Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/19/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Happy Monday to you all. Before I take your questions, I have a couple of things to say at the top.
First of all, as some of you may have seen, today we announced that the President will host the fourth White House Science Fair next Tuesday, May 27th. This year’s fair will focus on girls and women who are excelling in STEM fields, and will highlight this administration’s continued commitment to helping more women enter into STEM fields as part of our efforts to expand opportunity for all.
The White House Science Fair will feature about 100 students from more than 30 states representing different STEM competitions that recognize the talents of our next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors and innovators.
Secondly, I’d like to let you know that, on Wednesday, President Obama will host an event at the Department of the Interior where he will sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south central New Mexico. By establishing the monument, the President will permanently protect more than 496,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans. A recent independent study found that a new national monument could generate $7.5 million -- $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities, while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers and recreational users.
This signing is part of our larger week-long focus on helping businesses invest here in America to further grow our economy and create jobs. The President will discuss this more at a meeting here at the White House tomorrow with business leaders and at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Thursday.
And now to your questions. Julie Pace.
Q Thanks, Jay. Could you give us a sense of what the House’s role was either in signing off or approving these cyber espionage charges against these military officials?
MR. CARNEY: Julie, as you know, law enforcement actions taken by the Justice Department, the filing of criminal charges, are something that are appropriately handled as a law enforcement manner -- as a law enforcement matter. It is also the case that President Obama has made cybersecurity a high priority for his administration, and it is specifically the case that the President has expressed publicly and directly with his Chinese counterparts our concerns over government-sponsored, cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets and other sensitive business issues -- business information for commercial gains.
So this is an issue that has been brought up by President Obama with President Xi in their meetings as recently as in March as a general problem that we have seen, and reflects the President’s overall concern about cybersecurity. We have consistently and candidly raised these concerns with the Chinese government. And today’s announcement reflects our growing concerns that this Chinese behavior has continued.
Now, we remain committed to developing a constructive and productive relationship with China and are ready to work with China to prevent this activity from continuing.
Q Even though it’s DOJ that may actually be levying the charges, has there been any conversation with the Chinese on more of the national security/foreign policy front about why these charges are being levied? And any concerns you may have about Chinese retaliation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as a routine matter, we will often coordinate with foreign countries on law enforcement issues to request their assistance. And that is true in this case as well.
Q Does that mean coordinate with the Chinese in order to identify these individuals?
MR. CARNEY: We coordinate with them and ask for their assistance in connection with this case. I don’t have anything more detailed for you than that. But suffice it to say that, as I mentioned at the top, the President has conveyed his general concern about this issue to President Xi. We have made it a top-line topic of conversation in our interactions with our Chinese counterparts. The overall challenge posed by cybersecurity matters is one that this President has made a top priority for his administration, and we’re going to continue to do that.
As a broader matter, I think that the President would like to see -- and has made this clear, too, to his Chinese counterparts -- cooperation and coordination on issues of cybersecurity rather than disagreement on matters like this.
Q So do you feel that this is an example where you have received cooperation from the Chinese? Have you worked with them to identify these officials? I'm just a little confused on the --
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t mean to say that we have worked with them to identify these officials, but that we seek their cooperation and assistance on matters like this, which would be routine in dealing with a foreign government and foreign nationals. What I mean is that there is and has been an opportunity for cooperation and coordination on cybersecurity issues with the Chinese, and that is certainly what we have sought and continue to seek. But let’s also be clear that the President has identified this as a challenge. He has made clear all along that when there are threats posed to our cybersecurity, to our government as well as our businesses, that he expects action to be taken and for there to be accountability.
And this action, while on a specific matter, reflects the President’s commitment and focus on making sure that cybersecurity is a priority and that people are held accountable when there are compromises to it.
Q And if I could just ask on Russia, the Kremlin says that Putin is going to be pulling troops back from the border of Ukraine. Obviously we've heard statements similar to this before. I'm wondering if the U.S. sees any sign that this time they may actually be following through on this.
MR. CARNEY: We've seen reports of President Putin’s orders for some Russian troops who were deployed for exercises on the Ukrainian border to return to their permanent bases. We've been clear about our call for the Russian military to deescalate the tension there, so such a withdrawal would be welcome. At this point, we see no indication of any movement, which has been the case, as you note, several times before. I think it's fair to say that we would know and would be able to confirm for you if the Russian military had, in fact, moved back, deployed away from the Ukrainian border, but we have not yet seen any indication that that's the case.
Q Thanks, Jay. On China, this comes as tensions have also risen in the South China Sea. Do these charges point to any broader deterioration of relations with China?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it reflects the clear-eyed nature or the clear-eyed approach that we take to our relations with China and other nations where we have matters where we disagree, but also areas where we can cooperate. And when it comes to making sure that we take action on cybersecurity, we're not going to sugarcoat our disagreements with any other nation on these issues, nor are we going to forego opportunities where we can find ground for cooperation and coordination. And we'll continue to do that.
Q On the Veterans Affairs issue, does the White House see any risk that there’s a need for criminal charges in these cases?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Mark, there is an independent inspector general investigating this matter, and it is up to the IG, in this case, to include or refer to the Department of Justice for potential action on -- potential criminal action -- potential criminal behavior. So I would refer you to the IG and to the Department of Justice for that.
It is absolutely the case that the President strongly supports Secretary Shinseki’s request to the IG to investigate the allegations that have emerged around initially the Phoenix office and have spread elsewhere because he insists that we do everything we can to ensure that our veterans are getting the care that they deserve and that they’re getting it in a timely fashion.
As you know, the Secretary is undertaking his own review. The President signed off on transferring one of his top advisors here from the White House in order to increase the capacity over at the VA for this review. Rob Nabors is now over there in place working with the Secretary and his team on the review of these allegations. And he expects there to be an efficient and effective review of the situation and for remedial action to be taken if necessary.
Q On one of the Sunday talk shows, the President’s Chief of Staff seemed to stop short of a full-throated expression of confidence in Secretary Shinseki. Is the President’s confidence in him still unwavering at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would disagree with that characterization. The President believes that Secretary Shinseki has in his tenure at the VA overseen significant progress on a number of fronts, overseen the increase in appropriations for the VA over the previous administration, significantly, at the President’s request –- included in his budget request; has overseen an increase in the services provided to our veterans, even as we have increased dramatically the number of veterans that are provided service because of the two wars that have been fought -– major wars, long wars -- one that has come to an end, another that is coming to an end; has overseen substantial progress in reducing the backlog in disability claims, even as Secretary Shinseki has overseen new policies instituted by this administration that allow for those who have illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange from the Vietnam War to have a presumption of a claim when they ask for a disability claim through the VA, and for those who suffer from PTSD as a result of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to have the same presumption.
This has put significant stress on the system but it is absolutely the right thing to do, and that is why Secretary Shinseki from the time he came into office at Veterans Affairs has made these issues a priority.
Q Can I just follow up and try to clarify on Julie’s questions on China? You said we coordinated with them and asked for their assistance in connection with this case.
MR. CARNEY: I said that as a general matter –- this is basically in response to the question about whether or not we would raise this issue with China before the announcement that you saw was made. And I would say, as a routine matter, we coordinate with foreign countries on law enforcement issues to request their assistance, and that is true in this case.
But, again, it is true in the sense that it is routine to notify and request the assistance of a foreign country when this kind of situation arises and an announcement like this is going to be made.
Q So my question is only -- who is the “them” in that sentence? I mean, is there --
MR. CARNEY: The Chinese government.
Q So generally no -- you can’t be any more specific about --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to Justice and State. But as I understand it, the Chinese government.
Q And the kind of assistance that --
MR. CARNEY: Both here and in Beijing, in terms of the request to the government, both here and in Beijing -- here, obviously, through the embassy -- for their assistance in connection with this case.
Q But you can’t be any more specific about what kind of assistance that would be?
MR. CARNEY: I cannot. You may direct your questions to the Justice Department. I think what you’re seeing here are individuals identified and charged. And the assistance you would seek from a foreign government in that matter may be self-evident.
Q What about this announcement on Friday that the Under Secretary of Health over at Veterans Affairs, Robert Petzel, was leaving that department? It’s been reported that he was already scheduled to leave the VA later on in the year, so how is that really any kind of accountability over at the VA? And might we see other officials who were in charge in this area of overseeing veterans care and these wait times, might we see other officials leave that Department?
MR. CARNEY: On the issue of Dr. Petzel, I would hope that you had noted that the top official in charge -- he was -- of the veterans health system was requested to resign by the American Legion, and he did so the day that -- one day after his Senate testimony. The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a “step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.” So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development.
On the broader issue of accountability, we are of the view that the kinds of allegations that we have seen need to be investigated rigorously. And once we know all the facts, it is absolutely appropriate that accountable individuals ought to be held to account.
But we are not of the view, as a general matter, that the latter comes before the former. The investigation needs to continue and needs to be completed, and then we can assess what the facts are. I would point you to the testimony by the inspector general that included an update on the progress he had made on some of the allegations, including those in reports by your network, and that there is still much to be learned about what happened in Phoenix. And we eagerly await the results of that investigation.
Q And just to follow up on that, when was the President first made aware of these problems, of these fraudulent lists that were being kept to hide the wait times? When was he first made aware of those problems? And when did other White House officials, top White House officials become aware of these problems?
MR. CARNEY: When you say “these problems,” the fact that there have been bureaucracies --
Q The delays have been known for some time, but the fraudulent --
MR. CARNEY: If you mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your network out of Phoenix, I believe we learned about them through the reports. I will double-check if that’s not the case. But that’s when we learned about them, and that’s when, as I understand, Secretary Shinseki learned about them and immediately took the action that he has taken, including instigating his own review -- or initiating his own review, but also requesting that the inspector general investigate.
And I think, again, I would point you to his testimony as well as the inspector general’s testimony last week.
Q And so do you think that these allegations just died at the VA? Because it seems as there is just a whole crop of whistleblowers surfacing at all these different facilities around the country. I mean, it just seems logical that these allegations, these accusations would at some point have made their way to the VA, and they would have been taken so seriously that they would have been addressed over here at the White House or at least brought to the attention of people here.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think you’re confusing two things here. I was responding to the question about when folks here found out about the Phoenix allegations. For broader questions about reporting of potentially fraudulent waiting lists and other matters that have been raised in recent days and weeks, I would refer you to the Veterans Affairs Department.
Q Let me follow up on that -- because putting the fraudulent lists and the hiding of wait times aside, this issue of delays, inadequate care, this has been going on for a long time. The President talked about this when he was running for President in August of 2007. He said, “When we fail to keep faith with our veterans, the bond between our nation and our nation’s heroes becomes frayed. When a veteran is denied care, we are all dishonored.”
And so does the President feel at this point that we’ve all been basically dishonored by these allegations?
MR. CARNEY: He certainly stands by what he said then, and that is why when he was elected to this office, having said what he did about the care we need to provide to our veterans, he actively pursued significant increases in our budgets for veterans care -- substantially increasing the amount that we spend in order to take care of our veterans; substantially increasing the availability of services to veterans and availability of disability claims to veterans on his watch because of that sacred trust that he’s talked about.
There is no question that a lot more work needs to be done. And Secretary Shinseki would be the first to tell you that, as he did last week when he testified. And he expects --
Q But he also said that “building a 21st century VA to serve our veterans will be an equal priority to building a 21st century military to fight our wars.” Clearly, that 21st century Veterans Affairs has not been built if something like this is occurring.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jim, I don't want to quibble with your assessments. I’m not at all suggesting that the allegations we have seen are not serious, which is why you’ve seen the response from the administration that you’ve seen.
I think it is important to allow the investigations -- investigation and review to come to a completion so we can see what the facts are, and you can see the actions that Secretary Shinseki and others at the VA take in response to any revelations that are contained within the results of that investigation and that review.
Q Thank you, Jay. I’m trying to understand what really the U.S. wants to accomplish with Eric Holder’s announcement regarding criminal cyber spying charges filed against five Chinese military. Mr. Holder said this case serves as a “wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat.” But the Chinese clearly don’t need any wake-up calls since they are doing so. So what is the wake-up call for? And what is the U.S. hoping to see --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to obviously the comments by the Attorney General who spoke specifically about this matter and is the head of the Department of Justice, which is pursuing the case.
I think as a broader matter, the issue of cybersecurity, and the threats posed by those who would compromise cybersecurity here in the United States, are real and growing. And a case like this only highlights that fact. I believe that’s what the Attorney General was referring to in those comments.
We need to make sure that it is clear to everyone that we won’t tolerate the kind of government-sponsored, cyber-enabled espionage, if you will, or threats against either our government cyber systems or our private sector cyber systems. And that’s what the -- that is the view that the President has taken from the beginning, and he’s been very blunt about it in his conversations with his Chinese counterparts, and that bluntness has been reflected in the conversations that others in this administration have had with their counterparts.
As I noted earlier, we strongly believe that we should be able to cooperate and coordinate with China on these matters, but we’re also going to continue to be very clear and blunt about the kinds of problems that we’ve seen that this case reflects.
Q Thanks. Can you confirm reports that Shaun Donovan is going to be leaving HUD and going over to OMB?
MR. CARNEY: As I think you might expect, I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time. When we have personnel announcements to make, we make them in the usual fashion.
Q Two questions. First of all, given what we’ve heard from Mr. Snowden about U.S. involvement in intelligence-gathering, what is the difference between the U.S. spying on Siemens and Mercedes-Benz and the like and what these five Chinese men are being accused of?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, without addressing any specific allegation that may have been made through the so-called disclosures revelations, there is no comparison here. Since well before these recent disclosures, we have made clear that our signals intelligence programs serve a specific national security mission, and that does not include providing a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. economic interests. In other words, we do not do what those Chinese nationals were indicted for earlier today -- period. So there is a significant and important distinction between the gather of intelligence for national security reasons, which the United States does and surely China does and virtually every other nation on Earth does, and the gathering of economic data for the purpose of providing a competitive advantage to companies in your own country. That is not something that the United States does.
Q So you can assure us that any information gathered from Mercedes-Benz and Siemens in that case was not used --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to address any specific allegation that you may be citing. I’m going to say that, yes, I can assure you we do not gather intelligence for the benefit of U.S. companies.
Q And just a question on the fallout -- because the Chinese Foreign Ministry has already said that it has pulled out of the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group. And if that becomes a trend, some of the very platforms for the U.S. government to engage with China and cooperate with China over these issues will disappear. So what’s the preparation at the White House to continue to cooperate given this announcement today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we believe that open and frank dialogue with China and our allies and key international cyber actors is crucial to building trust and developing common rules of the road on this emerging strategic issue. We will continue to engage China on areas of cooperation such as network defense and law enforcement investigations, as well as challenges such as military doctrine and cyber-enabled economic espionage. We hope to see reciprocal efforts from Beijing.
As I was saying earlier, we believe there are ample and important areas where we can and should be able to cooperate with China on issues related to cybersecurity, but it is also very important that the rules of the road are established and that they’re followed. And I think that’s the general principle that the President attaches to these issues as it relates to China and other nations.
Q Jay, I want to follow up on Cheryl and another topic real fast. What does this administration do when it comes to vetting a possible candidate for an open position that could be coming up soon, what have you, in this environment right now?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think our processes are any different than previous administrations. I don’t have a detailed checklist for you for how that process works.
Q As we quickly approach 2016, is the possibility of running for President something --
MR. CARNEY: Not that quickly I hope.
Q Well, okay. But is the process of running for President something that could strike out a candidate for any position that could be open in the future?
MR. CARNEY: When the President seeks to appoint individuals to significant positions in his administration, he looks for their qualifications, obviously, and seeks to appoint the very best people to the positions that are open. But I’m not aware of any criteria related to the issue you just raised.
Q So what do you think about Mayor Castro?
MR. CARNEY: You probably remember that President Obama asked Mayor Castro to deliver the keynote address at the President’s convention in 2012. I think that reflects the high regard that President Obama holds -- in which President Obama holds Mayor Castro. He’s mayor of a significantly sized city and has done an excellent job in that position. How’s that?
Q That’s great. I want to ask you the next question. (Laughter.) There’s a report that a New Hampshire policeman said some very negative things about this President. People are calling for him to resign. What is this White House saying about that? And does the President know about this story?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken about it with him and I really don’t have a comment.
Q Jay, in terms of General Shinseki, I understand the vote of confidence right now, but if this mess regarding wait times isn’t cleaned up soon, are General Shinseki’s days numbered as VA Secretary?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, our position on this is that Secretary Shinseki has presided over a VA that has significantly increased the access that veterans have to disability claims, significantly increased the number of veterans who are provided benefits, including health benefits, and has committed himself from the moment he was sworn into office to addressing the huge challenges that our growing population of veterans and the services that they need create for this country. He has aggressively implemented policies that reflect the President’s high priority -- the high priority the President associates with providing benefits to our veterans, and that is reflected in the way that is often the case here in Washington with the fact that the President has sought every year significant increases in the VA budget when he has submitted his budgets. And that focus will continue.
What the President wants is for the review and the investigation to be completed and for action to be taken to address any problems that are identified by the review and the investigation, and for individuals to be held accountable if that is appropriate. But before we make that determination we need to see what the results of the investigation and the review are.
Q So, Jay, are you suggesting, regarding Dr. Petzel, that he was forced to resign because of this controversy?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to previous statements made by Secretary Shinseki and others, and leave it at that. What I would say is that he did resign. He was identified as somebody that the American Legion thought should be held responsible, and I would point you to what the American Legion said.
Having said that, I do believe it is important, as I noted earlier, that this investigation and this review be allowed to be conducted and completed, and for us to make judgments about exactly what did happen in Phoenix and elsewhere and what didn’t, and what the causes of what happened were and who’s responsible for what happened, and whether or not anybody should be held accountable for what happened.
Q But, Jay, how can you suggest that his resignation comes as accountability when the VA put out a press release on September 20th saying he was leaving? That's almost eight months ago.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I would refer you to what the American --
Q In fact, his predecessor was nominated two weeks ago. I don't care what the American Legion has to say. I'm asking what you have to say.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the American Legion, which obviously has deep interest in this matter and has been reported on significantly by your network and others in terms of what they’ve said about this issue, and note that they look at Dr. Petzel’s resignation as “a step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.” I'll leave it at that. Those are the words that they said.
Q Is there any concern that the person that has been nominated to take over Dr. Petzel had responsibility over one of the hospitals at the center of this scandal?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that, as you know, the Secretary invited the independent IG to investigate the situation and we won't presuppose the outcome of that investigation, although we eagerly await its results. Let’s be clear, if the investigation finds any instances of wrongdoing, any individuals involved will be held accountable.
When it comes to Jeffrey Murawsky, the President’s nominee to be the Under Secretary for Health for the Veterans Health Administration, as required by law, he was one of the finalists recommended by a formal commission that included outside health experts and researchers, as well as representatives from veteran service organizations.
And with that, I'll go to Roger.
Q Jay, from your response to Jon and to Mark on Shinseki, I conclude that the President no longer has confidence in him. Is that right?
MR. CARNEY: You completely misinterpret and falsely conclude --
Q Did you say the President --
MR. CARNEY: The President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki.
Q Thank you. On another subject, on China, on the hacking activity -- does the administration think that this might slow down the Chinese hacking temporarily as it did when the report came out in February?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice in terms of the actions they’ve taken specifically on this matter. What the actions do represent or reflect is the President’s keen interest in cybersecurity, and that interest will not diminish at all.
What we certainly expect is to continue to discuss with the Chinese our concerns around these matters, as well as our belief that there is opportunity for cooperation and coordination when it comes to cybersecurity.
Q And one other thing. How would five people from China ever consider coming over here to stand trial in an American courtroom?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and perhaps the Department of State on issues like that. I think the implication of the question is that individuals shouldn’t be charged in that case, which I don’t think is the way that anyone here would view these matters when it comes to making sure that justice is served.
Q I’m asking why they wouldn’t -- why would they come to America --
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask them.
Q Jay, on VA -- when you say repeatedly that the White House is waiting for the results of the VA investigation, how do you respond to the Washington Times reporting that they have documents from the 2008 presidential transition that warned the administration that there were problems of VA hospital wait times? If you knew about it almost six years ago, why are you still waiting for the results of this investigation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would say is, the fact that, as I think someone noted earlier -- the fact is, then-candidate Obama, then-senator Obama identified problems within the VA and committed himself, should he be elected, to making sure that we enhance the budgets that we provided to the Veterans Affairs Department so that we could better serve our veterans. And what you have seen since he took office is a commitment to just that: increases in the budget authority every year over what had been the case under the previous administration.
I think that reporting that you cite also noted that there had been essentially no change in the previous years in terms of these issues. And what you have seen, as a broader matter, in this administration and under the leadership of Secretary Shinseki, is an incredibly aggressive attack on the problem of the huge backlog in disability claims, one that was exacerbated for the right reasons by this administration because we committed to veterans who suffer from illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange, that they would have a presumption of acceptance should they submit a disability claim related to that. And the same is the case with those who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- again, making the decision that was the right decision for our veterans and those who were suffering from conditions related to their service that, in turn, put more stress on the system and then making sure that we committed the resources necessary to attack the challenges created.
That doesn’t mean that they’re all solved, Ed. We would never suggest that. Secretary Shinseki made clear that he doesn’t view it that way and that he is, to quote him, “mad as hell” at the allegations that have arisen out of the Phoenix office and elsewhere. But we believe that the right thing to do is to fully investigate, fully review, take action to fix the problems that are identified, and make sure that the services are being provided to our veterans.
Q But if the administration was warned about at least hospital wait times in the 2008 transition, it would suggest two things. One, this problem predated this administration, correct? That there were problems with hospital wait times in 2008 that were made in 2006, 2007, and that's why Senator Obama mentioned it in 2007, right? That the previous administration had this problem, too.
MR. CARNEY: That is evident, yes.
Q That would be evident. So the second part that would be evident is if you were warned about it in the transition, wouldn’t you do something in 2009, 2010, 2011?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely -- which is that we asked for and received from Congress significant increases in the Veterans Affairs budget. In the meantime, we saw an increase obviously in the number of veterans demanding services from the VA because of the long wars in Afghanistan and --
Q So you’re saying you threw more money at it, which is great.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, I think that's --
Q But it’s not getting to the veterans.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s simply not the case. Again, you have more veterans being served through health centers around the country. You have more veterans having the availability of disability claims approved through that process; remember there are two separate processes overseen by the VA. And those two facts put additional stress on the system; require additional support and funding from the administration, from the government, from Congress. And what we will undoubtedly see as a result of this investigation and review -- at least probably, if not undoubtedly -- is the need to take some other action to ensure that our veterans are getting the care they deserve.
And where there is wrongdoing, the President will insist that those responsible for the wrongdoing are held accountable.
Q But if all these great things are happening, why do you keep saying and Denis McDonough is saying the President is mad as hell --
MR. CARNEY: He’s mad as hell at hearing --
Q And where is he? Why is he not expressing that to us?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I’m sure you’ll hear from him at some point on this issue soon. And he did speak to this I think in response -- I can't remember if it was to your question or somebody else’s -- when these allegations first arose.
What he has also done is acted. He has strongly supported the action taken by Secretary Shinseki. He has sent over one of his most trusted advisors from the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to assist in that review. And he expects results from the review and he hopes for results from the independent investigation.
Q One other thing on a different topic, health care. The Washington Post had a story over the weekend suggesting that there’s a major problem with the subsidies that are going to approximately 1 million Americans, that they may be getting more subsidy than they deserve based on income. It’s suggesting it’s a major problem, number one. And number two, you have some of the President’s allies on the left saying there needs to be a CEO brought in to help implement this law. How do you react to all that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on the first question about so-called inconsistencies, an inconsistency does not mean there is a problem with a consumer’s enrollment. It means that the consumer has attested that they have more information to provide to support their application for coverage, and CMS is working through those cases. We’re all individuals, like consumers are, consumers experience regular changes in income, they get married, divorced or get a new job or a raise, some of you maybe have gotten one. So it’s not surprising that there are some times when they’d have more recent information than the data source checked at the time of their application.
In many cases, it means that the consumer has experienced a change in income since filing their 2012 tax returns. Again, not unusual, and CMS is working through these issues.
On the other issue of personnel matter, look, the President is absolutely committed to both learning the lessons that we all had to learn when the website functioned so poorly at the beginning of the rollout in October, and is very focused on ensuring that we have effective implementation of the ACA going forward. I think you’ve seen that in some of the personnel announcements that we’ve made here at the White House, and I think you’ll -- we’re, as a general matter, open to suggestions when it comes to ensuring that this law is implemented in a way that makes sure that all the Americans, the millions of Americans who seek quality, affordable health insurance who have signed up for quality and affordable health insurance get it and are properly served.
Q You seem very eager to rely on the American Legion’s statement on Dr. Petzel’s resignation but not --
MR. CARNEY: I’m simply pointing that on the issue --
Q -- but not on what the American Legion wants with General Shinseki.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve made clear our view on Secretary Shinseki and the service he’s provided. I would refer you to what Secretary Shinseki has said about Dr. Petzel and what the American Legion has said about Dr. Petzel, because these questions are asked in large part in response to those who have called for personnel actions in response to some of these allegations. We’re focused on --
Q Well, why should we view this as sort of window dressing -- sort of politically advantageous because you know he was already leaving so it looks like you’re taking action.
MR. CARNEY: You can view it any way you like. I would refer you to what the American Legion has said. And I would simply say, as I said earlier, that the Secretary and the President eagerly await the results of the independent investigation.
Q Well, then why is Dr. Petzel gone? If you’re eagerly awaiting the investigation -- I mean, that’s where this sort of feels like a chasing-our-tail here. Either you want this to be seen as taking immediate action you want over here, but we’ve got to wait for an investigation.
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I would suggest to you that I was answering a question; I’m not proactively pushing this out. I simply pointed to what the American Legion said and to what others have said about his resignation. I would note that, as a general matter, we believe that the investigation ought to be completed and the results examined. We eagerly await the results of that investigation as we do the results of the review that --
Q So you didn’t push Dr. Petzel out, that’s what you’re trying to say here? That nobody pushed him out? This is not a firing.
MR. CARNEY: I think the VA has addressed this, so I would refer you to the VA.
Q But you guys -- should we characterize this as a firing or not?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, you’ve got to make some editorial decisions on your own. I am simply referring you to what the VA said and what the American Legion said.
Q All right, I want to ask you, on China. Just 11 months ago the President came out with President Xi, you guys talked about working through this issue together. A month later, there was a working group, you guys hear the President reiterate it -- concerns about this, but welcome joint efforts to develop rules, norms, behavior in cyberspace. It’s clear this has fallen apart. We had a diplomatic crisis with China on the issue of cybersecurity. How would you characterize it? I mean, is diplomacy dead on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly don’t think so. We certainly think there is ample opportunity for cooperation and coordination on these issues. What today’s announcement reflects is our growing concerns that the behavior that’s been identified by China has continued, and it’s not acceptable.
Government-sponsored, cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets and other sensitive business information for commercial gain is not something we can tolerate. And that’s been the President’s position all along. He has been extremely candid, both publicly and privately, about this matter as it relates to China and other nations, and will continue to be so.
Q Are you concerned this is going to -- the entire sort of -- this bilateral economic, every six months -- this diplomatic situation you guys set up so that every six months you guys have this working group, that it could destroy the whole working group?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that it is in the interest of both nations to pursue cooperation and coordination on these issues. And we will continue to work toward that end in our engagement with China.
We have a tremendously broad relationship with China, and it is both economic and political and military, security-related. And we will pursue our interests across the board in our engagement with China. And we believe that there are numerous areas where our interests coincide and where there is opportunity for cooperation and coordination, and an opportunity to deepen our ties with China and our strong and important relationship with China.
But where we see significant problems, where we see a failure to play by the rules, we’re not going to shy away from discussing that directly or publicly, or taking the kind of action that today’s announcement reflects.
Q Is there going to be any punishment for Syria or for Russia for failure to eradicate all the -- get rid of the chemical weapons by June 30th? There just seems to be pessimism that it’s not going to happen -- that they’re hiding the last 7.5 percent, they’re not being forthcoming, inspectors can’t seem to get their hands on it. They clearly are not going to turn this over by June 30th, so what’s the punishment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say two things. One, we believe they can and should meet the deadline.
Q But you acknowledge they’re not trying right now.
MR. CARNEY: 92.5 percent of -- based on your 7.5 percent figure -- 92.5 percent of the Syrian regime’s chemical stockpiles that were identified have been removed for destruction. We are absolutely, as our partners are, concerned about the Assad regime keeping its commitment to allow for the removal of the remaining 7.5 percent. And it is certainly, as I --
Q -- that’s the most dangerous part. I mean, we talk about percentages -- this is the worst part.
MR. CARNEY: -- as I spoke about from this podium earlier, the precursors associated with that 7.5 to 8 percent are very serious, and we expect Syria to keep its commitment. We expect Russia, which essentially vouched for Syria in this matter, to keep its commitment.
And finally, I would say that today is May 19th, and June 30th is still a number of weeks away. We want to see action by Syria to fulfill its commitment to remove the remaining chemical weapons from that country for destruction.
Q Will there be repercussions should they --
MR. CARNEY: We will certainly -- we certainly expect Syria to comply, and we expect Russia to ensure that Syria complies.
Q Will there be repercussions if either side doesn't?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll see --
Q You can't say that publicly, that any repercussions --
MR. CARNEY: I think we want to see action now, and we take this matter very seriously and will continue to press for the complete removal of the chemical weapons stockpile.
Q Would you say that under the President’s watch the VA system has gotten better -- better funded, provides better care than it did when he first started -- and that these problems are a result of -- the word you’ve invoked many times today --“stresses” in the system and not rampant mismanagement and/or fraud?
MR. CARNEY: I think the specific problems that have been identified and the allegations associated with the problems that have been identified are under investigation and review. And in terms of what was the cause and nature of those problems and whether or not these allegations -- either some or in total -- are, in fact, proven true we’ll have to wait until we see the results of the investigation what we can actually say conclusively about that.
I think as a general matter, there is no question that this administration has asked for and received and overseen the disbursement of and implementation of enhanced funding for our veterans through the VA because of the President’s commitment to improved services for our veterans. And you have seen the decisions that this administration has made to expand the care and expand the access to disability claims that veterans have reflected in the policies overseen by Secretary Shinseki at the VA.
There is no question that there are challenges that still need to be met at the VA, and Secretary Shinseki addressed those challenges in his testimony last week.
Q Is it possible that some of the stresses in the system are the inadvertent and unexpected result of some of the policy decisions this administration has made to expand and give presumptions of care to certain things that were not given the presumption before?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that when I say that adding to the disability claim backlog by expanding access to those who seek disability claims, I think I'm saying the answer is yes to that. There’s no question that when you increase the population of people who have access to disability claims and you therefore add to the disability claim backlog, you're adding stress to the system. But it was the right thing to do. And that is why Secretary Shinseki has taken the lead -- and the White House has been keenly interested in his efforts in this area -- at attacking the size of the disability backlog. And it has been reduced fully 50 percent in just the last year.
Still work to be done. Still too many people waiting too long for their claims to be processed. But it reflects the commitment that the President has, that Secretary Shinseki has, and that others here have to our veterans and to making sure that they get the care that they deserve, that they earned.
Q What is the administration’s position on this bill the House will take up later this week, the Veterans Administration Management Accountability Act, which in its writing is supposed to give senior managers more authority to punish and fire those who perform or do not meet -- underperform or do not meet expectations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the administration shares Congress’s concerns about making sure that there is accountability and effectiveness at the VA, and we're working to address the problems that have surfaced. We'll look closely at the bill. We certainly share the goals that the bill represents -- ensuring accountability at the VA. And while working with Congress to address some of the concerns we have with the details -- as we work with Congress to address some of the concerns we have with the details of the bill, I want to make clear that we share its goal of enhanced accountability.
We've also directed -- the President has -- Secretary Shinseki to make sure that the VA is maximizing its use of existing authorities to ensure accountability so that all the tools already available under the law to the VA to hold people accountable are being used even as we assess this bill.
Q And on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said today he thought it might be time to rethink Russia’s relationship with the OSCE and NATO. And if you take the third announcement now from Russia that it might be moving troops back, you have the upcoming elections on the 25th, can you give us an appraisal of the environment you see around this issue and if it is improving, or if some of the long-term expectations this administration had about sustained application of diplomatic and economic pressure are actually bearing fruit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, unless and until Russia takes concrete and verifiable action to assist in the stabilization of Ukraine and to allow for the effective electoral process to take place on May 25, I think the jury is out. As of now, Russia continues to be unhelpful in this process. Certainly it is a welcome announcement from President Putin or through his spokesman that Russia will draw down some of its troops from the Ukrainian border. But as you know, we have heard that promise before and have yet to see any indication that it's been fulfilled.
We remain very clear in our position that not only has Russia been extremely unhelpful in its efforts to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine, but that its so-called annexation of Crimea was and is illegal, and will not and has not been recognized by the United States or the international community.
What we are focused on now is the presidential election on May 25th. And it is very important that the Ukrainian people be allowed to make their own choice about their country’s future and their country’s leader. And we call upon Russia to use its influence with separatists in eastern and southern Ukraine to ensure that those separatists don't take action to undermine the electoral process in Ukraine, because we would view that very dimly indeed. And we have made clear, as have our European partners, that should Russia take steps to undermine those elections, or that election, that there will be additional costs imposed on Russia by the United States and by our partners.
Q Jay, after these charges to the Chinese, this move from the DOJ, does the Vice President bring a message of anti-cybercrime when he goes to Romania, which is a European hotbed of cybercrime, when he goes this week?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a specific agenda for the Vice President’s trip to go over with you. I would refer you to his office. Certainly the issue of cybersecurity is a matter that is of great concern to the United States in our relations not just with China, but other countries. But I would refer you to the office of the Vice President for more on his trip and the agenda associated with it.
Q And when the President golfed on Saturday with Joe O’Neill, who is the president and CEO of Public Strategies Washington, does that violate or tarnish somewhat the President’s promise to limit access for lobbyists to the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I think he played a game of golf, Jared.
Q Jay, on the VA again, just a couple quick questions. Can you shed any more light on what Rob Nabors is doing over at the VA? Give us a sense of either his schedule, how he’s operating, anything like that -- what he’s focused on?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any specifics beyond noting that he was dispatched at Secretary Shinseki’s request and with the full support of the President and the Chief of Staff here to work with the Secretary on the review that the Secretary is undertaking. For specifics on Rob’s schedule, which I'm sure is full, I'd refer you to the VA.
2:14 P.M. EDT