Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
1:47 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. It’s good to be back at the White House after our trip to the G20. I don’t have any announcements to make at the top, so I will start with your questions.
Q On the IAEA report, should we anticipate any change in U.S. policy or posture toward Iran, based on those findings?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to get ahead of a report that hasn’t come out yet. What I can tell you is that we certainly expect it to echo and reinforce what we’ve been saying about Iran’s behavior and its failure to live up to its international obligations. And it will, I’m sure, echo our concern about Iran’s nuclear program.
But what I can also say is that because of the leadership of this President, we have mobilized the international community in a way that has never existed before to take action to pressure Iran, to isolate Iran. We now have in place the most aggressive, isolating and debilitating sanctions regime ever. And that regime has had an impact, as the Iranian President himself recently noted.
We continue to focus on a diplomatic channel. And it is because of the kind of consensus that we have achieved at the international level among our partners and allies in dealing with Iran, that we were able to continue to isolate and put pressure on Iran, and to insist that Iran get right with the world and to live up to its international obligations.
Q Is there any possibility the U.S. would conduct a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities?
MR. CARNEY: We are focused, as I just said, on diplomacy. We, of course, never remove from the table any option in a situation like this. But we are very focused on diplomacy, and we certainly think that that is appropriate, and that our approach here has had the kind of effect, the positive effect, in terms of pressuring and isolating Iran, that I just noted.
Q And how would the U.S. view military action by Israel?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would simply reiterate that we are focused on working with our international partners and allies on isolating Iran, pressuring Iran, pushing it to live up to its international obligations with regards to its nuclear program. That approach has had an effect, and it has certainly -- we are certainly now in a situation that did not exist before, where because of the dual-track approach that this President took and this administration took, it is now clear to the world that the United States is not the issue here -- it is Iran, it is Iranian behavior. And that has allowed us to mobilize the international community in a way that hasn’t existed in the past, and to come together putting pressure on Iran to change its behavior.
Q Jay, what’s the White House’s reaction to the change of government in Greece, and the latest turmoil in European markets today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, I’m not going to comment on the ups and downs of financial markets. We welcome the consensus that has been reached in Greece over the need to implement the country’s reform commitments to the IMF and the European Union. And we urge the government to move as quickly as possible to fulfill the commitments required under its new rescue program.
So, broadly speaking, moving back in terms of the G20 and the positive progress made there, of which the aspect of the agreement with regard to Greece is a part, we continue to call on Europe and work with our European counterparts to implement those decisions rapidly, and to reach a conclusive endpoint in terms of dealing with this problem.
Q Following up on Erica’s question -- once the IAEA report comes out, do you anticipate pushing for more sanctions, and if so --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I don’t want to get ahead of a report that is not out yet, that nobody has seen. I would simply say that we expect it to echo concerns that we’ve long held about Iranian behavior. And in terms of specific reaction to that report when it comes out, I think I’ll wait until it comes out.
Q Do you have any reaction to the new allegations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain?
MR. CARNEY: I do not, no.
Let me move in the back here -- Cheryl.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the State Department IG’s decision to investigate the Keystone Pipeline?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department on that. This is obviously a process that, through executive order and longstanding precedent, is run out of State. It is a process that includes input from a variety of agencies and departments within the administration; it is not done in a vacuum. But on that specific question I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Jay, voters are set in Mississippi to move tomorrow on adding a so-called personhood amendment to the state constitution that would say, legally, life begins at conception. Does the President have a response to this, a thought on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken to him about it. You know his position on choice and women’s reproductive rights, but I haven’t heard a -- I don’t have a specific response to this referendum.
Q Are you concerned about this? And I mean, it seems to be launching this issue, obviously, to a much higher platform, especially depending on the outcome tomorrow. Concerns?
MR. CARNEY: Well, why don’t we wait and see. But I don’t have a specific response to this matter.
Let me go -- yes, all the way back.
Q Thank you, Jay. Quick question on President Obama’s visit to Asia: We know he’s going to push hard on TPP during the APEC Summit, and also he might announce more U.S. troop presence in Australia. So what -- is this part of his return-to-Asia policy? And what’s his goal at the APEC Summit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would -- I’m not going to get ahead of the President or even our preview of that trip today, but I will say that, broadly, the focus on the Asia-Pacific region reflects this President’s commitment to this country’s economic future. The whole rebalancing that we’ve talked about is very important, and the APEC Summit, as well as the East Asia Summit and the other elements of this trip, reinforce this President’s commitment to the kind of rebalancing and refocus that we -- that he has long believed is necessary.
And it goes right on the economic front to our -- his goal, rather, to double our exports and increase our trade, specifically with the countries in Asia-Pacific region. So, broadly speaking, our goals for the trip have everything to do with that economic part of our relationship with the region, although there are many other elements as well.
Q Jay, President Clinton has a book out called “Putting Americans Back to Work.” How do you view his role in trying to break the impasse on Capitol Hill? Does he have a role?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that the book is very helpful and that it reinforces the positive steps that President Obama has taken and the positive steps he is now trying to take with Congress and is taking independently through his executive authority. We welcome President Clinton’s adding his voice to this, as he already has, because he certainly has a lot of experience in a situation like this where we need to focus with great intensity on the number-one priority that the American people have, which is the need to grow the economy and create jobs.
I think there was a poll recently -- there have been a lot lately -- but in the last couple of days that asked the American people what their number-one concern was, what their priority was, and I believe it was over 50 percent said the economy and jobs. Not another issue even got into double digits, which then makes you wonder why some in Congress are not focused on that priority but are focused on other issues that are of much lower priority to the American people.
So this President is pushing very hard, as you know, for Congress to pass provisions of the American Jobs Act since Republicans in the Senate have blocked the jobs act as a whole. And now some of the provisions of it, he will force this issue every week working with Democrats in the Congress. And he hopes that Republicans will hear the voices of their constituents and understand that they need to respond to this urgent demand for action. There’s great frustration in the country with the dysfunctionality that has been demonstrated in Congress lately with its refusal to take very simple bipartisan, mainstream decisions that would have a positive impact on economic growth and job creation. So we welcome every prominent voice who joins in the effort to call on Congress to do its job.
Q He faced a similar impasse but not as difficult. Has he passed along any advice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any specific conversation to read out to you, but certainly there are a number of people in this White House, beginning with the President, who have conversations with President Clinton, and communication goes both ways, and it’s very positive and helpful, I think. So, again, we welcome his efforts on behalf of the American people in terms of pressing Washington to act, Congress specifically, to act to grow the economy and create jobs.
Let me get back -- yes, sorry. You are?
Q Devin Dwyer with ABC.
MR. CARNEY: Welcome.
Q Jay, thanks. Thank you. On Keystone real quick, last week you said the State Department was going to be the final arbiter of this; then we heard the President on the Nebraska local television affiliate suggest that he could be involved. Can you clarify -- is he the final arbiter of that, and when might he rule on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- I think I took this question last week. But the -- this process, as we have said all along, resides -- is housed within the State Department, both as decided by -- or called upon by an executive order that predates this administration and by tradition that long predates that.
The process is an open one in the sense that while State Department runs it, it is required to take in input from a variety of agencies in the executive branch. And it is absolutely going to take into account the criteria that the President laid out in that interview that you referenced with the television station in Omaha. And that includes both the jobs impact, economic impact, public health impact, environmental impact. All these criteria are very important to this process.
In the end, we fully expect that the decision, or the resolution of this issue, the determination will reflect the President’s views. It’s his administration. It is the Obama administration, and the State Department is very much a part of the Obama administration.
Q How will he make his views known in that process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the process at all. But you can be sure that the determination will reflect his views.
Back and forth. Come on -- somebody. Yes.
Q Oh, thank you. What’s the purpose of the meeting today with the Secretary General of NATO? And another question on Syria -- do you have any reaction on Syrians accusing the U.S. of -- accusing the U.S. of interference in their affairs when the State Department called for rejection to the amnesty?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t -- let me start with Syria. I don’t have anything specific on that; maybe State Department does. I mean, our position on Syria and the Assad regime is clear and it has not changed. So I’m sure they take issue with it. We believe that he has lost his legitimacy to rule and that the appalling violence that has been perpetrated on the Syrian people has to stop.
I’m sorry, what was your first question? I got so --
Q On Rasmussen.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, it’s a -- the President meets with the head of NATO on a relatively regular basis, and I think this is just a part of that. Obviously, NATO just completed a very important mission in Libya that we believe was executed very effectively; demonstrates the way that we can work collectively with NATO, with the United Nations, and in the case of Libya with other states, including those in the region, to bring about a positive result. And I’m sure they’ll be talking about that as well.
Q The President has vowed to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon, and yet the IAEA report scheduled out this week says that Iran has the sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device; it has all the critical steps necessary. So what’s the President going to do?
MR. CARNEY: I think I got this question before. I’m not going to anticipate a report that hasn’t come out yet. I do believe it will echo our concern about Iran’s behavior. I think that it’s obvious to every one of us who have observed Iran over the past number of years that because of this President’s leadership we have created a situation where there is a high level of consensus in the international community about Iranian behavior.
It is clear now to the world that Iran is the problem -- it is not the United States, it is not the international community. And that consensus has allowed us to act to implement the most aggressive, isolating, destabilizing sanction in history. Those sanctions have had an effect, and our overall effort to isolate and pressure Iran has an effect. We will continue to push the diplomatic course here and to make clear to Iran that it needs to choose to uphold its obligations to the international community with regards to its nuclear program.
Q I understand the -- about there have been a number of aggressive actions taken and increased sanctions, and yet, the report suggests that Iran has moved even closer to building a nuclear weapon. So how is it that these sanctions have been successful? They’ve had an effect on other things, but Iran is still now very close to building a nuclear weapon.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the report. I do expect it will echo our concerns. And I think that the fact that Iran continues to misbehave, if you will, is something that concerns not just the United States but the broader international community; and that that international community, because of the actions we have taken, is now focused on pressuring Iran rather than, as was the case prior to this President being in office, blaming the United States or other actors for not handling this appropriately.
So, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the report. But you can be sure that we will continue to work to pressure Iran, to isolate Iran, and we know from our own analysis as well as what the President of Iran recently said that those efforts are having an impact.
Q And given the seriousness of -- and some of the things that the report is going to detail, do you expect we’ll hear from the President?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of a report that hasn’t come out yet.
Q I’m just going to ask you something else you had asked.
MR. CARNEY: That’s okay.
Q Brianna’s question about Mississippi and the personhood amendment, you didn’t want to comment so much, but the DNC has not been shy about putting out a letter and I think an ad attacking Mitt Romney in saying he’s extreme for supporting this amendment because it would ban some birth control, ban abortion even in the case of rape and incest. And now interestingly, other Republicans like Haley Barbour are saying, well, maybe it does go too far.
And so there is some concern out there even among some Republicans that this goes too far and could set a precedent for other states. So does the White House share that concern at least?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, without commenting on this specific measure, it’s certainly contrary to the position this President holds in terms of women’s rights, reproductive rights and the right to choose. I don’t have anything specifically more to say about that from here. The DNC that you cited I’m sure would be willing to comment on it from their perspective.
Q Okay, another important ballot measure is in Ohio, important state as well. Obviously, the President has been there a lot. Union leaders are there today fighting it out on Issue 2 with Governor Kasich, and collective bargaining rights have been restricted by the state law. Why hasn’t the President spoken out on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t remember in some of the press conferences he’s done that anybody has asked him about it. I will say what we’ve said in the past, that we -- the President strongly supports the collective bargaining rights of Americans and strongly believes that voters should vote no on 2, because that measure is contrary to his beliefs about the rights of Americans to collectively bargain.
Q But in the case of Wisconsin, it seemed like he spoke out more when the similar issue was playing out there -- we saw protests, et cetera. He hasn’t chosen to go to Ohio --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I’m making clear, as we have already, that -- what his position is, what our position is. Obviously it’s up to the citizens of Ohio to make their decision, because they’re the ones who actually get to cast a ballot. But I think a lot of this has to do with what he’s asked, the questions he’s asked in the numerous press engagements he has. But let me be very clear: The President does not support the ballot initiative in Ohio that would strip away fundamental collective bargaining rights.
Q And last thing on the pipeline that you were asked about -- over the weekend, environmentalists claim they had about 12,000 people outside the White House. They seem to be gaining at least some momentum in bringing it to the President’s attention -- that Colorado event where he was interrupted briefly a week or so ago, and he acknowledged the protestors and said, “I’m looking at it.” Do you think maybe this issue is really turning on the environmental side? And is there any chance or speculation that the White House, because it’s a hot potato, might kick the can past the November 2012 elections so you don’t have to deal with it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, to the start of your question, I would simply say that the President recognizes that there are a number of critical issues involved in this decision, including climate change, impacts on public health and natural resources, as well as the economy and jobs, energy independence. And he has acknowledged that and talked about it in a variety of settings. The process itself, as established by an executive order signed under the previous administration, as established by long precedent prior to that, is run out of the State Department. That process involves inputs from a lot of different agencies and departments within the executive branch, and it would be -- it will be driven by the criteria the President has discussed and which I just mentioned.
That process is ongoing, and I don’t want to get ahead of it. And I’ll refer you to the State Department on timing.
Q Thanks, Jay. Senator Schumer was quoted earlier today in talking about the super committee, saying, “I don’t think the super committee is going to succeed because our Republican colleagues have said no net revenues.” Does the President share that skepticism that the super committee will be able to reach a deal by the deadline?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes the super committee can and should adopt a balanced approach to long-term and medium-term deficit and debt reduction. How you do that is not nearly as complicated as we might expect. It’s been laid out now by a variety of different commissions that have looked at this, bipartisan commissions, as well as in the President’s own proposals.
He remains hopeful that the super committee will take that approach because we need to address this issue. That was the idea when Congress decided to create the super committee through the legislation, through the balanced -- the Budget Control Act, and we certainly hope that the committee will act accordingly.
Q But given the gridlock that we’ve already seen coming out of these negotiations so far, would you describe him as being optimistic that they will be able to reach a deal?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is -- remains hopeful that the super committee will respond not just to all of the serious studies into this that have been done on this issue and policy examinations through bipartisan commissions and the work that his administration has done and the negotiations he had with the Speaker of House and act accordingly in a balanced way, in a way that includes revenues as well as entitlement reforms, because that’s not just the way he believes it should be done, and the way that the experts who have -- the bipartisan commissions that have studied this say it should be done, but it’s the way the American people say it should be done because, look, these are solvable problems, but they require a willingness to compromise. They require everybody to participate.
And by participating that means that the burden has to be spread evenly. It cannot -- when you talk about -- I guess you began by asking about Republicans who insist on no revenue. Well, what does that mean in practice? Because we’ve seen the proposals that do this without any revenue, and you know what it means, it means putting a big boulder on the shoulders of senior citizens. It means asking sacrifice only from the middle class or from seniors or from families with disabled children. It means dramatic cuts in education or research -- and protects, therefore, the wealthiest Americans who have, unlike the middle class, done exceptionally well in the last decade and over the last 30 years, as we’ve seen the difference between the share of the nation’s wealth held by the very wealthiest Americans compared to the rest of the country -- that gap grow dramatically.
So a balanced approach is clearly the way to go. Hopefully the super committee will come together around a balanced approach. And if it does, that will be good for the country. It will be good for Congress. I think Congress’s approval ratings might actually get above single digits if they act accordingly. So it’s good politics. It’s good policy.
Q Finally, he’s going to be away during sort of these final negotiation days. How will he make sure that he navigates being abroad and at the same time have a hand in these final days of negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear about how this process has worked. Many weeks ago now the President put forward his concrete detailed proposals for how he believes the super committee should act. So the President’s involvement in this process came at the beginning. Everyone in Congress knows what his views are, and he put forward proposals that they are welcome to take as their own and adopt as their own either exactly or roughly.
So beyond that, the President obviously is capable no matter where he is to engage with the White House, with the administration, with Congress, and will do that as necessary. But let’s be clear, Congress has an obligation to act. The super committee has a legislated obligation to act, and Congress should act. There are no seats on that committee for the executive branch. This is a congressional responsibility, and the President has already made his views clear, again, with an approach that is balanced that includes some tough choices on entitlements, includes asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit extra so that we can move this country forward in a way that’s fair to everyone. And he certainly hopes Congress will take him up and act accordingly.
Q Thanks, Jay. I just want to follow up on that question. Another benchmark -- the European benchmark was the behavior of the super committee. We have two crises in the world, and we will be reminded after the European crisis of last week and Thanksgiving coming up that there’s also an American debt crisis. How would you compare that? What do you expect from Congress? Doing at least as good as the Europeans? I’m not proud being a European how we move forward, but at least we move forward. (Laughter.) Bumpy, complicated and so on. But there are decisions and somehow there’s progress made, so it is very slow. So I would like to ask what you expect from Congress, doing at least as good as --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to -- I think I just addressed what the President expects from Congress or hopes will happen in Congress. I don’t think the comparative is one I would want to make or particularly useful. The President just spent some time at the G20 working with his European counterparts and helping them and advising them as they deal with their own crisis.
He happens to have a fair amount of experience in dealing with a financial crisis, as does Secretary Geithner, who was there, and whose expertise I think is considered a valuable resource to tape by the Europeans.
So, again, we in the United States are focusing on the things that we can control, the things that we should do to grow our economy, create jobs, as well as get our medium- and long-term deficit and debt under control. How we do that is pretty clear, and it can be done in a bipartisan way through measures that are the kinds of measures that have traditionally garnered bipartisan support. If everyone in Congress puts politics aside and puts party aside and focuses on what the very people who elected them are demanding Congress focus on, which is taking sensible action to grow the economy, create jobs and deal with these longer-term issues in a way that is fair and doesn’t place all of the burden on seniors or other vulnerable Americans.
Q I have a question which I asked you a few weeks -- or a few days ago. Would it be helpful -- or rather not helpful -- if European leaders make their feelings or their views known? Of course, this country is afraid that the European crisis may break down the economy of this country. But the same is true in the other direction, that Europeans are afraid if Americans are not solving their debt crisis that we might feel negative consequences from that. So, again, on one hand Congress is a sovereign body and normally you don’t interfere with these sovereign parliamentary bodies, but from the point of view of the White House, would it be helpful -- this administration has made it known what it thinks and hears about the European crisis. Should Europe do the same vice versa and would it be helpful?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to dictate -- and I don’t think this President wants to dictate -- how other countries or other leaders should speak or view events in the United States. We’re focused on the things we can do. We’re pushing Congress to do the things it can do to deal with our challenges -- the near-term challenge of growing the economy and creating jobs; the medium- and long-term challenge of getting our fiscal house in order.
As the President has made clear for a number of years now, and as was adopted in the communiqué by the G20, we believe the whole -- the global economy should be, and all the industrialized and emerging countries should be focused in the same way on both of those issues: the need to grow, and the need to deal with their long-term fiscal stability. That’s the approach we’re taking here. That’s the approach we’re pushing Congress to adopt. And that overall approach is one that the President discussed with his counterparts at the G20.
Yes, and then Laura.
Q I wanted to follow up on the super committee. Moody’s has threatened another downgrade if they don’t come to an agreement. I’m wondering if the President would commit to vetoing anything that would avoid the sequester. In other words, if the super committee can’t act -- and there’s a sequester -- there’s already talk about legislation that would try to soften it or get around it. Is he determined that either they should get an agreement or have the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: Look, Congress passed this legislation not that many weeks ago, and created the sequester precisely because it was supposed to be onerous and designed to hold Congress’s feet to the fire and force action. We think Congress ought to focus on its job and that it ought to move according to that legislation.
Q We’ve been through this movie before. I mean, triggers can be untriggered.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the trigger was designed as an incentive for Congress to do its job. We think that’s a good idea. And the cuts that would happen under a sequester, if the trigger were pulled, are onerous for a reason. And so we think that it’s very important that Congress act, because the ability to move on a fast track, for example, the ability to do something significant on medium- and long-term deficit and debt control, is enshrined within the Budget Control Act. And Congress ought to take advantage of that, and ought to do more than is outlined --
Q But is he going to --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get ahead of the process. I think to declare now that Congress will fail before it’s had a chance to, I think is not helpful. We believe that Congress has all it needs in terms of guidelines and outlines in the kind of policy decisions it needs to make at the committee level to do this. There is an opportunity here to well overshoot the goal outlined by the legislation, in terms of long-term deficit and debt reduction, as the President’s plan does. And we hope and -- well, we hope that Congress will take that up and do it.
Q On another subject -- just a question on another subject. Tomorrow is a year from the election. Could you just describe President Obama’s bottom-line message to the American people as to why he deserves a second term?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly will let him do that when he’s asked. I think that a couple of things are clear. The actions this President took, the decisions he made -- some of them very difficult -- stopped what was already a catastrophic situation from becoming a Great Depression.
We now know that this economy contracted at 9 percent, almost, in the fourth quarter of 2008; over 7 percent in the final two quarters of the previous administration. We know it lost 8 million jobs. We know it was losing close to 800,000 a month when he was sworn into office. Because of the actions that he took and the decisions he made, there have been 20 straight months of private sector job creation.
The economy has been growing instead of contracting. The automobile industry continues to exist in this country, with all the jobs attached to it, and is now doing very well in many cases.
I could spend a lot more time on what he has accomplished. But most importantly, he believes the work is not done, and we need to continue to take the kind of positive action that will grow this economy, because what we have so far is not good enough. The level of unemployment we have is not good enough. The pace of economic growth we have had is not good enough. The hole that we -- this country was in, as a result of the great recession, was deep. And it will take -- it didn’t take -- we didn’t get into it overnight, and we can’t climb out of it overnight. But we have been moving forward.
And we cannot -- and this President believes we should not -- go back to the very policies that led us into the hole. I mean, if you just look, I think it pays to remember -- because we all tend to look at the present and the future -- remember what it was like in January and February, March of 2009, and what people were talking about in terms of the economic Armageddon that we were facing. Look at the charts that show dramatic shrinking of the economy, compared to what we’ve seen in the last 20 months or so.
So we need to do more. We can do more. And this President is committed to doing more.
Q A couple questions. One, it looks like the Senate is getting ready to actually pass a bipartisan version of the veterans jobs bill. And I’m wondering what you attribute the pending success in this area to when there’s been so little in other areas.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we have been pushing Congress, specifically the Senate, to pass the individual components of the American Jobs Act. The assistance to veterans is part of that. The incentivizing of business to hire veterans has been part of that. And we would welcome, as we would the passage of any one of these provisions, the passage of this one, if it happens.
I think that -- putting on my political analyst hat -- I think that there are signs that Republicans are hearing the frustration out in the country about Congress’s dysfunctionality, Congress’s refusal to act on the things that matter most to the American people. Again, the data is clear on this point. So maybe this bodes well for the future. Maybe this means that Congress will take up and act on some of the other provisions of the American Jobs Act, that maybe it would even reconsider some of its decisions previous to now. Hope springs eternal.
But what I do know is that this President will continue to focus on this; will continue to press Congress to act; will continue to act in ways that he can through his executive authority to advance the priorities of the American people, because we can’t wait for Congress to act when it so infrequently acts on these issues. And hopefully Congress will come around.
Q Do you think it’s because it’s veterans, and it’s hard to vote against veterans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s hard to vote against the American people -- which doesn’t mean that sometimes Congress doesn’t vote against the American people, or in this case, those who vote against the kind of job creation and economic growth that the American people are asking for -- paid for entirely without adding a dime to our deficit; paid for in a way that’s overwhelmingly supported by the American people.
So sometimes members of Congress vote that way. But I think in the end it becomes increasingly difficult to vote against the very things the American people are asking Congress to vote for.
Q And the President is scheduled to go to Australia shortly. He’s canceled that trip twice before. Is there any reason for the Australians to feel at all nervous that he will not be appearing in Australia? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No. We have no scheduling changes anticipated.
Q Thanks, Jay. Over the weekend -- this is a nice segue after you just said the Congress sometimes votes against the American people. Over the weekend, the Speaker said that his relationship with the President, since they played golf this summer, has turned, “a little bit frosty.” Is that a characterization you all would agree with?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President has had and I think continues to have a solid relationship with the Speaker of the House. They spend a lot of time together in private trying to do something big for the American people; a so-called grand bargain to achieve substantial balanced, long-term deficit and debt reduction. The President believes that the Speaker genuinely wanted to do that, but that in the end it wasn’t possible politically for him to do that.
He still believes that there’s an opportunity for Congress to take action collectively, in a bipartisan way, for long-term, medium-term deficit and debt reduction, as I’ve been saying in response to questions about the super committee.
The President will continue to work with Speaker Boehner and I think continues to have a good relationship with him. The issue here, though, is not about personal friendship, it’s about doing the work that the American people are asking their elected leaders in Washington to do. And in the case of what we just talked about, the American people overwhelmingly are asking Washington to act on jobs and the economy. And the President hopes that Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader McConnell and others will join him in taking the kind of action that the American people want taken.
Q Do you know how long it’s been since the two spoke?
MR. CARNEY: I believe -- I know they spoke when the President called after the passage of the free trade agreements, but I don’t know that they’ve spoken since.
Q Since we are around that one-year timeframe now for elections, what is the White House, this administration, doing along with Justice in working with the DCCC in reference to anti-voter suppression efforts?
MR. CARNEY: I know that Justice is the place to go to have that question answered. I know that there’s been activity on that. We obviously -- well, I’ll just leave it at that, that I would refer to the Justice Department on those.
Q Well, James Clyburn is now being named by the DCCC as the head of their new anti-voter suppression efforts. And Marcia Fudge has said that, right now, the voter suppression issue is the number-one civil rights issue in this country. Do you agree with that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to rank that particularly, but I would say that voter suppression is a terrible and wrong thing. I mean, it just -- disenfranchisement is -- I mean, the franchise is the essence of citizenship and of being an American. So we obviously believe that Americans ought to have free access to -- I mean, easy access to voting, easy access to participating in the vote, in the franchise. So as a general issue, we are concerned about it, but in terms of specific actions I’d refer you to the Justice Department.
Yes, all the way --
Q Jay, the President cited earlier today that the parts of the American Jobs Act that are really popular, that deal with veterans benefits -- does the President believe that the country would be even better served if young men and women were less likely in the future to spend so much time in war zones?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer it this way: This President is committed, as he promised to be when he was running for the office, to ending the war in Iraq responsibly and bringing those troops home; to, as he made clear when he announced his policy in Afghanistan, to -- after surging up forces there, to drawing down the surge forces, which is happening now, and transferring lead security authority over to the Afghan security forces by 2014. And he is keeping all of his commitments. That has been -- the overall impact of that has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans serving in war zones since he took office.
The focus, though, is in getting the policy right, and whether it’s Iraq or Afghanistan or more broadly, he’s very committed to doing just that, to making sure we have the right policies, the most responsible policies, and the policies that deliver the best results. That’s the view he takes, and this goes back to conversations we had when Libya was in its early days and people asked me about the President’s approach. And the President’s approach with regard to all of the changes that have happened in the Arab Spring has been not what satisfies the critics today or this week, but where do we want to be in terms of American interests six months, a year and 10 years from now? What gives us -- what policy choices give us the best chance of success in terms of protecting and enhancing American national security interests down the road?
And that’s the approach he’s taken from the beginning, even before he was sworn into office.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take one more.
Q Military question?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q Thank you so much. Does the President have any thoughts on the general who was fired for speaking out about Afghanistan, Karzai? Actually what he said was supported by many Americans. And also Leon Panetta’s statements about military cuts, do you have anything on that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on the first issue for you. I think in general we’ve made clear in terms of the sequester that those cuts are onerous and we believe too deep. But that was the whole design. It was supposed to force the Congress to act.
The cuts that were put forward that the President laid out in April, obviously, he believes are the right ones and that continues to be his position.
END 2:32 P.M. EST