Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route West Point, NY, 5/28/2014
Aboard Air Force One
En Route West Point, New York
8:47 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. I know it’s an early start. Thank you for being here as we make our way to West Point where the President will deliver the commencement address. Why don’t we just go straight to questions. I’m sure you have a few.
Q What’s he going to say about helping Syrian rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Steve, as we’ve said from the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the Assad regime’s brutality against its own people creates a conflict that feeds extremism. We look at the Syria conflict as a part of a broader counterterrorism challenge, and that is why we’re going to continue increasing our support to the moderate opposition who offer the best alternative to both the murderous Assad dictatorship and the extremists who have exploited the crisis in Syria for their own malign purposes. We will also continue to increase our support for Syria’s neighbors as they continue to host refugees and confront the terrorist threat emanating from Syria.
We have a range of options that we will continue discussing within the administration and with Congress.
Q But, Jay, is this more about confronting al Qaeda and other terrorist elements within the opposition in Syria rather than going after Assad?
MR. CARNEY: No, Jim, it’s really both. What we’ve always said and what has come to pass is that the conflict launched by Assad has fed extremism, and that is why it’s so important to provide support to the moderate opposition and to continue to enhance that support in order to create that alternative, the best alternative to both the Assad regime and the extremists who have found fertile ground in the chaos created by the Assad regime.
Q Did you confirm that the President is going to announce a new military training program for the Syrian opposition?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have details. I’m going to the let the President discuss. What I did say is that we are always looking -- we have obviously provided support to the moderate opposition, and we will continue to increase that support appropriately, but I’m not going to get into details ahead of the President.
Q Jay, on the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, what kind of groundwork have you guys laid on the Hill for that -- that you’re going to need Congress to actually move that through? Is it your sense that it will be received well?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question, because the President’s speech today comes at a moment, following yesterday’s update on the disposition of our forces in Afghanistan and the winding down of that combat mission, to provide a view of the way forward after a dozen years of war. And it’s the President’s belief and his approach and policy that we should be moving away from heavy concentrations of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and going after al Qaeda elements in the way that we have to address the conflicts and the threats that exist today through separate extremist groups, some closely and some lightly and some not at all affiliated with al Qaeda.
And the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund would allow us to provide the kind of support for our partners, whether it’s in Mali and assisting with what the French have done there, or in Somalia or Yemen, to counter the threat posed by extremists in different parts of the world, from South Asia to North Africa to the Middle East.
Q And where does that money come from -- the $5 billion?
MR. CARNEY: We’re going to work with Congress on it. And it’s up to $5 billion. And we believe there is an absolutely compelling case to be made for this approach to counter the threat posed by disparate groups of extremists around the world, including in those three -- especially in those three areas I identified.
Q Will the President talk about the savings in the budget from the drawdown in Afghanistan, and what else he proposes to do with that money in addition to the counterterrorism fund?
MR. CARNEY: The President is going to focus on the path forward and the policy proposals that he believes are correct to advance our national security interests and protect our country and our allies. It is certainly the case that when you have a situation where just in Afghanistan alone we once had 100,000 troops, and by the beginning of next year we’ll have 9,800, that we will be spending less for those kinds of operations.
And I think that goes also to the point of the question earlier about the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund and the utility of taking an approach that the President will talk about today.
Q The President has had a lot of criticism of his foreign policy, Jay. What do you hope these critics will take away from this speech?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think the President is going to be focused on critics. He’ll be focused on his vision and his policies for how to continue to demonstrate American leadership around the globe -- we are the only indispensable nation; he firmly believes that -- and the steps we need to take to counter the threats that exist in this world in the wake of all of the heroic efforts that our military have conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And the President’s belief is that we need to adapt to the threats that are there. The fact is, in Afghanistan, as the President talked about yesterday, we’ve made enormous progress in going after the core al Qaeda leadership, and in standing up Afghan National Security Forces so that they can provide the security necessary in that country so that it does not and cannot once again become a haven for al Qaeda or other extremist groups that would threaten the United States or our allies.
Q Jay, who’s the speech for? Who’s the audience that he’s trying to reach?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s going to give a significant foreign policy address, so it’s for the American --
Q So is it targeted towards the American public? Is it targeted towards our U.S. allies overseas? Is it targeted towards foreign policy elites, members of Congress? Like, who is he -- what is the intent and the goal and the audience that he hopes to reach?
MR. CARNEY: The answer to all those questions is, yes. He’s trying to reach every one of those audiences, because every one of those audiences has an interest and a stake in how we move forward after a dozen years of war. So it’s an appropriate venue for that, as graduates of West Point will -- the current class of West Point graduates will be the first in a long time who are not likely to be deployed into a war zone -- at least not Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think that reflects the kind of transition we’re making out of that footing that we’ve had for a dozen years as we tackle the challenges that we face today.
Q Jay, on another subject -- school lunches. CNN had a headline on the screen a few minutes ago that said, “First Lady In Food Fight With House GOP.” Did the President -- what was the President’s reaction or view of the First Lady’s event yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: The President and First Lady both feel very strongly about the need to continue moving forward when it comes to school nutrition and not allowing politics to pull us backward. And I think the First Lady’s words speak for themselves.
This is an important issue. We’ve made an enormous amount of progress. The fact is 90 percent of school districts are implementing the guidelines effectively. It’s contributing to improved health for our kids. And it is absolutely inappropriate to let politics and pressure from the food industry rescind this progress. And that's why the President and First Lady have taken the stand that they’re taking.
Q Any reaction to those elections in Europe where isolationist parties seem to have made big gains? Do you think it would impact in any way the T-TIP negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: I think we're still assessing the outcome of those elections. We obviously believe very strongly that the advantages of T-TIP for Europe and the United States are clear, and we’ll continue to work with our European partners on those negotiations.
Q Jay, Ed Snowden gave an interview to NBC, wide-ranging interview. Any reaction from the President to the remarks from Snowden? One of them is that he felt stranded in Russia by the State Department in revoking his passport.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a reaction from the President. I haven’t discussed it with him. Obviously, Mr. Snowden faces felony charges here in the United States and he ought to return as soon as possible to the United States to face those charges and enjoy the rights and protections that defendants in this country enjoy.
On the other matter, Mr. Snowden has been charged with felonies and he ought to return to the United States. He certainly has that option available to him.
Q Jay, what is the President’s reaction to the outing of the CIA officer in Afghanistan over the weekend?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve seen that the Chief of Staff has asked the White House Counsel to look into that and to make sure that we're taking steps so that something like that never happens again.
Q Did the President have a specific reaction to it?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything more on that.
Q Jay, on the immigration review, was there something specific that happened to -- not sure if it's the right word -- delay, whatever, to hold off on that for the summer? Was there something specific, or just a compilation of things?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President believes that there’s an opportunity in the next several months to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform in Congress. And he had been hearing from various supporters of that effort, including, a few weeks ago, from evangelicals, but more broadly that there was concern that the review undertaken by Secretary Johnson could be misused, if you will, in order to make -- create an excuse for not taking action, and we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen. And that broad coalition of supporters of comprehensive immigration reform share the President’s hope that we might see some action in the House. And we wouldn't want to create a reason not to act, or an excuse not to act.
So we're going to continue to press forward in Congress and hope that the House follows the Senate’s lead, hears the voices of, again, a broad coalition of support out there among labor and business, law enforcement and faith communities who all believe that we need to take action that would better secure our border, make sure everybody plays by the same rules, all our businesses are held accountable to that, and that would create a permanent solution for the millions of people living in the shadows in the United States.
Q Jay, is the main take-away from that that if it doesn’t occur by the end of July, if immigration reform isn't taken up by the House by then, that there’s no chance of it for the remainder of the President’s presidency?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to speculate that far into the future. I think a lot of people believe that now is the time. The fact is the Senate passed a bill in this Congress and the House has the opportunity to act. There is no question, and I doubt there’s a single question in this crowd or the broader White House press corps about the fact that if the Senate bill were put on the floor of the House it would pass with votes from Democrats and Republicans.
We’re not asking for the Senate bill, we’re asking for the House to take action in its own way that reflects the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I mean, we’d be happy if the House took up the Senate bill, but we understand that it may proceed differently. The end result needs to be comprehensive immigration reform.
Q The speech time is at, like, half hour, hour? What do you think?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President looks forward to the opportunity to give a broad view of how he sees the United States moving forward in the wake of a dozen years, a decade or more of war. So I’m not going to put an endpoint on the speech, but I think it will be pretty comprehensive.
Q Jay, on the Nigerian abductions -- the government in Nigeria says it knows where these girls are located. Does the U.S. government have any information to prove that that’s, in fact, true?
MR. CARNEY: We cannot confirm that report. We’re obviously working closely and advising and assisting the Nigerian government as it seeks to find and rescue the abducted girls. We have made clear that the first step in that process is locating them, but I don’t have confirmation of that comment.
All right. Thank you.
9:03 A.M. EDT