Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 12, 2012 – 1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions I have a readout of the President’s video teleconference with President Sarkozy of France.
Continuing their close consultations on global issues of common concern, the President and French President Sarkozy held a video teleconference today to discuss Syria, Iran and stability in the oil markets.
On Syria, the President and President Sarkozy condemned the violence perpetrated by the regime against its own people, and noted that the regime had yet to fully implement the agreement negotiated with Kofi Annan pursuant to the Annan plan. The two leaders called for the regime to fully implement the Annan plan, noting that the international community would judge the regime by its actions and not its words.
On Iran, both leaders expressed hope that Iran would take advantage of the upcoming P5-plus-1 talks to address the international community’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. The President and President Sarkozy agreed to continue increasing the pressure on the Iranian regime through sanctions and other measures if Tehran remains unresponsive.
Finally, the President and President Sarkozy agreed to continue their consultations about the tightness in global oil markets, in line with previous conversations.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q On the Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen controversy from yesterday, what is the White House view of Hilary Rosen’s remark that AnnH Romney hadn’t worked a day in her life? Is the President aware of it? Has he had any personal observations about it?
Secondly, the Romney campaign claims that Hilary Rosen is tight with you guys and has been in her 35 times for consultations. Is that correct? And does 35 visits by any Democratic consultant confer any particular status on her as far as being up close or in any kind of advisory role at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a couple things. First of all, I have not spoken with the President about this so I don’t have anything to report to you on that. Secondly, I think we can all agree — Democrats and Republicans — that raising children is an extremely difficult job and that is true for all mothers as well as fathers.
But we should also focus on where we disagree. It is not coincidental that the very first piece of legislation that this President signed when he entered office was the Lilly Ledbetter Free [sic] Pay Act. It had passed Congress and the President signed it into law. Why did it take President Obama entering office, being sworn into office, to have the Fair Pay Act become law? Because Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it, and presumably still do.
When the President took office, we were shedding roughly 750,000 jobs a month, and men and women across the nation were feeling the pain of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We have seen 25 straight months of private sector growth, resulting in 4.1 million jobs.
And when it comes to women in the economy, there has been a particular focus. As you know, as recently as last week there was a forum here to discuss exactly what we need to continue doing to ensure that women are able to get to work with good-paying jobs that can help their families and help them make ends meet. I would note, again, that one of the principal elements of the American Jobs Act was a provision — and this is the President’s American Jobs Act — was a provision to provide assistance to states to rehire 400,000 teachers.
As you know, in this period of 25 straight months of private sector job growth, there has also been reductions in jobs in states and localities because of pressures on the fiscal — on the budgets of states and localities. This assistance would have ensured that 400,000 teachers would have gone back to work. Teachers, as you know — women are represented disproportionately in our teaching corps across the country. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed that provision.
In the Ryan budget — the Ryan/Republican budget, 400,000 students would lose Pell grants in 2013, and another 465,000 students would lose Pell grants in 2014. In addition, 9 million students would experience cuts in their grants starting in 2013, which would deepen to as much as $1,150 per student. Roughly speaking, you can divide all those numbers by half in terms of the impact that those cuts would have on women.
The Head Start program — in 2013, a $430 million cut to the Head Start program would result in 60,000 low-income women — children — low-income children, rather, losing access to early childhood education. After that, a $1.5 billion cut to the Head Start program would result in 200,000 low-income children losing access to early education.
As some of you know, one of the cuts that would occur, by our analysis, if the Ryan/Republican budget were enacted into law, would be to the Women, Infants and Children program, a program that has had longstanding bipartisan support. The Republican House budget resolution cuts $350 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children. Cuts of this magnitude would require kicking about 700,000 pregnant or post-partum women, infants and children off of WIC and denying another 100,000 from receiving critical foods necessary for healthy child development.
I could go on, and I will if I’m asked.
Q The 35 visits?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I haven’t seen the records. I don’t know that — Hilary Rosen, I know three, personally, women named Hilary Rosen. So I’m not sure that those represent the person we’re talking about necessarily. So I really can’t comment on the number of visits since I’m not sure that’s accurate.
Q Well, how about the degree of this particular Hilary Rosen’s —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know how many times she’s been here. She’s not a — she is a Democratic strategist; she’s a CNN contributor, as far as I know. And I don’t know how to assess her overall relationship with people here in the White House. But I do not — I have not seen her here very frequently.
Q Do you expect that relationship to continue on whatever level it is?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t know what the relationship is. Let’s focus on what the issue here is. This is a — when it comes to what this administration has done for women, it begins with the President signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It continues with the emphasis on the need to put teachers back in the classroom. It continues with a variety of programs, including our opposition to the Ryan/Republican budget and its dramatic cuts.
Medicare, for example — I’m sure many of you know that Medicare benefits go disproportionately to women. Ending Medicare as we know it, forcing seniors to bear the brunt of the cost of tax cuts to the wealthy, would harm women disproportionately. These are real, fundamental policy decisions. And I think that when people look at those contrasts and those disagreements, it will be quite clear what President Obama’s position is and what his policies are.
Q Jay, you’ve mentioned that the President and President Sarkozy discussed tightness in the oil markets. Did they discuss the possibility of releasing oil reserves?
MR. CARNEY: The President and President Sarkozy did discuss tightness in the global oil markets and agreed to continue their consultations. This conversation was in line with previous conversations. I have no new announcements to make at this point on that issue.
Q French diplomats, though, have said before that that particular piece of the oil market discussion was on the table. Can you say anything about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as I’ve said before, it should not be a surprise that in our conversations at various levels, including President to President, that we talk about some of the pressing global issues of the day, and certainly tightness in the global oil markets is one of the issues that you would expect to be on the table and to be discussed. But again, this was in line with previous conversations, and I have no announcements to make on that issue.
Q On Syria, Kofi Annan is calling for a U.N. observer team to go to Syria. Does the U.S. support that and would U.S. officials take part in something like that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s focus on a couple of things. The fact of the matter is Kofi Annan made clear that while there is something of a tentative cease-fire in place, the regime has clearly fallen short of its obligations under the Annan plan — obligations which they made 12 days ago. And unfortunately, that is another indication of why it is so important when you’re dealing with the Assad regime to judge it by its actions and not its promises, not its words.
We will continue to consult with our international partners and allies about next steps as we monitor the situation in Syria. I don’t have any proposals to — or announcements to make with regard to what next steps might be, but you can be sure that we will work with the international community, continue to press the Assad regime to cease its brutal violence against its own people.
One of the reasons why the Annan plan was not just a cease-fire but an agreement to withdraw forces from population centers is that while it is certainly better if there is a gun to someone’s head that the trigger is not being pulled, the gun is still at your head — at that person’s head — and that’s the situation when there is not a withdrawal but forces are in position to begin their assault again. That is a long way from fulfillment of the obligations that the Assad regime committed itself to.
Q Does the United States think Assad is just trying to buy time by not complying right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it certainly is the case that the Assad regime has been long on promises and short on fulfillment of those promises both to the international community and to its own people. Motivations behind the failure to fulfill those obligations, to fulfill those problems others can analyze. But it is certainly the case that when dealing with this regime and its heinous behavior and its actions against its own people, we take a very dim view of promises. We focus on actions.
Q Thank you. Just to follow on Syria. Kofi Annan also said that he was encouraged by the situation on the ground there. It seems to be relatively quiet at this point. Are you — is the administration also encouraged at least by this step?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I tried to illustrate, it is certainly — even a tentative or less-than-complete cease-fire is better than no cease-fire at all. But we could not call the current situation on the ground a full cease-fire. We have seen a halt in gunfire from the Syrian regime across the country. However, some incidents of regime-perpetrated violence have been reported in different volatile areas. The halting gunfire would not constitute a full implementation of the ceasefire commitments under the Annan plan until the Syrian military — as I was saying before — including all weaponry, equipment and personnel have been pulled out of all urban areas.
So again, a tentative cease-fire, a less-than-full cease-fire is not equal to a full implementation of the regime’s obligations under the Annan plan.
Q And North Korea — there are a number of food aid organizations that are concerned about what happens when this launch takes place. They believe that this food agreement is necessary for children and mothers over there. What is the concern in the administration, pulling back this desperately needed food aid to the North Koreans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it is because of the President’s and the administration’s concern about the health and welfare of a people who have been systematically deprived of basic nutritional sustenance because of this regime’s focus on funding military programs that violate its international obligations that the President was prepared to provide nutritional assistance to the North Koreans. But as I’ve said a number of times, the clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that a launch of a ballistic missile would represent makes it virtually impossible for us to go ahead with that program of assistance, in part because we can — if we cannot — one of the factors on the table whenever you consider something like this is you need to be able to have assurances that the aid provided is getting to the people who need it, not being syphoned off to the military, for example, or other areas. And the significant and clear demonstration of bad faith that this missile launch would represent makes it — makes us unable to move forward with that program.
Q One official that we spoke with, with a food organization sort of disputed that, saying that they don’t see any problem at all making sure that this aid will get into the hands of the right people, that porridge and oil is not the kind of food that the elite would want to skim off or take.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that assessment. I’ll trust the judgments being made by the administration on this about a regime that is one of the most isolated police states in the world, about their capacity to obviate — fail to fulfill their obligations. Firing this missile is a provocative action if it takes place. It is in clear violation of clear United Nations Security Council resolutions. And that was made very clear to the North Koreans not just by us but by others who are very concerned — by other nations that are very concerned about this. And we will continue to monitor the situation there and consult with our allies as the situation develops.
Q When Ms. Rosen did visit the White House, regardless of how many times, can you explain what issues brought her here, what matters did she help with?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I haven’t looked at that. I mean, I would have to check — or you could ask her.
Q Jay, what’s left for President Obama to say about the Buffett Rule in his four interviews this afternoon? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you asked, because gone are the days when all you had to do was talk to CBS News or ABC, or The New York Times, or CNN, or The Wall Street Journal —
Q Or Reuters.
MR. CARNEY: — or Reuters. (Laughter.)
Q Keep going. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I won’t tell your bosses that you volunteered.
MR. CARNEY: Or Time Magazine, or — and could be sure that most of the adult population in the country would hear what you had to say. You know this, Mark, I think better than most here because you’ve seen — you’ve witnessed from this perch here covering the White House the evolution in the media. And the absolute fact that people across the country get their news in a variety of different ways — they don’t all sit down and listen to the radio as they did before television. They don’t all watch the same television shows. There’s just too many outlets — too many outlets, too many alternatives.
So that makes it more of a challenge for anyone who is trying to reach out and communicate with the American people, whether he or she is a President or anybody else. And that’s why the President continues to talk about his policy initiatives in a — with a variety of different people in a variety of different forums. Because we certainly do not believe that everyone in the country is as expertly informed about the fundamental fairness that the Buffett Rule represents as you are.
Q Is President Obama reaching out to members of the Senate with phone calls in advance of next week’s vote?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any — he speaks periodically with members of Congress both in the Senate and the House. I don’t have any specific calls to read out to you. We are focused on trying to convince or persuade senators to vote in favor of the Buffett Rule proposal, the legislation that was put forward by Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and certainly hope that, perhaps not because of our persuasions but the fact that constituents across the country, Americans across the country in every state broadly support the proposal, that senators who in the past have expressed opposition might reconsider.
I’ll move around a little bit, then I’ll get to you, Wendell. Jackie.
Q I’ll just follow up on the Buffett Rule real quickly. Since the administration has come to support Senator Whitehouse’s version, which is reduced from the original concept that the President put out in September and again in his budget, does the administration still see the Buffett Rule as a total replacement for the AMT, the Alternative Minimum Tax, to make sure that wealthier taxpayers pay a certain rate?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to take your question because I don’t want to get it wrong in terms of the economic analysis, and I might consult with some of the experts here to answer that question. We certainly see the Buffett Rule as an important fallback, if you will, to ensure that millionaires and billionaires pay at least the tax rate that middle-class Americans pay.
Now, a number of — not all current millionaires and billionaires pay a lower rate than 30 percent; some of them certainly do. One of the things that I think is clear here — I got into a little debate with a reporter the other day about how the Buffett Rule was raising rates. Well, it’s not raising rates. Obviously, as you know, the current highest marginal tax rate is above that. And if you’re a millionaire or billionaire and you’re just getting a paycheck that’s quite large and paying income tax, federal income tax on it, then most of that money will be taxed at the highest marginal income tax rate.
But the fact of the matter is, the Buffett Rule and the documentation that we’ve provided you shows clearly that a number of — thousands of millionaires and billionaires and some of the wealthiest households in this country are paying tax on their income at a much lower rate than 30 percent. So this would be an insurance policy, if you will, that would make sure that, as a bottom line, 30 percent was paid.
Q And on oil prices, following up on Dan’s question — in the President’s conversation with President Sarkozy, does the fact that you have nothing to announce in terms of going to the reserves for oil supplies, does that suggest that the administration doesn’t see any need to do so right now? Or what is the administration’s stance?
MR. CARNEY: I would examine and consider my comments and come to a conclusion that they impart almost no information in that regard. (Laughter.)
Q As opposed to the rest of the briefing? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: As opposed to the rest of the briefing. And I was simply making the point that this is a topic of conversation that has come up before, would be expected to come up in a conversation between the French President and the American President, between the American President and other leaders. So I simply have no more information about that subject, no announcements to make on that subject today.
Ari, and then Wendell.
Q Tomorrow, Mitt Romney speaks to the NRA National Convention. And the last time the President spoke at length about guns was after the Tucson shootings, when he called for a national dialogue on guns and gun violence. Did that national dialogue ever happen? Did he do anything to help make it happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, President Obama has called for common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and improve public safety by keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them under existing law. The President directed the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to work with a diverse group of stakeholders to accomplish those goals.
They have made progress, for example, towards improving the amount and quality of information in the background check system. For more details about that ongoing effort I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Is that the dialogue he was referring to, sort of an internal Justice Department —
MR. CARNEY: Well, this was — those efforts by the Justice Department are specific, obviously, to the administration. The dialogue that exists in the country on these issues I think is always present, and continues.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Last week, in the Rose Garden, President Calderón said that the violence — gun violence in Mexico started to escalate and could trace it to 2004 when the assault weapons ban in the United States expired. So does the President support renewing, extending that ban? And what has he done about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Bill, again, the President’s views on the need for common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights but ensure that those who should not have guns under existing law are well known. I don’t recall — I certainly didn’t discuss with him President Calderón’s comments, so I don’t have any updates for you on specific legislation.
Q The assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Has the President taken a stand on extending that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get back to you on that. I don’t have any new information on that.
Q Former administrator of the GSA says recent stories about spending patterns there suggest a systemic failure of the system there. Does the President agree with that? And is he concerned that these spending patterns might be more widespread across the government — people being sent to Hawaii for five days for an hour-long ribbon-cutting ceremony, for instance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of points. I think on his first day in office, as you know, Wendell, President Obama made clear that the people who serve in his administration are keepers of the public trust and that public service is a privilege. And under his leadership, this administration has taken historic steps to protect taxpayer dollars and eliminate waste across the federal government.
As you know, when the White House was informed of the IG’s findings in this case, we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars. I think you know that when the President was informed before his trip to South Korea about this case he was outraged by what he heard, by the excessive spending, the questionable dealings with contractors, the disregard for taxpayer dollars, and he called for all of those responsible to be held fully accountable. And I think the administration has acted accordingly in response to this.
We are constantly on the lookout for waste of taxpayer dollars. And again, when this matter got to the White House, it was acted on with incredible speed, and at the behest of the President, who was outraged by what he learned, those responsible are being held fully accountable.
Q Does the fact that this actually occurred suggest that your lookout might need to be expanded?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that —
Q Does it call for more scrutiny?
MR. CARNEY: — what happened here is there was an Inspector General investigation, which is appropriate. When those — the findings of that investigation were made known to the White House, the White House acted with extreme dispatch out of concern for the misuse of tax dollars that the report enumerated. And the President was outraged, as you know.
All the way back — Alexis.
Q Jay, to follow up on Mark’s question, can you just — for those of us who are wondering how the four anchors, the actual stations were chosen — is it because of the importance of the states or how — what’s the intersection between the Buffett Rule and Iowa, Ohio, Nevada and Missouri?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that we are very interested in making sure that the residents of those four states are aware of the debate, are informed about the issue. And if they feel, as a majority of Americans feel, that the Buffett Rule is fair, that it is the right thing to do to ensure that millionaires and billionaires pay taxes on their income at a rate commensurate or equal to what middle-class Americans pay, and no lower than that, then they will have their voices heard if they feel passionately about it.
So we’re — it’s meant to get the message out and get the message out, in this case, in states where we think it’s useful to get that message heard.
April — oh, I’m going to get in trouble. April, yes.
Q Jay, I wanted to go back to something that Ari asked you and some other things. With the recent headlines involving guns, has the White House decided now maybe it’s time to start that dialogue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, April, I think I answered this question. The Justice Department is engaged in a process at the direction of the President. The President’s principles are well known about the need to protect Second Amendment rights but to ensure that those who should not have guns under existing law do not have access to guns. And that process will continue. But for details on it, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q But typically, when Presidents feel that they want to push an issue, they put some skin in the game — they go on the Hill, maybe even make calls on it.
MR. CARNEY: I want to separate here — there is an investigation going on on a specific case in a specific state here. And you’re making a connection between issues or actions in that case, and I want to make sure that that’s —
Q No, no, it’s not —
MR. CARNEY: — it’s clear here that we’re not commenting on an ongoing investigation. We’re not — the President is focused in the same way on this issue and to the same degree on this issue as he has been for the entirety of his administration.
Q Jay, I’m not just talking about this Trayvon Martin issue. Gabrielle Giffords is a very good friend of the President. He saw her in the hospital. He was by her side. And he was very concerned, and he started talking about guns. And we’re still seeing more issues happening with guns. And the issue is, why has he not come out? It’s not necessarily about the cases now, but the cases — all the cases since he’s been in office. When is he going to push for sensible gun laws — new sensible gun laws?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s focus, as you know and I’ve said a couple of times, is on ensuring that under existing law those who should not have guns do not have access to them; that guns are kept out of the hands of those who should not have them under existing law. He directed, in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to work with a group of stakeholders — a diverse group of stakeholders to accomplish those goals. And there’s been progress in that effort. I would check with Justice for more specifics and more updates.
Q And on a tick-tock about Trayvon Martin, how did he find out yesterday about the murder charges for — the murder charge — the second degree murder charge for George Zimmerman? And also, could you tell us how he’s updated daily on the situation through Justice?
MR. CARNEY: I think, as I’ve said before, the President keeps up with the news. He tends to read the newspapers periodically and —
Q Which ones? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to cause any consternation from here. But, no, he — as I’ve said, he tends to get his news from print material, either paper itself or online. But I don’t — I wasn’t with him when he learned about this. I believe he just learned about it from the news. I’m not sure. But he doesn’t get daily briefings on it. I’m sure he reads the newspapers and keeps up with it that way.
Q Jay, the President has decided at this moment not to sign an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination by any federal contractor on the basis of sexual orientation. Based on the fact that the President has made past statements saying that he supports non-discrimination policies in the workplace, why not sign this executive order?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for all LGBT Americans. And that is why he has long supported an inclusive employment non-discrimination act which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive non-discrimination protections, and we plan to pursue a number of strategies to attain that goal. Our hope is these efforts will result in the passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination.
And I would make the comparison here that pursuing that strategy, the passage of ENDA, is very similar to the approach the President took for the legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Q Can you make the distinction between ENDA and signing this executive order? In other words, if he does support ENDA, why not sign this executive order, which relates to a smaller part of the population and get that policy started?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the DADT repeal is instructive here in terms of the approach that we’re taking at this time. And while it is not our usual practice to discuss executive orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an EO on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time. We support, as I just said, legislation that has been introduced — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and we will continue to work with congressional supporters to build — sponsors, rather, to build support for it.
We’re deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment non-discrimination policies including by complementing the existing body of compelling research with government-backed data and analysis, building a coalition of key stakeholders and decision-makers, directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community — from major corporations to contractors to small business — and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force.
Q Tico Almeida, who’s the president of Freedom to Work, has issued a statement saying, “This is a political calculation that cannot stand.” Is this a political calculation?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. The President is committed to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported ENDA. I think the President’s record on LGBT issues speaks volumes about his commitment to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans. The approach we’re taking at this time is to try to build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach to legislate on the issue of non-discrimination.
And I think, again, the approach that we took in bringing about the repeal — working with Congress to bring about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is instructive here. And as it did then, our approach to this piece of legislation demonstrates the President’s very firm and strong commitment to non-discrimination and to securing equal rights for all Americans.
Q Jay, if it’s not going to happen at this time — some sort of commitment to or issue an executive order at a later time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m simply saying that our approach is to focus on trying to build and expand support for passage of ENDA. That is our support. In terms of, again — as a rule — and we try to stick to it here — we don’t talk about executive orders that may or may not be under consideration. In this case, I can tell you that at this time we are not considering such an executive order. We are, however, actively working with stakeholders to build support for passage through Congress of a piece of legislation that would be far more comprehensive than an executive order.
Hey, guys, one at a time.
Q It’s highly unlikely that the Congress will pass it given its current makeup. And the President has issued numerous executive orders under the theme “We Can’t Wait” — has been unable to pass job legislation. Why is the President making this distinction with this LGBQ —
MR. CARNEY: We believe that this is the right approach to achieve success here in a broad and comprehensive legislative action. And at this time, we’re not considering as a part of that an executive order.
Now, there are executive orders that this President has signed and there are executive orders, either real or imagined, that the President has not acted on, and that’s because we look at each issue and we decide on a strategy that we think makes the most sense to achieving the President’s policy objectives.
Q Does the President believe that Executive Order 11246 that has been in place since 1965 is redundant to Title VII?
MR. CARNEY: You’re going to have to —
Q That’s the federal contractor executive order that has been in place for race, religion and sex since 1965.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him, Chris. What I do know for a fact is that this President is absolutely dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans. I think his record speaks volumes in support of that statement. And I think that the strategy that he pursued and the work that he did with Congress, with allies, in support of repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” testifies to his commitment. And you can —
Q But unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the executive order route on employment nondiscrimination for federal contractors has a separate portion even in addition to the legislative route that has been in existence since 1965. So this is not the same as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And why has the President not approached in a similar way to that law?
MR. CARNEY: It is a similar approach to the approach we took to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Again, I haven’t talked to him about other executive orders here. What I can tell you is we’re not considering an executive order on this at this time. We are focused on a legislative approach, a comprehensive approach that would be much broader through legislation. And we are going to work with stakeholders to try to build support for passage of ENDA.
Q One question before we move on. You’ve said that the President legislatively repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” While that’s true, he twice took in this sort of action to (inaudible) discharge authority twice before that repeal legislation was passed. So to say that you need to have legislation to go with administrative action first is not true.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s actually not a correction, Chris. It is a separate statement of action and fact. We are not approaching this at this time through executive authority, through an executive order. We are, however — in another demonstration of the President’s firm commitment to securing equal rights for the LGBT community — aggressively pursuing passage of ENDA. And that requires working with stakeholders and building a body of persuasive evidence that this is the right thing to do. And that is what we’re committed to doing.
Q On Syria, you already — my quick two questions is, one, tomorrow is Friday, many large numbers of Syrians get together after the Friday prayer and then you see all the casualties and other mistreatment. Do you have any message — many people argue that this is first and biggest test for the truce, that you are not satisfied. Could you please talk to that — what’s your message?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Our message is to Assad regime: Stop killing you people. Stop the violence. Commit yourself to a cease-fire. Commit yourself fully to implementing the Annan plan. Remove your troops. Withdraw your material, your weapons from urban population centers.
And I hope that that message is heard. It’s not just this President’s message; it’s the message of the international community. There’s broad support for the Kofi Annan mission and the Kofi Annan plan on the United Nations Security Council and throughout the world. And we hope — and I think I spoke to this earlier — that while there are some signs of a tentative cease-fire holding at this point in time, that is not the same as full implementation of the commitments that the Assad regime made 12 days ago when it said it would implement the Annan plan.
Q Final question. Turkish Prime Minister yesterday said he would invoke Article 5th to secure the border.
MR. CARNEY: Article 5.
Q What’s your approach to —
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see that. I think we are obviously — as I think I said yesterday or the day before — very concerned about the incident, the cross-border violence. It is, again, a vivid example of the abhorrent behavior of the Assad regime killing of refugees across the border. We made clear our concern about that issue, and we’ve certainly been in consultation with our Turkish allies on the matter. But I don’t have a specific response to that question.
Q Thank you, Jay. Could you clarify what the President was talking about yesterday when he mentioned former President Reagan going out and talking about — in the sense of tax fairness? What does he think President Reagan was promoting? Does he believe the President was promoting a higher tax rate for the wealthy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, here is a classic misunderstanding, and I’m assuming not a deliberate misrepresentation, of what the Buffett Rule is. It is not a higher tax rate. It is a rule to ensure that millionaires pay income tax — a tax on their income no lower than 30 percent, so that it is equal to what middle-class Americans pay. Again, this is not about raising marginal rates.
The President does believe, separate from this — but he was already talking about the Buffett Rule — that we should let the high income Bush tax cuts expire. The Buffett Rule would simply ensure that if you’re like Warren Buffett or many other millionaires and billionaires out there, who, by taking advantage of the existing tax code, pay something on the order of 10 or 15 or 20 percent or whatever on your income, that that’s not fair when middle-class Americans, like Warren Buffett’s secretary, like the assistants that were here yesterday at this event, they should not be paying — or representative of this problem — they should not be paying taxes on their income at a higher rate than millionaires and billionaires.
And I think that if you hear what Ronald Reagan simply said was, he used an example that could almost be ripped from today’s headlines, right? He said he had a CEO contact him. He made six figures, which at that time was like being a millionaire, and who could not believe and did not think it was fair that he was able to, through perfectly legal means because of the loopholes in the tax code, pay taxes at a lower rate than his assistant. That is exactly the point that Warren Buffett has been making. It is exactly the point that President Obama has been making.
Q And so someone who takes in a couple of million of dollars of capital gains and pays the 15 percent rate, and does it legally, the President does not want that person’s tax liability to go up?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve spoken very clearly in our budget about capital gains rate with regards to people making more than — millionaires and billionaires — about the carried interest law. And the answer is, yes. We do not believe that hedge fund managers — it’s a perfect example — should be paying tax on what by any common-sense definition is income — it isn’t even capital — it’s not capital profit, it’s income — at a 15 percent rate, when most folks who are earning a paycheck are paying at a much higher rate. That does not seem fair to the President and it doesn’t make economic sense.
And you know why? Because we tried it. And putting aside the fairness argument for a minute and just looking at the effect on the economy, what happens when you give substantial tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans? Well, it’s not a theoretical exercise — 2001 it happened; 2003 it happened. And what happened? Even in times of economic expansion, we had unbelievably anemic job growth, the lowest in recent history in terms of expansion. We had an average — during the growth quarters of the Bush administration — of under 100,000 jobs created per month, lower significantly than March job creation, lower drastically than the kind of job creation we’ve seen in the past quarter.
So it hadn’t worked. We tried it. Over the eight years before this President came into office you saw a period when the middle class was under tremendous strain, where the incomes of middle-class Americans either stagnated or fell, and when the incomes of the wealthiest Americans went up dramatically. That kind of imbalance is both not fair for regular folks who are working hard, trying to make ends meet, but it’s also not good for our economy. It didn’t work. So we shouldn’t just go back and do what didn’t work.
And I even didn’t mention what happened at the end of that period — global economic chaos. So if that’s the plan, if that’s what some folks are selling, I’m hard pressed to believe that there will be a lot of buyers.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, guys.
1:50 P.M. EDT