Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 13, 2012 – 1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to the White House for your daily briefing.
As you know, later this afternoon, the President and the Prime Minister of Great Britain will be traveling to Dayton, Ohio, where the President looks forward to hosting the Prime Minister at an NCAA Tournament play-in game. As you probably know if you’re a college basketball fan, Dayton has been a very enthusiastic host to the play-in games for a number of years now. We appreciate their hospitality. Dayton is the home of the Wright Brothers, the Dayton Peace Accords, and Guided By Voices — the greatest rock and roll band of the modern era. (Laughter.) In my humble opinion.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Doesn’t the NCAA frown upon play-in?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not a sports guy — at least in this job. (Laughter.)
Q Two questions on Afghanistan, Jay. The President, in the Rose Garden today, in talking about the killing of the Afghan civilians and the need for an investigation, said, “We will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable.” I just wanted to clarify, is there some reason to think that there was more than one person involved?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I think you probably know, there was a briefing at the Defense Department where this was discussed, and I would refer you to my colleagues over at the Pentagon. There is an investigation ongoing. My understanding is there’s no reason to believe that there was more than one shooter, but that they are talking to a number of individuals as part of that investigation.
For more details, though, you should go to the Pentagon.
Q Okay. And also, I wanted to go back to the issue of troop withdrawals. The President said twice today in his comments that he wants to bring the end to the war responsibly. He talked yesterday in some interviews about not having a rush to the exit. And last week from the podium he said when asked about his that he wants a gradual withdrawal, not a clip. So all of those signals point to this gradual, methodical withdrawal. Is there any serious consideration, given the incidents the last couple weeks, to something different than that, a faster withdrawal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear, Ben. The President’s policy is to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan as we transfer security responsible to Afghan forces. That’s the strategy he put into place, and that’s the strategy he has been implementing. We are in the middle of the drawdown of the surge forces. As you know, by the end of this summer, those 33,000 troops will be home. And he has said that we will continue to remove U.S. forces through — beyond the drawdown of the surge forces.
The pace of that withdrawal has not been decided. And I think it’s important to understand that in spite of recent events, the strategy is a broad-based strategy that looks at the achievement of our objectives and the fact that this President is committed to ending the war in Afghanistan responsibly, in a way that ensures that we have successfully taken the fight to al Qaeda, which is the number-one, primary objective of the strategy, and that we have stabilized Afghanistan so that Afghan security forces can be responsible for the security of their nation, and that we can ensure that Afghanistan will not be host to al Qaeda in the future.
Q Well, just to quickly follow, you said that the pace has not been decided, and I realize nothing has been announced or formalized, but the President’s language has consistently suggested a gradual, steady withdrawal after September of the remaining 68,000 troops. I’m wondering if that is still the position of the President, or if there is, in fact, consideration of something that would be faster than that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve made clear for some time now that the pace of the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 — after the surge forces are withdrawn will be decided in consultation with NATO ministers and will have everything to do with the successful implementation of the strategy. And that remains the case.
But contrary to reports that appeared today, there are no options being reviewed with specific troop numbers attached to them; there are no individuals promoting specific options over others. That’s just simply false. The President is committed to drawing down forces, removing American troops from Afghanistan as we transfer security authority to the Afghan forces, and doing that in a way that allows us to achieve our objectives. And that has not changed.
Q Does the White House have any more information about this accused soldier and the brain trauma that he may have had? Was he redeployed too quickly?
MR. CARNEY: Jeff, I don’t have any information with regards to any individual who may or may not be involved in this incident. As you might guess, I would not comment on the specifics of an investigation that’s just now gotten underway.
Q Is the — are you concerned at all about the issue of being deployed — or redeployed too early in the light of an incident like this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can’t comment on that in relation to any specific incident like this that’s being investigated. And I don’t — even that answer I don’t want to have read as even an acknowledgement of the specifics that you stated regarding one individual.
The general issue of the duration of the war in Afghanistan, the duration of the two wars, Iraq having just been ended by this President, is one that this President talked about when he was running for office and one that the entire national security apparatus is very sensitive to. The remarkable sacrifice and commitment of America’s men and women in uniform is something that this President comments on all the time, both publicly and privately. And the toll that that takes on the individuals, as well as on their families is substantial. And he’s very aware of that. That’s why he has made sure that the care that veterans receive is as top-notch as it can be, and he is committed to providing the resources necessary to ensure that, and why he is so committed to ensuring that our returning veterans get extra help as they enter the job market in an economy that is still just recovering from a terrible recession.
Q And just on one other topic, the announcement this morning about the WTO ruling — or the WTO case, rather. What was the reasoning behind the timing of that? Why was it announced today instead of maybe a couple months ago? And was the context of the election and the Republican race and the criticism from Republican candidates about Obama’s China policy at all a driver for that timing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was announced today because today the time was appropriate to announce this new trade case. And this trade case that we’ve taken up at the World Trade Organization against China on the issue of rare earth materials is consistent with the approach this President has taken since he took office.
As I think you heard a number of officials say in the past, and I’ll repeat, we have taken cases against China to the WTO at a pace nearly double that of the previous administration. That begins going back to the early months of 2009, when we took the case on Chinese tires and won it. And the result has been that a thousand Americans have had help in ensuring that they kept their jobs because of that action.
The President’s commitment to ensuring that America’s workers and businesses compete on a level playing field with competitors around the globe, and in this case China, is extremely firm and has been since he took office. And I think that’s evidenced by the series of actions that we’ve taken with regards to China specifically, but also with regards to other countries when it comes to trade fairness.
And this is of a piece of that commitment, as is the announcement the President made in the State of the Union address, the establishment of a Trade Enforcement Unit. That’s also part of this ongoing effort to make sure that the Chinese understand, again, when it would — it’s not aimed solely at China at all, but when there are issues with China, that the Chinese understand that they need to compete on a level playing field. And if they do then we have no problem with that. And we certainly feel that given that opportunity, that we will — our workers, our businesses will be highly competitive.
And when you’re taking about rare earth, I mean, these are important materials because they’re the materials that are essential to technologies like cellular phones and hybrid vehicles and advanced batteries. I mean, these are markets and technologies and industries that the United States of America needs to dominate in the 21st century if we are going to succeed and have an economy built to last.
Q But do you feel you have to emphasize the President’s record because of Republican criticism about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, because that would — I guess you could say that we’ve been doing that for three years because of anticipating criticism about it. The fact is we’ve been at this for three years because it’s the right thing to do. And we made that clear on the President’s trip to Asia not long ago, late last year. And he’s made it clear, and this administration has made it clear from the very beginning, from early 2009, again, citing that very early case at the WTO against China.
So it’s an ongoing effort. And this is just part of that consistent effort to make sure that our businesses, our workers have a fair shot at competing globally.
Q I wonder if you could respond to comments made yesterday by the Senate’s number-two Republican, Jon Kyl. He said, in terms of the Afghanistan strategy laid out by the President, the President has been AWOL, and he’s been apologetic. And I’m wondering if you can sort of offer any comment on that.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see those comments. I think everyone who has been covering Afghanistan understands clearly that when this President took office, he inherited a war in Afghanistan that had been adrift, that had lacked a focus. I remember the Vice President saying that when he went out during the transition to Afghanistan on behalf of the President-elect, that he came back and was able to report that if you asked 10 of our people on the ground in Afghanistan what the mission was you would get 10 different answers. The President was committed to change that, and committed to focusing again our efforts in Afghanistan on our primary objective, which, after all, was al Qaeda, and that had been lost.
I don’t think there is any doubt — and I’d be amazed if Senator Kyl could express a doubt — that this President has taken the fight very directly and effectively to al Qaeda. And that is absolutely a result of his very focused, very clear-eyed strategy in Afghanistan and in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
This is a challenging mission in a very challenging part of the world, and there have been setbacks along the way, even as we have executed this very clear-eyed policy. But this President made clear when he was running for office what he would do with regards to Afghanistan, and he has delivered very much on what he said he would do. And he is delivering now, as he withdraws U.S. forces from Afghanistan, in keeping with the strategy he outlined.
Before you start, did anybody — I just want to make — if anybody has not yet seen Bill Plante’s piece on Selma, Alabama, they ought to check it out. Bill, you may not know, covered the original events in Selma and was back there last weekend, and it was really worth watching. I’d check it out.
Sorry to embarrass you. Go, Bill.
Q Thank you for that. The President seems to be going out of his way to pay more attention to Prime Minister Cameron than to most foreign leaders. Is this because he’s perceived in some quarters to have sort of shrugged off the so-called “special relationship”?
MR. CARNEY: No. I think the fact that we are hosting the Prime Minister in the manner that we are demonstrates the nature of the relationship between our two countries, the fact that it is a special relationship. And I think that was evident by the manner in which President Obama was hosted in London last year. And this is a great opportunity, as the President sees it, to reciprocate for that remarkable hospitality and he looks forward to this visit very much.
And setting aside those formalities and the social nature of it — the dinners and things — this is an extraordinarily important relationship. I think we are speaking about China, and our relationship with China and our trade relationship with China is extremely important. But let’s not forget that the United Kingdom invest 140 times the amount of China in the United States. I don’t think most people know that.
And the U.K. is a key ally across the globe — in Afghanistan, in our efforts in Libya, in Syria — around the globe — in the Middle East. So I think the nature and the trappings of the visit are very appropriate given the kind of relationship we have with Great Britain.
Q Well, not everybody gets to watch basketball with the President.
MR. CARNEY: But I think it’s reflective of the kind of relationship that we have with the United Kingdom, and that previous Presidents have had with previous Prime Ministers. It’s the nature of the relationship between the two countries that I think is reflected by the itinerary that’s been developed for this trip. And I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that this administration wants to continue to build on that very longstanding, very special relationship.
Q You’ve forgiven them for burning the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Almost. (Laughter.)
Q Jay. I don’t know if Bill had anything to do with the CBS News poll that also had interesting data, but it says that 54 percent of Americans believe gas prices are something a President can do a lot about. And since the President has said repeatedly that there’s no silver bullet, is there a disconnect here where a majority of the public is saying, yes, there is something you can do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, putting aside individual polls and what they say, we’re focused on the implementation of policies that will enhance our energy security, reduce our reliance on foreign oil imports, diversify resources of energy that we have that we depend on in this country, and by doing so, grow the industries that create good jobs in this country.
There is no question that there’s frustration out there in the country because of the high price of gasoline. And we have seen that occur over the years almost on a regular basis, either every couple of years or every year. It happened last year. It happened in 2008. I’m sure in the time that you’ve been covering Washington, it’s happened more than that.
What is a simple fact — and I have engaged in this discussion from here with you and with others off camera — is that regardless of how we got there — and we got there in part because of the actions of this administration — but regardless of what folks may say about what got us there, we are producing — we have dramatically increased our production of oil and gas in this country in the last three years since President Obama took office. That is a fact.
It is also a fact, contrary to the latest pushback from critics, that we have increased our production on public lands and waters over the last three years by 13 percent. And this is all to the good. This is all in keeping with the President’s strategy, an all-of-the-above strategy, as we try to diversify our energy sources and become more energy independent.
It also points to the fact that simply by increasing the production of oil and gas in this country, you will not then necessarily lower prices at the pump, because prices at the pump are dependent on a whole series of factors and are directly correlated to the global price of oil. And we’re producing more, we’re importing less, and the price of gas goes up. And that’s because of growth in China, India and Brazil and other places. It’s because of unrest in the Middle East, and it’s because of a number of factors — only a handful of which we can control.
So in that situation, the President then focuses on a strategy that will continue to reduce our imports, continue to diversify our sources of energy, and create a situation where in the future we will not be as subject to the wild fluctuations in the oil markets as we are today.
He is also very focused on what Americans are having to endure right now when they fill up their gas tanks. He has made sure, as I think I talked about yesterday, that his Justice Department has reconstituted the group that’s looking into — the unit that looks into potential fraud and speculation. He wants to ensure that we’re making sure that that kind of activity is not taking place, and that consumers aren’t getting gouged. And he is looking at a variety of ways that we can reduce the price of — if possible, reduce the price of gas, or relieve the pressure that is driving the price of gas up in this country, and that includes relieving bottlenecks and issues like that around the country.
But it is a fallacy, as I said yesterday, to suggest that there is some 3-point plan or 5-point plan out there that could magically, if you wave a wand, reduce the price that Americans are paying for a gallon of gas. I said yesterday that anybody who said that would be a liar, and I shouldn’t have gone at motivations; I should have said that anybody who says that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Q Last thing — there’s also — obviously there’s negative polls, there are some positive ones as well. The National Journal has one saying that more Americans believe the President’s policies will lower gas prices than they believe Republican policies will. AAA has a survey: 84 percent of respondents said they’ve changed their habits. So it’s obviously impacted them. That’s tough, but some of them — 16 percent — for example, said that they’ve now bought or leased a more energy-efficient vehicle. They’re changing their habits. Does the President see that as a positive sign that some of the things he’s called for with renewables and whatnot are working? How do the American people’s behavior, how does that fit into the all-of-the-above strategy?
MR. CARNEY: I think the American people — and I know the President believes this — are focused on their lives and on getting by, and putting gas in the gas tank, getting their kids to school, paying the mortgage or the rent. How people in the future approach the decisions about buying cars remains to be seen. But what is absolutely the case is that, because of the historic fuel-efficiency standards that this President put into place through executive action, working with all the major automobile companies, Americans who buy cars in the future will be buying cars that are much more fuel-efficient. By 2025, that fuel-efficiency average will be something like 54.5 miles per gallon. That means an enormous amount of savings — $1.7 trillion saved in costs for the American consumer. And that’s important.
And it is also important that — I mean, it is simply a fact, Ed, and everybody knows it, that in the future we and other countries will be, by necessity, relying on a diverse array of energy sources: fossil fuels, solar, nuclear, biofuels, wind, advanced batteries. And we need to be in the thick of the competition in all of those industries, not just fossil fuel production, but all of them. And that’s the President’s approach. And that approach will result in jobs in this country and will result in more energy independence in this country.
Kristen, and then Jake. Sorry, Jake.
Q Human Rights Watch is reporting that Syria has been laying landmines near its borders with Lebanon and Turkey. What is your reaction to that, and does your intelligence match those reports?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t discuss intelligence. I’ll simply say that I’m not surprised by, and no one in this administration would be surprised by dangerous, militaristic behavior by the Assad regime. After all, they have been waging war on their own people for many, many months now. And the toll of that war continues to increase. It’s writing — the Syrian regime is writing its own horrific page in history and the history of its country and the history of the region.
And we continue to work with our international partners and allies through the “Friends of Syria” to pressure Assad, isolate Assad, to make clear to the world that Assad’s actions are intolerable and that Syrians deserve a better future. We’re working with our partners to try to get humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and to try to bring about a resolution that results in Assad no longer being in power and the Syrian people being able to decide the fate of their country.
Q Is there a tipping point in Syria that would cause the conversations to shift from humanitarian aid and sanctions to more intervention, more aggressive intervention?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it is certainly our position that providing arms — which is one topic that I get asked about and others have discussed — is not a move that we’re considering right now because we believe it could heighten and prolong the violence in Syria. We are also still learning about the composition of the armed opposition in Syria and that’s part of the process that we’re undergoing right now as we engage with our allies on the matter, on the Syrian issue. So it is our position that we do not want to contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could lead down a very dangerous road.
Q And just looking forward a little bit, Jay, the President is visiting South Korea at the end of the month. Can you talk a little about his decision to visit the DMZ, obviously something that past Presidents have done? And also, what will his message be to South Korea given the recent developments with North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say simply that we coordinate very closely with our South Korean allies with regards to North Korea, and on a whole host of other issues. I think, speaking of state visits, when the South Korean leader was here, I think it made clear to the world how vital we consider that relationship, that partnership, that alliance with the South Koreans. And we are engaged with the South Koreans on a whole host of issues, including on economic issues and defense issues. And all of this — the summit in Seoul is obviously about nuclear security, but our relationship with South Korea is vital and stronger than it has ever been.
Q What about the DMZ part?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure what we have announced, but it certainly is — a visit to the DMZ would be reflective of the President’s commitment to both security on the Korean Peninsula and the need for North Korea to live up to its international obligations, give up its nuclear weapons program, and return to the community of nations.
Q Can you confirm that he’s making that visit?
MR. CARNEY: I’m just speaking hypothetically. I’m not confirming that at all.
Q If we could just parse the President’s statement about Africa — I mean, Afghanistan just a little bit more. The President used the term “murder,” which as I’m sure you know has a legal meaning in terms of malice aforethought. Are we to read anything into the first — this being the first time he’s used the word “murder” to describe what happened to those Afghans?
MR. CARNEY: I think Afghan civilians, innocent Afghan civilians, were killed. How that happened and why that happened is under investigation. So I wouldn’t go beyond that, and I think that he was not going beyond that. But it is a fact that these Afghan civilians, innocent civilians, were killed, as I understand it.
And this was a tragic event, and as the President said, it is not reflective of who we are. It is not reflective of the values of the American military. And he certainly believes, and I know that everyone is this administration and everyone over at the Pentagon believes that we need to make sure that this is fully investigated and that anyone involved will be held accountable.
Q Well — and that was the other thing I wanted to ask. I know Ben asked about this already, but the Pentagon seems fairly certain in their statements that there was only one person involved. Is the fact that the President is saying “anyone involved” a suggestion that there might be others in the chain of command who are held responsible for other reasons?
MR. CARNEY: I think — and I understand that a lot of things have been happening today, and briefings that might have happened, or have happened across the river may not have been caught up to here, but I think the Pentagon discussed this. And my understanding is that they’re simply saying that the investigation will include discussions with a number of individuals, but that it is still our understanding that there was one shooter involved. But for these details I think the Pentagon is the best place for information.
Q No, but I’m just trying to have a full understanding of what the President was trying to convey and to whom he was —
MR. CARNEY: I think the President was reflecting what the Defense Department has been saying on this issue.
Q So it’s just not to suggest that anybody else was involved, but not to preclude any conclusion that might come out of the Pentagon investigation?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s right. He is — he’s making clear that the investigation needs to take its course, that you can’t make prejudgments about it, and that anyone who might have information about it will be spoken to as part of the investigation. But beyond that, I think the Defense Department is probably the best place to do.
Q The only reason I ask is because obviously some of the initial reports from the villagers involved were that there were — it might have been misunderstandings from seeing troops that were looking for this soldier, or troops that were trying to find out what he had been doing — but there were initial reports, specifically I think to Reuters, in fact, from villagers that there had been more than one soldier involved. I understand the military doesn’t think that’s true. But when the President gives an open-ended statement like that, it just — it feeds into —
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President’s statement was reflective of the fact that, as the Pentagon is making clear, investigators continue to work closely with Army and Afghan authorities. They also continue to interview a range of individuals with potential knowledge of these attacks. And I don’t have further information about the nature of those interviews. Initial indications continue to indicate that there was one shooter. And so I’m not — I want to be clear about that. But I also want to be clear that the investigation will include interviews with a range of individuals with potential knowledge.
Q Jay, can I just go back to something you said at the very beginning in answer to Ben? You said it was totally false to assert a report that there were officials in the administration advocating specific numbers for troop withdrawals. And I want to just make sure I understand that correctly. Are you saying by that that there is not a debate internally over the pace of withdrawal or whether withdrawal could be accelerated? Because that would run counter to previous troop debates, where there’s always been a very vigorous debate between those who want to be aggressive and those who argue for being somewhat more cautious.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that — I mean, I can’t account for every conversation that’s happened around the water cooler or in front of the takeout window at the Navy Mess, but I can tell you that the report that there are three options being considered is absolutely false. I can tell you that the report that a specific individual was pushing a specific option is false. There is no specific option or specific policy at this point. These are — this will be the product of ongoing discussions with our NATO allies.
So I can’t really account for the nature of some of the reporting on this, but I can tell you that the specifics that I just raised are inaccurate.
Q Just one more question on this. Is that to say, then, that the notion of an accelerated withdrawal has not come up in policy deliberations, or — the phrase “option,” which could imply something very formal that’s laid on the table.
MR. CARNEY: I think we have made clear that the President, as part of his policy, will — the President’s policy will result in the bringing home of 33,000 troops by the end of this summer. Then, as per the decision made by NATO at Lisbon, the transition — the full transition to Afghan security lead will take place by the end of 2014.
The President has made clear that American troops will continue to be drawn down after those 33,000 are withdrawn. But the pace of that drawdown will depend on assessments made by commanders, by the President, by our NATO allies. And there is not a discussion about specific numbers or specific options at this time. It’s simply not accurate. So we are in the midst of bringing those 33,000 home. It is certainly premature to talk specific numbers about the timing of drawdowns beyond that.
Q To follow on that, the general concept of accelerating the drawdown — is that being discussed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I just got that question. Again, I can’t account for every conversation that might take place, but I’m saying, in an official atmosphere or an official meeting, we are focused on the implementation of the President’s Afghanistan strategy, which is all about the fight against al Qaeda, the stabilization of Afghanistan and the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces — in this case, the surge forces. And that is happening and will continue to happen.
Q The NATO summit is really not all that far out when you think about it. It’s really — it’s hard to believe that in concept this isn’t being discussed.
MR. CARNEY: I can assure you that the nature of our deployment in Afghanistan, how that deployment will look beyond the end of the withdrawal of the surge forces will obviously be a discussion with our NATO partners. But there is not now and there will not be at the NATO meeting an announcement of a number or a troop withdrawal schedule. That is not the purpose of the discussions.
And, again, I can’t say I’m privy to every conversation that’s taking place in every corner of this building, but I can tell you that the overall policy is focused on implementing the strategy the President put in place, which, by the way — and this is important that everybody understand — has as its component the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops by the middle of September — so even as we continue to transfer security authority to the Afghan forces, as we continue to take the fight to al Qaeda and we continue to stabilize regions of Afghanistan.
Q If I can ask about the rare earth minerals — Senator Schumer and three other Democratic senators are urging the administration to do more than the President announced he was doing today. Specifically, Senator Schumer advocates urging the World Bank to block financing for Chinese mining projects and for the Interior Department to block Chinese-funded mining projects in the U.S. Why not do those things in addition or instead of what —
MR. CARNEY: What the President announced today was the action that we are taking. And the action at the WTO is part of a consistent effort and a stepped-up effort, in comparison to the previous administration, in taking cases to the WTO that have to do with unfair trade, and reflect this President’s commitment to ensuring that American businesses and American workers get to compete on a level playing field. This is a very strong action and reflects that commitment that this President has held since he took office.
Now, without getting into specifics of this case, because I don’t want to speculate about other actions, you can be sure that this administration is focused on leveling the playing field through a variety of means, including our dialogue with the Chinese and other countries where we have issues, trade issues, between us.
So this is a multifaceted effort. But the announcement today is a serious announcement. And again, the measure of that is evident by the actions the administration has taken with the WTO in the past, and the result of those actions that have had significant benefits for American workers here in the United States.
Q Doesn’t this undercut the President’s trying to do something when it comes to trade practices with China to have Democratic senators essentially criticizing him or saying he’s not doing enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the fact that leaders in Washington take this matter very seriously should not be lost on our trading partners around the globe. We believe that we ought to be able to compete on a level playing field. That’s what this action is about. That’s what the action with regards to tires was about, and the many other activities in this space that we’ve engaged in.
So I can’t speak to specific reactions by foreign governments, but the comments that you reference I think reflect a general desire to see a more level playing field for U.S. companies and U.S. workers.
Ari, and then Roger.
Q With the health care case coming up before the Supreme Court, can you talk about how important this is to the President and how closely he’s planning on following the arguments? Has he met with Justice officials who are involved in it?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, and I think I’ve made that case here on several occasions. And we believe that and hope that the Court will recognize that and uphold it. But beyond that, we’re focused on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which is already providing significant benefits to millions and millions of Americans: to young Americans who have insurance that they otherwise would not have had; to seniors who are getting access to preventive services that they would not have had access to, or free preventive services they would not have had access to; seniors who are enjoying huge savings on their prescription drug bills and the like.
So we’re focused on the implementation. There are a lot of milestones along the way in the implementation, and that necessitates a lot of focus on behalf of the health care team. And the case itself we’ll leave to the Supreme Court. But I believe in fact that we’ll be traveling on, as I understand it, on the day or the days of those arguments.
Q So he has not — the Solicitor General’s Office —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe he has. Not that I’m aware of.
Q Yes, thank you. Going back to Jeff’s question about China and the WTO actions and the politics of it. The announcement comes on a day of the Republican primaries. It comes when the critics have been saying the President hasn’t stood up to China enough. One of the analysts in town who has been covering the rare earth issue says, “I think it’s transparent he’s doing this now for electoral purposes.” Can you respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll just respond in the way that I’ve responded already, which is ridiculous unless you think that the President and all the actions that he took were taken for those reasons even in the first few months of his administration, which is, of course, patently absurd. The President’s commitment on this has been evident from the very beginning, and this is simply part of that effort.
The fact that it takes place on a day when there are Republican primaries — competitive Republican primaries, I mean, throw some spaghetti at a calendar and find a day when there isn’t a competitive Republican primary. And it’s possible that could be the case for many weeks going forward, I don’t know.
But we’re focused on the — the President’s schedule is a complex organism, and this was the appropriate day to do it. He has an important ally coming into town, the Prime Minister of Great Britain; he has a state visit — an official visit, rather, and a state dinner tomorrow night, and certainly many other matters to attend to. So the timing of this had everything to do with his schedule and the fact of the case, and not politics.
Q Well, I guess the follow-up would — the rare earth thing has been around for at least two years, maybe even three. Does it take that long for it to ask the WTO —
MR. CARNEY: Sure — because there’s an issue, I mean, there are various steps in how these things are developed, and then the decision is made to — a pretty consequential decision and serious decision is made to take a case to the WTO. You don’t do that on the first day that you’ve discovered you have a problem. And then at that — I mean, I don’t think that’s a surprise.
So, I mean, the specifics of — I would refer you to the agencies involved, but of course this is a very thought-out process by which you make the decision to take a case up, and then you make that case in the presentation.
Q No politics involved?
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered this. Again, Chinese tires, to start.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just a slight follow. Does this have — no, no, does this have anything to do with the discussions with the Chinese Vice President that was here recently? Is this something that the President or the Vice President discussed with him? And if so, was there some turning point in those discussions that led them to believe there was not going to be further cooperation?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. Obviously, in those conversations, as is the case in our conversations with senior members of the Chinese government, the overall issue of trade is often a subject. But I don’t know one way or the other whether this came up in any of the conversations that the Vice President of China had with the President and the Vice President here.
This is — as Roger points out, this has been an issue of contention for some time so it’s — and there have been discussions, I’m sure, at a variety of levels about it with the Chinese. And those discussions in the course of the problem have led us to this point where the President announced a new trade case on the issue.
Yes, Jared and Steve.
Q So, am I —
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. I can’t really tell who you are yet with your new beard. (Laughter.)
Q Today, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said before — or disavowed before a congressional panel comments he made in 2008 about wanting to see European-style gas prices. And I’m wondering, did the President ask him to disavow those comments?
MR. CARNEY: No, he didn’t. And I think this is an excellent opportunity to make the point that folks who cover this issue, who try to suggest that the statement of someone who wasn’t even in government at the time is somehow a more significant indicator of the President’s policy than the President’s policy are engaging in politics on this issue.
The President, on his watch over the past three years, has taken significant actions to increase — to continue the increase and to increase domestic oil and gas production. It is part of his oil — I mean, it is part of his all-of-the-above approach to our energy needs and security.
And I know that it’s part of the fun for folks to find these quotes and suggest that they have some deeper meaning, and maybe that would be the case on day one of a presidency. But we’re in the fourth year of this presidency. And this President has a very clear record of aggressively pursuing domestic oil and gas production in a safe and responsible way on public lands as well as private — ensuring that it continues on private lands and waters — and in pursuing aggressively alternative energy industries so that we can compete globally in the future in those industries.
Pursuing — on his watch after all, we have now permitted the first nuclear power plant in 30 years. We are well on our way towards doubling our renewable energy production. We are less dependent on foreign oil now by a significant measure than we were three years ago.
Those are the facts. I saw right before I came out here the comment that you made, and I certainly think that you can report on that based on the Energy Secretary, but let’s be clear about what the President’s policy is.
Q — now because of the criticism —
MR. CARNEY: I would ask Secretary Chu. I think, partly because of what I’m saying, there has been an attempt — a partisan — largely partisan attempt to try to take comments like that and pretend that those are policy when in fact the policy reflects the contrary.
Q Could you talk about why the President thought it was important to come out again today very publicly to talk about the Afghan shooting, particularly his comments direct to the Afghan people? Are there — is there concern that U.S. troops could face reprisals? Did he feel the need to give some cover to Karzai? Is there some kind of —
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think it’s a fair question. I think obviously the President was asked this yesterday in some regional TV interviews and addressed this issue, but he hadn’t spoken to you in the national press and the White House Press Corps, and felt and we felt it was important that, given the tragic events and rather dramatic events of Sunday, that he address the issue with you here.
It also the case that he wanted to clearly express publicly what he did about his condolences to the Afghan people, as he did in his phone conversation with President Karzai. But I wouldn’t read more into it than that.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sorry, last one.
Q A question on China. First, Rick Santorum said he’s willing to bring out a trade war with China, while Romney say this is the last thing he want to see. So what’s the stand of the White House? Is the White House worried about a trade war with China?
MR. CARNEY: This administration is focused on our very important relationship with China. We, as the President said — the President believes, we believe that China’s rise is a good thing for the Chinese people and for the global community, a good thing for the United States. It is also important that as China becomes a bigger and bigger economic power, that China play by the same set of rules that other major economic powers play by. And that’s the approach the President has taken. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. It’s absolute engagement and it’s a very important and complex relationship on a whole host of issues. It also, when we have differences, as we do on this matter, making them clear and taking action on them.
Q Also, the China commerce minister believes that the bill that President signed into law today should not only break the WTO rules but also sort of violate the U.S. domestic trade laws, which America — trade laws.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t heard those comments. Obviously the President signed the bill because he thought it was — it merited signing. So I don’t have any comments with regards to that official’s statement.
2:05 P.M. EDT