approach, could we see an important U.S. involvement in this part of the world if nothing happens?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s a hypothetical, but I would say the United States is very involved already in this and --
Q There’s 1 million people --
MR. CARNEY: -- and pushing to resolve a situation that has led to the displacement of so many people. So I don’t want to predict what actions we’ll take in the future, but express our commitment to working with the international community to have the result of that election honored.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, I’m going to take one more. I’ll go all the way back -- yes, sir.
Q Thank you. It seems like we’ve heard the admission that the U.S. took a leadership role only after this first stage of the operations have ended. Can you address the leadership role of President Sarkozy, who has since the beginning kind of labored to present himself at the forefront of a lot of this operation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we think the -- what was so important about this action is that it was a group effort. Now, American leadership matters greatly in things like this and obviously had an impact. But President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Cameron, leaders from a variety of countries were important players in building a coalition that, in such a rapid amount of time, that allowed us to act quickly, both initially with sanctions and then with military action. And it’s not a question of who gets credit. It’s the rather remarkable fact that a coalition was forged that quickly around an idea that was so substantial and that included, so importantly, the support of Arab nations.
2:35 P.M. EDT