Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 20, 2012 – 1:13 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome to the White House. It is always wonderful to be here and to have you here. I have no announcements to make, so I will go straight to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wondered if the President had watched the town hall between Governor Romney and Paul Ryan today, whether he had any reaction particularly to some of the comments that they had on Afghanistan and on Israel.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know that he did not get a chance to watch television earlier today. I think if you have a specific question about Afghanistan or Israel, I’m happy to answer it.
Q Well, in particular, on Israel, he said that he thought that the President had thrown Netanyahu under the bus. On Afghanistan, he said that he thought the President needed to stay in more touch with the American public to let them know what, in fact, the mission was, and he thought that the President had failed in that regard.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me take the top there. This administration, the Obama administration, has had a closer, deeper, broader security relationship with Israel than any American administration in history. Don’t just take our word for it; I point you to comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as other Israeli leaders who have said the same thing.
We have an unshakeable bond with Israel and an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. That remains absolutely the case, as the United States, working with an unprecedented level of international consensus, continues to pressure Tehran, to isolate the regime, to impose — with our partners and unilaterally — sanctions that have had significant impact, economically and politically, on the regime. And we continue to believe that there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s failure to live up to its nuclear obligations. And we, as part of that relationship, that security relationship that we have with Israel, communicate all the time about Iran and other issues in the region that are of concern to Israel.
On Afghanistan, I would remind you that when this President came into office, our policy in Afghanistan was adrift. Then-Vice President-elect Joe Biden went on a trip prior to the inauguration to the region, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and he came back and reported to then-President-elect Obama that if you ask 10 of our people in Afghanistan what our mission is in Afghanistan you’d get 10 different answers. And this President committed, as he did during the campaign, to making sure that we had a focused mission that would return to the original reason why we sent troops to Afghanistan, which was to go after those who attacked the United States, to go after al Qaeda. And he very carefully, working with military and civilian leaders, developed a strategy in Afghanistan that is focused on our number-one goal, to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al Qaeda.
And I think there is no question that we have made — the President’s administration has made, with the remarkable capacities of our military and intelligence leaders and soldiers and others, great progress towards that goal.
The President is also committed, when it comes to Afghanistan, to winding that war down. And as you know, we have begun a process of withdrawing forces that were part of the surge in Afghanistan, and that process continues. And we have been very clear — the President has been, as well as other leaders in this administration — about the objectives in Afghanistan and why the President’s policy of turning over security lead to Afghanistan gradually with all of our ISAF partners is the right policy.
Q Does the President think that his rival would abandon that policy?
MR. CARNEY: I think the statements from Republican leaders like Governor Romney about what we should be doing in Afghanistan have been as unclear as our policy was in the years prior to President Obama taking office. And I would remind you that Governor Romney and others were fully supportive of the policy that was so clearly adrift in Afghanistan prior to President Obama taking office.
Q Jay, does the President or the White House in general have a reaction to Augusta admitting women now to its club?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’ll recall that when I was asked about this back when the Masters were about to take place in April I think it was, I actually spoke with the President and his answer was very clear: Women should be admitted. And he welcomes this development, thinks it was too long in coming, but obviously believes it’s the right thing to do.
Q And a totally separate subject — have you seen the reports about the sentence given to the Chinese leader Bo Xilai’s wife, and do you have any reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve seen the reports, but I have no comment on that case.
Q I’m wondering if the President has seen the comments made by the Missouri Senate candidate, Congressman Akin, and if he has any reaction.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a reaction from the President on that. I think it demonstrates or reflects an effort in Congress in particular to define rape in a way that I think makes no sense to a lot of women, and demonstrates why it is so important for women to be in control of their own health care.
Q So you’re saying that his comments about how, according to whomever, women who are forcibly raped cannot conceive or often cannot conceive bears some relation to something that’s happened in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, those comments are obviously offensive. Clearly offensive and wrong — factually wrong, medically wrong, and offensive. I think you have also seen efforts in Congress to define rape in a way that limits women’s control over their own health care, and that’s wrong, too.
Q And does the President have any reaction to the story about the congressmen in Israel frolicking in the Sea of Galilee? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed that with him. I did see those reports and have no comment on them. (Laughter.)
Q Really? Not even a pun?
MR. CARNEY: I’m at a loss, as I was when I read the story. (Laughter.)
Q It was a spiritual —
MR. CARNEY: Perhaps. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, do you have any comment on — this book from Politico is suggesting — I realize Chicago will have to answer specific things about the campaign, but it’s saying about the President that he has almost — I struggle to use the word hatred, but an intense dislike of Mitt Romney. You’re around the President a lot. Personally, does he have that kind of dislike of Mitt Romney personally?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. And I would say that this book is a collection of hearsay and random, alleged conversations. I can tell you that I’ve never heard the President express anything like that.
He feels very strongly that Governor Romney’s policies are the wrong ones for the American economy and the American people, that we cannot afford to go back to the kinds of policies that got us into this mess. And that’s why he believes so much is at stake in this election. That’s why you hear him, every time he’s out on the campaign trail, talking about the substantive issues that affect the economy and the American people where they live, which is the need to make sure that middle-class Americans, 98 percent of taxpaying Americans, retain that tax cut and do not see their taxes go up next year.
There is great agreement in Washington that that tax cut should be extended. Republicans in Congress, unfortunately, have blocked extension of that tax cut because of their insistence that the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans get a tax cut that we cannot afford. It is a tax cut like that that — two of them that helped create the sea of red ink that this President inherited from his predecessor in January of 2009.
It’s why you hear the President out there talking about the need to continue to invest in education. It’s why you hear him out there talking about the need to put teachers back in the classroom, because education is an economic issue for so many people and for our broader economy. Those are the things that the President believes are at stake, and why he’s so committed to making sure that this country continues to move forward.
Q And finally, in making that case that you just laid out, that the President wants to do in all these battleground states, the book suggests that there is a lack of confidence in the Democratic National Committee chair, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz. Can you give her a vote of confidence? Are you confident —
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. I have never heard anything like that expressed in my presence, and I spend a lot of time with the President.
Q Why does the President keep coming back to Mitt Romney’s tax rate and tax returns, his own personal tax rate? Is that — what’s the relevance as far as the campaign is concerned?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are two things. One, as you know, there has been a tradition in place now for something like 45 years, established by Governor George Romney —
Q I understand about releasing returns. I’m talking about — he was talking about, hey, look, Governor Romney won’t pay any taxes.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, in terms of why fairness in our tax code matters, why the various tax proposals that are out there, including Governor Romney’s, are so important when compared to the approach the President takes is because when millionaires and billionaires — multi-millionaires and billionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than average Americans, it’s harmful to the broader economy, at a time when we cannot afford to be giving massive tax breaks again to those folks who have done very well, at a time when the middle class has been squeezed.
I mean, I think — I’ve seen it pointed out — I haven’t done this analysis myself — but that under Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which is the Republican document when it comes to budgets right now —
Q Romney has a different proposal that wouldn’t affect this, but I understand —
MR. CARNEY: Well, under Paul Ryan’s proposal, which Governor Romney said he would gladly sign and look forward to signing into law, folks like Governor Romney would pay effectively no tax — federal tax — income tax because of the way the tax code works, and if you eliminate capital gains taxation that would be the impact.
And I just — again, it goes back to the Buffett Rule, the general principle that folks making millions or even billions of dollars shouldn’t be paying a lower effective tax rate than the average American.
Q Does he think Mitt Romney is looking out for his own bottom line?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the issue is the perspective you bring. And if you believe that a $5 trillion tax cut, which is certainly what Governor Romney has proposed — a tax cut that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest in this country is the right solution, it’s important to point out why that’s not the case — why we can’t afford it. Because it demonstrates a lack of seriousness about our deficit, and it’s important to point out that the people who then pay for that tax cut are middle-class Americans, as the Tax Policy Center did in a nonpartisan, independent analysis of Governor Romney’s proposals.
These issues matter deeply to the American people. And I think that the perspective you bring to this matters a lot, which is why this is so important.
Q Can I go back to Afghanistan? Just yesterday, another U.S. servicemember was killed by two members of the Afghanistan police forces. That brings the number of deaths of U.S. servicemembers to 10 in the past two weeks. Why does the President think that these killings are on the rise? And is there a problem with the way Afghani servicemembers are being vetted?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Nancy, I appreciate the question, and these incidents remain deeply concerning to us —
(The President enters the room.)
1:27 P.M. EDT