Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/3/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:09 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thanks for being here. I hope you all were able to hear the President's remarks earlier today if you didn’t actually travel to Rockville for the event. Before I take your questions, let me note that this morning, the President received an update on Tropical Storm Karen, which is currently located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. The President was briefed on efforts underway to prepare ahead of any impact from the storm, as well as the extensive resources FEMA already has on hand along the Gulf Coast.
FEMA, through its regional offices, has been in touch with state and local officials in the Gulf states, and stands ready to assist our state and local partners as necessary. Based on applicable legal requirements, and consistent with its contingency plan, FEMA has begun to recall currently furloughed employees necessary to serve functions of the agency that protect life and property as they prepare for potential landfall for Tropical Storm Karen -- or of Tropical Storm Karen.
This morning, FEMA reactivated the hurricane liaison team that is embedded with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The President directed his team to ensure that federal resources and personnel needed to support state and local preparation efforts are available and on the job. The President directed his team to keep him appraised as weather conditions change and as preparations continue. He urged residents in potentially affected areas to follow the instructions of local response and law enforcement officials.
Q Thank you. There's been a lot of focus over the last day or two on the debt ceiling, both in the President's remarks, there was the Treasury phone call today; Jack Lew was in the meeting with the lawmakers yesterday. Is that a sign that the White House now sees this government shutdown lasting to a point where it runs into the debt ceiling and that becomes just one big fiscal fight?
MR. CARNEY: It's a sign that we are very concerned about the possibility that Republicans in the House will employ the same unfortunate tactics when it comes to their fundamental responsibility to raise the debt ceiling and make sure that the United States doesn’t default, as they have employed in shutting down the government. And as the President said today, there are many negative consequences of shutting down the government, and he talked about them. And our businesses suffer, hundreds of thousands of workers live with uncertainty as to whether or not -- or when the next paycheck will come. And that is bad.
By comparison, an economic shutdown, the result of a default, would be catastrophic. And unfortunately, we've seen from Republicans in the House, where one faction of one party, of one house in one branch of government is driving the train, there seems to be a willingness to engage in a strategy that threatens default and perhaps ultimately causes default. So that’s why it's important for people to understand the consequences, and because we don’t have a lot of time.
Q But coming out of the meeting last night, is the White House viewing this as the most likely scenario being that the government shutdown lasts up until I think it's October 17th, when Secretary Lew says we'll hit the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: We don’t have a way to predict behavior among Republicans in the House that’s any more sophisticated than what we’re reading and seeing in your reports and in the reports of your colleagues. There is the possibility -- and we hope that it is a possibility that could come true -- that Speaker Boehner puts a clean bill to fund the government on the floor today. We know with great certainty that that bill would pass, with Republicans and Democrats voting yes. And the government could reopen and that problem could be solved.
So I don’t have a way to predict for you how this will play out, except to say that every day that the Republicans allow the government to stay shut down, they’re causing harm to real Americans out there and real businesses that are suffering because of that decision. And, again, it was a decision that -- as the President said, we’ve had shutdowns in the past in our country, and they have always been about disputes over spending. And what is unique about this one of course is that this is about an ideological crusade to sabotage a health care law that reduces the deficit and that the Republican Party has no prospect of -- an effort that they have no prospect of succeeding in.
The President will not let the full faith and credit of the United States to be held hostage by these partisan ideological demands.
Q Do you also have any update for us on the President’s travel to Asia? And if not, can you give us a sense of when you might have word on that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an update. As I said yesterday, we are evaluating the President’s trip in light of the shutdown, sort of regularly and daily. And as we have new assessments to provide to you and information to provide to you we’ll do that right away. As of now, we are where we were, which is that the backend stops have been cancelled. But if and when more information becomes available, we’ll make it available to you.
Q How can the President even be contemplating still going on that trip when things are so uncertain here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, if the Speaker of the House allows a vote and allows the majority to speak, the government will reopen right away. And obviously that would affect the way we determine presidential travel. And it is absolutely an important aspect of the presidency that he or any of his successors be able to travel to help find markets for our American goods and find investment here in the United States from our foreign competitors and partners. So that’s what this trip is about, and it would be certainly a welcome thing if the Speaker were to allow a vote in the House so that a majority of the House -- Democrats and Republicans -- could reopen the government.
Q There have been reports just today that Speaker Boehner has said that he won’t let the nation default. And I’m wondering if that’s something that he expressed in the meeting last night, or if the White House has any comment or takes any insight from these reports.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we provided a readout of the meeting, and I’ve noted in the past that Republican leaders have long said that they wouldn’t allow a default, but they allowed the flirtation with default to occur for the first time in 2011. And the consequences were serious for our economy and for the middle class. And even in the story that you cite, which reports that the Speaker said something privately to Republican members, one of his spokesman was on the record basically reiterating the same list of demands associated with raising the debt ceiling that we’ve seen in that past.
So obviously, we support the idea that the debt ceiling should just be raised without drama or delay, and the government ought to be reopened at current spending levels -- spending levels that nobody who understands this stuff would suggest reflect the demands of the President or of Democrats. And then we can get about the business of continuing to discuss and debate and negotiate a broader budget deal. And the President has been willing to do that all year long. He has put on the table a budget proposal that proves that willingness, and he has had conversations all year long with Republican lawmakers who have expressed an interest in finding common ground here in Washington on these very important matters.
But that has to happen absent the threat of continued shutdown and absent the threat of default.
Q Getting back to Asia, I just wanted to ask, could the President potentially sign a continuing resolution en route to Asia or an increase to the debt ceiling en route to Asia or while he’s in Asia? Could that potentially happen?
MR. CARNEY: I think there has been the -- I mean, this is sort of a piece of speculation. So unrelated to any speculation about what could happen -- because again, we can’t predict whether or not the House Republicans are going to come to their senses and do the right thing and open the government and raise the debt ceiling, and when they might do that. But in unique circumstances, a President has been able to sign legislation while traveling. But I’m not predicting that. I’m just saying that for your information.
The fundamental question here is when will Speaker Boehner allow a vote on the floor of the House. There are consequences to keeping the government shut down. The President spoke about some of them today. And there is, as we’ve seen reported by your colleagues and some of you, there is easily a majority in the House to pass a clean bill, the same bill that passed the Senate. And the Speaker ought to let that come to the floor, have a vote. And if he doubts that Democrats would support it, put it on the floor and let’s see. He knows they will, and he knows that more than enough Republicans will as well.
Q And I know that the President said once again today he’s not going to negotiate, but couldn’t he sort of give a wink and a nod to the Speaker that, look, once we get through this we’re doing the grand bargain, or something approaching that?
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t need the wink and nod. He said all year long that he wants to reach a broader budget agreement with Republicans who are serious about finding compromise and exploring common ground. That was what all the dinners and the meetings and the coffees were all about this year. That’s what his budget proposal was about. That’s what his original offer to Speaker Boehner in December was about. And remember, that offer, which was viewed appropriately as a significant demonstration of his willingness to find common ground and compromise, has remained on the table ever since.
Now, if you recall, back at the end of the year, the Speaker was talking about a trillion dollars in revenue, and that that offer was on the table. You haven’t heard from him since, whether that offer remains.
Q This notion that the grand bargain is an escape route or off-ramp.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think -- whatever phrase you use to characterize it, there is interest here and interest on Capitol Hill among Democrats in resolving our budget challenges in a way that invests in our economy where it needs to be invested in, that protects the middle class, and that responsibly continues to reduce our deficit.
The President didn’t just express that in words; he expressed that in hard numbers and policy proposals with his budget. And that was a budget that, as measured by some of the consternation it caused among some Democrats, was a serious document that represented a willingness to compromise and find common ground. And we hope the Republicans will join him in exploring these possibilities, but we haven’t seen that yet in any proposal. But maybe that’s possible in the future, but after -- I mean, the Republicans have to open the government and they have to raise the debt ceiling.
This is doing harm to the American people needlessly. And it’s not about winning in a political game. It’s about core responsibilities when you’re sent here by your constituents to represent them in Washington.
Q And just very quickly, a housekeeping question on health care reform. I know that the President said that there were more than a million visitors by 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and there’s been a lot of talk about visitors to the website. But isn’t enrollees really the better metric for gauging as to how well that is doing? And do we have any of those numbers yet?
MR. CARNEY: Here is what we know. First, in the two days since the marketplaces opened, 7 million people have visited healthcare.gov, and that’s unique visitors. That is more than the number of people who visit SouthwestAirlines.com in a month -- in a month. That’s a pretty popular site. So as a measure of interest, it is substantial.
What we have said all along is that this is a six-month process. We are two days into it. We have 180 days to go. Another way of looking at that is that we’re 48 hours in with 4,320 hours to go. So we knew, and know, based on what happened in Massachusetts and other programs that have had open enrollments like this, that early periods are -- when we have these early periods of enrollment, that's when potential enrollees are exploring their options. And what’s rather remarkable about the Affordable Care Act and these marketplaces is that, on average, Americans in the 50 states have 50 options to choose from.
So we expect as time goes on that -- and people comparison shop and they talk with their spouses or other family members about what’s right for them and their finances and what kind of coverage they need and can afford, that more and more people will enroll. But we don't have -- in 48 hours, we have --
Q No hard enrollment numbers.
MR. CARNEY: No, we don't have that data. And we’re not -- we’re focused on improving the consumer experience, making sure that the American people have the information they need through healthcare.gov and through the toll-free number to begin to make assessments about what kind of insurance they’d like.
As the President said today, the whole premise of this argument that the Republicans have been making that they're willing to shut down the government over and threaten default over is that Obamacare is a terrible thing, and we ought to -- it’s wildly unpopular, and it’s bad for the American people. And we should shut down the government over it if the President won’t defund it.
And I think that this is a pretty good test of that theory, and the response has been overwhelming.
Q Jay, I want to come back to this question of the 14th Amendment. I’m hearing from more Democrats on the Hill -- they're saying the President should just do it, use his own authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own. I know you’ve said that he’s not going to do that. What I’m wondering is, is the reasoning -- does the President -- does the White House believe that it would be illegal for him to raise the debt ceiling on his own, that it would be beyond his legally defined powers?
MR. CARNEY: This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the power to the President to ignore the debt ceiling. So we do not believe that the 14th Amendment provides that authority to the President. Moreover, even if the President could ignore the debt ceiling, the fact that there is significant controversy around the President’s authority to act unilaterally means that it would not be a credible alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling and would not be taken seriously by the global economy or the markets.
And that is essentially the point of faith and credit. The reason why our economy is the envy of the world, the reason why our currency is the reserve currency of the world is because of that faith that investors around the world have in our constancy. They know that we pay our bills. They know that we’re true to our word. So even the doubt that would be created by that would undermine the faith that's the whole point of this exercise.
Look, our view is the Constitution gives Congress -- not the President -- the authority to borrow money, and only Congress can increase the debt ceiling, which is why it’s time that they do their job and raise the debt ceiling, authorize the Treasury to pay the bills that Congress racked up. I think the President tried very hard to, in his speech today, to kind of lay out in non-Washington terms what this is about. Because raising the debt ceiling sounds like you're asking Congress to add more to our deficits and our debt, but that is not the case. Congress does that when it makes choices about where it should spend money. Those choices have been made.
The obligations that Congress has incurred are what need to be paid when the bills come due. And if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, those bills will come due and will not be paid. And the economic consequences of that are terrible and unimaginable.
Q On the Treasury Department's statement today, there's a paper on the cost of default; it said we could provoke an economic crisis that could echo the events of 2008 or even worse. Given that -- first of all, the White House -- I assume the President agrees with his Treasury Department's analysis on this.
MR. CARNEY: Completely.
Q So given that, wouldn’t it make sense for the President to agree to something with the Republicans? I understand he doesn’t want to get in this situation, gun-to-the-head, hostage-taking all that. But I mean, given that the stakes are this high --
MR. CARNEY: Because the stakes are so high, Jon, the President is not asking for anything in return for the Congress acting responsibly. He's not attaching any partisan demands. He's not attaching any items from his legislative agenda. He's simply asking that Congress exercise the authority given to it by the Constitution to pay our debts and to allow us to pay our debts.
So what would be irresponsible -- and I think a lot of commentators have begun to explore this -- would be to allow for hostage-taking to govern this debate and get into a cycle in the United States where every time a President of any party faces another party in Congress that has a demand that it cannot get through the ballot box or through the normal procedures in Congress and threatens to default if it doesn't get what it wants, you're talking about turning the full faith and credit of the United States into something that's an open question every year, every quarter. It could be every week. And that's just unacceptable, and so the President is drawing a line here. We cannot do it. He will not do it.
Q But I think we've seen our last meeting here on this issue with congressional leaders. Why bother to have any more meetings, right? There's nothing really to negotiate.
MR. CARNEY: Well, there's nothing to negotiate over whether or not Congress ought to reopen the government, the House ought to allow a vote so that the majority can reopen the government as opposed to -- I mean, the only thing that's preventing John Boehner from putting this clean bill on the floor and allowing a majority to pass it are the demands of 30 to 60 members of the tea party caucus, the most extreme members of his conference. And it just cannot be the case where a faction of one party in one House gets to decide whether or not we default.
So the answer is, as I was saying earlier, as the President said all year, we can and should sit down and try to move forward to resolve our differences on our broader budget challenges. And we can do that. And the President has shown good faith in his willingness to do that. But he will not --
Q After this --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, absolutely.
Q So we shouldn't expect any more meetings until this --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I can't predict -- as I wouldn't before -- when the next conversation or meeting will take place. The President I think made very clear what our views are, what his views are in the meeting last night. And we thought it was a useful meeting to have. So hopefully, the Speaker will cut his losses here -- and not just his losses, but the American people's losses -- and do the right thing and just put it to a vote. Just allow the vote.
If they're convinced, as I saw I think the Majority Leader suggest, that there aren't Democrats to support this, we're willing to take that risk. We think he is wrong. We know he is wrong. You know he is wrong. The Republicans are there to deliver the votes so that the majority can speak and we can reopen the government.
Q So just to clear this up on what the President is willing to negotiate -- he has made it clear, you have made it clear -- nothing negotiable about it as long as the health care act is involved. Does that mean that you have to have a clean CR before he negotiates anything else, or not?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q So he is not willing to negotiate any --
MR. CARNEY: Here's the thing. The government is closed, Bill. All we've said is reopen the government on a short-term CR without any partisan demands associated with it. The short-term CR is based on levels of spending set essentially by Republicans. Some of them have said that we should call that a victory. Well, maybe they could.
Q But you --
MR. CARNEY: Bill, let me finish. You're absolutely right. We are not making any demands associated -- we're not saying change the levels of spending. We're not asking to attach legislation to improve our background check system for gun purchases. We're not asking for anything -- the President is not asking for anything in return for Congress extending -- opening the government at levels of spending that existed for the past year. So if that's a problem, why didn't they shut down the government in some other way previously?
Q So what if they're asking for something other than the Affordable Health Care Act?
MR. CARNEY: Reopen the government on a short-term CR and we can negotiate our budget challenges.
Q For example, dropping the tax on medical devices or something like that?
MR. CARNEY: There are two issues here. First of all, that is an Affordable Care Act issue. Secondly --
Q Are you ruling that out?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Medical device --
MR. CARNEY: As a condition of reopening the government, yes.
Q Oh, okay.
MR. CARNEY: What the President has said all along is that he is eager and willing to have discussions with lawmakers of both parties who believe that there are ways to improve the Affordable Care Act, make it more effective, make it more efficient and better for the American people.
Q But not before the Republicans cave?
MR. CARNEY: What's that?
Q But not until the Republicans cave?
MR. CARNEY: It's not caving to open the government at levels of spending that you set.
Q Well, it's caving from their current positions.
MR. CARNEY: Because their current position is to hold the American economy and the American people hostage in exchange for their ideological demands. So as many, many Republicans now -- my argument is made a little easier here, because I'm simply echoing Republican senators, Republican commentators and some Republican congressmen in calling on the Speaker of the House to allow the House of Representatives to vote -- because it's the right thing to do, because shutting down the government over a demand that they couldn’t achieve in Congress and they couldn’t achieve the 40-odd times they've tried to do it since, they couldn’t achieve in the Supreme Court and they couldn’t achieve in an election is just common sense. So they should just do it, and then we can go about the business of discussing and debating and negotiating a broader budget agreement.
Q This could go on for a very long time, I guess.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's up to the Speaker, isn't it? I mean, it's -- we can't call a vote on the House. If we could, we would have done that already, and we know a majority would vote yes. So I think it's worth asking the Speaker why not let this vote -- this bill come to the floor to reopen the government and see how it goes. And I think -- again, citing Republicans -- a lot of Republicans would vote for it, which, if this is all about internal Republican Party politics and job security, I think would provide pretty good cover, even as they did the right thing. And then they should make sure that the debt ceiling is raised, and then we can move on here and stop allowing these wholly unnecessary crises to dominate what happens here in Washington and we can get about the business of helping the middle class.
Q Okay, just one more time -- would the President agree to negotiate other things if the Republicans allowed a vote to come to the floor?
MR. CARNEY: The President has agreed to negotiate.
Q But would he agree to negotiate specific items?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President said he's willing to talk about any idea that any lawmaker has when it comes to improving or making more effective the Affordable Care Act. He is willing to have discussions, as he's demonstrated all year long, about how to invest in our economy, invest in the middle class, and have our deficits continued to be reduced in a responsible way in the medium and long term.
And he's put -- he hasn’t just said it, he's put it in writing, and he's put it in concrete proposals that represent serious compromise. And we hope Republicans will do the same. Thus far, they haven’t, although there are certainly many Republicans who, in conversations with him and with other members of his team, have expressed interest in trying to find that common ground and a willingness to not rule out -- like, the whole idea is you’ve got to be willing to compromise. You can’t stick to your absolutist position. The President has demonstrated that he’s always been willing to do that, and we hope Republicans in the future will as well.
Q Jay, on the debt ceiling, the President said again today that the debt ceiling is only about old spending, using the analogy about you order a meal, a couple of glasses of wine and you try to skip out on the tab. To use your analogy about credit cards, isn’t it not just about paying the credit card for that meal, but also if the credit card company says, “Mr. Carney, we’re going to increase your credit limit from $5,000 to $10,000,” that then allows you to borrow and spend more money down the road?
MR. CARNEY: Only if Congress says so.
Q We know that they’re going to, though, since spending has increased through Republican and Democratic Congresses, right?
MR. CARNEY: Congress -- wait, who -- so you say we should default to stop Congress from exercising its right to set --
Q I’m not saying we should default. I’m just saying -- you’re saying it’s only about old spending.
MR. CARNEY: It is.
Q No, but it opens the door to new spending as well, doesn’t it?
MR. CARNEY: What opens the door -- the only way to spend money is through an act of Congress. That’s the only way. So they decide how we spend money, and that’s -- and we should debate what our budget priorities are and what programs we should invest in and what programs we should cut back in, through the normal process.
What is impermissible is to use the necessity of authorizing the Treasury to pay our bills as leverage in order to achieve ideological aims that you can’t achieve otherwise. And why that’s impermissible is because the consequences of default are economically calamitous. And guess what happens with -- aside from all the human damage that that’s done to middle-class families everywhere, that devastating impact on our economy means potential recession, certainly a slowdown in growth, which means fewer revenues, which means greater deficits, which means compounding the problem all over again, not even to mention the sort of long-term impact of default on America’s standing in the world and America’s influence economically around the world.
Q And what you’re saying about all the potential bad consequences, on top of that, the Treasury report Jon mentioned that said the crisis could be worse than 2008. The President tells CNBC yesterday Wall Street should actually be more worried than they are right now. Don’t Presidents in both parties usually, in times of crises, try to calm the public down? Why are you trying to get the public more scared?
MR. CARNEY: We’re not. We’re just providing them with the basic facts.
Q You said Wall Street should be more worried.
MR. CARNEY: They should. Default is --
Q That’s the opposite of what you just said. You just said we’re not trying to scare people.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, you can go on -- I encourage you to test how it plays if you go on the air and say, “America, chill out, default is not a big deal.” It is a big deal and the American people need to know that.
Q Last thing is, the President -- we’re just two and a half weeks after the Navy Yard shooting, and he used this analogy today about putting a gun to someone’s head in negotiations, putting a gun to the American people’s head by threatening a shutdown. When he was in Tucson in 2011, he said we’re so sharply polarized right now, we need to “make sure we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Is it a good idea to be saying Republicans are putting a gun to the head of the American people right now?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the Republicans, again -- I can cite numerous Republicans, including one congressman who referred to his fellow Republicans as “lemmings wearing suicide vests.” Numerous Republicans have used the hostage analogy. Numerous Republican commentators have used the gun-to-the-head analogy. I hardly think this is unique. I mean, again, if you’re suggesting that hurt feelings are why we’ve shut down the government --
Q I’m not saying hurt feelings, I’m saying the President himself said this kind of rhetoric should --
MR. CARNEY: You yourself referred to Republicans shooting at themselves the other day in the briefing. So --
Q I’m talking about the President’s words. I’m talking about the President.
MR. CARNEY: I think the people who watch this could probably get through that.
Q I’m just saying the President.
MR. CARNEY: Kristen.
Q Jay, thanks. I want to follow up on one of Ed’s questions. In addition to saying that the markets should be concerned, the President said Washington is having a negative impact on the lives of ordinary people and that may manifest itself in terms of the stock market going down. Is there any concern that that type of language is goading the markets?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s -- look, we know from what happened in 2011 that the mere threat of default, the first time in our history, through all the times that the debt ceiling has been raised, where it became obvious that there was the possibility because of the enthusiasm with which some in Congress greeted the possibility that we might default, markets reacted. We were downgraded. It was bad for the economy. It’s a statement of fact.
And it needs to be avoided because the consequences are real. It’s not just markets go up, markets go down, people make money, people lose money. Real people in America who are doing the right thing, paying their bills, trying to send their kids to school, meeting their commitments and obligations, paying their mortgage would suffer tremendously in that kind of scenario.
And that's why Republican leaders as well as the President have said we can't let the country default, and we just hope that they're serious about this. If they are, they lift the debt ceiling without drama or delay.
Q Jay, you’ve always been hesitant to discuss the markets from the podium. Isn’t the President of the United States discussing the markets in that manner, potentially we’re going to have --
MR. CARNEY: He was simply stating a fact. In 2011, when Republicans flirted with default, there were negative consequences -- many of them: slowed-down growth, slowed-down job creation, a hit to the markets, and a downgrading of our credit rating for the first time in the history of this country. That is the least of what would happen if we actually defaulted. The President is obviously also carrying the responsibility of informing the American people of the truth, and that is the truth.
Q I want to ask you about Iran quickly. Prime Minister Netanyahu told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he’s open to a diplomatic solution, but he also said that the key is to maintain pressure through sanctions and the threat of military force. Does the President agree with that assessment that sanctions and military force need to stay on the table?
MR. CARNEY: The President has never taken anything off the table. It is because of the President’s policies and the positions that he’s taken and the diplomatic work that he’s done that we have the most comprehensive set of sanctions in history imposed on Iran, and that set of sanctions and the impacts that it has had are the reason why we are where we are. Iranian leaders have acknowledged that the sanctions have had a devastating effect on their economy. And countries around the world have participated in that sanctions regime, some of them at some cost to themselves, because they all agree that it is essential that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Now, we are in a period where, because of the new government and what the new government has been saying and indications from the Supreme Leader and others that there is the potential at least for seriousness about resolving this problem, that we're exploring that potential. And there was a P5-plus-1 meeting at which the Secretary of State and his counterpart, the Foreign Minister participated. And there will be another P5-plus-1 meeting this month.
So we're going to test the theory. But it is because of the consensus and the seriousness of purpose and the commitment that the President has made to the idea that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon that we are where we are.
Q I'm sure you're aware of the language that’s been used -- the "wolf in sheep's clothing," according to Netanyahu. Does that undercut the President's diplomatic efforts with Iran, that type of language?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think, as I said the other day, Israel has every right to be skeptical -- everyone has a right to be skeptical, because for so long now, Iran has failed to live up to its international obligations. It has flouted the demands of the international community to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
We hope, because the window of opportunity remains open to resolve this diplomatically, that Iran is now serious about resolving this issue, and in a transparent and verifiable way, giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions, and by doing that, rejoining the community of nations.
Yes, and then Carol.
Q I have a question about the debt ceiling. You mentioned that there's tremendous amounts of confusion in the public, or actually, just out-and-out ignorance; nobody really understands what it means. Is it your understanding that if the debt ceiling is reached, no Social Security checks can be issued?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer -- before I make specific statements about consequences on those kinds of things, I'd refer you to the Treasury or the Social Security Administration. There is no question that the impact of default, especially if it were prolonged, would have those kinds of -- that there would be those kinds of impacts. But, again --
Q But immediately it wouldn’t happen.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there's a schedule on which Social Security checks go out. But look, when you start failing to pay your bills, and the world knows you've failed to pay your bills, the consequences are hard to predict, but they're all bad.
So on, like, the timing and schedule of things that would happen I would refer you to the agencies responsible for them. But there is no question that these impacts would be devastating to Social Security recipients, to Americans across the country.
Q Well, I guess -- you have Republicans on the Hill saying it wouldn’t be so bad, there is no such thing as a default. The President is out there kind of clanging the alarm bells, but don’t you need to specifically lay out for the American people exactly what it means so people can understand --
MR. CARNEY: I think the Treasury has done that today.
Q -- in terms of Social Security checks, Medicare, everything else?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Treasury has provided a report today. I mean, if there are Republicans out there who think that default is not a bad thing, they're profoundly wrong -- profoundly. And the idea that you can pay some of your bills but not all of them -- you try it next month. See what happens if you pay your -- make your car payment but not your mortgage. Try that for a few months and see what happens. Your credit rating is going to go into the toilet and you're going to be in trouble -- you won't be able to borrow money anymore, and you're the -- people's understanding of the full faith and credit of Mara Liasson will change dramatically.
You've got to pay your bills. And you've got to pay them on time. We always have. The United States always has.
Q I just have one question about what happened the last time when Mitch McConnell -- I don’t even know what you want to call it -- gimmick -- where you actually raised the debt ceiling, Congress let the President do it, if I'm remembering this correctly.
MR. CARNEY: There was a mechanism -- right.
Q They didn’t vote on it -- yes, they actually passed the responsibility to you. So they actually -- there has been a case where the President actually did raise the debt ceiling. I'm wondering if that gives you any --
MR. CARNEY: Well, because there was an act of Congress. That authority does not reside with the President. The Congress acted to give -- to create a mechanism whereby, as I understand it -- and please don't hold me to this because my memory is a little fuzzy -- the debt ceiling would be raised and then Congress would have the opportunity to --
Q Reject it.
MR. CARNEY: -- reject it. Thank you, Jon. But that took an act of Congress. So Congress has the authority here. Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling, pure and simple, because default is an unacceptable outcome.
Carol, then John. I did say Carol before, sorry.
Q What result was the President trying to achieve when he said that Wall Street should be more worried?
MR. CARNEY: When he had a conversation with CEOs here in town for the Financial Services Forum the other day -- yesterday, I think it was -- he and they noted what the terrible impacts of default would be. And I think that what the President was conveying today is that people need to understand that this isn't just political theater here, that as we're seeing with the current shutdown, it is not entirely clear who is running the show in one House of Congress. And when you have a minority of one party in one House of Congress and one branch of government shutting down the government and threatening to default, that's a pretty a precarious situation.
So I think that there is an understandable tendency not just on Wall Street but around the country to look at dysfunction in Washington and think, there they go again. And they're right. We've seen this movie too many times in the past. But the threat is real. Because we're so concerned about the tactics that Republicans have shown themselves willing to use in the past, and right now with the shutdown and the refusal to open government because of not being able to get their partisan demands, we're now concerned that this will play itself out again when it comes to Congress's responsibility not to default, not to allow the United States to default.
So the President's message -- I think all of us need to be aware that this is not -- I don’t want to offend Ed here -- but people are playing with live ammunition. And these are serious, serious matters. And that's why it's so important not to -- like, on some things, there are political fights all year long in Washington. But some things you can't mess with. You cannot mess with the full faith and credit of the United States. You should not attach partisan demands to the simple responsibility of making sure that the United States does not default.
Q It sounds like he wanted a reaction from the markets when he was saying that --
MR. CARNEY: I've answered the question about the markets about five times. What we're saying is that there are real consequences to default. We saw them, the consequences of the mere threat of default in 2011 -- the first time that a party to these kinds of discussions has ever credibly threatened to default. And we saw what happened. So default itself would be even more catastrophic. And, simply, leaving it an open question creates uncertainty as we saw in 2011.
Q Does it say anything about the impact of the President's words that the markets have not reacted today?
MR. CARNEY: Again, you guys are focusing on today. The issue is, will Congress do the right thing and raise the debt ceiling to make sure that the United States of America does not for the first time in our history default on its obligations.
The President’s point today and the point he’s been making for some time, and the point he made last night is he will not horse-trade over the tea party’s partisan demands when it comes to the need to ensure that the United States maintain its full faith and credit. He just won’t do it. That behavior that the Republicans are engaging in is reckless and irresponsible. And we’re seeing it in the shutdown, and it would be magnified exponentially if they were to pursue that path when it came to raising the debt ceiling.
Q Jay, we got a situation here with about 18 Republicans who say they will vote for a clean debt ceiling increase. Comfy spot for them. They get to say they would do that -- most of them are in blue states -- but they're not actually voting with the Democrats. Is there anything the President is doing or should be doing to offer them carrots or perhaps sticks given that they come from these swing districts to get them to break the logjam?
MR. CARNEY: The President is calling on -- all he’s doing is trying to make it clear that he’s not asking for anything, and therefore he thinks it’s the right and responsible thing for Republicans not to ask for anything in return for Congress’s agreement to extend government funding and therefore reopen the government at existing levels of spending.
Again, I have to -- I’ve sort of hung my reporter’s notebook, so I don't know this firsthand as well as I used to, but I’ve seen some very good reporters write that -- with great confidence and now tweet -- something that didn't exist when I was doing it -- but that with great confidence that not only would 17 or 20 Republicans vote for this if the Speaker put it on the floor, but significantly more would. I don't know.
But we’re confident that a majority of the House would vote yes, and that therefore the government could be reopened without a problem very quickly. And the Speaker ought to just do it.
Q Should the President be reaching out to some of those Republicans directly?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think that -- look, a lot of these Republicans have said they oppose -- obviously, they supported a different candidate. A lot of them opposed Obamacare. I don't think they're -- I don't think the President calling up and saying, do the right thing when they’ve already said they’d do the right thing is going to help them politically, particularly, especially in their party.
The issue here is, will the Speaker of the House allow them to vote. And if he does, we can reopen the government today.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Let -- sorry.
Q Thanks, Jay. You touched on this before; I wonder if you’ll go into it a little more deeply. What would be lost if the President didn’t go to Asia? Would it be that big a deal if he didn’t go on this particular trip?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I don’t think I can go into it more deeply. There are -- these are the kinds of meetings where representation by the United States at the highest level achieves good things for us in terms of our national security and in terms of our role in the global economy. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the world and -- our fastest-growing economies in the world, so many of them are in Asia.
And the President has made a point throughout his presidency of making sure that we change our sort of -- reposition ourselves as a nation so that we’re oriented towards Asia in a way that we weren’t because of our extreme focus, under the previous eight years, on the Middle East. The Middle East is very important. We all know it is, and obviously the President is very focused on that as well. But when it comes to our broader economic and strategic goals as a nation, we need to be engaged in Asia. And these kinds of trips help us do that.
Now, we’ve already announced that part of the trip is being curtailed. And as I said earlier, we’ll be evaluating that steadily as time goes on and make you aware of any scheduling changes as they come about.
Q Is it accurate that the President may meet with President Putin while in Indonesia?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have any schedules to preview for you, in part because I’ve obviously been focused on other things.
Q It seemed a little bit like, in answer --
MR. CARNEY: But I do believe Russia is a participant in the summit, at least in Indonesia.
Q It seemed a little bit like, in answer to Roberta’s question, you were saying the President won’t leave the country if the government is still in shutdown. Has that determination been made?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate about what would happen "if," because it’s -- there is still time for that question to be moot. The Speaker of the House can reopen the government today, and we hope he does.
Alexis, then Steve.
Q Jay, I have a quick follow-up to what John was asking you. I just want to make sure I understand, because you mentioned dozens of times the like-minded House Republicans who would ally themselves with the President today on a clean CR, and people like The Washington Post or news organizations have that list; you know who those folks are. And they have publicly said things that they would like to convey -- they sound like they’d like to convey to the President himself. So let me just clarify -- the President sees no utility in perhaps having a meeting with the like-minded House Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, Alexis --
Q No, I just want to ask -- to mix things up, to apply pressure on the Speaker, who is stuck? No? There’s no utility?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have, like, a strategic plan to unveil to you today in terms of how we’re going to convince the Speaker to do the obvious and right thing here. These Republicans have spoken out themselves, and according to the reporting by credible people, including some very closely tied to the Republican Party, there are other Republicans who would gladly vote to reopen the government if a clean CR were placed on the House.
So I don’t think -- I think it’s a pretty safe thing to say that Republicans aren’t waiting for a phone call from the President to get -- for them to decide whether or not it’s the right thing to do to open the government.
Q That’s not what I’m suggesting.
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying, I’m not going to -- I don’t have a --
Q I’m just trying to --
MR. CARNEY: If you’re recommending strategy --
Q I’m not recommending anything. I’m just following up, because you sounded dismissive --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, I’m not. I think --
Q -- to the idea that the President could learn something from them, or that could be useful, or that it makes things --
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President -- Alexis, Alexis --
Q That’s all I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re not. You’re stating. But the President has met with compromise-minded Republicans all year long, and he hopes to meet with as many here --
Q In the House?
MR. CARNEY: Some in the House. But the President looks forward to meetings with Republican lawmakers who want to find common ground on budget issues. Right now, the House just needs to hold a vote on a clean CR to reopen the government, and then move quickly to ensure that the United States doesn’t default and that nobody is under any fear that the United States might default, because it’s too important to engage in the strategy that House Republicans have engaged in thus far.
Q On the question of negotiating, Republicans don’t seem to believe the President that he won’t negotiate.
MR. CARNEY: I disagree.
Q Majority Leader Cantor just sent out a letter to his colleagues outlining their strategy, saying that he’s confident that “if we keep advancing common-sense solutions to the problems created by the shutdown, the Senate Democrats and President Obama will eventually agree to meaningful discussions that would allow us to ultimately resolve this impasse.” They don’t seem to believe that the President can sort of stay in his corner and not negotiate. What can you do to convince them? Because I think they look at the last couple of years and say, hey, he’s negotiated with us before, he’s given us trillions of dollars in spending cuts every time we’ve had one of these crises, he’s eventually caved to something. What's different about this time? What can you say that --
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the statement -- the very, very, very brief statement the Speaker of the House made after the meeting last night. I don’t think there's any doubt in the Speaker's mind that the President is very firm and crystal clear about his position on this.
Congress needs to do the right thing, open the government, make sure the United States will pay its bills, and then we can move on and in a responsible way continue to discuss and debate and negotiate a broader budget deal. That’s it. That’s our position, and it's not changing. Because the thing you just described is -- we're going to keep at this until we get what this is all about, right? It's about trying to undo the results of an election, trying to undo the results of votes in the House and the Senate, trying to undo a ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act by using the debt ceiling or the closure of the government as leverage. And the President's taking a position.
And I actually don’t -- I don’t believe that you're right in assessing that they don’t understand how clear and firm he is on this. I think they know very clearly that he's not going to do this; he's not going to negotiate over Congress's responsibility to ensure that the United States pays its bills. That’s a responsibility that is provided to them by the Constitution, and they have to fulfill that responsibility.
Q It's a new position for him, though. It's a new position to say, I'm not going to negotiate over a CR. These are -- did the President learn something from the last few years where, every time, as he's complained over and over again, we have a crisis every three months? And has he finally learned that if he keeps giving in, that three months later --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we can have a longer discussion about that assessment. If you're saying that the Republicans have gotten everything they’ve wanted over the last few years, they should just declare victory and open the government. I don't think they believe that. I think they understand that -- because we’ve seen them act it out -- that the President did have a significant -- make significant strides on a number of policy objectives, and continues to, and he has done it in concert with Congress.
And again, I just disagree with the idea that the President has been anything but clear, or that anybody in any leadership position anyway on Capitol Hill has any doubts about that.
2:04 P.M. EDT