Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route New York, NY, 5/13/2013
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New York, New York
2:34 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thanks for joining us on this quick trip to New York City. You heard, obviously, the President today in his press conference with the Prime Minister. So I hope that you found that helpful and useful, but I am here also to take your questions. Anybody have anything?
Q Jay, the President said that he himself was unaware of the IRS targeting. But was anyone else at the White House aware as early as 2011, when this first came out, or of the testimony in March when an IRS official talked about it?
MR. CARNEY: No. My understanding is that the White House Counsel’s Office was alerted in the week of April 22nd of this year, only about the fact that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati. But that’s all they were informed as a normal sort of heads up. And we have never -- we don’t have access to, nor should we, the IG’s report or any draft versions of it.
Q So what are the next steps on this for the White House? Should we expect the President to be -
MR. CARNEY: I think that there is -- from my understanding, it’s not about next steps for the White House. You heard the President’s views on this and his feelings -- very strong sentiment that if the actions that have been reported turn out to be what happened, that he finds it wholly inappropriate and that action needs to be taken to make sure people are held accountable. But the “if” is important here because this is an independent investigation by the IG, and we, like everyone else, are awaiting its results.
Q But if the facts do play out that way, would those consequences, would he expect that they would include people losing their jobs?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think you’re getting ahead of it. I think you heard from the President on this today and how he feels about it. But the “if” is very important, so we’re not going to start predicting outcomes if we don’t know what the conclusions of the IG report are.
Q But, Jay, as you know, the IRS does not currently have a full commissioner in place. Do these events increase the timetable for -- spur the timeframe to get a commissioner in place?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, that’s a fair question. I don’t know where that stands as a personnel matter. But you are correct to note that there is not currently a commissioner. The previous commissioner I believe left office in November of last year.
Q Is it unusual, if the general counsel, the special counsel knows about this, for the President not to be given a heads up, or is that just typical?
MR. CARNEY: I think this is, as I understand it, a normal kind of notification as the IG was concluding its report. And in those circumstances, when something like that would become public, there’s a notification and only the White House Counsel’s Office -- well, the President was certainly not made aware of it and found about it on Friday, as I did, from news reports.
Q Will there be a specific White House person who’s going to brief the President or who’s going to oversee the liaison with the IRS and update the White House at all?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, there’s a White House Counsel’s Office and they monitor these things. But beyond that, not that I’m aware of.
Q Jay, there are a number of things going on now that have the White House on the defensive -- IRS, the Benghazi situation. How does this prevent the President from getting his agenda accomplished? He has a busy agenda that he wants to do in his second term, but yet now all the attention is focused on what happened, who knew what about Benghazi, the IRS situation.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you heard from the President about his view on Benghazi. And the fact that this is a political sideshow is an unfortunate distraction from the key issues about Benghazi and the fact that four Americans were killed, and that action needs to be taken and is being taken to ensure that that kind of thing never happens again when it comes to the security that exists for our diplomatic personnel and facilities around the world.
On the other issue, again, you heard from the President and his feelings about it, but we have to let the IG review be completed, and we certainly await that. But, broadly speaking, the American people want Washington to focus on the issues that matter most to them, and that generally means focusing on growing the economy, helping it create jobs, strengthening the middle class, expanding opportunity, expanding security for middle-class families and seniors. And that’s what the President will continue to focus on.
He’ll continue to focus on those things that he is working with Congress to try to get done, like comprehensive immigration reform. And he'll continue to focus on the actions he can take, using executive authority to press forward on a range of issues aimed at that North Star, which is a thriving and growing middle class.
Q A follow-up question to that line of questioning is the President has been making a lot of overtures to Republicans in Congress with the dinners and luncheons and so on. And he has also talked about trying to create a permission structure for having Republicans allowed to sort of work with him on some of these key issues without having their base immediately sort of run away from that because he’s involved. Doesn’t this set that back in this idea that you have conservative groups being targeted by a federal government agency, and you have a number of senators who are even working with you on immigration who are now sort of some of the loudest critics on Benghazi and the IRS?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they have been the loudest critics from the beginning, as I think you'll recall. And the fact is we fully expect that we'll be able to continue to work with Congress on the bipartisan effort to reform our immigration system in a comprehensive way. And I think that the key participants in the Senate on that issue continue to work with their counterparts -- both Democrats and Republicans -- as well as with the White House on that issue, as well as on a number of other issues.
Look, I think -- you heard from the President on the IRS situation, and we obviously await the IG's report on the Benghazi situation. It's a political sideshow and it always has been. And as the President said, there's no there there. I mean, what is the -- you've seen I think an article today that says that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, is obsessed with Benghazi, and yet he didn't even attend the briefing on the emails that were provided to members of Congress many months ago about which this latest iteration of the Benghazi story has been focused.
So they’re fundraising off of it. It really is pure politics. And that's an unfortunate distraction.
Q Getting in the way of getting stuff done?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think so, because I think that there are -- the imperatives to getting things done still exists, whether it's immigration reform, steps we can take to strengthen the economy, the need to find a balanced way to reduce our deficit that requires -- that protects our seniors and middle class, all the steps we need to take to improve our infrastructure, our education system and the like.
What is always the case is that members of Congress will embrace the opportunity to compromise if they see it as both the right thing to do and in their interest to do it. And we certainly believe that it should be in the interest of every member of Congress to work together to try to achieve these goals that the middle class wants achieved.
Q Jay, does the President think it's appropriate for Secretary Sebelius to be raising money from private groups for an outside group for Obamacare implementation?
MR. CARNEY: I saw that story this morning. I've been focused on other things, so I don’t know that much about it. But I can say we are obviously engaged in an effort to implement the Affordable Care Act. Quoting John Boehner, "Obamacare is the law.” It has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and we are in the process of implementing it and making sure that the American people know about and are aware of the process for signing up for the exchanges that will help provide health insurance for millions of Americans who don’t have it, and will confer numerous benefits upon millions and millions of Americans -- benefits that in many ways have already been conferred as pieces of the ACA have been implemented. So we're continuing about that process.
And again, I don’t have information about that story -- that much information about that story. I read it, but I think that we're engaged in a process that is about the business of educating the American people about the benefits that are available to them under the law, passed by Congress, signed into law by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court. And despite the considerable waste of time engaged in by the House of Representatives that we’ll see again this week in an effort to repeal it, going on 40 times, contradicting again the Speaker of the House after the election, it will remain the law and will be implemented.
Q On immigration, Jay -- a collection of advocates had a conference call today with reporters, and they called on the White House again to stop deportations. And what they’re saying is different this time is that you have a bipartisan framework that’s being debated in Congress that would allow most of the illegal immigrants to gain citizenship or legal status. And they're saying anybody who qualifies under that, you should stop the deportations now because it is tearing apart families for those who haven’t committed any other crimes. Is the President reconsidering that all? Would he? And why not, if he’s not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not aware of this call that you mentioned. But I think that -- obviously we enforce the law as is appropriate. There is prosecutorial discretion when it comes to enforcing immigration laws, and those guidelines are in place.
And meanwhile, we're continuing working with Congress to try to achieve comprehensive immigration reform that will strengthen the border, hold employers accountable, create a legal pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people living here illegally. And that’s important work. But I don’t have anything specific in response to your question.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit about the events tonight? Is there any sensitivity to the fact that the President, at the same time that he's putting his foot down about the perception that the IRS was used to target people politically, he's also going to New York and raising money for a bunch of Democrats to help unseat Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: That’s an interesting connection you drew in the question, but I think that the President is going to talk to supporters of Democratic candidates through the DNC, DSCC, DCCC, as is traditional and appropriate. And he looks forward to it.
2:50 P.M. EDT