Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 5, 2013 – 1:24 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Thanks for being here. I was hoping to skip the briefing today, but apparently I’m here to take your questions.
Q Thank you. How can the government determine that an American citizen is an imminent threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests without having any kind of specific evidence that that person is planning an immediate — an attack in the immediate future?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the question, obviously, that you ask relates to some stories out today regarding a document prepared — an unclassified document prepared for some members of Congress — and understandable questions. And I can just say that this President takes his responsibilities very seriously, and first and foremost, that’s his responsibility, to protect the United States and American citizens. He also takes his responsibility in conducting the war against al Qaeda as authorized by Congress in a way that is fully consistent with our Constitution and all the applicable laws.
We have acknowledged, the United States, that sometimes we use remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives. We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, prevent future attacks, and, again, save American lives. These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise. The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al Qaeda terrorist, to ensure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life.
As you know, in spite of these stories — or prior to these stories, this administration, through numerous senior administration officials, including Deputy National Security and Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh, and former Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson — have spoken publicly and at length about the U.S. commitment to conducting counterterrorism operations in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law, including the laws of war.
In March 2012, the Attorney General gave a speech at Northwestern University Law School in which he outlined the legal framework that would apply if it was necessary to take a strike against one of the “small number of U.S. citizens who have decided to commit violent acts against their own country from abroad.” The Attorney General made clear that in taking such a strike, the government must take into account all relevant constitutional considerations, but that under generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions, U.S. citizenship alone does not make a leader of an enemy force immune from being targeted.
Q But how can the government decide that there’s an imminent threat if there’s no evidence that an attack is happening in the immediate future?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Congress authorized in an authorization of the use of military force all necessary military force to be used in our fight against al Qaeda. And certainly under that authority, the President acts in the United States’ interest to protect the United States and its citizens from al Qaeda.
The nature of the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates is certainly different from the kinds of conflicts that have involved nations against nations. But this has been discussed amply, again, in the effort that we have made through our senior administration officials to explain the process that we use, by the officials I named — by John Brennan in a speech, and he addressed this very issue about “imminent.”
I would point you to the now-released — it was not meant for public release, but it’s not classified — the now-released white paper, which goes into some detail on that very issue.
Q Should the American people be comfortable with the administration’s definition of “imminent” if it also means that there is no specific evidence to back that up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that what you have in general with al Qaeda senior leadership is a continuing process of plotting against the United States and American citizens, plotting attacks against the United States and American citizens. I think that’s fairly irrefutable.
What you also have is the authorization for the use of military force by Congress. You also have a President who is very mindful of the very questions that you are asking and is, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, taking all the necessary steps to ensure that he fulfills his constitutional obligation to protect the United States and its citizens, and does so in a way that comports with our Constitution and with our laws.
Q Did he sign off on this memo and any classified documents to back it up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly have no information on any classified documents. I don’t know the specific process by which this memo was generated.
Q Jay, the President’s remarks today — what sort of package is he talking — how big a package is he talking about? What’s the mix between spending cuts and revenue? Is he going to offer his own package?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard from the President a couple of things. First that he has sought continually with leaders in Congress to achieve broad deficit reduction that would reach the target of $4 trillion over 10 years that would help put our economy on a fiscally sustainable path. He continues to seek achievement of that goal.
We have come a long way, or a significant way, towards achievement of that goal — over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction through the combined actions that this President has signed into law — the spending cuts and revenues as well as saving through interest that we’ve achieved thus far.
The deal that he put forward to Speaker Boehner in December, which, unfortunately, the Speaker walked away from, remains on the table. The President made that clear. We are in a situation now where if Congress is not able to or willing to act immediately on this bigger deal — which would eliminate the sequester entirely as well as achieve all those other important objectives like $4 trillion in deficit reduction, like continued investment in our economy to make sure it continues to create jobs and grow — we need to not engage in a process where Washington is inflicting a wound on the economy unnecessarily. And that’s what would happen if the so-called sequester were to be allowed to kick in on March 1st.
Because we have relatively little time between now and March 1st, the President believes that we ought to — Congress ought to take action to buy down the sequester in a balanced way — which we actually just did in December so we know what the model looks like to achieve it. And he would work with — we would work with Congress on the composition of that package.
But the point is, as the President said, leaders in the Senate and the House have committed themselves to a standard budget process, a budget process that we hope would result in — and produce a package that achieves the kind of further balanced deficit reduction the President talked about, that allows the economy, which is poised to grow and create jobs in 2013, to do just that.
So we should not, while that process is underway, essentially blow it up by permitting the sequester to take effect, the result of which would be hundreds of thousands of people potentially losing jobs and a direct hit to the American economy at a time that we shouldn’t be letting Washington do such a thing.
Q Republicans were talking about closing tax loopholes in lieu of a tax increase on the wealthy. But you got the tax increase on the wealthy. Why would they be in any position to support tax — closing these loopholes now?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve heard some folks speaking about this very issue on the Republican side, in search for I think better messaging on the same set of proposals. The problem is the proposals. It’s not the communication strategy. And here’s why. If it was desirable and achievable last year to raise up to $800 billion in revenue by cutting, eliminating loopholes in our tax code that benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations, by capping deductions that benefit the wealthiest individuals, it can’t possibly be the case now that that policy is good policy and that we should instead reduce our deficit further solely by asking the same people that Republican leaders now are insisting they care most about to bear the burden of deficit reduction alone. It can’t be.
If $800 billion in deficit reduction were achievable through tax reform, raising revenues through tax reform, because those loopholes needed to be closed and because those deductions needed to be capped, because, in our view, hedge fund managers should not be paying at a significantly lower rate than bus drivers or clerical assistants or store managers, that has to be the — if that was true then, it’s got to be true now.
And what we need to do is continue to cut spending in a responsible way, eliminate or change programs that can and should be eliminated or changed, but also raise revenue through tax reform by doing the very things that, again, outside groups have said we should and must do — Simpson-Bowles Commission and others — doing the things that have been identified by the President, by Democrats and Republicans, including the Speaker of the House just a couple of months ago.
Q Thank you, Jay. Just to follow on drones. So is there a checklist then that will more narrowly define what “imminent threat” is? Is there a checklist that will be followed?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to a speech by John Brennan where he talked about this issue. And again, I want to say from the outset, these are important questions and the President takes them very seriously, just as he takes his responsibility to defend the United States and its citizens very seriously.
Mr. Brennan gave a speech in which he talked about this issue of imminent threat. I think I just talked in general terms about the nature of the conflict we have with the terrorists who have set as their goal the killing of Americans and attacks on the United States. And this President and those who work for him are very mindful of the need to fulfill our responsibility to protect the United States and its citizens, and to do so in a way that is consistent with the Constitution and consistent with the laws that apply. And that is certainly something of great importance to the President.
Q So the White House doesn’t believe that this is vague in any way?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the paper that we’ve been talking about that generated the stories today, that as a general — in a general statement of principles on matters related to this, explains some of the legal reasoning that undergirds it.
There’s no question that in the conflict that we have been engaged in with al Qaeda, that as many more sophisticated observers than I have noted, we have significant challenges because of the nature of the attacks, how they’re planned, who plans them. But there is no question that senior operational leaders of al Qaeda are continually planning to attack the United States, to attack American citizens.
Under the authorization of Congress in the war against al Qaeda, the authorization to use military force, it is entirely appropriate for the United States to target senior operational leaders of al Qaeda.
Q Jay, on gun violence —
Q Jay, not to —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, I’m taking questions here, thanks. And I’ll call on others as Dan finishes.
Q Thanks. On gun violence, how committed is the President to pushing for the assault weapons ban? And is this something that he wants to see happen initially or happen later? I mean, it almost seems like this is being separated from some of the — background checks and some of the other things that the President is pushing for.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there’s obviously active discussion and debate on Capitol Hill about all the measures that the President put forward in his comprehensive package of common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence, and that includes the need to institute universal background checks. It includes the need to confirm an ATF director for the first time. It includes the need to do something about limiting high-capacity ammunition clips and to reinstate an updated assault weapons ban.
The President supports all these measures. He made that clear again yesterday in Minneapolis. He has long supported the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, and looks forward to Congress having a vote and taking action on that issue. So there’s not — the package the President put together entirely enjoys his support and he will push for all of it.
He has said, when asked and in his remarks about this effort, that he understands that these are hard things to achieve. If they weren’t hard, they surely would have been achieved already. But it is imperative that we commit ourselves to getting this done, to working with Congress, to working with organizations and groups and individuals around the country to raise awareness of the need to act, to raise voices in support of the need to act. And that’s why the President traveled yesterday on this issue and while he’ll continue — he and the Vice President and others — will continue to make the case both here in Washington and around the country.
Q The President strongly opposed the enhanced interrogation techniques —
Q — senators are calling for the release of those papers —
MR. CARNEY: I think I called on Jon.
Q Are you going to release those papers that —
MR. CARNEY: I think I called on Jon. Go ahead.
Q The President obviously strongly opposed the enhanced interrogation techniques, so-called, from the Bush administration. He ended them. How is dropping — how does dropping a bomb on an American citizen without any judicial review, any trial, not raise the very human rights questions, or more human rights questions than something like waterboarding?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, again, as I said, the questions around this issue are important and the President takes them seriously. He takes his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to protect the United States and its citizens very seriously. He takes the absolute necessity to conduct our war against al Qaeda and its affiliates in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution and our laws very seriously.
It is a matter of fact that Congress authorized the use of military force against al Qaeda. It is a matter of fact that al Qaeda is in a state of war against us and that senior leaders, operational leaders of al Qaeda are continually plotting to attack the United States, plotting to kill American citizens as they did most horrifically on September 11, 2001.
So again I would point you to the speeches that have been given by senior administration officials to the document that we’ve been discussing here, where the reasoning is laid out, and simply make the point that the President understands the gravity of these issues. That is why he is committed to taking very seriously his responsibilities in this and committed to the kind of process that you’ve seen in an effort to communicate publicly about it, elaborated by senior administration officials on numerous occasions.
Q But let’s be clear. This is giving a legal justification for killing American citizens without any trial whatsoever, without any evidence.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the ample judicial precedent for the idea that someone who takes up arms against the United States in a war against the United States is an enemy, and therefore could be targeted accordingly. That’s I think established in a number of cases, and I’m not even a lawyer and I’m aware of that.
So having said that, the issues here are important and the President recognizes that. And that’s why he takes these responsibilities so seriously. That’s why he has authorized various senior administration officials to discuss publicly these issues the way that they have, and why I believe that process will continue.
Q What do you say to the ACLU that calls this a profoundly disturbing document because it gives broad power without checks, without balances?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the legal reasoning behind what we are talking about here, and recognize that these are weighty matters that are all about the balancing of imperatives here, the need to defend the United States, defend American citizens against senior al Qaeda officials and affiliated actors who are engaged continually in an effort to attack the United States and American citizens.
So, again, you won’t get a debate with me about whether these are significant matters that merit discussion. But I think you’ve seen in the way that this President has approached them the seriousness with which he takes all of his responsibilities on this.
Q Well, what about — just one more — what about the drone strike that killed the 16-year-old son of Awlaki. Does he meet that definition of a senior operational leader as outlined in the white paper?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jon, I’m not going to talk about individual operations that may or may not have occurred. What I can talk to you about is the general principle that had been discussed by senior administration officials, the acknowledgement that we’ve made about actions taken in countries like Yemen and Somalia, and the overriding fact that senior operational leaders of al Qaeda have, without question, engaged in plots against the United States and engaged in plots designed to kill Americans, often many, many Americans.
And that’s a reality that a Commander-in-Chief has to confront as part of his constitutional responsibility. And therefore, it is, this President believes, important that we address it in a way that acknowledges those constitutional responsibilities and the responsibility to carry out our war against al Qaeda in a way that is consistent with our values and our laws and our Constitution.
Q What about some kind of review? I mean, you’re taking away a U.S. citizen’s due process. And nobody is questioning particularly this President’s good intentions, but you’re establishing a precedent which will last beyond this administration. You’re pointing to various legal decisions to back it up, but doesn’t it deserve a broader debate and a broader court hearing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know about a specific suggestion like that. I can tell you that the administration has — and I think this is demonstrated by the public comments of senior administration officials on this matter — reviewed these issues — I think that’s demonstrated by the so-called white paper that was published today — and is continually reviewing these matters. How that process moves forward from here I’m not going to speculate. But, again, going back to what I’ve said before, we understand that these are weighty matters, that these are serious issues, and they deserve the kind of considered approach that this President has taken to them.
Q Shouldn’t it be considered beyond the executive branch, is what I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate about how these issues or matters might be considered in the future. What I can tell you is that, internally, they have been reviewed and considered with great care and deliberation.
Q On the sequester, is the President asking Congress to do exactly what he suggested to the Speaker last fall?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I want to congratulate those who have taken the bait in a communications effort — you know that you’ve lost the argument when you start relying on a complete misinterpretation of a quote that everybody knows is wrong as the basis of an argument, which is, the President, when he said that, was talking — you’re talking about vetoing — would never — “I would veto this?”
Q No. I’m just asking if — (laughter) —
MR. CARNEY: Tell me then what you’re talking about. (Laughter.) Because I think that’s what you are talking —
Q Apparently it’s the answer you wanted to give, but it’s not the question. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Let’s see what you’re talking about, Bill, because I have my suspicions.
Q All right. The President and the Speaker discussed how to do this last fall. Is that what the President is asking?
MR. CARNEY: Discuss how to do what?
Q Discuss how to reduce spending.
MR. CARNEY: If you’re asking me is the President’s plan from — you mean last December?
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Absolutely. He made very clear here that the President believes that — and encourages the Speaker of the House and Republican leaders in Congress to take up the remaining portions of the proposal that he put before the Speaker that the Speaker walked away from.
Q So that’s what he wants?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you were sitting right here. You heard the President talk about how he would be delighted if Congress were to act on that right away. Because there are only a few weeks before the sequester kicks in, he also doesn’t want — if it’s not possible for Congress to do that, he doesn’t want to have the sequester kick in right at a time when leaders in Congress are committed, from both parties, to a budget process that will obviously extend beyond March 1st, and which will hopefully produce a budget that achieves the kind of balanced deficit reduction that this President supports, that Democrats and Republicans and independents support, that bipartisan commissions support.
So his point today was the big deal, if you will, remains what he seeks. We have an imminent deadline when it comes to the sequester kicking in, and we certainly oppose suggestions by some that as a political tool we should allow the sequester to kick in; that for political advantage, it would be okay to have tens and thousands or hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their jobs because of these across-the-board indiscriminate cuts in defense and nondefense spending. We shouldn’t do that, because we should not inflict harm on the economy right when it’s in a position to grow and create jobs.
So we should act responsibly in a balanced way to buy down the deficit, just as we did as part of the fiscal cliff deal — the sort of unremarked-upon part of the fiscal cliff deal at the end of the year to allow Congress the time and space necessary to move forward with this budget process, which the President hopes, as a part of a return to sort of normalcy, if you will, and the way that we deal with these matters, will produce something that represents balance and the principles that he has espoused for so long.
Q One more. Israeli television says the President will visit there on March 20.
MR. CARNEY: That’s a statement. Do you have a question?
Q Yes. (Laughter.) Will he?
MR. CARNEY: When the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on January 28th, they discussed a visit by the President to Israel in the spring. The start of the President’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including of course Iran and Syria. Additional details about the trip, including the dates of travel, will be released at a later time.
Q Jay, following on the sequester, what I wonder is if you could flesh out for us, though, what specifically the President is calling for. We remember what was on the table in December. Some of that was acted on, some of it wasn’t. But, for example, I seem to remember the President saying something like he’d be willing to do $350 billion in Medicare cuts — because you were referring back to his previous budget. In this case, you only need about $85 billion to shut off the sequester. So my question is —
MR. CARNEY: You need far more than that. The sequester is $1.2 trillion.
Q I think for the short-term, though.
MR. CARNEY: Right, so the President —
Q And the President is talking about $85 billion in the short term.
MR. CARNEY: So I just want to be clear, and that is that the deal the President offered Speaker Boehner, which many of you reported on, that represented meeting Republicans at least halfway when it came to revenues as well as spending cuts, that represented some very tough choices on entitlement reforms, remains on the table in its entirety.
Q But please spell that out.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s been spelled out. I’m happy to give you more details.
Q Unchained CPI, Social Security — what’s on the table?
MR. CARNEY: Everything that was in that plan is available today to the Republicans, including the additional $600 billion in revenue that was part of the President’s proposal. And that revenue could be achieved through tax reform. And that means eliminating — closing loopholes that give tax advantages to the wealthy and to corporations that average Americans and average businesses don’t have. They give the ability of hedge fund managers and others who enjoy the benefit of paying tax on their income through the carried interest rule that allows them to pay a much lower percentage of tax on their income than, say, most average Americans. So that should be closed.
So there’s the subsidies to oil and gas companies. There’s the subsidies to corporate jet owners. These are the kinds of things that can account for — there’s the cap on deductions, limiting it to 28 percent. These are proposals that are, on paper, part of the President’s plan.
And if we were to move forward and try to achieve all of the remaining deficit reduction that would hit that $4 trillion target, that would far exceed what’s necessary to eliminate the sequester and it would put us — because included in the President’s package are targeted measures to invest in our economy and help it grow and create jobs — that would put us on a fiscally sustainable path and allow us to grow more and create jobs faster.
Q Thank you for answering that. And a follow would be then, that $600 billion you referred to, mostly you referred to deductions and capping things —
MR. CARNEY: Tax reform.
Q Tax reform. So are you closing the door on new tax rate increases as part of this? Is it just deductions?
MR. CARNEY: The President was asked this on Sunday. I think it was much discussed at the end of the year when we were doing the fiscal cliff negotiations. The President sought and achieved a return to the Clinton-era rates, a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent for top earners, for millionaires and billionaires. In the deal that was reached with Congress on the fiscal cliff, that set the threshold at $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families. That’s a significant accomplishment that helps achieve the revenue that has contributed to the deficit reduction that we talked about, the $2.5 trillion.
Q But he wanted $250,000.
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question that that was part of the deal that was reached in the fiscal cliff. Going forward, we can — if you’re telling me, if you’re announcing to me that Republicans want to revisit tax rates, that would be an interesting —
Q Do you want to?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President answered this question very clearly. Are you telling me you didn’t watch the Super Bowl? But the President answered this question. I think we answered it frequently at the end of the year. The point is there is still revenue that must be achieved as part of a balanced package through tax reform.
And that’s a principle not only that the President has articulated, it’s a principle that Speaker Boehner articulated at the end of the year. And as I was saying earlier, it can’t possibly be that the reforms to our tax code that were good and desirable then are somehow not worth doing now, that we shouldn’t close those loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to take advantage of the tax code in a way that average folks can’t.
We need to reform our tax code in a way that makes it fairer and better, and that allows us to raise some additional revenue combined with spending cuts that achieve the kind of deficit reduction we need.
Q So last thing — when he was talking about the March 1st deadline and the reason why we need a short-term solution is that Congress may not get a budget done by March 1st, a broader budget, so you’ve got to deal with the sequester separately. You’ve got the March 1 deadline on that. Why didn’t he meet the deadline for submitting his own budget then? And when will we see —
MR. CARNEY: Part of what the President has talked about just in recent days is that we need to get beyond this situation where we are governing, especially with regards to our fiscal and economic matters, in a state of constant crisis, under a cloud of crisis. And as you saw with the nail-biting negotiations over the fiscal cliff, with the machinations over whether or not we would entertain default, that’s what we’ve been doing. And that has certainly distracted from the process of producing —
Q So why not submit a budget and calm the markets and say, here’s the plan?
MR. CARNEY: I think I’m answering your question — that because of these things, we are delayed in producing a budget. But, Ed, let’s be clear. The President produced a budget that achieves the kind of balanced deficit reduction that everyone has called for, that the American people support. Republicans produced a budget in the House that contains no balance and asked — if it were ever to become law, even though it’s not supported by the American people — that would have asked seniors and other Americans to bear the burden solely of deficit reduction while eliminating Medicare as we know it. Not a great idea.
The President, again, in his negotiations with the Speaker of the House put forward a broad $4 trillion deficit reduction package that remains available — the parts that haven’t been acted on — to the Speaker right now.
So when it comes to specific plans — again, we had this debate at the end of the year — the specificity attached to the President’s proposal to Speaker Boehner is considerable compared to what we saw in return. Specificity is there. It remains available to be acted on.
What the President was announcing today is, given that we have this imminent deadline, given the unfortunate reluctance of the Speaker and others to act on that proposal at least right now, we should not allow the sequester to kick in and threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Americans and deliver a blow to the economy right when we can’t afford it.
Q Jay, thanks. A group of bipartisan senators, 11 of them wrote a letter to the President asking him to release all of the Justice Department memos relating to the subject of a suspected al Qaeda leader who might be a U.S. citizen as well. Will President Obama release those memos?
MR. CARNEY: I just have nothing for you on alleged memos regarding potentially classified matters.
Q So you can’t tell us whether you’re going to release —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don’t have anything for you on that.
Q Can you address the broader question of transparency? The President has obviously talked a lot about the importance of transparency, and here you have a document being leaked, senators calling for more information. Is this transparency?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would say is that, as I’ve been saying, with regards to this matter and the issues around it, the President has made clear, as reflected in the statements by and speeches by senior administration officials, that we need to inform the public and explain to the public and to you the process that we’re undertaking and the reasoning behind it. And the white paper that was provided to some members of Congress — it is unclassified, it’s been released — is part of that process. And since it is out there, you should read it. I think it’s a click away.
Q It was leaked.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it was an unclassified document provided to, as I understand it, members of Congress with a particular oversight responsibility on these issues.
The fact is — and I encourage you to go back to look the speeches by the Attorney General, by John Brennan, remarks by Jeh Johnson and by Harold Koh on these matters, and I think they provide a pretty voluminous accounting of matters that are treated here with great deliberation and seriousness.
Q I want to just shift to immigration quickly, Jay. After the President’s meeting this morning with progressive and labor leaders, some of them came out of the meeting and said that they want — they don’t want to see a path to citizenship be contingent on border security. Is that a line in the sand that the President is willing to draw as well?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President has addressed this. What we — and I have. When it comes to border security, the President’s record is extremely strong. And as we’ve said, the goals that were set out by Senator McCain and others that needed to be — that they believe needed to be met in terms of border security in order to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, while we do not agree that we needed to do it first before we move forward — the President thought we should have passed comprehensive immigration reform when he was senator, he thought we should have passed it in 2010 — the fact of the matter is close to all of those goals, if not all of those goals, have been met because of the President’s commitment to enhanced border security.
And I won’t go through it again because I think I’ve provided a substantial amount of numerical evidence to that. Senator McCain himself has said in recent days that there’s been enormous strides made when it comes to border security. So that’s a fact. And the President’s — among the President’s four principles in moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform is that we have to continue to take steps to enhance our border security.
I’m not going to prejudge and he’s not going to prejudge what the Senate comes up with in this bipartisan effort to produce comprehensive immigration reform. What is clear is that the President’s commitment to border security has been amply demonstrated and is backed up by hard, cold facts.
It is also true that he remains, as part of the comprehensive immigration reform process, committed to increasing our border security further. But when we talk about comprehensive immigration reform, we’re talking about a whole package that moves as a whole. And that includes a clear path to citizenship for people who are affected here. So those are the President’s principles. I’m not going to rule in or out things in legislation that doesn’t yet exist.
Q Thanks. On the sequester, the package that the President is talking about to temporarily delay it, does that need to meet the definition of balance?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Could that be spending cuts alone?
MR. CARNEY: Balance.
Q Because he was talking of spending cuts and tax reform, but tax reform is a —
MR. CARNEY: Tax reform that generates revenue.
Q — tall order in the next month.
MR. CARNEY: Well, when we talk about — going to Ed’s question — about the size of a temporary buy-down, there are certainly means available to achieve balance. That includes cuts and revenue that would not be that complicated. So we would look forward — the principle of balance applies in all things when this — as far as the President is concerned when we approach reducing our deficit because it can’t be the right way to go in December and not the right way to go in February or March.
Q And that’s a priority over letting the sequester go into effect?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President doesn’t believe that we should ask our seniors, or families who have children with disabilities, or folks who are trying to send their kids to school, that they should bear the burden of deficit reduction alone. So a proposal that says we’ll solve this problem temporarily or for the long term, either way, just by asking those folks to bear the burden is not one the President would support.
Q And on John Brennan’s confirmation hearing — does the White House believe that they’re going to be smooth sailing? Or do you expect to see the same sort of resistance as Senator Hagel?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start with Senator Hagel. I think that we’ve seen since his hearing an increase in the number of senators who have come out publicly to say that they will vote to confirm him. We’ve seen Senator McCain say, I believe yesterday, that he would oppose what would be essentially an unprecedented attempt to filibuster that nomination, and that is certainly appreciated. So we see momentum behind Senator Hagel’s nomination. The President believes that he will be confirmed, and looks forward to having him serve as Secretary of Defense.
When it comes to John Brennan, that process obviously has not started, as far as hearings go. But, again, the President selected John Brennan because he knows from his experience working with him here in the White House that he would be an excellent director of Central Intelligence, and we believe that he will be confirmed.
Q Does the President believe that there are any areas that should be off limits in the confirmation hearings, such as unauthorized — renditions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, setting aside what — from the President here, I think that everyone involved in public hearings understands that the discussion of classified issues — I’m not saying that issue can’t be discussed, but classified matters is not a — discussing classified matters in public hearings, generally not an appropriate thing to do or a legal thing to do.
But I’m sure that there will be — the Senate will fulfill its responsibility here. This is a process that’s important, and the President believes that Mr. Brennan will answer the senators’ questions ably and that he will be confirmed.
Q Thank you. Two quick things. On Israel, the Jerusalem Post is apparently reporting he’s also going to go to the West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Without obviously giving us dates and things, can you at least confirm the nature of the other countries he’s going to be visiting?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that that report is, at least in part, incorrect. The President will —
Q We got one country wrong? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: — also travel — well, I mean, but that shouldn’t be the standard, right, get it half right?
Q So Israel is right?
Q Any more?
MR. CARNEY: Were you not here? I confirmed a question earlier that the President will —
Q Not March?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not confirming dates here. We’ll have more information about dates later. The President will also travel to the West Bank and Jordan to continue his close work with Palestinian Authority officials and Jordanian officials on bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest.
So there’s going to be a little correction on that report I guess.
Q And then one other thing on the transparency question involving the white paper and the memo. Seeing as how you’ve cited repeatedly today the extent to which administration officials have gone out and talked about the principles, and now you’re have a 15-page white paper that kind of lays out the legal arguments, what is the administration’s argument against releasing some form of the actual memos, perhaps — if nothing else, a redacted form that — since you already have now released both in written and verbal form much of the arguments that undergird them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the discussions that you’ve seen in public, including in the white paper, have to do with general principles that are applied on this important matter. Without going into the alleged existence of any particular memo or action, I can say that what we cannot do is discuss classified operations. It would compromise what tend to be called sources and methods, and would do harm to our national security interests.
The fact of the matter is that the white paper that we’ve discussed was provided — was developed and produced in an unclassified manner precisely so that those general principles could be spelled out and elaborated — and I would refer you to Justice as well on this. But that’s precisely why a document like that would be produced.
Q But you will release the white paper? You’ve pointed us to it several times.
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s out there. It’s online.
Q From you? From you?
MR. CARNEY: No, no — I think it was a news organization that Kristen works for has put it out online.
Q You’ve repeatedly pointed to it, referred to it.
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying that that document was produced by the administration, provided not for public release but provided to senators who have jurisdiction on these issues last year and for the very purposes of consideration that we’ve been discussing here. And the reason why I can talk about it openly and refer you to it is because it is an unclassified document.
Q But we request that you put it out, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Put what out?
Q The white paper you’ve referred to dozens of times.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’ll take the question. I’m sure the Justice Department can also take this question. It is out there online.
Q Not the same thing. It’s not.
MR. CARNEY: I take your point.
Q You said that U.S. citizenship alone does not make a leader of an enemy force immune from being targeted. Talk about U.S. citizenship plus residency. Why does the U.S. believe it’s legal to kill Americans abroad but not to kill Americans at home without judicial process?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the ample material here both in spoken presentations by senior administration officials as well as the much discussed white paper. I’m not a lawyer and these are the kinds of things that are probably best expressed and explained by lawyers. My understanding, for what it’s worth —
Q How would that —
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for your interruption. But there are issues here about, again, that have been discussed and are out there about feasibility of capture that I think are pertinent to that very question.
Q So it’s not —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not a lawyer — and maybe you are. I bet you are —
Q I’m not. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: But you’d make a very good one. (Laughter.) So I can’t — it’s not appropriate for me —
Q But it sounds like you’re saying there’s no constitutional distinction; it’s just that capture is feasible in the U.S. and it may not be feasible abroad.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would look at the reasoning that underpins what we’ve been talking about here, again, available in the presentations made by senior administration officials that got far less attention than this story at the time — even collectively less attention and fewer questions, even though they were public speeches given, in some cases, before journalists. And it talked about just these issues — and also the document that we’ve been discussing, which is available.
Q But doesn’t it stand to reason that if imminence is one of the major tests, a plot in the United States conducted by a terrorist leader in the United States would be more imminent than something abroad?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I think I’ve addressed this in terms of the general reasoning here and I would point you to the sources that I’ve just talked about.
Q Jay, on immigration, the President met with labor leaders this morning and has business CEOs coming in later today. And I’m wondering to the extent he thinks a deal might be possible between both sides in the debate on a temporary worker program. I mean, does he think that’s realistic? Is he trying to help make that happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve discussed this before or I’ve been asked about it before. The President will obviously look forward to working with Congress, the Senate, as it produces legislation — and the House, if it produces legislation on this matter, and will consider as part of the comprehensive deal efforts to address that question. I don’t have any disposition in particular to provide to you about it. We’re looking to Congress to deliberate on that issue.
Yes. Tara, how are you?
Q Fine, thanks. On the sequester, when you agreed to the two-month extension as part of the fiscal cliff deal, sort of the rationalization for the short-term nature of that was to give Congress and the White House time to come up with a solution. You’re now asking for another short-term extension. Was there anything, any attempt in the last couple weeks to come up with a solution if you made a determination that would not happen by March 1st? And to speak to your point, you said here that the government can’t run on a short-term extension and the President has said that. Now that you’re asking for the second short-term extension or fix, how are the two — the action and the statements consistent?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question, as the President made clear when he came out here, that the preferred course of action is to resolve this by accepting what the President put forward, which is a compromise solution that achieves the big deal, the $4 trillion total in deficit reduction, in a balanced way, that would allow our economy to grow and to continue to create jobs, but would also, by reducing our deficits significantly, put us on a fiscally sustainable path.
It would do it in a way that would protect seniors and middle-class families, and not ask them to bear the sole burden of the need to reduce our deficit. It would do it in a way that asks folks to play by the same rules, that says we should close loopholes in our tax code that allow wealthy individuals or corporations to enjoy tax benefits that average folks and average businesses don’t enjoy.
So it remains and has been the President’s preferred course. What he has also said is — as recently as 40 minutes ago — that if Congress won’t act on the bigger deal or can’t in the time before the sequester is scheduled to kick in, we need to take action, Congress needs to take action to make sure the sequester doesn’t kick in.
Because far from being a useful political tool in someone’s back pocket, the sequester, if allowed to kick in, threatens the livelihoods of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans. It would do harm to middle-class families around the country. And there’s no reason to allow it to take effect when we can agree, as we did in December, or January 1st, to buy down the sequester for a period of time to give Congress the time and space to do what it has now, in the interim, agreed to do, which is pursue a budget process that the President hopes will result in further balanced deficit reduction along the lines that he’s proposed.
Q But were there any serious attempts to do it in this two-month —
MR. CARNEY: Well, there was certainly a hope that in the wake of what you all wrote was — well, I won’t go there — but in the wake of the fiscal cliff deal that produced the result that it did, that there might be a greater willingness in the near term to embrace the kind of reasonable compromise the President put forward; that, again, numerically, factually, represented the President coming halfway towards Republicans, the President making some very tough decisions and leading the Democrats on those issues when it comes to entitlement reforms and spending cuts; and that maybe there would be a willingness to grab hold of that opportunity, perhaps to achieve the significant deficit reduction in a bipartisan way, claim victory for everyone here in that effort, and then move on to other issues.
That hasn’t happened yet. However, the Congress has decided to move forward with a budget process that has the potential of allowing the kind of action to take place here when it comes to these matters that removes the constant state of crisis, removes the cloud of crisis that we’ve had over our head for so long. And the President is encouraged by that. So we should buy down the sequester so that we don’t create chaos in our economy right as we’re trying to do something bigger and better.
Q Jay, is the release of the memo a threat to national security?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Is the release of this memo a threat to national security?
MR. CARNEY: Which memo?
Q The drone — switching topics — (laughter) — I mean, sorry, the release of the DOJ white paper?
MR. CARNEY: No. No.
Q What’s that?
MR. CARNEY: No, it was provided — it’s an unclassified document.
Q So you don’t — even though it was unclassified, the fact that it’s out there is —
MR. CARNEY: It wasn’t designed for public release, but it’s an unclassified document.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.
2:16 P.M. EST