Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—February 28, 2014 – 12:30 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. Happy Friday. Welcome to the White House briefing room. Before I take your questions I wanted to note that President Obama today will host students, parents and teachers at the first-ever White House Student Film Festival, an event that will highlight the President’s commitment to bring America’s classrooms into the 21st century, with high-speed Internet and cutting-edge technology.
In keeping with his pledge to make 2014 a year of action, using the power of his pen and his phone, the President will announce $400 million in new private sector commitments from Adobe and Prezi to make free software available to teachers and students to help introduce creative learning materials to classrooms all across the country.
Adobe is making available over $300 million worth of free software to teachers and students, including Photoshop and Premiere Elements for creative projects; Presenter and Captivate to amplify e-learning; EchoSign for school workflow; and a range of teacher training resources.
And Prezi, a software tool for creating memorable presentations, is providing $100 million in EDU Pro licenses for high schools and all educators across America.
These commitments build on the $750 million in commitments the President announced earlier this month. By using the power of his phone, the President inspired private sector leaders to pledge well over $1 billion in value to America’s students through these private sector commitments in the last month alone.
So we think it’s important to look at this cumulatively to get a sense of what this President can do using his authority and his office to bring together outside groups and businesses on behalf of an agenda that expands opportunity and, in this case, enhances the education of American children across the country.
With that, I go to the Associated Press. Darlene.
Q Thanks. On Ukraine, Secretary Kerry said today that the U.S. is watching to see if Russian activity in Crimea might be “crossing a line in any way,” but that the administration would also be very careful in making judgments about that. Can you say what the U.S. is prepared to do if Russia does cross that line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we are watching to see, as the Secretary said, whether or not Russia is doing anything that might be crossing the line in any way. We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we expect other nations to do the same. Reports of Russian intervention in Crimea are of deep concern to the United States, and as Secretary Kerry said and Ambassador Rice has said, intervention would be a grave mistake.
These reports are also inconsistent with Russia’s previous statements to the United States that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and they are inconsistent with the obligation Russia reaffirmed in the Budapest Memorandum. We call on Russia to respect its international obligations made under the U.N. Charter to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. We urge all parties to avoid steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to a miscalculation at this delicate time.
Q So would the line be military intervention or some type of use of force over there?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve made clear that the United States supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine. And we have made clear to Russia that we believe it would be a grave mistake to intervene in any way. We’ve obviously had and will continue to have direct communications with Russian government officials. The President spoke with President Putin about Ukraine. Secretary Kerry had another conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today about this issue. And we are conveying very clearly our views, views shared by our European partners and allies, that Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be respected.
Q It seems as though the situation there may be headed to a place where it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I mean, what is the level of concern here that the situation there will get worse before it gets better?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are concerned about the situation in Ukraine at several levels. We commend the parliament for the actions that it has taken to install a government and to get to work addressing the serious economic situation in Ukraine. We are going to work with our partners and allies and multilateral organizations to look at ways that we can be of assistance to Ukraine. And we have made clear in our conversations, including the Vice President’s recent conversation with the new Prime Minister of Ukraine, both our commitment to assist Ukraine, but also our expectation that Ukraine, as it tries to fulfill the aspirations of its people, that the Ukrainian government take steps to ensure that the rights of all citizens are respected, and that, as planned, early elections take place.
So we are engaging not just with other partners and allies in the region, not just with the Russian government, but with Ukraine and with Ukrainian leaders themselves on all the issues that confront that country at this time. There’s no question that it’s a fluid situation, and some of the reports that I mentioned are of concern. And it would be a grave mistake to intervene and to in any way violate the territorial integrity of a sovereign state like Ukraine.
Q Thank you, Jay. I’m sure you saw the reports and the photographs today of men in uniform patrolling airports in Crimea. Does the United States know who these soldiers are? Are they Russians?
MR. CARNEY: I think I would refer you to what I just said about the reports of Russian intervention. Other reports about things and developments in Ukraine are matters that we’re looking into, that we’re seeking clarification on, we’re discussing with Ukrainian leaders as well as Russian leaders and others. So I don’t have — I can’t go through with you each report and what the bottom-line truth behind each report is.
What I can tell you is that we’re concerned about reports or suggestions that there might be intervention by an outside state, and we have conveyed that. And we would point to assurances by the Russian government that they respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
So this is something that we are engaging with at the highest levels across the region.
Q And when you talk about those assurances of respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, when the President spoke directly with Putin a week ago, did the Russian President give assurances that he would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity?
MR. CARNEY: At the time of that conversation, as we read out, the President and Russian President Putin agreed that there needed to be a de-escalation of violence in Ukraine. And I would point you to the more detailed readout that we gave.
As a general matter, in the communications that we’ve had with Russian government officials, including Secretary Kerry with Foreign Minister Lavrov, this has been one of the topics of conversation. And we have conveyed our concern about the need to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and have received assurances. But I don’t have a further characterization of those conversations.
Q On a domestic issue — the EPA made an announcement today about protecting a large fishery in Alaska. Is that the harbinger of a number of examples of the President using his pen and the phone to do environmental protection measures, possibly with an eye to climate change issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Bristol Bay assessment’s conclusions about the significant impacts mining activities would have on the area’s unique environment — its unparalleled sockeye salmon fishery and Native American cultures — the EPA made a decision to take this step to protect this valuable resource.
The White House strongly supports that decision by the EPA. The step is consistent with the President’s commitment in the State of the Union to protect pristine American places for future generations. But I would point you to the EPA for more questions about the step that it’s taking today on this matter.
Q You were just talking about expressions of these concerns that you have for potential Russian involvement in Ukraine. What options does the United States have available should we reach that point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate for you, Jim. What I would tell you is that this is a matter that we’re very focused on — the President, Secretary of State, Ambassador Rice and others, Secretary Hagel. And we are engaging with Ukrainian leaders, with Russian leaders and with others in the region to ensure that Ukraine is able to move forward in keeping with the aspirations of its people, that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is respected, that its sovereignty is respected by other nations.
So I’m not going to speculate about what we might do if something might happen. We’re going to focus on the kinds of communications we’re having right now, and focus on the international effort to assist Ukraine.
Q And as you know, Yanukovych has accused the United States of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, even as the U.S. is saying to Russia, don’t meddle in what’s happening in Ukraine. Does the White House have a response to what Mr. Yanukovych is saying?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that we have made clear that Mr. Yanukovych lost legitimacy as the leader of Ukraine and abdicated his responsibilities. Not long after signing an agreement with the opposition, he fled the capital of the country in an orderly fashion, packed his belongings and left.
And I think it’s also important to note that the Ukrainian parliament acting responsibly to fill that vacuum elected a new government after Mr. Yanukovych fled the scene. And I think it’s also worth remembering that security forces under Mr. Yanukovych’s control used snipers in downtown Kyiv to kill dozens of Ukrainians. I think that goes to the lost legitimacy.
So again, he abdicated his responsibilities, he left and packed up his belongings. Until this recent press conference, his whereabouts were not known. And the Ukrainian parliament, which includes members from parties that represent all of Ukrainian society, has taken action through votes with substantial majorities, including votes from members of Mr. Yanukovych’s party, to fill that vacuum and to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and to move forward with a plan to have early elections. And that is all, in our view, appropriate and positive amidst a situation that’s obviously quite fluid.
Q And just to jump ahead to the President’s remarks this afternoon, some excerpts that have been released indicate that the President is going to accuse Republicans of only being focused on opportunities for a few, as opposed to opportunities for all Americans. Does the President really believe that? And is that a reflection of what we might see in the coming months that there really is just going to be nothing accomplished up on Capitol Hill, here in Washington, maybe in the White House and Republican leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I think the frame the President has used and he’ll use again is that he is focused on an agenda that is designed to expand opportunity for all. He talks about this all the time. And where he can find a partner in Congress, a partner in Republicans to advance that agenda on behalf of middle-class Americans and Americans who are striving to get into the middle class, he is eager to work together on that agenda.
It is simply a fact, if you look at budget presentations and policy presentations by Republicans in general, that their policies have — in contrast to an agenda that is designed to expand opportunity for all — generally either protected or expanded opportunity for the few. And that includes protecting tax loopholes and benefits for the wealthiest and well-connected in our society. And it includes, as we’ve talked about earlier this week, the refusal to entertain closing some of those loopholes as part of a compromise approach to dealing with our medium- and long-term deficit and debt challenges.
So, yes, the answer is the President will talk about why it’s so important for Democrats to advance an agenda that’s focused on expanding opportunity for all. And as he has, and I have and others have, it’s certainly worth noting the contrast, and he will again tonight, with an agenda that’s focused on protecting the loopholes and prerogatives of the wealthiest and well-connected and, again, expanding or protecting opportunity for a few.
Q It sounds like a campaign — it’s a themed speech. When you say “opportunity for a few,” yesterday you were saying Chairman Camp’s tax proposal had some good potential to it.
MR. CARNEY: And I noticed how Republicans rallied around it.
Q The President met with Speaker Boehner earlier this week, talked about immigration reform.
MR. CARNEY: Look, Jim, obviously the President is doing –the President, like all Republican leaders, including those running for office themselves, is engaging in political events and he’s speaking to the DNC. And he will be supportive in many ways of Democrats either running for reelection or running for office in this cycle.
In the meantime, he is principally focused on advancing an agenda that expands opportunity for all, that rewards hard work and responsibility. That’s what you saw in the actions he announced yesterday at the “My Brother’s Keeper” event. That’s what he’s focused on today in the White House Student Film Festival. That’s what he’s focused — was focused on in St. Paul when he talked about making the investments necessary to create jobs now and build our infrastructure in the future, and as part of an approach that would improve the tax code, the corporate tax code, but use those revenues generated by that to invest in our infrastructure.
So the President is moving forward on an agenda, and he looks forward to finding cooperative and helpful partners in Congress among Republicans. And we’ve seen some of that. We have seen Republicans of late step away from the brink, step away from a tactic and a strategy and approach that did harm to our economy through shutdowns and threatened defaults, and instead come together through the budget agreement, come together through the omnibus funding agreement, come together through the decision to allow the United States to pay the bills that Congress racked up. And these are positive developments and we look forward to cooperating in other areas if Republicans are willing and ready to find compromises on behalf of the American people.
In the meantime, the President is absolutely going to continue to use his executive authority to advance an agenda that expands opportunity for all.
Q Back to Ukraine. Ukraine has made a request to the IMF for about $15 billion to stabilize the country and so forth. Can you give us a little update on where people are on that, where the U.S. is on negotiating that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that we welcome the news that the IMF will send a team to Ukraine in the coming days. And for our part, we are considering a range of options, including loan guarantees, to support Ukraine economically. The next step is for the new government to resume talks with the IMF. And as the government engages the IMF, we will also begin taking steps, in coordination with multilateral and bilateral partners and the new government, which could complement, as I mentioned earlier, an IMF package.
So I don’t have a specific reaction to the beginning of negotiations and discussions between the Ukrainian government and the IMF except that we support efforts to assist Ukraine as it enacts reforms and stabilizes its economy. And we will be considering a range of options available to the United States to act in support in a complementary way of any IMF assistance.
Q Ukraine has had previous IMF loans. Back in 2008, there was some trouble — they balked at some of the conditions of the loan. Does that cloud the talks this time around?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to refer you to the State Department and Treasury and the IMF. I don’t have the history, the back history on that.
Q Thank you. In regards to Crimea, or in regards to Russia and Ukraine, what would be intervening? How would you define intervention, I guess?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there have been some reports that suggest intervention, and we’re concerned about those and we’re seeking clarification. We’re watching closely to see, as Secretary Kerry said, whether Russia might be “crossing the line in any way,” the intervention line, if you will. So I’m not going to speculate or frame it beyond the reports and the concern that we’re expressing. It’s very clear what our position is, which is that Ukrainian territorial integrity needs to be respected, Ukrainian sovereignty needs to be respected, and it would be a grave mistake to intervene.
So it is our view that maintaining the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine is in the interest of the Ukrainian people and the interest of nations in the region, including Russia. And we are going to work with all partners to assist the Ukrainian government as it steps forward to deal with its economic challenges, and to move forward towards early elections that would provide another future government in Ukraine that reflects the will of all the Ukrainian people, that respects the rights of all the Ukrainian people, including minorities. And we’re going to continue to watch the situation very closely when it comes to matters of potential intervention.
Q How do you get to the answer of whether Russia was behind the seizures? Are you guys asking the Russians, hey, was this you? I mean, you may not have an answer to that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into the ways that we monitor or all the conversations that we have around situations like this, except to say that we’re watching it very closely.
Q And would this be crossing the line if it ended up being Russians or Russian security forces?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to get into the individual reports and what our assessment is about what happened. And I think there’s been a lot of, even in the reports themselves, contradictory information about some of the events, including the ones that have been raised here.
So I’m not in a position to evaluate each report and evaluate who is responsible and what actually happened. We obviously as a government, and working with partners and allies, and communicating directly with Ukrainian leaders, as well as Russians leaders and others, finding as much — getting as much information as we can about these reports.
Q Do you know how long it will take to try and get an answer behind the —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more for you on it.
Q Jay, does the President believe that the Russians are being aggressive vis-à-vis Crimea and Ukraine? Without using the word “intervention,” are they being aggressive?
MR. CARNEY: So it’s a different word. I think that we are concerned about reports of Russian intervention or Russian aggression. So I would —
Q So who would check intervention or aggression if it took place, the U.S. unilaterally? NATO allies? Who do we rely on to check that if they — if we do believe they crossed that line?
MR. CARNEY: We evaluate this, monitor this, engage in diplomatic discussions about this in a variety of ways — both as the United States in partnership with our allies in the region, and in direct communications with the Ukrainian government and Russian government officials.
Q Can you give us an update on the President’s consultations with NATO allies on the issue of Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any presidential conversations to update you on. I noted the Secretary of State and the conversation he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I note that Vice President Biden had a conversation with the new Prime Minister, which I think we read out, of Ukraine. And obviously there are communications happening in real-time regarding this very fluid situation.
Q Following up on a couple other topics we’ve done — that we may get to — one is, for the President’s speech today, which White House aides have indicated is a pretty major speech in terms of laying out the sort of framework for decisions Americans will make coming up at the end of this year, why at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday when document dumps normally take place? Why deliver it then? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s when he is speaking to the DNC, which is the Democratic National Committee. And we trust in our friends in the independent media to report the news. So, hopefully, they’ll follow the news on a Friday and a Saturday.
Q Okay, fair enough — fine. Can I ask you quickly about healthcare.gov right now? Who is in charge of the implementation of healthcare.gov right now? I know Jeffrey Zients is now working here as he begins his new responsibilities. So who is presently in charge?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, we actually announced it; we announced a successor to Jeff Zients, and obviously that operation is still run out of CMS. But it is still very much — and we talked about it at the time, when this was an hourly, not even to say a daily story, we knew once improvements were made and the website was functioning effectively for the vast majority of Americans who were trying to use it, that there would be some diminution of interest in it, but our efforts and the team’s efforts would not subside because the work was so important. And the need to ensure that the website was continually improved and functioning effectively through the entire open enrollment period would be there, and that is the case.
And as you know, we’re now on the eve of the final month in the six-month process, and there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, and making sure that everybody gets out there who can use the information about the options available to them is getting that information is part of what we’re working to do. But another part of that is making sure that the website is functioning effectively.
And given that the website now, according to the White House, appears to be functioning certainly much better than it was back in October —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think it’s a subject of doubt. I mean, you said, “according to the White House.” You guys, as you regularly did when it was having problems —
Q Fair enough. Here, let me ask the question.
MR. CARNEY: — tested the hypothesis, “is it functioning effectively” —
Q Rather than waste time with semantics, what I’m trying to say is the website is functioning much better right now. Fine, we stipulate that. I want to know why then, if the people who are responsible for that, these high-tech wizards who made the fixes are the ones who are due for a lot of the credit, why the President never met with them following the fixes that ultimately put this —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t read out every meeting the President has. What I can tell you is that —
Q Did he meet with them?
MR. CARNEY: — the President appreciates all the efforts of the entire team that has been involved in fixing the problems at healthcare.gov and in the general effort to implement the Affordable Care Act, which continues to this day. This effort is not over, and it won’t even be over after March 31st. Obviously, that’s the open enrollment period. But there’s a lot of work that will remain to be done, and that work will continue.
Q So we don’t read them all out, but did he meet with them at some point, though?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information on the President’s schedule.
Q Who is responsible for the problems that not only the federal government had with its own website, but the state of Maryland, other states are having with their websites, which are funded by the federal government?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to CMS for general questions like that. I can tell you that when it comes to some states that have had problems with their websites and their marketplaces, CMS issued guidance that allows state residents who are unable to sign up because of technical problems on those state websites to get federal tax credits if they bought private insurance outside of the new online insurance exchanges. In other words, the subsidies available because of the Affordable Care Act remain available no matter how you get your insurance. And we’re making sure CMS is working closely with states to support their efforts to successfully implement their marketplace. And that includes making sure that those who are eligible for subsidies are able to receive them.
Q The criticism of that is that it sounds like yet another waiver. But I’m talking about money that appears to have been wasted.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I see that. But we’ll posit that. Go ahead.
Q I’m talking about money that appears to have been wasted. Maryland’s website has already cost twice what was expected and needs more presumably federal money or an advance on federal money. Where is the accountability here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would ask you to check with CMS in terms of the interaction between CMS and individual state websites. What I can tell you is when it comes to making sure that every American who has purchased insurance under the Affordable Care Act is able to get the benefits that are provided within the law, that CMS is working with the states to make sure that happens in those states where they’ve had problems.
I would also note that many states have run very effective exchanges and websites. And, as I think was announced a couple of weeks ago or last week, California hit its target, its March 31st target in the middle of February in terms of enrollees. So that one’s working pretty well, I guess.
Q That’s my point, is that it’s all costing more than it was expected to cost.
MR. CARNEY: You’re saying that, but I don’t have any details in front of me about that, Wendell. But I would refer you to CMS.
Q So, Jay, back to Ukraine. It seems that you’re suggesting, when you refer to reports, deep concern for reports of Russian intervention, you’re not just talking about news reports that we — the United States government through its other means has credible reports that the Russians have engaged in some kind of activity.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I’m referring at this briefing to news reports, because there have been a variety of reports, some of them conflicting, some of them inconclusive about —
Q But you also mentioned the U.S. government and our ability to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was asked how we verify those reports or test — or find out what has actually happened in these individual circumstances. There have been a lot of reports about activity involving military personnel or apparently military personnel. So I’m sort of referring to those reports and to our concern about them, and to the fact that we’re watching very closely to see if Russia is acting in any way that would cross the line when it comes to intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state.
Q Can you explain what our national interest is in the territorial integrity of Ukraine? I mean, take a region like Crimea, which was part of Russia until 1950, and then of course many years part of Ukraine but under the Soviet Union. Why is it in the American national interest that Ukraine remain exactly as its borders are now? I’m just asking —
MR. CARNEY: Because as a general principle we support the territorial integrity of states recognized under the U.N. Charter. And we call on Russia to respect its international obligations under the U.N. Charter to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. We’re referring to general principles here that guide the conduct of nations in the international community.
So maintaining or recognizing Ukraine’s territorial integrity, recognizing its sovereignty is something that nations have done, including Russia. Russia is party to agreements that recognize, including the Budapest Memorandum from I think the mid-1990s, that recognize Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. And we call on nations to uphold their obligations under those agreements and under the U.N. charter.
Q When you talk about an intervention line, which I assume is something like a red line, it does raise the question of, well, then what? I mean, how much of — how important a national interest is this? What are we going to do if —
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, I’m not going to speculate about what happens if this happens. What I’m going to focus on and what we’re focused on is what is happening and what we can do to assist the Ukrainian people as they deal with the current circumstances that the country is in, both economically and politically, and to call on nations to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, to respect Ukraine’s independence, to respect the right of the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves whether they want to, for example, integrate further with Europe; and to respect the fact that Ukraine has and will always have deep, historical and cultural ties to Russia, for example; and to integrate further with Europe and to maintain those deep ties that are both achievable and should be achievable. They’re not contradictory.
And Ukraine’s responsibility to respect the freedoms and liberties and civil rights of all of its citizens is a part of the bargain, if you will. So we are making all those points in this circumstance.
And in the meantime, when it comes to what-ifs, we’re focused on making clear our views about the responsibilities of other states not to intervene, and our concern about any reports that suggest there might have intervention.
Q Should U.S. taxpayers be prepared to support transition in Ukraine? I understand there’s support from the IMF. Should we be prepared with an aid package?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’re considerating our — I’m sorry, considerating. Did I say that? (Laughter.) It’s Friday — just made up a word. But we are considering our options.
Q It’s good.
MR. CARNEY: It’s pretty good. I kind of sounded legit, right? We’re considering all of our options. We haven’t made determinations about ways that we can assist either unilaterally or bilaterally to complement an IMF program of assistance. We’re encouraged by the fact that IMF officials will be traveling to Ukraine and that those conversations will take place. We think that’s important. But at this point, we haven’t made any decisions about additional assistance that the United States might provide.
Q And then a quick political question. Harry Reid, of course, is the top-ranked Democrat in Congress; took to the Senate floor to denounce the Koch brothers for — accusing them of trying to buy America. And he said they are about “as un-American” as anybody — “as anyone I can imagine.” What does the President make of the top Democratic leader basically talking about un-American activities on the Senate floor?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see that report and I haven’t talked to the President about it, so I don’t really have a response.
Q Does the President consider the Koch brothers un-American?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t talked to him about the Koch brothers. I think that in general — because of the context here, we have seen again and again efforts to highlight individuals who have had problems with the Affordable Care Act, and again and again reporters have discovered that, in fact, the circumstances are not as they’re being presented by either outside groups or Republicans. And I think that’s important. And the work that’s being done by reporters is important in making sure the whole story is told.
We saw that with the rebuttal to the State of the Union address, when somebody who was highlighted as having problems with the Affordable Care Act, when reporters dug into that they found the circumstances to be different from what had been presented, and also the fact that the congresswoman’s office hadn’t even — if you represent a constituency in Congress and there’s been a law that’s been passed, that’s been upheld by the Supreme Court, that’s being implemented that provides benefits to your constituents, whether you agree with the law or not, you would think you would be assisting your constituents in getting the benefits available to them.
Q But I’m trying to get to this highly charged language of calling political opponents un-American —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t seen —
Q Forget what Reid said. Does the White House endorse that kind of language aimed at political opponents?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to talk about a hypothetical. I haven’t seen the report. What I can say is certainly some of the assertions that have been made in general about the Affordable Care Act have been proven to be wrong by your colleagues.
Q So are you suggesting it’s un-American to make assertions that are proved wrong? That’s clearly the language that you just said. He asked you —
MR. CARNEY: No, Neil, you’re misrepresenting entirely what I said, so why don’t you stick to that.
Q No — he said it’s something un-American, and you say, no, I’m not answering that, but there is this. So is there a suggestion — are you making any suggestion whatsoever that to disagree with the administration and be wrong is somehow un-American?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m not.
Q I’m want to ask you about something that the Office of the Actuary of CMS put out last Friday about the effect of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses. They put on a report — and I’ll quote from it directly — using the community ratings provision requiring a higher level of quality of health care for small businesses that don’t provide it and didn’t provide it before. Directly from their report: “We are estimating that 65 percent of the small firms are expected to experience increases in their premium rates while the remaining 35 percent are anticipated to have rate reductions.” It goes on to say, “This results in roughly 11 million individuals whose premiums are estimated to be higher as a result of the ACA and about 6 million individuals who are estimated to have lower premiums.” Does this mean that for a certain segment of Americans, as identified by the Office of the Actuary, they’re going to be paying more for the health care that they had before, and that in some respects does not align with the President’s overall commitment that the ACA would deliver lower health care costs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I think — and I answered questions about this earlier in the week — that analysis looked at the impact of only one provision of the ACA; it did not look at the impact of subsidies and other provisions within the ACA. The reports states the premiums are anticipated to stay same in average, and it finds that before the Affordable Care Act, 65 percent of these firms were paying below average and 35 percent were paying above average because insurers were allowed to discriminate against small employers who had an employee with a serious illness or more women than men. In other words, discriminate against an employer because they felt that women could be charged double, for example, than men. They can’t do that anymore, which I think is the appropriate thing, because now everyone will be in the same pool. And that kind of discrimination is no longer allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
So when you look at the law as a whole, several studies have found that the ACA will help make coverage more affordable for people who get their health insurance through their job.
So we talked about this earlier in the week, but it doesn’t take into account all these other provisions within the Affordable Care Act that actually lowers costs; tax credits for small businesses; the medical loss ratio provision, which requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of their premiums on health care and not overhead, or administrative costs or CEO salaries; rate review, which requires insurers to publicly justify premium increases of 10 percent of more; the additional purchasing power that businesses get, small businesses, through the marketplace, because they’re allowed to band together and get the same leverage as small businesses. And then, the ACA has brought more competition between issuers. The ACA increases transparency and levels the playing field among insurers so that employers and individuals can have clear information on the products being offered. That means issuers have to compete on price and quality, which in turn drives premiums down. But as a general matter —
Q — your argument is that this phenomenon will not occur?
MR. CARNEY: — they took one provision of the Affordable Care Act, and looked at it —
Q As they said, they were asked to look at three provisions; two were not relevant and one was.
MR. CARNEY: Two were not relevant and one was, so they looked at that one provision, ruling out all the other provisions that actually mitigate the effect that they reported on. And they took that one provision and said, what effect does that provision have. And if you then don’t isolate that out and look at the overall impact, as other outside analysts have done, you see that the ACA will help make coverage more affordable for Americans.
Q I know you are rooted to the talking points presented on Ukraine, but I want to try one more time on this. You often tell us to evaluate not just words but actions of governments, of this administration, of political opponents. There have been a lot of words exchanged between the Secretary of State and Lavrov all this week, and there were words exchanged between the President and Vladimir Putin last week. In the main, would you say the actions on the ground in Ukraine had been consistent with Russian cooperation and consistent with the words expressed in this administration or not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Major, again, you’re — we’ve had very blunt and direct conversations with our Russian counterparts on this matter, and we’ve had a lot of conversations with other counterparts across the region, including —
Q If you look at Secretary Kerry’s words today, he appears to be frustrated; that what we’re communicating is not getting through, and there is more concern of things being misinterpreted and actions being taken that could be misconstrued and that could turn this into a much more volatile situation than it already is.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the second part is definitely true. We are concerned about actions that might be taken that could be misunderstood and that could lead to very problematic consequences. And that’s why we’re calling on all parties to be cautious in how they deal with this situation, and we’re making clear our views that Ukrainian territorial integrity has to be respected.
So when it comes to reports about potential intervention, we’re concerned about them, and we’re making clear that intervention would be a grave mistake. And we’re watching very closely, as Secretary Kerry said, to see whether or not Russia is crossing the line. But this is certainly a challenging situation and one that we’re watching closely.
Q This wasn’t asked yesterday. What, if any, reaction does the President have to the veto by Governor Brewer of SB1062?
MR. CARNEY: As I’ve noted, we don’t weigh in as a rule on every piece of legislation under consideration, but the President does believe that Governor Brewer did the right thing by vetoing this bill.
Q And you mentioned the President’s travel to Texas in April. Has the President — I know you won’t read out the future travel schedule, so has the President expressed any enthusiasm or desire to visit another presidential library, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which will be focusing an exhibit of his artwork starting in April?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, President Obama was there for the opening of the George W. Bush presidential library, an event he enjoyed very much, which included a private tour of the library, conducted by President George W. Bush and included, obviously, former President George H. W. Bush and former President Clinton, former President Carter. It was a terrific event, and the President enjoyed it very much, he spoke at that event. And then, as you know, President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush joined the President on Air Force One, and the President very much enjoyed being able to see some of the art that President Bush has worked on.
Q But he’s gotten a soupçon of the art; he hasn’t seen the full —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, what? (Laughter.)
Q — the full exhibit of the —
MR. CARNEY: Merci. (Laughter.)
Q Is he at all desirous to see the full exhibit once it’s on display?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any travel announcements to make. I mean, I’m a layperson; I’m not an art expert. But I’m pretty impressed by the former President’s work, and I think it’s fascinating. And if there is — I didn’t know he was making an exhibit out of it at the library, but I think that would only add value and interest to visiting the library.
Q Given the national outcry over that bill, including from business leaders, both Republican senators from Arizona, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, does the President see a window of opportunity to make a statement against discrimination by signing an executive order protecting LGBT workers?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any update on that matter. We, of course, hope very much that further action will be taken in Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that if it became law would be far more comprehensive in its effect. But as a general matter — and I said this when asked about the Arizona bill last week — that the President believes that all Americans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally, with dignity and respect.
And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders regardless of party speak out against this measure. And it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality. And it’s time to get on the right side of history. I mean, I’ve mentioned before, and I think we all note with pride and amazement the progress that this country has made on these issues in recent years. And I think this veto reflects on that progress and on the sentiment of the American people.
Q But if you agree that this veto is a symbol of that progress, isn’t an executive order a more immediate step to take advantage of this opportunity, as opposed to encouraging Congress to take action, which would take a longer amount of time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have any new information to provide to you on a hypothetical executive order. What I can tell you is we do support legislation that would enshrine in law the non-discrimination approach the President believes is the right approach for the country.
Q You said that it would be a grave mistake for Russia to cross the line with regard to intervention in Crimea. Is there a reality, a political reality that there would not be a political consequence for Russia to cross that line, given their size and their significance as a country?
MR. CARNEY: Victoria, that’s another way of asking me what would or wouldn’t happen if that grave mistake were committed. And I think I’m not going to speculate except to point to our concern, to point to our strongly held view that it would be a grave mistake to intervene and to point to the fact that we would not be alone in holding that view.
But beyond that, I’m not going to speculate about what might happen if actions were taken that cross that line.
Q There’s supposed to be a U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine. Given that Russia is on the U.N. Security Council, do you hold out any hope for any kind of resolution condemning what’s going on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not aware of what specific action, if any, the Security Council is contemplating. I would refer you to our representation at the United Nations for Ambassador Power’s view on that action.
Anybody else? Fred?
Q Yes, thanks, Jay. Two questions. One, on — there was a poll published this week by the Chronicle for Higher Education that said only 11 percent of business leaders believe that college students, college graduates are prepared to take on jobs. The President has talked about making more students college- and career-ready. Does he think that colleges are making students career-ready? That’s the first question.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know if he’s seen that report. But I can tell you that he and Secretary Duncan are very focused on the need to have opportunities available to young Americans so that they are getting the education they need to fill the jobs and the good-paying jobs of the future. And that is reflected in the jobs-driven training that the Vice President — the effort on the President’s behalf that the Vice President is overseeing, and that we had a very big meeting about with leaders of many, many universities and colleges not that long ago.
So I think, again, not knowing the details of the poll, I think it reflects a challenge that we face as a nation, which is to make sure that we are harnessing the great potential of our people, as well as those who come and study here in our excellent universities and colleges, and that we’re also providing opportunities through community colleges and other educational institutions that ensure that we’re getting — our people are getting the training they need for the jobs — the job opportunities that are there.
So this is a broader challenge. I know Secretary Duncan has done a lot of work on this subject, but it does reflect one of the concerns we have about improving our education system so that young Americans are getting the education and skills they need to fill the jobs of tomorrow.
Q Also, more than 100,000 people made public comment on the proposed IRS regulations for 501(c)(4) groups. A lot of those were negative. Some former FEC commissioners weighed in on this, thought that this was an area the IRS shouldn’t really get into. What is the — has the White House really come out on these IRS proposals for 501(c)(4)?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you probably remember, one of the recommendations by the inspector general was “recommend to IRS chief counsel and the Department of the Treasury the guidance” on how to measure the “primary activity” of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations be included for consideration in the Department of the Treasury priority guidance plan.
So that’s obviously a mouthful. But the fact is that this action was recommended by the independent inspector general who had already looked into some of the matters that caused all the concern that we saw last year on these issues. So I don’t have much more to say on that. I would refer you to the Treasury Department.
But I can tell you that beginning in 2010 Treasury and the IRS received requests from members of Congress to consider engaging in the rulemaking to clarify the rules regarding these organizations, and as the Treasury Department has said, the rule change does not restrict any form of political speech. These regulations do not favor any individual or political party or group. The regulation applies to all organizations regardless of political affiliation. But I’m sure IRS would have, or Treasury would have more for you on that.
Q Some of the opponents of this believe it sort of might codify what we’ve seen in 2012, 2010, and they don’t —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I would point you to the fact that the inspector general recommended the approach that we’re talking about here and to the statement I just made, which reflects what Treasury has said about it.
Q Week ahead.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, yes. Here’s what we have:
On Monday, President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, developments in Iran, and other regional priorities. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and our close consultations on a range of security issues.
Q News conference?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have specifics. I think they’re going to make statements, but I don’t have anything more for you on that.
Q Do you have a time?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more for you on it.
Q You don’t have a time?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. This is just a week ahead, guys. We’ll give the daily schedule. (Laughter.)
Q It’s Friday and we’re talking about Monday.
MR. CARNEY: Right. I know two days in between. I know you don’t want to work on Saturday or Sunday, but you can probably open an email. (Laughter.)
On Tuesday, the President will hold an event — isn’t it great when I get — on Tuesday, the President will hold an event on the FY2015 budget and our plan to expand opportunity for all, Jim, here in Washington, D.C. In the evening, the President will attend a DSCC event in the Washington, D.C. area.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to the Hartford, Connecticut area for an event on the minimum wage. Following this, he will travel to Boston for two DNC events.
On Thursday, the President will hold an event on the economy and health care here in Washington.
On Friday, the President and the First Lady will travel to the Miami area for an event on expanding opportunity for the middle class. And that is your week ahead. I hope you all have a terrific weekend. I think you’re going to have to bundle up, unlike last weekend.
1:24 P.M. EST