Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 17, 2012 – 12:53 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make — welcome to the White House for your daily briefing — so I will go straight to questions. Ken.
Q The President is going to be meeting with King Abdullah today. What is he hoping to accomplish with this meeting? And at this point, what are the expectations for Middle East peace?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is meeting with the King of Jordan, as you note. They will discuss a variety of issues, as they always do — regional issues as well as King Abdullah’s important leadership role in the region, notably through his pursuit of our shared goal of a two-state solution through the Middle East peace process. They will also discuss Syria and the King’s courageous statements calling on President Assad to step down in that neighboring state.
As for our view of the peace process, we commend the Jordanian King for the role he’s played in the talks and the renewal of talks. We believe that those talks offer the parties a real opportunity to make meaningful progress towards peace. This is a difficult issue; it has long been a difficult issue. And it has its best chance of reaching a positive result when the two sides are sitting down negotiating face to face. That’s the way to bring about peace. That’s the way to resolve the issues that divide the Israelis and the Palestinians.
So we support this progress, but we obviously recognize that there’s a long road to travel here to get to a final result.
Q Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning the Palestinians had no interest in entering peace talks. Does that perhaps put some cold water on these discussions?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we don’t characterize other leaders’ remarks. We’re focused on a process here and the reality that the way to achieve peace is through face-to-face, direct negotiations. The fact that there has been some progress in that regard is a good thing. We’re certainly not going to overstate it. There are many thorny issues to resolve, but this is the mode and the forum by which you can get this done.
Q Some members of the Jobs Council would like the U.S. to stop taxing overseas profits. Does the administration support that proposal? And what’s the administration’s take on the proposal to open up federal land to more exploration of oil, gas and coal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any announcements to make on the specific policy that you mentioned. I would note that of the 35 recommendations from the Jobs Council that don’t require legislative action, the administration has taken action on 33 of them and completed implementation on 16. That includes, most recently, from last week, the establishment of SelectUSA — or rather that was in June — but the insourcing forum that the President had highlighting this very important trend in American business where American companies are bringing jobs back to the United States, which is a very positive thing indeed, and the efforts the President wants to take to increase that trend.
The fact of the matter is, on oil and gas production, we have higher oil production in this country in — had it in 2010 than we’ve had since 2003. This President is committed to an all-of-the-above approach in our energy development, which means increasing production here at home, a focus on natural gas and its importance for our energy future, as well as investments in clean energy.
We have some stats here on the fact that last month, the Department of the Interior held a major oil and gas lease sale covering more than 21 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico that are currently not leased. Also last month, as part of the President’s effort, the Department of the Interior held a lease sale that covered over 140,000 acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. And the point of this is that we’re absolutely committed to increasing domestic oil and gas production, but to do it in a safe and responsible way. We believe that’s possible, and the facts that I just laid out to you demonstrate that.
Let me move around — Bill.
Q Jay, is Newt Gingrich correct in calling our President “the food stamp President”?
MR. CARNEY: The fact of the matter is this country is emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression, the greatest economic and financial crisis of our lifetimes. When this President took the oath of office in January of 2009, our economy was in freefall. We were hemorrhaging jobs at the rate of nearly 800,000 a month. The economy was contracting — or had contracted in the previous quarter, the last quarter of President Bush’s term in office, by nearly 9 percent. The result of that terrible recession was a dramatic increase in unemployment and a dramatic increase — or an increase, rather, in the number of people who need assistance — needed assistance.
I would simply say that those are the facts, and the economic policies that helped create that situation are ones that, in the case of the candidate you just mentioned, he supported and they’re the kinds of policies that he advocates to this day. This President takes a different approach.
Q But the language that the speaker uses is that these are people that President Obama put on the food stamps.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know as well as I do that that’s crazy.
Q Jay, on the economy and some of the polls talking about — the President has been in office more than two years, and some are saying that after two years, the President should take responsibility for some part of the economy. Where does the Bush presidency end in this presidency when it comes to the economy, and where does this President pick up in taking responsibility for the economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President took responsibility on the day he was sworn into office, and began a process of creating policies and implementing them that have helped us return to economic growth, have helped us have an economy that has created more than 3.1 million private sector jobs in the last 22 months, I believe.
The fact is the hole that was dug by this recession was very deep, and we are still climbing our way out of it. There is still much more that needs to be done. And that’s why the President is focused on passing the American Jobs Act, for example, the need to work with Congress to do more to help the economy create jobs and grow faster. That’s why he is so insistent that Congress act to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of the calendar year and extend unemployment insurance through the end of the calendar year. And the President expects that Congress will do that without drama, and there’s certainly been some indication that members of Congress agree with that approach.
Q So — but also there’s the issue — you’re talking about the hole was deep. Do you think that we could go back into that hole with another component of the economy, the possibility of gas prices going up to $5 a gallon?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this President remains concerned about oil prices and the effect an increase in gas prices can have on Americans across the country who are struggling to make ends meet. That’s been the case since the day he took office. It has been an issue that we are always focused on, as we were when there were price surges last year during the Arab Spring, and we continue to monitor that.
It’s why the President has the all-of-the-above, all-inclusive approach to energy development and production that I described earlier at this briefing. And again, it’s why it’s so important to have domestic oil and gas production increase as it has and to have our reliance on imports decrease as it has.
But this is long-term work, April, as you know. We need to take a multifaceted approach to developing oil and gas resources here at home, to developing clean energy sources as well as taking other measures to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and broadly — not just regarding the price of oil — but helping the middle class through the measures this President has put forward to get on sounder economic footing. That is the number-one objective — domestic objective that this President has.
Dan, did you have one?
Q Back to the Jobs Council and their recommendations, those that will require congressional approval. What are the chances that there will be any real progress there, when the President himself pointed out this morning that in an election year, it will be difficult to get some of these things done?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that is certainly often the case that election years can create a difficult environment for legislative action. However, there are notable exceptions to that. Those of us who were here in 1996 remember a great deal of cooperation between a Republican Congress and a Democratic President. We certainly hope that that will be the case this year. There’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s a lot of work that can only be done through legislative action, through the kind of bipartisan cooperation that this President has stood for since he took office. And there’s a great deal of opportunity out there for that kind of cooperation if leaders in Congress want to go in that direction, and if Republicans in particular want to go in that direction.
The President has put forward an agenda of economic and job-creating initiatives that are the kinds of initiatives that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, that have traditionally garnered the kind of Republican support in the past that has ensured that these kinds of measures become law — spending on our infrastructure, for example, the kinds of investments that help our economy in the long term but also put people back to work right away, idle construction workers who could be working right now if that element of the jobs act were passed by Congress and signed into law by this President. Certainly the President would endorse that and hope that — he hopes that happens.
And that’s true of a variety of measures that could be acted on if we can get the kind of bipartisan support that can be tough to find in an election year, but there is certainly precedent for it.
Q When the President views the economy overall, what does he rate it at right now? Where does he see it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t discussed it in those terms with him, but I know that he believes we are on a better path. The economy has been growing now for two years, roughly — I forget the number of quarters — but after shrinking considerably during the recession. The economy has been creating jobs — 3.2 million private sector jobs thus far. And that’s all — those are all good signs of positive progress.
But none of it is enough. This President is keenly aware of the fact that there are too many Americans out there who are still worried about losing their job or still looking for jobs and can’t find them. That’s why he’s focused on doing everything he can, working with Congress and using his executive authority, to address that need for economic security and the need to grow the economy further and create jobs.
Q One quick question — back on Newt Gingrich, also out on the trail today. Someone in the audience was asking him about getting tougher on the President and when he was going to bloody his nose, and he said, “I don’t want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out.” What do you, and what does the President, perhaps, think —
MR. CARNEY: I hadn’t heard those comments. But, look, the campaign trail is filled with exuberant rhetoric and I’ll just let that one pass.
Q I’m sorry if you’ve answered this in the past. The National Defense Authorization Act — the President expressed concern about the provision that would allow the military to indefinitely detain an American citizen. Last night at the debate — at the Republican debate, not only did Ron Paul express a concern about that provision but Rick Santorum, not known for being libertarian or liberal on these issues, said that he thought the way the law was before was more appropriate than this new law. Is President Obama doing anything to rescind this provision that gives the military this new power?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. I have talked about it in the past. But as you know, we had concerns with the legislation as it was written. We worked with the authors of the legislation and changes were made that allowed the President to sign the bill. And we have made clear in the signing of the legislation and in our discussions afterwards that the President retains the flexibility that he believes is essential for the Commander-in-Chief to make sure that our people in the field have all the tools necessary to do their job and that make sure that we are handling these matters in a way that are consistent with our values.
So we will implement the law in a way that makes that achievable.
Q But that’s a signing statement that says this is how you’re interpreting the law. But the law is the military now has the power to indefinitely detain an American citizen if they suspect them of terrorism. And I understand that the President is going to interpret it his way, but he’s not going to be the President forever. He might not even be the President for —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no updates for you on — since the law was just passed and signed.
Q There’s no update to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say that we made clear our concerns about it. We’ve made clear how we will approach implementation of it. And how this is revisited, if it is revisited, remains to be seen. But at this moment, I think the President has been very clear about the values he brings to it and the method — or rather the approach he will take when the law is implemented.
Q Would you disagree with the way that the civil liberties groups and Rick Santorum are interpreting the law? I mean, is it not —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just refer you to the President’s statement — signing statement about it.
Q But that’s not a declaration of — I’m not talking about how he’s going to implement it. I’m just talking about the law as it stands on the books.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand that, and we’ve made clear what our position is on how it needs to be implemented in a way that’s consistent with our values, in a way that — and in a way that maintains maximum flexibility for our operators in the field.
Q Well, let me just ask this final question. Are you comfortable with how any President in the future might interpret that law? Is the President comfortable?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you’re — that’s a hypothetical about the future, and in terms of how we will approach this issue in the future I don’t want to speculate. I can just point you to the way we have discussed it and the signing statement, as you mentioned, that the President used when he signed it into law.
Q Jay, the centerpiece of the President’s economic or tax policy has been that everybody pays their fair share. Mitt Romney, this morning, was asked about his tax rate. He said that he pays closer to the 15 percent rate. What does the President think of that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t discussed that with the President. I think you know, from what the President has said and others in the administration, that he believes very strongly that — or he agrees, rather, with Warren Buffett that those who are making millions of dollars — millionaires and billionaires, say — should not pay a lower effective tax rate than middle-class Americans. As Warren Buffett put it, he should not pay a much lower tax rate than his own administrative assistant, his own secretary.
The President shares that belief. And I think that this only illuminates what he believes is an issue, which is that everybody who’s working hard ought to pay their fair share, and that includes millionaires who might be paying an effective tax rate of 15 percent when folks making $50,000 or $75,000 or $100,000 a year are paying much more. He thinks we ought to fix that. And that is an element of the approach he takes in his economic proposals, as you know.
Q But Mitt Romney is just following the law, isn’t he?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not disagreeing with that. The President believes that we ought to change the law for that reason. His policies about the need for everybody to get a fair shot and to pay their fair share have been quite clear. We’ve had a lot of debates about it already with Congress, and I assume we’ll have a debate about it this year once the Republicans choose their nominee. The President feels very strongly that everybody needs to pay their fair share and that everybody, therefore, gets a fair shot at the American Dream. And that would apply to somebody paying 15 percent — an effective tax rate of 15 percent on millions of dollars of income.
Q We don’t know exactly the rate that Mitt Romney is paying because he has not released his tax returns. He says that he hadn’t — he said last night in the debate that he hadn’t planned on releasing his tax records but that most likely he’s going to get asked to do it in April.
MR. CARNEY: Well — what’s the question? Sorry. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. Chomping at the bit. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I was anticipating. But go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Why should he have to release his tax records?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s not for us to call on someone to release his tax records, but it is an established tradition for presidential candidates to release their tax records. Then-Senator Obama did release multiple years of his tax records, and obviously has released his tax records, as tradition dictates, since he’s been President. And the President is not unique in that regard. President George W. Bush, President Clinton, nominees for each party for years and years and years — I think going back to 1976, this has been a very standard tradition. And obviously we think it’s a good tradition. And that’s why then-Senator Obama released his tax records going back I think six or seven years when he was a candidate for President in the 2008 election cycle.
And I believe — I think it was a tradition that was initiated by then-presidential candidate George Romney, back in 1968, who released 12 years of tax records in ’68, as I understand it.
Q Can I just follow on Bill’s question about —
Q Just happened to know that? (Laughter.)
Q I just want to follow on Bill’s question about Gingrich last night saying that —
MR. CARNEY: I’m a student of presidential politics.
Q — more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any President in history. It is true that since Barack Obama has been President it’s gone up 45 percent — the number of people on food stamps. So what is inaccurate about what Speaker Gingrich said?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I answered this question already, Norah. I think everyone understands that this economy took a body blow in 2007, 2008, from which we are still recovering, and that that resulted in an economy that was contracting, that was shrinking at an historic pace, an economy —
Q — 2131 that the number of people has gone up more than any other President. You’re just saying it’s not the President’s fault?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m saying that it was the result of the worst recession since the Great Depression that was brought on by economic policies that certainly predate this President, and that this President has been working very hard with his team to try to fix, and working with Congress to try to fix and correct, so that we can grow, as we have been growing on his watch, so that we can create private sector jobs, as we have been doing — 3.2 million private sector jobs in the last many months.
And that’s the direction that we need to be going in. Not the direction that we were headed into when he took office three years ago almost to the day, when the economy was in freefall, when there was talk of another Great Depression, there was talk of unemployment as high as 25 percent potentially. Because of the actions that this President took working with Congress, we averted that absolute calamity. But the impact of the recession has been severe, and it’s been severe on the most vulnerable Americans, and it’s been severe on middle-class Americans who have had to struggle to make ends meet as a result of it.
And that’s why this President’s focus is so keenly on helping those Americans deal with this economy, emerge from the recession on sounder economic footing, and why he believes that the folks who benefitted the most from the previous 10 years, who saw their share of the nation’s wealth increase dramatically while middle-class Americans saw their incomes shrink or stagnate, that they need to pay their fair share — which goes back to the Buffett rule, and the idea that someone making millions of dollars should not pay a lower effective tax rate than somebody making 50 grand or 75 grand.
Q Thanks. Over the weekend, the White House expressed opposition to the current form of the Online Privacy Act. And I wonder whether it’s fair to describe this as the White House siding with Silicon Valley over Hollywood? And how important is it to the White House that some version of this bill pass?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe that that’s an accurate way to describe it. I think what you saw in the exposition of the administration’s position over the weekend was a keen focus on the need to do something serious about online piracy, especially by foreign websites. It’s a serious problem that requires serious legislative responses. But we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative, global Internet. And that’s the approach and the balance that we think needs to be taken as we work through this issue in Congress, and as the stakeholders who have a lot of important contributions to make to the debate engage with Congress as this legislation moves forward.
So we made very clear over the weekend our opposition to what’s called the DNS filter because we believe it creates a cyber security risk. And that’s something that we are a direct player in because obviously national security and cyber security are something that we are engaged in directly.
As far as the interests of private sector actors, I mean, there are legitimate concerns on both sides and those need to be addressed. That’s why we need to maintain Internet freedom; that’s why we need to do something serious about online piracy from foreign websites. But our position on this, the approach that we believe is the best approach to take we did spell out over the weekend as a result of the “We the People” petition.
Q Jay, you’ve said before from the podium the President spends I think about 10 percent of his time or some small number like that on the presidential campaign. So how did you know about George Romney’s 12 years of tax returns?
MR. CARNEY: I said that he spends. I do a lot of reading, Ed. (Laughter.) He didn’t tell me about that.
Q So your percentage is what, 30 or 40 percent?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, I just read that in probably an article that one of your colleagues wrote.
Q Okay. Now, I don’t know how many years — maybe you do — George Romney released of his college transcripts, but Republicans like to complain the President has not released his college transcripts. What is the stated reason for that?
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to the campaign. I mean, I think —
Q Is it a question you could take —
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I think we’ve answered this a bunch. I think that the tradition of releasing income tax records for presidential candidates, for serious potential nominees and nominees of the two parties is well established. It’s not a law, but it’s well established. And it’s one that this President abided by when he was a candidate as senator. It’s one that numerous Republicans and Democrats have abided by, and we just think it’s a good idea.
Q I want to go back to the Jobs Council, because it seems like the whole point has been — the narrative has been the President is acting on jobs and other things as part of the whole “We Can’t Wait” campaign. Republicans, as you can imagine, are very excited this morning to read the report, and it has a whole section, the President’s own Jobs Council saying that, as was talked about a little bit before, more oil and energy production — and his own Jobs Council says that this could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, which has really been a Republican talking point on Keystone, that it could create if not hundreds maybe tens of thousands of jobs, something you disagree —
MR. CARNEY: Or maybe six or seven. I mean, some jobs, that’s right.
Q Well, okay. So the President’s own Jobs Council now, though, seems to be agreeing with the Republicans that at least — they don’t specifically mention Keystone, but a lot of jobs could be created. Regardless of the number, a lot. So why hasn’t the President signed the certification yet?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the Jobs Council wasn’t talking about Keystone specifically. The Jobs Council was talking about the importance of expanding domestic oil and gas production, a goal this President shares and has expounded upon at length, and has taken action as a policy matter to demonstrate his commitment to, which —
Q Right, but the certification is sitting on his desk right now. So you say he’s taking action —
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, no, no.
Q — it’s ready to act on right now.
MR. CARNEY: What certification? You mean the —
Q The 60-day clock started running on the President signing —
MR. CARNEY: You’re talking about the congressional — the political ideological action by Congress to try to short-circuit a process that is long established —
Q Excuse me, but the President signed that into law, correct, even though you say it’s ideological?
MR. CARNEY: And you —
Q He signed it into law, though, right? Did he?
MR. CARNEY: You apparently know that there is no alternate route yet in Nebraska, right?
Q Sure, but he signed this into law that he had 60 days to decide. It’s on his desk. You’re saying he’s acting on this. Why hasn’t he acted on Keystone?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the State Department runs this process, as you know, which is a precedent that long predates this administration. The delay in the review was a result of concerns in Nebraska about the route by which the pipeline was meant to take — the route the pipeline was meant to take through Nebraska and how it would affect the aquifer there — concerns that were expressed by a number of stakeholders there, including the Republican governor of Nebraska.
When the State Department decided that those concerns were legitimate and there needed to be an alternate route, that began another process, and this process requires the careful weighing of a variety of criteria, and that has always been the case.
Everyone — a lot of people, and certainly we made clear back in December that a political effort to short-circuit that process for ideological reasons would be counterproductive because a proper review that weighed all the important issues in this case could not be achieved in 60 days — according to the State Department, which, again, runs this review process.
I don’t have any updates for you. I refer you to the State Department on where that stands now that the legislation has been signed into law. But it is a fallacy to suggest that the President should sign into law something when there isn’t even an alternate route identified in Nebraska and when the review process is — there was an attempt to short-circuit the review process in a way that does not allow the kind of careful consideration of all the competing criteria here that needs to be done.
Q So shouldn’t the council report say we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs if we wait three or four years?
MR. CARNEY: I understand that you’re trying to conflate —
Q But there’s an expectation that you’re creating jobs.
MR. CARNEY: You’re trying to conflate something here that the Jobs Council didn’t say. The Jobs Council supports increased oil and gas production, which the President supports and, in fact, as I read out earlier, has taken action on. The President believes, for example, that natural gas is an important component of our energy future and he is very supportive of exploiting that resource in this country in a safe and responsible manner going forward, as he is — and as he has shown he is with regards to oil production here in the United States.
He also is committed to an all-of-the-above approach, including the development of clean energy resources here in the United States, all with the aim of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. And the fact of the matter is domestic production is up and imports are down.
We will continue to pursue this all-of-the-above approach because it’s the right thing for the United States, it’s the right thing for our national security and it’s the right thing for our economic security.
Q Just a couple things from the campaign trail. Does the President have any reaction to the departure of his former ambassador to China from the Republican nomination process?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any for you. No, I haven’t — much to the chagrin of a lot of people, I haven’t talked politics with him today.
Q Does the President have any reaction — I know this is probably another no — but does the President have any reaction to the entry of Stephen Colbert into the — (laughter) — Republican process?
MR. CARNEY: I have none to report.
Q Does he think that there’s a point to be made about super PACs?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just haven’t had the — I haven’t spent my valuable time with him today talking about these issues.
Q And lastly, if I could go 0-for-4, does the President have —
MR. CARNEY: You could try one that I can answer. (Laughter.)
Q — any concern — let everyone else do that. (Laughter.) Does the President have any concerns about moving his acceptance speech of the Democratic nomination to the Bank of America stadium?
MR. CARNEY: The President — well, first of all, I would refer you for more information about this to the campaign. But the President looks forward to delivering his acceptance speech in a stadium with a large capacity, much as he did in Denver in 2008. That allows for greater participation by Americans from all walks of life. That’s the reason why he did it in 2008 at Invesco Field, and that’s why he’ll do it later this year in Charlotte. That’s the biggest venue, and he looks forward to holding that event and delivering his acceptance speech before tens of thousands of Americans in person, as well as, we certainly hope, many millions of Americans watching on television.
Q So the choice was made based on the size of the venue?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. He wants as many Americans as possible — as was the case in 2008 — to be able to participate.
Q Want to move the State of the Union to a stadium? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: That would be a great idea. (Laughter.)
Q Where does the State of the Union stand? How far has he gotten along with it? Will he be able to incorporate any of the long-range jobs proposals, particularly something like significant tax reform? And is this speech this year, because it’s a reelection year, a far more political approach than he would have last year?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to preview any specifics. I can say that he’s obviously engaged in the process of deciding what he wants to say in the State of the Union address, the issues he wants to address, the policy proposals that he wants to include. I think that it will be, as is tradition, something that is very substantive, a speech that will contain a lot of policy substance. And I think that he looks forward to the opportunity to describe his vision going forward to the American people about the kinds of things that he can do and that he can do with Congress to help the American economy grow and to help middle-class Americans feel more economically secure.
Look, there are going to be a lot of opportunities, including in Charlotte, for the President to give political speeches. This will be heavy on substance.
Q Well, but you talked a moment ago about this being a difficult environment in an election year for legislation. Will he be more along the track of, I’m going to do things my way without the help of Congress?
MR. CARNEY: I think he will echo the themes that we’ve been talking about, he’s been talking about, for a long time now — I mean, broadly speaking, that he’s been talking about since he began running for this office back in 2007, which is the need to help the middle class, which even prior to the beginning of the recession had been under a great deal of stress. That will be a theme that you’ll hear certainly at the State of the Union address. And he’ll talk about the need to do everything he can legislatively, working with Congress, as well as the imperative that he do everything he can using his executive authority to help the American people, to protect them, to give them greater economic security.
Those are themes that you’ll hear. But they are also themes that you have heard from him, and there will be a great deal of consistency in that.
Q Sounds pretty familiar.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I — again, there will be, I think — there will be plenty of things within the speech that you will consider new and newsworthy.
Q Just a quick follow on that and, in fact, a theme. Will we hear the phrase, “win the future,” or is that a line of the past?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to preview specific elements of the State of the Union address from here today.
Q Thanks, Jay. During the Jobs Council meeting, the President talked about the consolidation authority proposal that he’s going to be sending to the Hill. Is that legislative language complete, and is the goal to send that to the Hill before the State of the Union?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get an update for you on that. I know that we will be sending proposed legislation to the Hill. I don’t have a specific day for you.
Q Do you know if there have been any phone calls, letters written, sort of ahead of sending the legislation?
MR. CARNEY: I expect there has been communication at least at a staff level, but also, I’m sure, with some members about it — those members who take a specific interest in it. The President looks forward to Congress taking action on this. This goes back to some of the questions that I had earlier about whether or not there’s the potential for bipartisan cooperation in this election year, if you will. And I think this is a perfect indication of an opportunity — consolidating government, streamlining it, making it more efficient, and writing into law through the consolidation authority the requirement that the President who receives that authority use it in a way that reduces costs I think is something that every American should support and certainly that Republicans would normally be supportive of.
So with any luck, Republicans as well as Democrats will support granting the President consolidation authority. And then he can move on the first initiative, which Jeff Zients described for you last week, which is to bring under one roof the six agencies that deal with promoting American business and our competitiveness abroad.
Q And, Jay, on Iran, the OPEC governor there said on Tuesday that a European embargo on Iranian oil would be “economic suicide for Europe.” Does the administration still view the tone that’s coming out of Iran to be suggestive of the fact that their currency is in a downward spiral? Or is there a real concern that we could, in fact, be nearing some sort of a military engagement with them?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is no doubt that the concerted effort of this administration, working with our international partners and allies, to implement the most stringent sanctions against Iran in history have had a significant impact on Iran, on the Iranian economy, and have contributed to the fissures within the Iranian leadership that many of your colleagues have reported on. They are also probably a precipitating factor in the kind of provocative statements and diversionary tactics that the Iranians have used to try to change the subject from the fact that they will not abide by their international obligations, and that is why they are the subject of this kind of pressure and this kind of isolation.
We will keep up that pressure, and we will keep up the effort to work with our allies and partners to further isolate Iran, even as we make clear that there is a solution here, and that is for Iran to get right with the international community; that is for Iran to abandon efforts to pursue nuclear weapons and to abide by its international commitments. That’s the path forward for Iran. We will continue the effort to isolate and pressure Iran, working with our international partners going forward. We think it’s been effective. And we hope that the Iranian leadership will choose the path of working with the international community to abide by its obligations.
MR. CARNEY: Steve.
Q Just to follow up on that, that view of the sanctions doesn’t seem to be shared by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who said yesterday that they would only be real and effective if they included petroleum sanctions, sanctions on the central bank. And there were reports also that the administration had asked Israel not to take a unilateral early strike against Iran. Is it fair to say that the U.S. and Israel are not on the same page on the speed and method of deterring Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the remarks that I believe the Prime Minister made to The Australian actually were of a different nature, where he talked about the effectiveness of the sanctions regime. And we certainly share that view. Israel is a key ally and partner, and Israel has a profound interest in the effort to pressure Iran into abiding by its international obligations, as do many nations in the region and the world.
We believe, as I was just describing to Kristen, that that effort is unprecedented — I mean, it is a demonstrable fact that it is unprecedented that we have the kind of international consensus, the likes of which we have not seen in the past — certainly, the kind of consensus that did not exist prior to this President taking office — and that that has made the fact of Iran’s noncompliance all the clearer to the international community. And it has contributed to the kind of international — or internal, rather, tension that you’ve seen within Iran, and it’s certainly had a dramatic impact — a significant impact on the Iranian economy.
Q So you take the Israeli position to be what was expressed in the interview with The Australian, and not what Netanyahu has said —
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m simply saying that you can cherry-pick some of the quotes. We have worked very closely with the Israeli government, with the Prime Minister, as we do on a number of issues, and we believe that the approach we’ve taken has put unprecedented pressure on Iran to change its behavior. It has isolated Iran far more effectively than past efforts. And we certainly hope that — and we will continue to ratchet up the pressure and the isolation, working with our allies, until Iran abides by its international obligations and works with the international community in a way that assures all of us that it is not and will not pursue a nuclear weapon.
Q When the President meets with the King, King Abdullah, shortly, how important will the effort to talk Israel out of a military strike on Iran be?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any specifics to provide to you about a conversation that has not yet taken place. There are a variety of issues that the King and the President will discuss, including the Middle East peace process, including Syria, including the King’s efforts towards reform in Jordan, which we support.
I would note with regard to Syria that one of the signs of desperation that we’ve seen in the Assad regime is the fact that they — that the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani, visited Damascus, and the fact that Assad is relying on essentially his last friend for support in his repression against his own people I think makes all the clearer that his time has come. He must go. He must step down.
Q The Italian cruise ship? The Italian ship?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q Thank you. Have you been in touch with the Prime Minister or Italian authorities? Do you have any comments? And does this disaster make any statements on Americans taking ships that might be under foreign control, that they’re in danger perhaps?
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I would refer you to the State Department where I think they’ve been handling questions about Americans aboard the cruise ship. But this is obviously a terrible tragedy. We’ve all seen the horrific images and our hearts go out to the families of the victims — both American and from everywhere else. But in terms of the other questions you had about it, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Is President Obama going to call the Italian —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any updates on foreign leader calls.
Q Needless to say that the State of the Union will be focusing on domestic issues, the economy, et cetera. How much of this State of the Union will be focused on an international audience, especially in terms of what my colleagues just mentioned, as well as the euro and the European countries being downgraded by S&P?
MR. CARNEY: I will ask you to listen and read the speech. I’m not going to preview it for you here. As part of the tradition of the State of the Union address, I think it will be broadly cast, but I don’t want to get into percentages about how much on domestic issues, how much on international, which ones have more attention. We’ll let you guys judge that after he speaks.
Q Jay, I want to ask you about a settlement that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached early this month with a military contractor called Dyncorp. A straight employee there was allegedly harassed based on his perceived sexual orientation, and when he complained the company did nothing. He was awarded $155,000, but the company isn’t required to change its non-discrimination policy to include protections based on sexual orientation. Dyncorp receives more than 96 percent of its revenue from federal contracts that amount to $2 billion each year, making it the 32nd largest federal contractor. Does the White House have a problem with companies having policies allowing this kind of anti-gay harassment if they receive this amount of federal money?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, why don’t I take that question because I know none of the details that you just described, so I wouldn’t — I don’t want to make a general statement about it since I know nothing about the specifics. But I’ll take the question.
Q — very misleading generally speaking –*
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to do — you just listed a number of details about a case that I don’t have any information on, so why don’t we take that question and I’ll get back to you.
Yes, Washington Times.
Q Jay, back on food stamps for a second. What policies did Newt Gingrich advocate as speaker 15 years ago that now are resulting in more people —
MR. CARNEY: No, I said that the economic policies that contributed to the great recession were supported by and are being proposed by I believe all of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination. I mean that’s a fact, so —
Q What specific policies —
MR. CARNEY: Well, are you contesting that the economic policy — that economic policy had nothing to do with — I mean the approach, say, to regulating Wall Street that was taken by — in the lead-up to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, that’s not an approach this President shares. And yet we’ve heard from every major Republican candidate that they would abolish Dodd-Frank, the reforms — the Wall Street reforms that this President signed into law.
We are — astoundingly you hear from some folks who are out running for office that they would not only either water down or abolish those important Wall Street reforms, but they would further reduce regulation of the very financial sector that contributed so mightily to the economic hardship of so many millions and millions of Americans. That’s just an approach we disagree with, and we look forward to the debate with whomever emerges from the primary process.
Yes, and then all the way in the back.
Q Thank you, Jay. Some supporters of the Occupy movement on the Hill this morning had a huge banner saying, “Liberals admit it, Obama let you down.” How worried is the President that the most liberal of his supporters won’t show up on Election Day?
MR. CARNEY: These are questions I would direct to the campaign. This President is focused on the job he needs to do as President of the United States, and he is focused primarily, when it comes to domestic policy, on continuing the recovery, improving growth, improving job creation.
We have had some positive signs in the economic picture, but we have a lot more work to do. We have over the last many months seen the creation of 3.2 million private sector jobs, but we have a lot more that need to be created in this country so that we can get to the point where every American who wants a job and is looking for a job can find a job. So that’s what this President is focused on.
I think that he looks forward to the debate about who has the better economic plan, who has the best blueprint for our economic future. But that time hasn’t come. He’s now focused on the work that he can do as President of the United States, working with Congress, working with his — working through his executive authority, working with the private sector, to do what he can do improve the American economy and improve the job picture, as well as, obviously, our national security.
Q But he understands that they’re — some of them are very disappointed with the type of —
MR. CARNEY: I think this President is very focused on the job he needs to do. The fact is that Americans of every persuasion support the idea that we need to take action to help the economy grow, support the idea that we need to do the kinds of things that can put more Americans back to work. That message that the President brought when he put forward the American Jobs Act was supported by a broad majority of the American people, including progressives, as well as independents and even conservatives. So he’s going to keep pushing that agenda, keep pushing that approach, and he’ll let the politics of this take care of itself.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you very much.
Q Happy birthday to the First Lady.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you very much, on her behalf.
1:43 P.M. EST