Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 4, 2012 – 1:58 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your patience. Anyone go out and see the geyser earlier?
Q Yes. You know, this would be a good chance for you to tell us what they’re building over there. More than a year has gone by.
MR. CARNEY: We’re drilling for oil. (Laughter.) It’s part of all-of-the-above — come on. (Laughter.)
Q You can’t drill your way out — (laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You cannot, but it’s part of —
Q I thought you weren’t opening up national parks and you weren’t opening up federal lands. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: — part of our all-of-the-above energy approach, which includes —
Q So you’re drilling for oil and you hit water, right?
MR. CARNEY: — expanding domestic oil and gas production, investing in renewables, approving the first nuclear power plant in 30 years, et cetera, et cetera. It was quite a sight. I could see if from my window — from my office.
Q Is your office sinking?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe so — but perhaps.
I have no other announcements to make. (Laughter.) I will turn to the Associated Press. I’d refer you to the GSA. I don’t honestly know. It looked like water. (Laughter.)
Q The President referred to Mitt Romney by name yesterday and criticized him. Today Mitt Romney accused the President of having — running a hide-and-seek campaign and being disingenuous about his true agenda if reelected. Do you have any direct response to that? And more basically, are you running a risk here of some campaign fatigue if these two guys are going at one another by name so directly so many months before the election?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know you all know because you listened to the speech or were there and watched it yourself — the President yesterday gave a comprehensive, detailed, dare I say, wonky exposition of his views of what our budget priorities ought to be and his views on why the Republican budget put forward by Chairman Ryan is not the right solution to our problems, why it’s wrong for America.
This was a policy speech that, again, had a great deal of detail attached to it, as he explained why the Ryan/Republican budget, if it were enacted into law, would be incredibly harmful to America’s seniors, to the middle class, and to the absolute necessity of investing in areas like education, basic research and infrastructure in order to ensure that America is strong economically in the 21st century.
As he mentioned, and one of the major points of the speech is, this is not a theoretical exercise. Everyone in this room knows that the Ryan/Republican budget would become the law of the land if someone else were to occupy the Oval Office next year and if Republicans continue to effectively control Congress — because everyone supports this.
It’s not the sort of idea, the rump idea — the idea of a rump faction of the Republican Party. This is what now is mainstream Republican thinking — which is to, instead of taking a balanced approach to our budget-deficit issues, a balanced approach to getting our fiscal house in order, we should give additional tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans — virtually the only segment of society that saw their economic lot improve in the first decade of this century — and to pay for those tax cuts we should end Medicare as we know it, we should reduce by an average of 19 percent our non-defense discretionary budget. That means cut dramatically our investments in education, basic research, innovation and the like. And the President simply believes that’s the wrong approach. And this is not a theoretical exercise. This is real policy.
And he went on to talk about a concrete vote the Senate will take in the next few weeks on the so-called Buffett Rule, his principle, named after Warren Buffett, built around the idea that a billionaire should not pay a lower effective tax rate on his income than his secretary. So he certainly encourages the Senate to approve that.
Q So is that your direct response to the charge of a hide-and-seek campaign?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the fact of the matter is, the President was explicitly talking about a policy debate that we have been engaged in here in many ways for years and years, but intensively for the past year. And this was a policy speech, I think pretty explicitly, delivered to an audience of your colleagues — editors, reporters, publishers.
Q And one other quick one on a different subject. Do you have any response to a federal appeals court judge in Texas, Judge Smith, who criticized the President yesterday for his remarks about the Supreme Court and its power to overturn legislation, and has asked for a letter from the Justice Department affirming the federal courts’ ability to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as the Attorney General has said, the Department of Justice will be responding to the request for a letter. And I would simply refer you to what the President said and what the Attorney General said, that, of course, the Supreme Court and our federal courts have as their responsibility the right to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. The President made clear yesterday in answer to a question that that is what he absolutely believes.
What the President said both yesterday and the day before — well, what he did was make an unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history — the fact that since the Lochner era of the Court, since the 1930s, the Supreme Court has, without exception, deferred to Congress when it comes to Congress’s authority to pass legislation, to regulate matters of national economic importance such as health care — 80 years plus. That is an observation and not a particularly remarkable one. It is a statement of fact. And he also expressed his faith that the Supreme Court would keep to that 85-year history of judicial precedent, and uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Q On a similar theme, some of the — the President’s remarks about the health care case in the Supreme Court have been interpreted as challenging or putting pressure on the Court ahead of the decision. Can you speak to that, and why not just allow the Court to reach a decision and then —
MR. CARNEY: First of all, the President was asked a question and responded to it. Secondly, as I just said, he made an observation about why he believes that — well, first of all, that the believes the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, why he believes it’s constitutional, and why he believes that the Supreme Court will, in keeping with 80-plus years of judicial precedent and Supreme Court precedent, will defer to Congress on its authority to pass legislation to regulate issues of national economic importance like our health care system.
It’s the reverse of intimidation. He’s simply making an observation about precedent and the fact that he expects the Court to adhere to that precedent. It’s obviously, as he made clear yesterday, up to the Court to make its determination. And we will wait and see what the Court does.
But I guess you could argue that circuit court judges who ruled on this were trying to intimidate or influence the Court when they issued opinions, including very prominent conservative judges on the circuit — court of appeals, rather — when they issued an opinion — opinions that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and that it is entirely constitutional, in keeping with 80-plus years of judicial precedent.
Q On a different topic — the Pentagon said today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused people in the 9/11 attacks will go to the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal. Could you speak to that decision and why more time wasn’t given to allow for a civilian court trial?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it has been more than 10 years since 9/11, first of all. And the President is committed to ensuring that those who are accused of perpetrating the 9/11 attacks against the United States be brought to justice. The President remains committed to shutting down Guantanamo Bay. In that commitment, he is of the same opinion as his predecessor, as his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, as the senior leadership of the United States military, and many, many others who believe that Gitmo ought to be closed. There have obviously been obstacles in achieving that, but he remains committed to doing that.
In the meantime, we have to ensure that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others who are accused of these heinous crimes are brought to justice. And this procedure is now underway to ensure that that happens.
Q Isn’t it contradictory to be committed to closing Guantanamo Bay also proceeding with something —
MR. CARNEY: The fact of the matter is, in part because of the system and the situation that — the system that was put in place and the situation that existed under the prior administration, we have now — 11 years almost have passed since 9/11 — or 10 and a half — and it is important to see that justice is done.
The President’s commitment to closing Guantanamo is as firm as ever. He agrees with our uniformed military leadership. He agrees with John McCain and George W. Bush that it ought to be closed. And we’ll work to see that done. Unfortunately, as you know we’ve had — we’ve encountered obstacles in getting that done from Congress. But he will continue to work to do that.
Q Does the administration view the Fifth Circuit’s request as intemperate?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department. The Attorney General said that he would — or that the Department of Justice would respond appropriately.
Q But you just suggested that in some ways it was an effort by them to intimidate.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I didn’t at all. I certainly — if you interpreted what I said that way, you were mistaken. No, I was referring to a question about the President’s remarks. The attorney representing the United States in that court said at the time that the administration, the President, the Attorney General believe obviously that the federal courts have their authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. The President obviously believes that and said so again yesterday. That was my point. And I’m sure that that’s what the response will make clear, that the Department of Justice provides.
Q Yesterday, the President clearly, for the first time in a campaign-themed speech, singled out Mitt Romney. He has said that he will not weigh in until there is a nominee. By doing so does the White House — does the President feel that he now has his opponent in the general election?
MR. CARNEY: I will go back to my first answer simply to make the point that the President gave a very detailed, fact-laden speech about budget policy yesterday. He made clear his opposition to the recently released, new-but-not-improved Ryan/ Republican budget, and what his budget priorities are.
It is also true — and this is part of the overall issue here — that this budget is supported not just by a small group of ideologues within the House of Representatives but broadly by the Republicans in Congress and by virtually all of the contenders for president in the Republican Party. So this is a matter of — this is a real debate, because the outcomes at the policy level are quite serious. It’s not a theoretical debate. That’s the point he was making.
You can be sure that he won’t choose as a venue to launch — to give a campaign speech, especially his first campaign speech or official campaign speech, an audience of editors, reporters, and publishers who are professionally obligated to sit on their hands.
Q Okay. It sounded pretty campaign-themed to me.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I want to just take issue with how talking about the budget and how talking about it in terms that — I mean, there are themes in that speech and specifics in that speech that are directly pulled from speeches he’s been giving for the past three years.
Q Okay. In any case, one last question. On February 8th, you were talking about the STOCK Act and said that you were shocked to learn that elements of it has been pulled and watered down by Eric Cantor from the House — House Republican Eric Cantor.
MR. CARNEY: This was the Grassley amendment?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Is the White House satisfied with the act as passed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President signed it into law —
Q Correct. But is this —
MR. CARNEY: — not too long ago.
Q Why is the White House now pleased with this bill when you weren’t pleased —
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was improved by the Senate amendments that passed that gave greater protections to investors. And we will monitor the implementation of this law very closely to make sure that it is implemented in a way that’s effective. But, yes, the President supports it. The overall STOCK Act represents some of the very key elements from the President’s American Jobs Act speech back in September of 2011.
Q Would the White House prefer that there — it includes disclosure for financial advisors who —
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question that we would — if we were issuing an executive order there would be some things that might be different or improvements. But we definitely support the act, the bill. The President signed it into law. It represents some initiatives that he was the first to put forward as President, last fall. So absolutely, he supports it.
Q As part of Mitt Romney’s response today to the President’s comments yesterday, he said what the President was trying to do in his remarks was to deflect criticism from the fact that the debt has increased more under President Obama than all the previous Presidents combined. Is that incorrect, that statement about the size of the debt?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to look at his numbers. The fact is, as you know well, Norah, that a huge portion of the debt that the United States of America now carries on its books is attributable to the fact that — certainly the deficits that we’ve seen is attributable to the fact that in the previous administration, two massive tax cuts, two wars, and an unpaid-for Medicare — expansion of Medicare through the prescription drug benefit went on the books without, again, being paid for. We can get you the specific numbers, but it is a massive contribution to our federal deficit and our debt.
Another contributor to that was the fact that when the President took office, President Obama, we were in the midst of the worst financial and economic crisis in our lifetimes here, most of us I think, since the 1930s. And that required a response in order to prevent a great recession from becoming a Great Depression.
The response that the President took was effective in preventing a depression — the response the President and Congress took. And we have been, and are now, recovering from the worst financial crisis in 70-plus years.
The fact of the matter is, the President has embraced and has put forward a balanced approach to dealing with our deficits and our long-term debt. A balanced approach has been endorsed by every bipartisan commission that has looked at this — Democrats and Republicans. It has been supported by and endorsed by Democratic legislators in the Senate and the House. As of yet, it has not received support in any significant way or at any significant level by Republicans. This is the problem with the Republican budget the President talked about yesterday.
We don’t need to cut education and basic research and innovation and transportation by an average of 19 percent, in addition to the $1.2 trillion in cuts the President has already signed into law, bringing our non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
The Ryan budget, the Republican budget would go further than that by another 19 percent. Why? Not to reduce the deficit, but to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. That’s a losing argument and it’s the wrong prescription for America’s economy.
Q Given the President’s detailed description about what’s wrong with the Republican and the Ryan budget that’s been endorsed by Mitt Romney, why then doesn’t the President want to offer people a different choice? Why doesn’t he have his own party put forward a budget in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Norah, you know that the President has put forward a budget. You know that —
Q I said Democrats —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I had this discussion yesterday in an interview that I did. What everyone knows is that in a situation where Washington is divided, the only way to get to a budget agreement that represents a compromise that can be passed into law and signed by the President is if it enjoys bipartisan support. Passing a bill with only Republican support in the House —
Q — 51 votes.
MR. CARNEY: No, I know. And passing a bill in the House that garners only Republican support and passing a bill in the Senate that garners only Democratic support does not achieve that and does not bring you any closer to a resolution.
What you need — I can see Ed getting all worked up over here — but what you need is a balanced approach that has been supported by bipartisan commissions, that is — I mean, again, there’s a lot of talk about the Simpson-Bowles commission, which, as the President noted yesterday, he created, and had to create through his executive authority because Republicans —
Q Has he endorsed it? Has he endorsed the Simpson-Bowles —
MR. CARNEY: The President endorses the approach that the Simpson-Bowles commission took. And in fact, his budget proposal is different from the Simpson-Bowles approach. How? It doesn’t raise as much revenue, which you would think would appeal to Republicans, and it doesn’t cut defense spending by as much, which you would think would appeal to Republicans. And yet, the three House Republican members on the Simpson-Bowles commission voted no, including Representative Ryan.
So what does that tell you about how they view the need for a balanced approach? Throughout this debate in the past year you have seen Democrats, led by the President, do really hard things. Democrats aren’t supposed to like cuts in discretionary spending, basically domestic programs. And yet, this President has signed into law the deepest discretionary spending cuts in recent memory that have brought our discretionary spending levels to their lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
Democrats generally do not like and do not support cuts in entitlement programs, and yet this President put forward difficult reforms in entitlement programs because he believes that you have to have a balanced approach, you have to include entitlement reform in any effort to reduce our deficit and bring down our — reduce our debt. And the President also believes you have to include revenue, as does the vast majority of the American people.
So who hasn’t moved here? Where is the Republican proposal that includes revenue as an element of a balanced approach? It’s certainly not the Republican budget.
Q I’ll let Ed follow on that in a minute. (Laughter.) But on the Supreme Court — just one more question on the Supreme Court and the President’s comments Monday. Does he regret using the word “unprecedented”?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all, because, as I’ve said a couple of times now, the President was referring to making the unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history. Since the Lochner era —
Q — made it clarified.
MR. CARNEY: Well, only because a handful of people didn’t seem to understand what he was referring to. Of course, he was referring to the fact that it would be unprecedented in the modern era of the Supreme Court, since the New Deal era, for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation passed by Congress designed to regulate and deal with a national economic — a matter of national economic importance like our health care system.
That is a fact. Since the Lochner era, which ended when the Court began to defer to Congress on New Deal legislation, the Supreme Court has not done that, has not broken the precedent set there. And that’s a number of years now. That’s what would be unprecedented about it.
He did not suggest — did not mean and did not suggest that the Court — it would be unprecedented for the Court to rule that a law was unconstitutional. That’s what the Supreme Court is there to do. But it has, under the Commerce Clause, deferred to Congress’s authority in matters of national economic importance.
Q But on that point, Republicans —
MR. CARNEY: Ed. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Jay. At the risk of being intemperate, I just wanted to ask —
MR. CARNEY: Never.
Q Eighty years of precedent you keep talking about, but Republicans are pointing to I think it’s 159 different times in the history of America where the Supreme Court has decided that something is not unconstitutional [sic] — obviously, not all of those times involving the Commerce Clause, which is the —
MR. CARNEY: None of them in the last 85 years — and that’s what the President was talking about.
Q But there’s 159 times where the Court has said it’s unconstitutional —
MR. CARNEY: So if they are citing times when the Court rules as unconstitutional something under the Commerce Clause that Congress did, they’re basically saying they shouldn’t have passed some of the New Deal legislation and perhaps they want to revisit that. But the precedent we’re talking about here, as I’ve made clear — I mean, you can say that they make this argument about precedent based on something the President didn’t say or mean, or we can talk about —
Q But to be clear, he didn’t specify what you’re specifying now.
MR. CARNEY: He did yesterday.
Q Yesterday, but in his original comments he did not draw that caveat. He just said the whole thing would be unprecedented.
MR. CARNEY: That’s not what he said, Ed. That’s not certainly what he meant. And it was clear to most folks who observe this and understand what is at issue here —
Q Jay, that’s not true. The President said, on Monday, that it would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. It took him yesterday to talk about the Commerce Clause and on an economic issue —
MR. CARNEY: But, Norah —
Q There are two instances in the past 80 years where the President — where the Supreme Court has overturned stuff: U.S. v. Lopez, and U.S. v. —
MR. CARNEY: Norah, what I’m telling you —
Q These are very specific legal issues. It’s not evident to everybody.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it may not be evident to you. It is clear that the President was talking about matters like this that involve the Commerce Clause, that involve Congress passing legislation to deal with issues of national economic importance — national economic matters like health insurance, which is clearly a national economic issue. That’s what he was referring to.
And again, he spoke to this yesterday. It is obvious and clear, and nobody would ever contend in his office — and he certainly was not contending — that the Supreme Court doesn’t have as its right and responsibility the ability to overturn laws passed by Congress as unconstitutional. He was referring to 85 years of judicial precedent, of Supreme Court precedent, with regard to matters like the one under consideration. And it’s maybe fun to pretend he meant otherwise, but everyone here knows that that’s what he meant.
Q Okay, but — (laughter.) What Norah just —
MR. CARNEY: But.
Q Back to Norah.
MR. CARNEY: For the sake of argument we’re going to pretend he didn’t mean that.
Q No, okay, but —
Q He had to clarify.
MR. CARNEY: I’m telling you —
Q He did clarify it the next day.
Q He did clarify it. And also when you said to Norah or me maybe we didn’t know those cases — do you think most average Americans know about a Supreme Court case from 75 years ago? Come on, I mean we’re not —
MR. CARNEY: But what’s your point, Ed? Are you suggesting — I just want to know, are you suggesting that he —
Q Because the President left the impression that the whole thing would be unprecedented. He did not have —
MR. CARNEY: And I’m telling you, and he told you, and others like me have said actually on the day of as well as after that what he meant, and what he made clear yesterday —
Q Okay, so what did —
MR. CARNEY: And he was a law professor.
MR. CARNEY: And he understands constitutional law and constitutional precedent and the role of the Supreme Court —
MR. CARNEY: — was a reference to the Supreme Court’s history in its rulings on matters under the Commerce Clause.
Q On what Norah quoted about the President saying Monday, a strong majority of the democratically elected Congress — as you know, the House passed the health care bill 219 to 212.
MR. CARNEY: There you go.
Q And the Senate — it’s a fact. I know, here we go — here we go with a fact. Imagine that. (Laughter.) It was not — it was not a strong majority. I mean, the Republicans just pushed through the Ryan budget with Republican votes. You guys would not call that a strong majority, would you?
MR. CARNEY: No. But here’s the environment that we live in, Ed. In order for a budget agreement to become law, right — the Republicans don’t control both the executive branch and the legislative branch, and the Democrats don’t control both. In order for the absolute necessity of dealing with our deficit and debt challenges, we need a bipartisan compromise. The only path, as evident to anyone who thinks about this matter, the only path to that is a balanced approach. There is — Republicans in the House know that. Democrats in the Senate know that. The President knows that. That’s why he has embraced a balanced approach.
Q Okay, but back —
MR. CARNEY: But what the Republicans haven’t —
Q — 217 to 212, so that’s a strong majority, you’re saying, factually?
MR. CARNEY: You’re talking about apples and oranges here.
Q No, no, I’m talking about votes on health care —
MR. CARNEY: That passed —
Q — 219-212, that is a strong majority factually?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, that passed Congress and was signed into law. You know that there is no way — look, you’re making the President’s point. You know that there is no way to achieve a balanced approach — to achieve a significant compromise on deficit and debt reduction in a budget compromise without a balanced approach. You know that. That’s not going to happen right now, right? Without —
Q I’m talking about health care. We can go back to —
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
MR. CARNEY: Right? You’re absolutely correct if, as some hope happens, someone else occupies the Oval Office next year and Republicans control Congress, that the Ryan/Republican budget could well become law. That’s exactly what the President was talking about yesterday. This is not a theoretical debate.
What will become law — because this is not the conservative fringe of a Republican Party now talking, it is the entire party — is a bill — is a budget that would decimate discretionary spending on education and innovation, and research and development, would end Medicare as we know it — I keep getting throwbacks to the 1990s — end Medicare as we know it by creating a voucher system for Medicare where — and a two-tiered system where healthy people go to the cheaper, private insurance options, and then Medicare is populated only by the older and sicker members of our senior population, driving up costs, costs that will be shifted to seniors. And that’s simply not fair. That’s not what the President believes is right.
Q I was talking — just for Monday — I know we’re talking, as well, about the budget, but just to be clear on health care. The President when he defended what he was saying on the Supreme Court Monday on health care was saying that a strong majority passed this in both chambers of Congress — health care, not the budget, but health care. Is that — 219 votes is a strong majority, factually?
MR. CARNEY: A majority passed, Ed. Look, it was — the point the President was making is that under the past 80 years of Supreme Court history, the Supreme Court has shown deference to the legislature to deal with matters under the Commerce Clause of national economic importance like health care. And he is confident that both the Affordable Care Act, under the 80-plus years of precedent, is constitutional, and that the Supreme Court will agree with him, as did lower courts in opinions put forward by very prominent, conservative judges.
Q And the last thing — when Jessica and Ann were asking about the budget — back on the budget — you kept saying it was a policy speech and that it was wonky. And there were wonky elements to it, no doubt, because he was talking about facts. However, he also called it a laughable budget. He said it was a Trojan Horse, social Darwinism. How can you suggest that he wasn’t playing politics as well? We get that he was talking about substance, too, but he was playing politics yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that he could have —
Q He called it a Trojan Horse.
MR. CARNEY: — and did, in many ways, give the same speech last year at this time. He gave a speech in response to the original Ryan budget that was very clear about why he felt that it was not the right answer to our challenges economically. And there really is no difference between that and this, except that we now know that all of the would-be leaders of the Republican Party, virtually, those who would be President, support the Ryan/Republican budget and think it’s the right way to go. The President disagrees.
Yes. And then I’m going to move around. Sorry for the front row. (Laughter.)
Q Does he regret the — the issue that the judge seemed to have is this issue of the unelected jab that the President used on Monday, referring to the judiciary, using what was clearly sort of hot political rhetoric in reference to the judiciary when he referred to them as an “unelected” body. That’s something that’s a sort of tried and true political attack on the judiciary that we’ve seen for years. Does the President regret that? I mean, is that why he seemed to walk things back a little bit yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, he — as has been demonstrated here, I guess other folks didn’t know we were talking about a piece of legislation that would be ruled on under the Commerce Clause, and that that’s what he was referring to, so I accept that some of the expansion that the President offered, and I and others offered, might have helped people understand exactly what he was talking about and referring to.
But I think his point about Congress was simply that the Supreme Court, since the New Deal, has deferred to the legislature, those who are elected by people around the country to write laws for them, and in this matter, on matters of national economic importance, to pass laws that regulate the economy and regulate areas of the economy like our health care market. So that is the point he was making, is that the Court, as a matter of precedent, has deferred on matters like this to —
Q — that it’s a bunch of unelected — he goes, I would remind them that they’re unelected. I mean, that’s been the way the judiciary was set up from the very beginning.
MR. CARNEY: Again, he was making an unremarkable observation about —
Q Is that an unremarkable thing to use a political —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, they aren’t elected. It’s, again, a statement of fact, just like members of Congress aren’t judges — well, some of them may have been, but they’re not largely judges. So — and they are elected. The point of the matter is, is as a matter of Supreme Court precedent, they have — the Supreme Court has deferred to the legislature in matters dealing with the national economy.
Q So we shouldn’t — should we interpret his remarks yesterday as a walk-back of sorts from the tougher rhetoric on Monday?
MR. CARNEY: No. It was —
Q Not at all?
MR. CARNEY: He was asked again, and he offered more expansive comments on it. Again, I take the point here, I guess some folk didn’t know that we were talking about the Commerce Clause and that’s what he referred to. I accept that and hope now it is clear, as, again, would be evident to anyone since he’s a constitutional law professor as well as the President of the United States, that he believes the Supreme Court can and has and should rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.
Q Two things I want to follow up on, on the answers that you gave. You referred just now about — when you were talking about the budget — first, isn’t there a — you say that the only way — that there’s no other way to get a budget done — one passes the House with just Republican votes. Isn’t there a way? I mean, the House and Senate work this way all the time. The Senate passes a bill, the House passes a bill, and they try to merge them together. What’s wrong with trying to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, it is always our preference for Congress to work efficiently and effectively, and that would certainly be a good thing. But we have seen in the past year-plus of very intense negotiations between the Senate and the House, between Republicans and Democrats, between leaders in Congress and the White House, that the only way to accomplish, in an environment like this, significant compromise that can be passed out of this Congress and signed into law by the President is to take an approach that is balanced.
And that’s how we averted a government shutdown last spring, and that’s how we in the summer, late summer, while failing to get the comprehensive, balanced approach that is required to deal with our long-term deficits and debt, we were able to pass into law the Budget Control Act — which, by the way, which is again designed by Congress, voted on by Congress, passed by Congress, and now Republicans in Congress want to violate that agreement for the Ryan Budget.
Q Would you object to the conference committee approach being used if Democrats passed a budget — and they got into a room and —
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, all I’m saying is that it’s — we would not object to that. But what I’m saying is it’s not — given what we have seen over the past 11 months, the way that we have come closest to achieving bipartisan compromise is through the kinds of negotiations that we had to go through last year.
And, unfortunately, the point is, is that what the President has put forward, what Democrats have agreed to in these negotiations represents a significant compromise by the President and Democrats on issues that are sacred cows, if you will, to the Democratic Party. What we have not seen —
Q Have you put out a plan on Social Security reform?
MR. CARNEY: No. The President has made clear his position on Social Security reform. He has made it clear in his State of the Union address; he made it clear again when he put out his budget proposal in the fall. And I would note that the Ryan Budget contains no Social Security reform.
Q So when you say entitlement reform, you’re saying — you’re excluding Social Security — You’re just only talking about Medicare and Medicaid.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not saying that we don’t need to deal in the long term with our Social Security matters — I’m talking about Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatories. But the fact of the matter is, as you know, you reported on it, the President led his party to agree to significant reforms in our entitlements — our health care entitlements — as part of what could have been a bipartisan grand bargain, and that was not achieved because Republicans would not go along with the idea that it had to be balanced. It had to include —
Q — never would have passed —
MR. CARNEY: It had to include — it is funny to hear Republicans talk about how there is no plan, and then describe it in detail. But that’s another matter.
Q Neither side released their final plans, publicly.
MR. CARNEY: It was part of the negotiating process that you know well is the only way to potentially achieve this — what would have been a very difficult compromise. Separately, as you guys know and I know from your reporting, on the super committee that dealt with the — as a result of the Budget Control Act, Democrats went extremely far in making significant compromises on issues like entitlements. And the whole thing broke down — why? Because Republicans refused to include revenues as part of an overall process. And that’s the only way to do it. Everybody knows that.
Q Jay, on a couple of topics. Gallop Poll has come out with the new job approval rating for President Obama: 48 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. What are your comments?
MR. CARNEY: There are polls every day. I don’t really have a comment.
Q It’s not moving.
MR. CARNEY: Is that your — that’s your comment. I mean, look, we — the President is focused on the job he needs to do as President, and he is focused especially on the need to take every action he can, working with Congress or through his executive authority, to continue to help this economy to grow and recover, to continue to see job creation, and to continue to ensure the security of the American people both at home and abroad. Those are his focuses as President at this time. The campaign and polls — there’s plenty of time for that and —
Q Eight months out from —
MR. CARNEY: That’s a long time. That is a long time. And as I’ve said for a long time now, as this year progresses, the President will, of course, by necessity, be more engaged in the campaign. At this point, we still do not have a Republican nominee. And that time will come, and you will see him engage when it’s appropriate.
Q And on another topic — the hoodie movement has made its way to the White House. AME Bishop John R. Bryant came to the Prayer Breakfast this morning with a hoodie on, in response to the Trayvon Martin issue. And what do you say as the CBC now is calling for legislators to look at the Stand Your Ground law, and as the Justice Department is investigating still?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the last part of your question, which is that the Justice Department is investigating a particular case in Florida, as is — as obviously are Florida authorities. And so I wouldn’t really — I do not have a specific comment on that. The President, as you know, made remarks about the case and the tragedy of the loss of life here. But I don’t have any further comment on it.
Q But everything comes to the White House from — (inaudible) and everything in between. And now this hoodie movement has come. The President didn’t say anything. According to Bishop Bryant, he did not acknowledge, he just welcomed him. What does the White House feel about that strong movement making its way here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about this, so I don’t have anything to express on that issue. And again, I don’t think it’s appropriate, and I won’t, therefore, comment on something that’s under ongoing investigation by both the Justice Department and Florida authorities.
Q Okay, but I’m not talking about the investigation.
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have a comment on that, sorry.
Yes, Julianna, and then — sorry.
Q The President — tomorrow he’s going to sign the Jobs Act, which provides — it helps small businesses get investors early on. And there are some concerns that it actually dismantles some investor protections, and it might be more prone to get-rich-quick kind of schemes. Does the President share those concerns?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President insisted on and was pleased to see the adoption in the overall legislation of the amendments put forward by Senate Democrats that offer further protections for investors. And we will be mindful, as this law is implemented, to ensure that it’s implemented in an effective way and that those protections are upheld.
So the President strongly supports it. Again, as I was I think saying to Jessica, it includes at its heart provisions that the President initially put forward for consideration by Congress. And he’s pleased that even in an environment where getting bipartisan cooperation is very, very difficult, we have seen enough of it to enable us to pass two pieces of legislation that the President called for, the STOCK Act today and the JOBS Act tomorrow.
Q Jay, ahead of these P5-plus-1 talks in a couple of weeks, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak released today the Israelis’ goals of how they want to proceed forward with these talks, saying that transferring uranium to 20 percent — that it’s enriched to 20 percent — needs to go out of the country; that leaving only enough enriched uranium for energy purposes; the third being that they need the closure of the Fordow enrichment facilities and also the transfer of fuel rods. Is this the same agenda the White House has for these talks? Are these the same benchmarks? Are you guys working in tandem on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re working with our P5-plus-1 partners when those talks —
Q What particular benchmarks would you —
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen — I haven’t seen the proposals that you —
Q Does it sound something along the ballpark of what the White House —
MR. CARNEY: Look, our policy is very clear, together with our partners — we remain determined to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. And as the President has said, we believe that diplomacy coupled with strong sanctions and increased isolation is the both available and best means of achieving and ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon in the near or longer term. But he takes no options off the table.
We are very mindful of Iranian behavior in the past and how they’ve approached negotiations in the past, and we are in a mode where actions are what speak loudest here. But our insistence is — and again, I’m not going to get into specifics — I’m not going to negotiate on behalf of the P5-plus-1 what the particulars of an agreement would look like, but it would absolutely insist on Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q But isn’t there anything you can say going forward, entering these talks, that here are our red lines; if it looks like they’re running out the clock, that no progress is being made, here’s when we walk away?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President has said — and it is a fact — that time is running out. There is time. There is time and space to allow for a diplomatic solution, but it is not time without end. And again we —
Q What does that mean, time without end? Are we —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to give a —
Q — talking months? Are we talking till the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve made very clear as a matter of what we know about the Iranian nuclear program and the fact that there are inspectors on the ground and we have visibility into it, what that process would look like. I don’t have a specific time frame to attach to that, but we do have time.
But it is important to move seriously, and we will insist that the Iranians move in a serious way if they are serious about engaging with the P5-plus-1 and finding a solution here that, one, ensures that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and, two, therefore allows Iran to end its isolation and rejoin the community of nations.
Q Jay, following on that, you haven’t said much in public lately about the possibility or risk of an Israeli military strike. Do you feel that you have made some progress there in persuading the Israelis to hold off for a while, or do you think that that is still a live possibility in the next couple of months?
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates for you on that specific issue. We spoke a lot about this around the time that Prime Minister Netanyahu was here and the President gave his remarks at AIPAC.
We believe that the best way of ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon is through the approach that the President has taken. There is time and space for that approach to continue to be pursued, and it is an approach that has united the international community, that has isolated Iran, that has brought to bear the harshest sanctions in history against Iran. And those sanctions, as you know, have had a significant impact on the Iranian economy and the Iranian regime.
But it remains to be seen whether the Iranian leadership will choose the right path, will go through the door that remains open to them, which is to forsake their nuclear weapons ambitions and, by doing so and in demonstrating and in proving to the world that they have done so, create for themselves the opportunity to reduce their isolation, to reduce the significant impact on the economy of these sanctions, and to rejoin the community of nations.
Q But when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here, the President made a point of saying out loud that he respected Israel’s right to self-defense.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that hasn’t changed.
Q Well, the obvious “but” there was that he was making a case, don’t do this.
MR. CARNEY: I really — I don’t have — nothing has changed, if that’s what the essence of your question is. Our position remains the same. We have made clear what we believe is the appropriate path to take now, and we’re working with our P5-plus-1 partners, as well as allies and partners around the world in this effort, and we’ll continue to that.
Q Jay, can you tell us which members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that’s visiting right now in Washington — which members might have met with White House officials?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have names. I don’t have names for you. It is a matter of fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will play a prominent role in Egypt’s political life going forward. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood met with John McCain when he visited — and Lindsay Graham, two senators, when they visited Egypt. And again, I don’t have the names of folks who are having meetings here in Washington. But lower-level officials here at the NSC did have meetings with them.
Q A question on Pakistan. As you know, the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in a news conference there, where he basically said give me the money, give me the reward money, and a Pakistani government spokesman said that they need concrete evidence to have the charges withstand judicial scrutiny. What’s the response to that kind of a statement from Pakistan in terms of —
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that, so I don’t — I don’t think I have a response for you.
Q Thank you, Jay. First I want to go back to the Monday summit between — with President Calderón and Prime Minister Harper. Did the situation in Syria come up in the conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I’ll have to check. It would certainly be possible given that Syria is a major topic of conversation right now among the world’s leaders with the President. But I don’t know for sure.
Q Has the President started to build up some sort of support from the allies to a greater involvement in the region?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are working with — by “the region” you mean Syria?
Q Syria, yes. And allies implied Canada, notably.
MR. CARNEY: Well, certainly. I mean, look, we are part of the “Friends of Syria.” We have worked through that group. The Secretary of State has participated in that group and we are working through that group to provide assistance to the Syrian people and to further pressure the Syrian regime to cease and desist. And I think we have seen Kofi Annan on his mission put forward a plan. I note that the Syrian regime said it would adhere to it, and then we’ve seen reports of terrible, terrible violence continuing in Syria.
So we’re focused on actions, not words. We’ve seen — there have been many, many occasions where the Assad regime has made promises that it has failed to keep. So we will continue to watch very closely what Assad does, and work with our allies through the “Friends of Syria” to continue to put pressure on that regime.
Q Last question. On Keystone, I don’t know if — we haven’t been able to know if the topic was touched on at that summit. But I just want to — when the Prime Minister, after at the Woodrow Wilson Center, was asked if what’s called the Northern Gateway, sending oil to Asia since it’s so complicated through the U.S., he answered if the Keystone pipeline was approved, if he could change his mind — and he said, we cannot be as a country in a situation where really our one, in many cases, almost only energy partner could say no to our energy products.
How do you react to the idea — the fact that Canada sees the President in this precise situation — the Prime Minister sees the President in this situation having said no to Canadian products?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I didn’t see those comments. Secondly, you’re — and I think probably with eyes wide open — misrepresenting what happened. But the fact of the matter is the pipeline proposal that was delayed because of the opposition of people in Nebraska, led most prominently by the Republican governor of Nebraska — the process of allowing for a new route to be submitted and considered and approved was abruptly brought to a halt by the insistence, for political and ideological reasons, of the Republicans to put — to insert in a piece of legislation the non-germane — utterly non-germane element of forcing a decision on the Keystone pipeline, forcing a decision on a pipeline route that did not exist and as yet does not exist.
The President has made clear that when a new route is submitted it will be reviewed in accordance with all the standards that have been in place for many, many years now. And hopefully, without any undue ideological efforts from the sidelines, it will be reviewed and considered and decided upon accordingly.
In the meantime, as you know, because the President visited Cushing, Oklahoma, the President has called on federal agencies to expedite the permitting process for the portion of that pipeline that would run from Cushing, Oklahoma down to the Gulf of Mexico, the approval of which and the building of which would relieve a bottleneck that exists in Oklahoma in the transporting of oil down to refineries in the Gulf. And the President, as you know, I’m sure, and have reported on, has approved many pipelines, including international pipelines, including pipelines from Canada that cross the border with the United States.
That’s the accurate history of what happened here. I don’t have any readout for you on the conversation between the President and the Prime Minister on that subject.
Thank you very much.
Q Is there any change in our standing with Burma that’s being announce today?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing for you on that. The President and the Secretary of State have made clear that we would meet positive actions taken by the government there with a positive response. But I have no specific update for you.
Q She has a statement supposedly at three o’clock.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll all watch with interest.
END 2:50 P.M. EDT