Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 25, 2011 – 12: 45 P.M. EDT. See below for an answer to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. I have no special announcements or statements, so I will begin by calling on Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple questions on Syria, and then I wanted to ask you about the Afghanistan meeting. In Syria, the Assad regime, as you know, continues to assault its own people. Protesters there continue to die by the day. I’m wondering if you could articulate from the White House perspective why Syria is different than Libya and why have we not heard President Obama say, for example, that Assad has lost the confidence of his people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, Ben. First of all, I’m sure you did see the President’s very strong statement of Friday where he condemned in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators; referred to an outrageous use of violence to quell protests. He mentioned how this administration for two months has been repeatedly encouraging President Assad and the Syrian government to implement meaningful reforms, and yet they have refused to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations.
The Syrian people have called for the freedoms that all individuals around the world should enjoy — freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders.
The President said, and I say here, that we strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens, and we continue to do that.
Now, to your question about the differences, of which there are many, I would simply say that Libya was, again, a unique situation. We had large portions of the country that were out of the control of Muammar Qaddafi. We had a Qaddafi regime that was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion and was about to assault a very large city on the promise that it would show — “it,” the regime — would show that city and its residence “no mercy.” We had an international consensus to act. We had the support of the Arab League to act in a multilateral fashion. And we supported that move to save the lives of the people of Misurata and elsewhere in Libya.
So Libya was a unique situation. However, we continue to look for ways and are pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown in Syria and to make clear that this behavior is unacceptable.
Now, you know obviously that Syria already is under some significant sanctions by the United States, but we’re looking at other means to increase the pressure on the regime and the Syrian government in a targeted way.
Q Do you think Assad still does have the confidence of his people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s up for — it is up, as it is for all of these countries, it is up to the people of Syria to decide who its leaders should be. That’s what we believe. And the Syrian people should certainly be respected, their rights should be respected. They should not be attacked; they should not be killed as they express their grievances to the Syrian government.
But again, our position in all these countries has been that it is up to the people of those countries to decide who their leaders are, and we call for processes of reform that allow that to take place.
Q You mentioned sanctions would be targeted. Can you offer any sense of what that means and how they could potentially help stop the killing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have specifics for you because we’re pursuing a variety of options, or looking at, rather, a range of options, including targeted sanctions. What we have seen is that sanctions can put pressure on governments and regimes to change their behavior, and I think that would be obviously the goal of this. And we continue to encourage President Assad and his government to honor the promises that President Assad has made to lift the emergency law, for example; to institute reforms; and obviously to cease the violence against his own people.
Q And — thanks. On the AfPak meeting, can you describe whether — I know this is a monthly meeting, but obviously some big decisions coming up — can you describe whether this is in any way a decisional meeting for the President?
MR. CARNEY: This is not a decisional meeting. This is a — one of the regular, as you mentioned, monthly meetings, run by the President on Afghanistan and Pakistan with the usual principals involved in that meeting, but it is not decisional.
Q Also, one on Syria, and then on an economic subject — would the sanctions that you mentioned, that are being contemplated against the Syrian government, would that be — would those target individuals and perhaps even Assad himself?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics about — beyond what I’ve just said, which is to say that we are pursuing a range of possible options, including targeted sanctions. I should note for those who don’t know that we have had a fairly aggressive regime of sanctions in place, unilateral sanctions, since I believe 2003 — and this would be in addition to that, if we were to pursue that course of action. But we’re certainly looking at different ways to make clear to the Syrian government how appalling we find this behavior to be, and to encourage them both, as we have, by speaking out against it, but another means to stop the violence and to move towards serious reform.
Q But sanctions against individuals — individual leaders, individual —
MR. CARNEY: Again, targeted — you can parse that — but targeted sanctions.
Q And the oil industry is something that has escaped sanctions before from the U.S. Would there be any look at targeting Syria’s crude oil business?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll leave it at targeted.
Q All right. And the other question is actually about the dollar. The administration’s — I’m wondering is the administration concerned about the — what’s really been a growing weakness of the dollar on world markets, and does it remain committed to the strong dollar policy?
MR. CARNEY: I will leave a comment on the dollar to my colleague at the Treasury Department, Secretary Geithner, if I may.
Q Have you seen any evidence that having an ambassador in Syria has had any positive effect whatsoever?
MR. CARNEY: Having an ambassador in Syria has allowed us to be in Syria, basically in the presence of the government, to make our views known directly and not via long distance. So, yes, it has been useful to have our ambassador there, precisely because we can communicate directly what our positions and views are. And so I think that has been a useful avenue for us to pursue in terms of communicating our points of view.
Q But not in terms of influencing behavior, I suppose?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we condemn the behavior we’ve seen, so clearly we are not pleased by or do not support what we have seen the Syrian government do to its own citizens. But as a means of communicating directly our points of view, I think it is useful.
Q First-quarter GDP growth numbers are expected this week and they’re not expected to be encouraging; they’re supposed to be worse than last quarter. So much of this recovery, as the President has said, is psychological. So much about the American people being prepared or allowing the economy to grow has been based on feelings about whether or not we’re headed in the right direction. The President has said that. Do you think that the White House and the Treasury Department and the administration in general has prepared the country sufficiently for what look to be disappointing GDP numbers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jake, I don’t think Americans judge how they feel personally about their economic circumstances based on a report on GDP. The fact that Americans still feel stress is true today, it was true a month ago, and it will be true a month from now because we are still climbing our way out of a very deep hole.
There is still far too much joblessness. We have worked very hard in this administration to attack that problem, to bring down unemployment. Remember in that terrible recession — the worst since the Great Depression — this country lost 8 million jobs before this administration had a chance for its economic policies even to go to work. So that’s a deep hole.
We have been growing for a number of quarters. We have been creating jobs for more than a year, private sector jobs — quite a few, in fact. But we’re not out of the hole. And I think we speak about that quite frankly all the time. And that’s why we’re — in the budget negotiations for the fiscal year 2011, that’s why the President’s starting position was that we should do nothing that harms the recovery; we should do nothing that arrests the growth or the job creation.
That is his approach as he looks forward to our negotiations on long-term deficit reduction and fiscal reform. It’s all with a purpose. Grow the economy, increase job creation, because he knows very — in his — as he wakes up every morning and goes to sleep every night, this is what he thinks about. He knows that there are Americans out there who are still struggling, still suffering — too many. And that’s what he’s focused on.
So I would say in terms of preparing the American people, we are very clear and blunt about what we see out there, what needs to be done, why it’s so important not to take any actions that arrest the recovery, to do everything we can to speed it up, increase growth, increase job creation.
Q I haven’t heard anybody from this podium or the President talk about how things are actually now sliding back a little bit in terms of GDP growth. I mean —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you’re talking about GDP growth. The President and his various spokesmen speak all the time about the fact that unemployment is still too high; the fact that we are still climbing out of this very deep hole; that fact that we need to do everything we can to continue to grow the economy and increase job creation; and that, concurrently — as you’ve heard him speak about quite a bit about lately because it’s on Americans’ minds and it’s a real issue — the fact that rising gas prices have hurt Americans in their wallets and pocketbooks and have hurt their economic bottom lines.
So he understands that that creates economic insecurity, combined with all these other factors. So he speaks frequently about it — in fact, I think at all three of his town halls last week he did.
Q Syria has significant economic interest in Europe compared to the U.S. Has the President reached out to European allies to see what maybe they will do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, we speak with our allies all the time about the situation in the region, in other countries as well as Syria. But I have no specific announcement to make about discussions with our allies.
Q How important is it for European allies to take a similar track here as the U.S. considers sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to dictate to other countries from here what they should or shouldn’t do. What I will say is that we are very concerned about it, as I think many others countries are, and we are looking at a variety of options, a range of options, including targeted sanctions, more targeted sanctions aimed at the Syrian government.
Q And what about international sanctions and the administration’s desire —
MR. CARNEY: Well, one of the things — I mean, you have to — when the United Nations acts or other bodies act, it’s a collective group action. Right now what we can do in a relatively short period of time is express our views very clearly and review possible unilateral actions we can take.
Q With the disclosure of new material from WikiLeaks and other apparently — as well as other sources about the situation following 9/11 when a lot of information was assembled about various actors, were there lessons learned from that, in terms of what we might have been able to do with the information that we had but didn’t accomplish, as in tracking down Obama bin Laden? Do you want to comment on the release of the documents? Do you want to comment on what we might have done?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, the release of classified information we condemn in the strongest possible terms. And we think it’s unfortunate that The New York Times and other news organizations have made the decision to publish numerous documents obtained illegally concerning the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
The issue in terms of the content of that material, obviously we had been aware of the detainee assessment briefs. The publication of them has not made them — does not make them new to us. So I’m not sure in terms of the question about the substance of the —
Q Does it make them — the fact that it’s now out there, does it offer an opportunity for reflection on what we didn’t do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think what we’re focused on right now is what the President is committed to, which is working towards the ultimate closure of the detention facility, consistent with the good security practices and values that we have a nation; consistent with the previous President, George W. Bush, John McCain when he was a candidate, uniformed military leadership.
But on the —
Q Talking more about the intelligence developed on various —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I don’t have any comment on the specific intelligence. I would note that the assessment briefs were compiled by the Department of Defense between 2002 and early 2009, and obviously the President in early 2009 created his Guantanamo review task force, which took into account those assessment briefs but also other sources of information. And you should not assume that the conclusions of that task force were the same as the conclusions in those briefs about individual detainees. I just think that’s an important point to make, because these are not — a detainee assessment brief in 2006 may or may not be reflective of the administration or the government’s view of that particular detainee in 2011.
Q And on Syria, I didn’t get the impression from your comments that the ongoing activity of the Syrian government in repressing its people have speeded up this decision process on possible new sanctions. Has it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you haven’t heard me say from here before, or others, that we are considering a range of options, including targeted sanctions. I think that we are very concerned by the actions —
Q You say you’re considering them. Are you saying that there are likely to be new sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to make an announcement. I’m saying that we’re reviewing options, and obviously we’re doing that in light of the actions that have been taken by the Syrian government against its people. So — and I think that the President’s very frank and strong statement on Friday speaks to how we view the behavior of the Syrian government.
Q I count Syria as the only country on the list of state sponsors of terrorism with whom we have diplomatic relations. Why is that? Or conversely, why do we not have diplomatic relations with Sudan, North Korea and Cuba?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, I would just go back to the point that we believe that sending an ambassador and having diplomatic relations with Syria was a useful and it remains a useful course to take because it allows us to communicate directly with the Syrian government, including to voice very clearly our strenuous objections to the behavior that it’s perpetrating in recent days. So in terms of decisions about diplomatic engagement and non-engagement, I can take that question. I can also send you to the State Department in terms of other states.
But there was a decision made in this case that having an ambassador there was a useful thing to have and has been useful in communicating directly precisely because we can speak very clearly in this case regarding our opposition and concern about the behavior of the government against its people.
Q Can you give us some idea of the amount of communication? I don’t imagine you can tell us about the communication itself, but —
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you — in terms of communications between the ambassador and the embassy and the government, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Senator Lieberman suggested aid to the opposition in Syria — communications equipment, something like that. Is that something that would be considered along with these sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, I would simply say that the — as far as I’ve been able to tell and others, I think more importantly others here, there is not an organized opposition to whom we would give aid at this point. And I just want to be clear about where we are in this process, which is we have sanctions that have been in place. We are considering a variety — a range of options, including targeted sanctions, and the President has issued a very strong condemnation of the violence that the government has used.
Q A few minutes ago you talked about how the unemployment rate is still too high, the administration wants to do everything it can to help spur job creation. But at this point what more can the administration do to accelerate hiring among companies? Beyond hoping or waiting or urging companies to do more hiring, is there anything you guys are looking at legislatively or credits or something that could be done to give another boost?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that the President’s budget proposal, as well as his fiscal reform framework that he put forward, includes within both cases the kind of investments, continued investments we need in clean energy, for example, which is so vital to the long-term economic future of this country in two different ways: one, to create the industries that are — industries of the future that are in this country, and therefore jobs in this country; and two, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, an issue that is of high priority right now as we all deal with the high prices at the pump.
And within the context of that I think it’s important to point out that in both the President’s 2012 budget proposal and in his fiscal reform plan, he calls for the elimination of subsidies to oil and gas companies.
Major oil and gas companies are going to report this week significant, if not record profits. Given the constraints that we are under, given the need to tighten our belts, given the need to reduce the deficit, this President feels very strongly that it is inappropriate to continue those subsidies. And when Americans are going every day of the week to their local gas stations and filling up and seeing a tank of gas cost $60, $70, $80 or more, I think they would be appalled to learn that major oil companies — oil and gas companies will be announcing record profits this week, in the tens of billions of dollars in some cases — certainly collectively.
And that’s good. It’s good for American companies to have profit. What is not necessary is for the taxpayers to subsidize companies that are experiencing those kind of record or substantial profits, and especially when we can’t afford it. We need to use that money elsewhere. We need to use that money for clean energy investment so that we have the industries of the future and we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The President has made very clear we need to do that by 2025 by a third.
We need to diversify our energy sources, because there is no silver bullet solution to these price hikes that we see in oil prices. So we need to take a comprehensive approach. And one of the things we need to do is end that subsidy, because I think most Americans would agree with the President that it’s simply crazy and unsustainable to continue to subsidize the oil and gas companies when we need to reduce our deficit and invest elsewhere.
Q So beyond the budget — which sounds like you’re trying to lay some groundwork, a foundation, to clean energy jobs and investments to create jobs down the road — there is nothing more immediate that would be stimulative to the economy — nothing like — that could get through Congress, like tax — any more tax credits or breaks for companies? It’s basically the longer-term budget stuff that we’re looking at than more immediate?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, yes. Basically, there are a lot of long-term proposals out there that are very important to continuing our economic growth. I think most people — economists would agree that if we could reach a bipartisan solution towards significant deficit reduction that’s balanced and maintains our investments, that allow us to grow and create jobs, that that would have a highly positive impact on the economy and job creation.
And I would also say that the tax cut deal the President and members of Congress — leaders of Congress from both parties negotiated in December continues every week in the paychecks Americans receive to provide a stimulative effect, if you will, especially through the payroll tax holiday; putting money in Americans’ pockets that they can then spend, in part to cover the high price of gas, but in other areas to help stimulate the economy.
Q Jay, when the President was in San Francisco —
MR. CARNEY: Hold on one second. I’m going over here. Laura.
Q Thank you. On Syria, you mentioned that you’re considering targeted sanctions. Is the U.S. also working for some sort of U.N action?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything specific. We obviously work with the United Nations. We work with our allies and partners around the world regularly on the — in unrest in the region and different ways to approach it, and to try to affect outcomes there in a positive way, but I don’t have anything specific for you on U.N. action.
Q Would it be helpful in this situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate on — I think it always helps to work together with our partners, but we take actions multilaterally, unilaterally all the time.
Q In San Francisco —
MR. CARNEY: Let me — I’m going to get through this and I’ll get to you.
Q Jay, on the trip last week, President Obama did six fundraisers in two days, of which four were print pool only; only two open to radio and TV coverage. Can you tell us how you decide which of these fundraisers are going to be open to full coverage and which ones —
MR. CARNEY: Mark, I believe we have a policy in place that we’ve had for a long time in this administration that demonstrates —
Q Yes, but it doesn’t seem consistent.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m happy to discuss with you how we do that. What we do provide is access to these fundraisers in a way that I think is certainly as great as previous Presidents, if not greater, and that we believe that’s important. But how each one is decided I think is based on the ways that we have approached this in the past.
Q What is the meeting with the Attorney General about today?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a meeting with a member of the Cabinet the President has periodically. There is no specific agenda item.
Q Jay, can you talk a little bit about the agenda tomorrow when the President meets with the Crown Prince of the UAE? And will he be making any specific requests of the Crown Prince?
MR. CARNEY: They’ll be discussing regional security issues, as you would expect. The UAE has been a very helpful partner with the coalition in dealing with Libya. But I think they’ll talk about broader issues, as well as specifically Libya. But I have no announcement to make about possible announcements, if you will.
Q Okay. And on the AfPak meeting, has Petraeus sent along any recommended number for withdrawal starting in July?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that.
Q Are we at that stage yet?
MR. CARNEY: What I said is we’re not at a point where the President is making a decision specifically on an approach to that transition point. But I’m sure — this is a discussion that’s ongoing, but nothing will be firmly decided today.
Q One more — one, just a clean-up thing. On the updated list of attendees, the Secretary of State wasn’t listed. Is there any significance to that, or —
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get to you on that. I don’t know if — I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Q Jay, considering the bombing of the Qaddafi compound over the weekend, Libya is suggesting that this is NATO and the United States trying to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi. What is your response to that? And going on that assumption, doesn’t this beg the question of how far NATO and the U.S. should be going in this effort?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will tell you that it is not the policy of this administration and it is not the policy outlined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to effect regime change through force.
You should go to NATO to ask NATO about the specific decisions in terms of bombing missions, but the mission — the goal of the mission is clear: protect the civilian population, enforce the no-fly zone, enforce the arms embargo.
And I have frequently in the past gotten questions about why not, why the U.S. military or NATO isn’t trying to effect regime change through force, and that’s because it is not prescribed in the United Nations Security Council 1973, and because this country, this administration does not believe that that is the right course of action to take.
Q So these raids on the compound, this is strictly for strategic purposes, or —
MR. CARNEY: For the specifics, I would — on a specific bombing mission, I would refer you to NATO. But it is certainly not the policy of the coalition, of this administration, to decapitate, if you will, or to effect regime change in Libya by force.
Q Yes, do you — can you tell us what, if anything, the President is doing this week by way of moving the ball on the budget front since there’s so little time remaining before the debt limit votes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Congress continues its recess, and a number of members are traveling around the world, as well as the country. So meetings are hard to come by, although not impossible. There will be discussions at the staff as well as probably the presidential level. We look forward to the meeting that the Vice President will host — bicameral and bipartisan meeting — on May 5th.
And he believes it’s very important that we — that that meeting begin a process of negotiations towards a bipartisan agreement on areas of consensus where we can actually reduce the deficit in a way that’s balanced and helps the economy rather than hurts it.
Q Given the number of comments from Republicans that don’t — simply don’t believe that there’s a big negative consequence, let alone default, if the debit limit isn’t raised, does the President plan anything for May and June by way of making the case that this is something you don’t want to play around with?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he’s made the case. And I would just say simply that those members of Congress who have suggested that are dead wrong. There are severe potential consequences to not raising the debt ceiling, and that assessment is not just this administration’s assessment; it’s the assessment made clear by leaders of Congress, Republican leaders of Congress in statements they’ve made in the past. It’s an assessment shared by economists, independent economists across the board, both here in America and around the world.
It would be terrible folly to play games with this. We simply as a nation cannot afford to be thrown back into recession, to have all the work that’s been done, and the American people have worked so hard to climb out of this recession — to have — for political purposes to have the United States default on its obligations, send markets around the globe into a tailspin, interest rates dramatically upward would be a truly terrible thing to do. So I think that the President will continue to make that point, the Secretary of Treasury and others. And we will remind you and others that leaders of Congress of both parties have said the same thing.
We understand the need to reduce the deficit. The President is very committed to that. That’s why we created a fiscal commission when Congress wouldn’t vote to create one. That’s why he has announced this process that the Vice President will lead negotiations, bipartisan, bicameral negotiations toward reducing our deficit, getting our fiscal house in order. But you simply cannot play games with the full faith and credit of the United States.
Q Yes, Jay, on the — one more on the Afghanistan meeting. I know you said that this is not a decision meeting. But surely the President is at the point where he’s actively soliciting views on troop levels, since he’s got the decision — I mean, if the actual withdrawal starts as early as July, and presumably there’s lead time for orders and all that, he must be at least getting very close to a decision.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure he’s looking at a variety of options about the course forward that he wants to take with regards to that July 2011 transition date. But I don’t have an announcement to make about which proposals he’s choosing from, but simply to say that that obligation will be met, that commitment will be met as he made clear when he announced his strategy and his policy and has been reiterated over the months since.
Q So if July is the date, when we are likely to see him actually announce the decision?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a schedule handy to give you that information, but it will be done in a timely fashion.
Q Let me follow on this meeting. Did the President ask for any assurances today that the escape of more than 400 Taliban from an Afghan prison isn’t perfect evidence of how the U.S. couldn’t possibly start withdrawing this summer?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific readout for you from that meeting, Ann.
Q You don’t know whether the President asked about it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific readout for you from the meeting.
Q Perhaps you can find out.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q On San Francisco, when the President was there, did he tell the people he was talking to that he was going to cut a couple of the satellites, which would have given a possibility of predicting any possible seismic activity along the San Andreas fault, and thereby setting them in danger? Did he mention that to them?
MR. CARNEY: I heard no such thing.
Q Why didn’t he do that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, George.
Q Isn’t that of importance —
MR. CARNEY: No, we’ve covered this before. I don’t have anything new.
Q But you never gave an answer, and the President came to the podium and said, we cannot control earthquakes. Does he also mean we cannot predict earthquakes? That’s the —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more for that on you.
Q Can you get an answer for me? It would be very important.
MR. CARNEY: Christi.
Q Jay, on the President’s trip to Chicago on Wednesday, can you say why or do you know why he chose to do this particular interview that he’s doing with Oprah?
MR. CARNEY: I believe — I’m not a regular daytime television viewer. (Laughter.) But it’s — she’s — her show is coming to a conclusion of a terrific run, and I think, as you know, he considers Oprah a friend, and he looks forward to being on the show with the First Lady.
Q And also is there anything else in Chicago on Wednesday? Will there be a town hall or something like that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any schedule updates for you. Maybe you can check back later, or we’ll just put something out if we do have a change or an addition.
Q I do have a follow-up to that. I have a follow-up —
MR. CARNEY: Let me get back to you, Lynn. Let me — yes.
Q Jay, a question on the President’s 2012 reelection campaign. Back in 2008, the President outlined to the LGBT community a litany of objectives he wanted to achieve over the course of his administration. Do you expect that as we get closer to November 2012 that he’s going to reissue some sort of list of what he wants to achieve with the LGBT community in the second term of his administration, perhaps making new promises?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t anticipate reissuing a list. I think his position on a number of issues has been clear and his accomplishments on a number of issues have been clear. So as is true with a number of the goals he set forward during his campaign and in the first two-plus years of his administration, remains those that are unfinished. As he’s been saying a lot lately we still have a lot of work to do and we’re not done yet. And so I think that he will remain committed to a number of policy objectives that haven’t been achieved yet.
Q Just to be clear, just to be clear — two major promises that he made to the LGBT community back in 2008 remain unfulfilled. That’s passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and full legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you still see those happening in the course of the Obama administration?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you know that we’ve taken a pretty significant action on DOMA. And on the other issues, I think he remains committed to the agenda on a variety of issues that he laid forward.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to try to clarify on Syria — I know you don’t have any announcements to make about — anything about our allies or the Arab League, but the way that this has worked, both in the case of Egypt and in the case of Libya, although they had different outcomes, was that we were certainly talking with our allies, talking with Arab League folks, talking for — with pro-Democracy folks inside those countries to try to leverage a response, is it safe to assume that we’re doing all the same stuff — that the U.S. is doing all the same stuff that it’s done in all these previous cases?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s safe to assume that the United States and this administration is doing everything it can, including discussions with allies, with the United Nations, leaders and governments in the region, to make clear its policy position and to make clear to the Syrian government that we believe it needs to cease and desist from the violence it’s been perpetrating against its own citizens.
Q I think the conventional wisdom would probably say that the hurdle in Syria is much higher because it’s such a Pandora’s box, right? That there are so many implications if there’s any substantive — really substantive response by the U.S. or the West. Is it the U.S.’s position that the U.S., either with its allies or unilaterally, may, in fact, continue to ramp up pressure and act more aggressively sort of despite the conventional wisdom? What’s the warning to Syria? I know you’ve condemned them.
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things. One, every country is different. That’s important to note, as we have, as there has been unrest in a variety of countries in the region. Two, we are looking at a range of options, including — I mentioned targeted sanctions, but including and not exclusive to targeted sanctions. But I think that — by that I don’t want to hint that there is some larger thing coming. These are — this is a process in reaction to the appalling violence. These are steps that we’re taking because of it, including the President’s statement, and going forward we’ll see what happens. But we are reviewing a range of policy options.
Q Thank you. Clare Gillis, the American reporter who was detained in Libya, was allowed to talk to her parents last week but she’s still in a women’s prison in Tripoli. Can you update us on efforts to secure her release?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I’ve said is — and what I’ll continue to say is we’re obviously very concerned. We oppose the detention of journalists, human rights activists and others. And we’re doing what we can to help in this situation. To comment further would be counterproductive.
Q Jay, very little has been said since Secretary Clinton’s statement about the President speaking on Middle East and North African policy approaches. Will we be hearing from the President between now or before Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses the Congress?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a scheduling update for you on possible remarks the President may give. I mean, he has spoken quite a bit about the region, the Arab Spring that we’ve seen, and I’m sure he will continue to do so. But I don’t have a date for you.
Q Did he discuss this on the phone with the Prime Minister when he talked to him recently? You talked about the conversation —
MR. CARNEY: Over — to wish him and Israel Passover greetings? Not that I’m aware of. I think that was — but I don’t want to say no. I just — I think that was mostly a call to express America’s greetings over Passover.
Q Thanks, Jay. There were reports last week about a draft executive order to implement parts of the DISCLOSE Act, and Senator McConnell had called this a “effort to silence or intimidate political adversaries through the contracting process.” Do you have any response?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s just incorrect. And first of all, it’s fully acknowledged that there is a process underway; a draft is just that. It could change as it makes its way through the process. But what the President is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going. So I — this is part of the President’s commitment to transparency.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Go ahead.
Q In his last three appearances, the President appeared to be drawing a line in the sand about project Head Start as something he would not let be touched in the budget process. And I know that many people, including Congressman Joe Walsh, himself a fellow Chicagoan who taught in the inner-city schools, said Head Start has considerable administrative problems. Just last year the President’s own HHS Department and General Accountability Office listed reports showing Head Start not really meeting the mark in its administrative capacity or results, in one case. Is the President aware of the critical reports of his administration when he defends Head Start?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken to him about what you reference, but I know the President remains committed to funding Head Start because he believes it is vital and it is important and that when we’re making budget choices that that’s a choice we have to make to fund that program, especially when we need to look at our government and the ways we fund programs with an eye towards future economic growth and development in this country.
And the education programs, including Head Start, are vital in terms of preparing Americans for the future. And if you — and there is a huge economic impact to not doing that, including the effect on the economy when you don’t have kids who are properly educated and their inability to be highly productive members of society in terms of entering the workforce, and you decrease the opportunity to fill those high-skill jobs that will be the jobs of the future in this country. So Head Start is very much a part of that package as he sees it.
Q So the criticisms from the HHS Department and GAO, which are only a year old —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have any — I haven’t had a discussion with him about analysis of this particular program. If you’re telling me that a particular program may not be run perfectly or may have problems with it, that may or may not be true. But the President is committed to Head Start and he’s committed to investments in education, precisely because of the economic imperative we have in this country to make sure our kids are educated and prepared for the 21st century — because we will not win the future if we do not have the best educated workforce in the world, and that’s why he’s so focused on this even as we tighten our belts.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just a quick question. You guys traditionally put out statements or proclamations on various religious holidays and I don’t think I saw one from the President on Easter yesterday and was just wondering if there’s any reason one didn’t go out.
MR. CARNEY: You know, the President went to the church yesterday; it was well covered. I’m not sure if we put out a statement or not, but he obviously personally celebrated Easter with his family and went to church to celebrate that. And — *
Q Wait a minute. The highest Christian holiday and you don’t know if he put out a statement?
Q Jay, come on. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you’re asking these key important questions, guys. The fact is, the President took his family to church in a very high-profile way to celebrate Easter. I think it was highly visible to most Americans. And he — as a devoted Christian, he believes it’s a very important holiday for him personally, for his family and for Christians around the country.
Yes, David. Last one.
Q Thanks, Jay. Another religious question. Yesterday, Franklin Graham said that the President has some issues to deal with when it comes to proving he was born in the United States. And last month the Reverend Graham said also, “The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government,” meaning your administration. So I want to know if the White House is concerned that a top religious figure is making charges of this nature about the President and his administration.
MR. CARNEY: David, I would just say I think it’s unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges. And I’ll leave it at that.
1:25 P.M. EDT
*Last Tuesday, the President delivered remarks about Easter at an Easter breakfast he hosted in the East Room.