Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 18, 2012 – 1:44 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. It is always a pleasure to see you. I have a couple of things I want to say at the top.
First, following the President’s State of the Union address, he will begin a five-state, three-day swing across the country. He will begin his trip with a visit to the Cedar Rapids area, followed by an event in the Phoenix area, before traveling to Las Vegas on January 25th.
On January 26th, the President will hold events in the Las Vegas area and the Denver area before traveling to Detroit that evening. The following day, January 27th, the President will deliver remarks in the Detroit area before returning to Washington, D.C.
More details, including information about the President’s events and media credentialing, will be released as they are available.
Secondly, I want to anticipate a number of questions you may have on a particular subject based on reporting, sourcing and anonymous sources about the Keystone pipeline. And I just want to get it out of the way up front that I’m not going to confirm any reports. I’m not going to get ahead of the administration, of the Secretary of State or the President. We may have more information for you about that later today, but I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary of State or the President.
I would simply ask that you review the facts here, which is that in a precedent established long ago that has held through many administrations, both Democratic and Republican, pipelines like Keystone that cross transnational borders, as this one would, the permits for those pipelines have been reviewed in a process led by the State Department. That was the case here.
When, in the case of the Keystone pipeline, concerns were raised about the environmental impacts on the air and water quality in Nebraska by, among others, the governor of Nebraska, a Republican, a decision was made that an alternate route be sought, and that, therefore, the process had to be delayed so that an adequate review could be undertaken, following the same standards that have always been in place, that were in place in the beginning of this process for this particular pipeline, and that have been in place for these kinds of projects for many years.
In a purely partisan effort to score a political point, Republicans in Congress insisted on inserting an extraneous provision within a bill that had nothing to do with pipelines, but was a bill to extend a tax cut to 160 million Americans — a tax cut that this President fought very hard to get and to extend.
Even prior to the signing of that legislation, the State Department, which, again, reviews this process, made clear that setting an arbitrary deadline through this purely political effort would put the State Department in a corner, would severely hamper their ability to review an alternative route and a new pipeline route in the proper way, a way that has long been established by precedent and that would take into consideration all the criteria that are so important in decisions like this: economic impact, national security impact, environmental impact, the effect on the water that our children breathe — or rather water our children drink and the air that they breathe.
They made clear at the State Department in a statement prior to the signing of this legislation that imposing an arbitrary 60-day deadline on this process would make it virtually impossible for an adequate review to take place of a route, an alternate route, that to this day does not yet exist.
So I am simply reviewing the facts as we know them.
Q Yes, but he signed the law that says he had to do that.
MR. CARNEY: And we made clear — well, he signed a law that forced a decision to be made in an arbitrary fashion, no question. And I don’t have an announcement about any decision that would be forthcoming on that. But I’m just reviewing the facts as they existed yesterday as well as today.
Q The facts are the law says that —
MR. CARNEY: Let me get Erica.
Q But to follow up on that, you’re saying that you don’t want to get ahead of the President or the State Department, but the law specifies that it is the President’s decision. So is there any reason that this announcement would come from the State Department —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to get into details about — I’ve made clear that we may have more information for you on that later today, and I’ll look to that — I would urge you to look to that for guidance on that question.
Q And just to be clear, are you saying that there has not been a decision made, or you’re not —
MR. CARNEY: I’m not saying one way or the other regarding that.
Q And can you speak to some of the Republican criticism that’s already coming out, anticipating what the decision will be, that the President hates jobs, et cetera? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I did anticipate some of that in my opening remarks, but I would make clear that there is a proper process that has existed for many years and many administrations by which a project like this is reviewed and a permit is either granted or denied. Because of concerns expressed by numerous stakeholders, including the Republican governor of Nebraska, it was decided that an alternate route through Nebraska was necessary. The choosing of that alternate route has not even been completed yet.
The State Department, which conducts and oversees this multiagency review process, made clear at the time, in December, that inserting this extraneous provision in an attempt to get a political victory — because for some reason extending a tax cut to 160 million Americans wasn’t victory enough — the Republicans put in jeopardy a process that should be immune from politics, should be conducted on the basis of pragmatic and considered analysis, and tried to hijack it through that. And the State Department warned that that would create serious problems.
So the President’s commitment to job creation has been amply demonstrated by the policies that he has pursued, that he has signed into law, that have contributed considerably to the creation of 3.2 million private sector jobs. They’ve been demonstrated by his fierce commitment to doing everything he can, both working with Congress and acting independently, to further assist the economy as it recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, to further assist the economy as it creates more jobs — most notably, recently, his proposal, the American Jobs Act, which if the Republicans were committed to job creation they would join with him in making sure that all of the provisions of that law became — of that proposal became law, including the provision that would put 400,000 teachers and first responders back to work, the provision that would help us rebuild our infrastructure and put idle constructions workers back to work — hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans who would have jobs were the Republicans to finish the work of passing the American Jobs Act.
So that would be my answer to that criticism.
Q You say that the move by Congress to force the President and the State Department to make a decision within 60 days about this pipeline is partisan. How is it any less political for the President, faced with a difficult choice between jobs and environmental concerns — the two important constituencies for his reelection — to say, you know what, I’m going to delay a decision on this until after the reelection in November 2012? How is that any less political than what Congress did?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because there is an established process by which these reviews are conducted. When, because of the concerns expressed by many stakeholders, including the Republican governor of Nebraska, a decision was made that an alternate route needed to be considered, that process needed to be delayed and the full review needed to be conducted on the alternate route. I mean, that’s the way this process is supposed to work.
Q What would have happened if the President hadn’t intervened? If the President hadn’t —
MR. CARNEY: The State Department — first of all, again, the decision to create an alternate route was made based on the requests of stakeholders affected by the original route, including, again, the governor of Nebraska and others in that state. And that necessitated, as deemed by the State Department, which has to conduct this review, the postponement, and the allowance of enough time to thoroughly review the new route.
Again, I think it’s important to note that, as the State Department made clear, 60 days is simply not enough time. We don’t even have an alternate route identified yet, so how could anyone possibly review it thoroughly, in the manner that is expected in this process?
So the point is, is that these things are supposed to be decided in a methodical, responsible manner so that all these criteria are properly weighed, because a decision like this has long-term implications for our economy and for our environment, for our national security. And those criteria all have to be considered as the decision is being made.
The effort to score a political point, in a process that was wholly unrelated, because they were unhappy about the fact that the President was pushing for a payroll tax cut extension for 160 million Americans, I don’t think makes a lot of substantive sense in terms of the issue that proponents of that course say they care about, which is a decision that needs to be made on a pipeline and the potential economic — positive economic impacts that that would have. You got to let the process unfold the way it’s supposed to unfold without this kind of extraneous political interference, and then a decision would be made on the merits.
Q Would you clear this up, though?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q The President signed this into law. It says that unless he finds that it is not in the national interest of the United States, within 60 days, then the project will go ahead, he takes no action. It leaves the State Department out of the equation and puts it squarely on the President.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to preview for you any information we might have about this process or decision prior to that taking place. I’m not quibbling with the legislation the President signed into law. I am making a broader statement about who conducts the review, and the fact that the State Department, which, again, through decades of precedent, conducts this review, made clear back in December what it felt the impact would be of an arbitrary deadline set by — for political reasons.
So if your issue is like — if your concern here is who’s going to make the decision, I’ll suggest you wait for the decision to be made.
Q The logical extension of that would be that the President would find that it’s not in the national interest, just go ahead —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to what the State Department said, that it would be impossible — or highly unlikely, if not impossible, to conduct a proper review of an alternate route that, again, on January 18, 2011, does not even exist, so how could you possibly review it?
Q Doesn’t he have to do it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’d point you to the future, 2012 — what did I say? I don’t think I’ve made that mistake in any checks I’ve written so far this month.
Q Hasn’t the Nebraska governor said that he doesn’t have these concerns anymore and he’s okay? Because you keep citing him, but he’s since said —
MR. CARNEY: He’s not okay with the original route. That was one of the primary reasons why this —
Q But he said it should go forward while an alternate route is looked at, though.
MR. CARNEY: You don’t grant a permit for a pipeline with a significant portion of it missing.
Q Yes, but you keep citing that he’s opposed, but he’s saying —
MR. CARNEY: He was opposed —
MR. CARNEY: His opposition was important to the decision to seek an alternate route, which then delayed the process. And then the process requires the permitting of the full pipeline. It’s not a partial proposition.
I want to go to Alister.
Q Can we stay on this?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we can.
Q Just — I’m going to change the subject very quickly. (Laughter.) Officials in Iran have said that they reached out to Western powers to discuss restarting negotiations over their nuclear program soon. So do you have any response to that? And could you talk about your — the administration’s attitude towards getting back to the negotiating table with Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position has been clear and has not changed for a long, long time here. We have made clear from the beginning, when the President took office, that the path is open to Iran to get right with the international community, to fulfill its international obligations, abide by its commitments, and that the international community, including the United States, would be willing to work with Iran if it were willing to do that — to ensure, for example, that it had access to nuclear technology for non-military purposes. And that stands.
Iran’s behavior and its refusal to engage in serious discussions about this issue, its refusal to live up to its international obligations, its persistence in pursuing a nuclear program in a manner that’s not consistent with those international obligations has led to the consistent ratcheting up of pressure on Iran, led by the United States, but together with many, many international allies and partners, and that process continues.
And it has put enormous pressure on Iran. It has isolated Iran. And that continues. But the fact remains that there is an alternate course here available to Iran should it respond to the letter from the P5-plus-1 and be willing to live up to its obligations. This is a simple choice that has been available to Iran from the beginning.
Q Thank you, Jay. In general, the President doesn’t oppose the construction of pipelines. After all, this is just an extension of an existing one. Overall, the President thinks that they’re an important part of the oil infrastructure?
MR. CARNEY: Definitely. And I think that’s an important point to make, which I think I made yesterday, which is that this President’s commitment to expanding domestic oil and gas production is firm, and has been demonstrated by the fact that, again, in 2011, as was the case in 2010, the United States produced more oil and gas than at any time since 2003.
And he has continued to make more territory available, both in the Gulf and in Alaska and elsewhere, to production and development. And he has done that in a way that at the same time maintains the standards of safety and responsible development that he thinks are key.
So he takes an all-of-the-above approach here. He believes firmly that we need to continue to exploit, if you will, our domestic resources. We need to continue to invest in clean energy technologies. And doing so, taking this approach that includes oil, natural gas, nuclear power and other clean energy technologies, is the best energy policy and the surest way to ensure that we increase — improve our national security and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
And so this is not an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and. You can do this, you can increase domestic oil and gas production, as has been the case on his watch, and do it in a safe and responsible way. And doing it in a safe and responsible way includes ensuring that the proper reviews are conducted for a proposal like this Keystone pipeline, in accordance with longstanding bipartisan tradition in multiple administrations.
Q This, of course, is an extension to Canadian oilfields. Does he had an opinion on tar sands and whether those are an appropriate place to —
MR. CARNEY: The President is a firm believer in the fact that we need — that we can and we must develop energy sources in a safe and responsible way. And obviously there are — you have to take a lot of factors into consideration when you do that. \
The overall issue here is about economic security and national security. And that’s why it is so important to embrace the possibility of further development and ensure that we do it in a way that’s safe and responsible. And that’s true for oil, it’s true for natural gas, it’s true for nuclear and it’s true for clean air technology — I mean, sorry, clean energy technology. Getting ahead of myself.
Mr. Henry, again.
Q Thank you very much. Can I follow up on Iran real quick and then a question on taxes? You said in your answer to Alister, by talking about the P5-plus-1, and that is a channel the U.S. can use. But there’s a lawmaker in Iran and the foreign minister in Iran are both on the record saying that a letter has come from President Obama directly to the Supreme Leader saying that there should be direct U.S.-Iranian talks. Has such a letter been written, and are you open to direct talks?
MR. CARNEY: Our position has not changed. Any communications we may have had with — or may have with the Iranians are the same in private as they have been in public, and that is along the lines of what I just restated in terms of our position and our policy. The P5-plus-1 structure is in place. If the Iranians are serious about restarting talks, then they need to respond to that letter. That is the channel by which — the mode by which the restarting of those talks would take place.
Again, our expression of our position is the same in private as it is in public. The statement that there is a path here towards renewed talks and a path here for Iran to pursue if it so chooses that would allow it to get right with the international community, that would allow it to stop the process that has isolated it further and further, has been apparent from the beginning and it remains available to Iran to this day.
But Iran has shown no inclination thus far to make that choice, to make that decision. And what we have seen over the three years since this President has been in office is he has — by pursuing the Iranian issue in the way that he has, he has ensured that a world that was in conflict over this issue is now united — an international community — and an Iran that was united is now in conflict. And that is the effect that the President’s policies have had on Iran and on this process. He has brought to bear a level of consensus in the international community on the need to pressure Iran and isolate Iran on this issue that did not exist prior to him taking office.
Q But can you address going back to the ’08 campaign, then-Republican-candidate John McCain was complaining that direct talks with Iran that the President had talked about then in the campaign would show weakness because why would you sit down with a country for direct talks —
MR. CARNEY: The President has always made clear —
Q — wipe Israel off the map?
MR. CARNEY: — the process by which negotiations or talks would take place is the P5-plus-1. The President has always made clear that — as he did when he took office, as he stated during the campaign — that by offering the possibility of resolving this dispute with the Iranians through negotiations and talks would strengthen the United States’ hand, because if Iran agreed to do that and fulfilled its international obligations and abandoned its nuclear — its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, that would be to the greater good and in the interest of the United States as well as its allies and partners around the world.
And if it did not, it would be clear to the whole world that Iran was the problem here — not the United States. And that is exactly what has happened. We have a level of international consensus about Iranian behavior that we did not have before. We have a situation where Iran’s economy is clearly suffering from the effects of the international sanctions regime, as well as the unilateral sanctions that various nations have placed on Iran. And that isolation has caused disunity within the Iranian leadership and made clear to the world that they have isolated themselves outside of international norms.
Q The last thing, on taxes. Yesterday, when Norah asked you about Mitt Romney saying that his tax rate is around 15 percent — this gets back to the old thing that you mentioned, the President has mentioned, about Warren Buffett paying less than his secretary because of the rate that capital gains are taxed. What is the President’s — from a policy standpoint, what then is his solution? I mean, he’s talked about various things like the Buffett Rule and whatnot, but in terms of law, is it to bring capital gains tax rates up closer to income tax rates so that’s more fair? Is it — what is his prescription then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, Ed, and it’s a legitimate one. The President has made clear what his principles are in terms of tax reform. He is for both corporate tax reform and individual tax reform. And one of the principles that he would bring to the table in the development of individual tax reform is the Buffett Rule, which would ensure that millionaires and billionaires, because of the nature of their income, do not pay at a lower rate than middle-class Americans — that Warren Buffett does not pay a lower rate in taxes than his secretary, as Mr. Buffett himself has said.
How you get there is a matter that I will leave to the President and others to propose, because tax reform is a — there are many ways to skin the cat, and it’s a complicated process. But the principle of the Buffett Rule is one that he believes is very important, because it goes right to the situation we were talking about yesterday and that you raise, and that is that it simply, as a matter of fairness, does not make a lot of sense for millionaires and billionaires to be able to pay taxes at a much lower rate than somebody making $100,000 a year or less.
And so that is a principle he would bring to bear here. It is particularly — there are a variety of ways that — there are a variety of loopholes within the tax code that — or elements of the tax code, as well as loopholes within it, that create that situation, not least of which — and he’s identified this — is the carried interest loophole, that allows hedge fund managers and private equity managers to take income for their labor and have it taxed at a capital gains rate.
The President believes that’s just — in the world that we live in right now, when middle-class Americans are struggling, when they’ve seen their wages stagnate or decline, when there’s enormous economic pressure on hardworking American families, that’s just not fair. And we have important things that we need to do to ensure that America is strong and that our economy is powerful in the 21st century. And so we need to make sure that everyone has a fair shot and everyone pays a fair share.
Q Hi, Jay. Back on Keystone, realistically, a timeline
— now that there’s been a rejection, what’s the timeline as far as an alternative route. What do you think that — when do you think you’ll —
MR. CARNEY: I refer, April — first of all, I don’t have any announcements to make regarding any decisions on this, so I would just take issue with your question in that regard. But —
Q You’re giving us answers, so you didn’t take issue —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve been reviewing facts that have been true prior to today.
As for pipeline proposals of the nature that are — of the nature of Keystone that are transnational, I mean, those would go through the normal channels, through the State Department. And their duration in terms of the review process would be — again, absent extraneous, political interference, would take place in the normal manner. But that’s just the way the process exists.
Q — in a 60-day process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the 60-day thing was the arbitrary element inserted into an unrelated tax cut bill. But that’s not how the process works. The process works in the manner that the State Department has run — designed and run it for many years.
Q And the reason why I ask that question is because there are already concerns about the fact that “tens of thousands of jobs” will be lost because of this rejection. So would you consider this more so of a deferment of job creation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just make clear here, as the State Department decided and the President concurred, the review process was extended because of a decision to change the route. That process should be allowed to take its course. The review should be allowed to be conducted in the appropriate way with all factors weighed and considered, overseen by the State Department. That is certainly the way this thing should happen.
Unfortunately, because of the decision by Republicans to insert this extraneous provision within a tax cut bill, there is this arbitrary deadline of 60 days, forcing the administration’s hand. But again, the broader process will continue to work the way it has always worked, again, predating this administration.
Q But I’m talking about the issue of job creation that comes from this and while people are screaming that tens of thousands of jobs are lost now because —
MR. CARNEY: April, you have — these projects — you have to weigh a variety of considerations: economic impact, environmental impact, health and safety, national security — and that’s the way it should be.
There are hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders who could go back to work right away if Congress would act on the American Jobs Act, if Republicans would stop blocking the provisions within the American Jobs Act that this President proposed and Democrats support.
There are tens of thousands of construction workers — infrastructure jobs, not unlike the building of a pipeline — who could be going back to work rebuilding our infrastructure, making us more competitive for the 21st century, if Republicans would support, as they often have in the past, the kind of infrastructure investments that are included in the American Jobs Act.
And again, as we’ve said earlier — I’ve said earlier this month in briefings, we remain optimistic that that kind of cooperation could be forthcoming this year, because it really is incumbent upon every elected member of Congress as well as the President to work together towards the goal of improving our economy and creating jobs.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just to follow up a bit on what April was asking, the bottom line is the Keystone pipeline has become a political lighting rod this year. So what’s the administration’s level of concern that the debate itself has really in some ways pitted this administration against some unions who are saying this would put them back to work?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that on issues like this there is a non-political, professional process that has been in place, was established long before this administration came to office, and is the proper way to conduct the reviews for applications for permits for these kinds of transnational projects. That review process is run by the State Department. It was being run by the State Department. A change in the route was made because of concerns expressed — legitimate concerns expressed by stakeholders in Nebraska and elsewhere. And because of that, the process had to be extended.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. There are a lot of factors to weigh in these kinds of decisions, including national security factors, issues of the health and safety of our children and the residence of folks in the area of any proposed pipeline, economic impacts, job impacts, the effect on our energy security. And that’s the kind of process that the State Department oversees. It involves input from many agencies. And that’s the way this should proceed. It should not become, as you say, highly political in the way that it has become because of the decision to insert an extraneous provision within a tax cut bill.
Q I understand there is a non-political process, but given that we’re in a reelection year, isn’t it impossible for this not to take some sort of a political —
MR. CARNEY: It’s up to others to decide how political they want to be about any kind of decision like this. This President, this administration, is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing these matters in a way that’s appropriate, that takes into consideration all the different criteria that need to be brought to bear in a decision like this. And that’s the approach the State Department has taken and the President has taken, and will continue to take.
Q And just to ask one quick one on another topic, Jay. Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as you know, back in August, raised some concerns over Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming Osama bin Laden movie, raised some concerns that there were potentially some classified information that was leaked about the kill and capture of Osama bin Laden. Last week, the CIA and the Defense Department officially opened an investigation up into this project. What’s the administration’s reaction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the CIA and the Defense Department are part of the administration. And I would point you to them and their announcement of their look into this.
What I made clear at the time is that there was some loose reporting in a column about what the White House did. And I made clear that in discussing that mission and those days with folks involved in making this film or writing books or articles or doing TV pieces, we said all the same things and none of it was classified.
Q And you’re confident that this investigation —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would refer you to the Defense Department and the CIA — with regard to that — because I was part of that process — with regard to the White House’s engagement with reporters like everyone in this room, practically, as well as others who were working on magazine articles or books or films, we provided the same information to everybody, and none of it was classified.
Q My question is a process question. Why, knowing as you do the interest in the Keystone issue, and knowing as you do that this decision is going to be announced later today, why would you announce it after the briefing, and therefore put yourself in a position where you won’t answer any questions about it and where we won’t have an opportunity —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going anywhere. You know you guys can ask me questions. I’m here most days.
Q Okay. All right.
MR. CARNEY: You’re welcome to fill a seat.
Q I’ll call you after the decision comes out.
MR. CARNEY: I know it’s hard to believe, but the schedule of decision-making and policy processes and stuff are not all dependent on my schedule, or the briefing schedule, or the communications shop. And that’s how it should be. So, again, you guys probably don’t like me to brief in the middle of the evening or something, so I would just point you to the fact that we may have something more to say about this later today.
Q Thanks. On Keystone, without confirming a rejection, can you explain to us what a rejection would mean? In other words — (laughter.) No, no, I’m not — I’m totally serious.
Q No, good question.
Q Okay, so if TransCanada has to submit a new route, does that just — like, does the clock start at zero again? Are we looking at another 10-year process? You can say that House Republicans forced their hand on that, but I’m trying to understand what does — what would a rejection mean. Would a rejection mean —
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me make two points —
Q — begin at the complete beginning?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me make two points. First of all, these reviews are conducted by the State Department, and the details of how they work are best explained by the State Department.
However, I would point out that absent the payroll tax cut and the insertion of an extraneous provision within it that had created this arbitrary 60-day deadline, there was a process in place that wasn’t 10 years, but when the route had been changed was — I think it was 18 months, if I’m not mistaken. And that’s because that’s the amount of time that the State Department believes was necessary — would be necessary to properly review an alternate route.
I would refer you to the State Department for more details about how that process generally works, depending on whatever decision was made because of the necessity created out of this legislation.
Q So this is the White House’s understanding that this would probably begin another 18-month time clock then? I can ask — I’ll ask my State Department reporters to ask —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a White House view to express on that except for what I just said, which is that the process — I mean, because it depends on a lot of factors, including the outcome of this decision. But as you noted in even your question, there are players in this process, including companies, private companies; there’s another country involved, which is the reason why the State Department is engaged in this. So I would be — I would not want to speculate.
Q It may have been eight months from now that you guys gave it the green light, and what I’m asking is, is that option now totally obviated? Is that no longer an option?
MR. CARNEY: I would just refer you to the State Department. I just don’t have details for that. And again, it’s based on the premise of a decision that I’m not announcing from here.
Q And any White House reaction, in just working principle, as you’ve gone through your day, have the Internet provider and website protests affected you guys in any way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any effects or impacts that I’ve noted beyond to point out that we made very clear over the weekend our views on this, and we had tremendous response to our “We the People” initiative. And we think it’s an important process here that has been conducted where there’s a lot of external input expressed about the many important issues that are at stake. And our firm belief is that we need to do something about online piracy by foreign websites, but we need to do it in a way that does not impinge upon a free and open Internet. And what that means is that both sides, loosely defined, the two sides in this issue need to come together and find a solution that strikes a balance.
And I think that process has been benefited by the interest and the number of voices that have been heard on this issue. We’ve been really impressed by the volume of response that we’ve gotten online to what we put out over the weekend.
Lesley, and then Jackie.
Q Jay, can you give us a little bit more on the President’s visit to Florida tomorrow and some of the Republican criticism that he’s going to be there just a few days before Republican GOP candidates will arrive, after South Carolina and polls are down in the state for him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve discussed his travel. I mean, he goes to states all across the country. And every President should travel across the country to meet with Americans from as many states as possible — and that’s a principle this President pursues.
He will travel tomorrow to Florida, to Orlando, to Walt Disney World, where he will unveil a strategy that will significantly help boost tourism and travel, which is an important and sometimes overlooked sector in the U.S. economy. The action will be taken as the President’s “We Can’t Wait” agenda of executive actions that will aid job growth and do not require congressional approval — which goes back to the point I made earlier, which is he’s pursuing every avenue possible here to tackle what he thinks is our most important challenge, which is growing the economy, creating jobs, positioning the American economy to compete and dominate in the 21st century. And this is another indication of that effort. I think —
Q — a few days out of the Florida primary being started, it has nothing to do with —
MR. CARNEY: You can argue that, but, first of all, our schedules are made with a lot of different considerations well in advance. I think I read reports a few weeks ago that this thing would be over after Iowa. You can’t — that would — or that it could go on until May as it did in — or June, as it did in 2008. That would make it impossible for us for — if we were guessing in the weeks in advance that we make travel arrangements like this, it would make it very hard for us to go to many, many places.
This is — it’s obvious when you’re making a tourism and travel announcement that one of the premier sites of U.S. tourism industry is Orlando, so it seems pretty self-evident that you would do that.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Is the President disappointed that Senator Nelson won’t be with him tomorrow in Orlando?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any opinion he’s expressed on that.
Q Apart from general State of the Union follow-up, what’s the message next week on this five-state tour?
MR. CARNEY: Well, since he’ll be talking about the subjects that he raised in the State of the Union, if I were to talk about the subjects he’ll raise in the states that he visits I would be getting ahead of the President. (Laughter.) So look, I think one thing you can be sure of — and this is broadly speaking, you shouldn’t rule out other subjects — but that he is fiercely focused on economic growth and job creation and pursuing every — using every tool available to him to assist in that project.
So that will certainly be a topic generally of his address next week, and it will be a topic that he discusses on the road both after the State of the Union and beyond, as he has so frequently prior to the State of the Union.
Q And I appreciate that the Florida plan had nothing to do with the fact that Florida is about to vote, and then he’s going to Nevada, which is the next state up to vote. (Laughter.) It seems awfully coincidental.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, again, if we — we would have to rule out — remember what happened in 2008. We would have had to decide back in December or November — and we make decisions fairly far in advance about where we’re going to travel — that we couldn’t go to any state that had a primary — that’s 50 states, basically — because all of them could be the place where the nomination was decided in the other party. We can’t do that.
This President, as every President is, is President of all the United States of America, of all the people in the country, and he’s going to travel around the country to talk about the issues that are important to Americans in every state, including, most importantly, economic growth and job creation.
Brianna. I’m sorry. Did I miss you this whole time?
Q I didn’t consider it —
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q On Keystone you talk about these are processes that have been in place in other administrations. I mean, the President has talked about kind of greasing the rails in some ways to create jobs. Isn’t this sort of one of those bureaucratic mountains that he’s talked about moving?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you eliminate red tape and you eliminate bureaucracy; you do the kinds of things that he has done in an unprecedented move with his regulatory look-back process that has eliminated a lot of rules and regulations to make life easier for American businesses. But you do that in a careful review to make sure that you’re not eliminating processes or rules that are vital to either health and safety of the American people, or national security, or energy security.
So, no, you don’t ignore potential issues involving the health and safety of residents in numerous states who would be affected by this pipeline. You have to –it’s your responsibility. And that’s why this process is always done in a manner that’s very thorough, very considered, that weighs all the different factors that are at stake here in a decision like this.
Q But wouldn’t it serve him —
MR. CARNEY: I mean, the issue here is to short-circuit a process and approve a pipeline, the route for which hasn’t even been decided — or proposed.
Q I’m not saying in a haphazard way. But wouldn’t it be better to move forward in some way, in tandem with the state review? Some way to move forward on this instead of being hit, as he’s going to be hit, over and over by Republicans who are saying, according to TransCanada, this is 20,000 jobs — and they’re going to put it over and over in different pieces of legislation and it will be a fight over and over. Isn’t he better off moving forward in some way?
MR. CARNEY: There are going to be a lot of fights. And I understand the Republicans, for lack of alternative arguments to make on the proper way to balance our budget, or on tax reform, or how we should best pay for the kinds of investments we need, or why they oppose putting 400,000 teachers and first responders back to work, or why they oppose putting construction workers back to work, that they will grab onto some other arguments. But that doesn’t mean the President doesn’t have the responsibility, and his administration doesn’t have a responsibility, to conduct a review like this properly and by the book. And that’s how they’re going to do it.
Q These are private sector jobs. They don’t require any expenditure by government.
MR. CARNEY: That’s not the issue. The issue is the impact that a development project like this, transnational development project like this would have on the health and safety of the American people in the region, on our economic security, on job creation, on our energy security. These are — there’s a variety of factors that have to be considered, and they should be considered. They should not be set aside out of — for political gain.
I mean, let’s go back to how this happened, right? The President was making a very compelling argument about the need to implement the provision within the American Jobs Act to extend the payroll tax cut. His original proposal was to expand the payroll tax cut so that Americans got — 160 million Americans got a bigger tax cut this year. Republicans went from opposing that to being ambivalent about it to suddenly deciding that they needed some — because they were going to have to go along with it in the end because it was the right thing to do and their constituents were telling them it was the right thing to do — to deciding they needed some sort of political victory, and this is what they settled on, an attempt to hijack a process, to short-circuit a review process that needs to be conducted properly in order that all the prerogatives here are considered. And that’s how it should be and that’s how it will be.
George. Oh, Jackie, I said you next.
Q On another issue that pits constituencies against each other, you mentioned that, on Saturday’s blog post about the issue of intellectual property rights and piracy, that you were just trying to urge the sides to come together on a solution. But it was widely interpreted in some as the White House taking sides with Google against Hollywood. Why do you think that’s the wrong way to look at it?
MR. CARNEY: Because as I just stated, we believe there is a need absolutely to address the problem of online piracy conducted by foreign websites, which is the real driving issue here. We made clear in the statement that we put out over the weekend that we oppose the so-called DNS filter, and we made clear what our principles are in how we pursue — or how the government ought to pursue addressing the issue of online privacy, and in doing that, it must not impinge upon the freedom of the Internet because the Internet is such a vital resource for our economy and for the American people.
But these are — there are absolute issues here that — and interests that all sides of this debate have, and they’re legitimate, and that’s why there needs to be the kind of dialogue we believe that could bring us to a resolution — that could result in a resolution that is balanced and addresses concerns about online privacy, but doesn’t impinge upon the freedom of the Internet.
Q But you had bills moving forward in each house towards markup, and typically this administration is, if anything, deferential towards the legislative process in Congress. Why —
MR. CARNEY: Everybody hear that? (Laughter.)
Q Why the timing? And why was it timed on a Saturday? I mean, there are so many aspects of the timing of this that are unusual.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there was a great deal of focus and interest and intensity on this issue. We have the “We the People” process and solicited opinions on this issue, and the threshold was met for us to respond and we did. I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to put forward our view on pending bills, as you stated, at least on the provision in particular within one of them or both of them on the DNS filter, and on the overall principles that we think should guide this process.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Anybody else? George, I owe you, and then that will be it.
Q Yes, I just wanted to clarify —
MR. CARNEY: And then Cheryl, I know you’re dying in the back there, sorry.
Q I just wanted to clarify your answer to Ed. Are you confirming that the President sent a new letter to the leadership in Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not — we don’t discuss specific communications, diplomatic communications. I would say that we have a variety of channels through which we can communicate with the Iranians and that any message we communicate to the Iranians about these issues would be entirely consistent with what we’ve said publicly, what I’ve said publicly, the President, the Secretary of State and others. And you can be sure of that.
Q Two personnel issues — I know you love talking about that. Are you considering —
MR. CARNEY: I have no personnel announcements to make.
Q Is the President considering Larry Summers to head the World Bank?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make.
Q And is the President actively looking for a new OMB director, or is Jeff Zients going to stick around for a while?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he just became acting director for the second time. So I don’t want to foreshadow anything. The President is very appreciative of Jeff’s excellent service so far, his willingness to be acting director in the past, his willingness to do this again now. This is a very important role. It’s very important specifically as regards our interactions with Congress. So he’s very pleased that Jeff is taking on this responsibility.
Q Has the President talked to Prime Minister Harper?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any foreign calls to announce.
Q So he hasn’t talked to him?
MR. CARNEY: I just said I don’t have any foreign calls to announce.
Q Will we have the President on Keystone?
MR. CARNEY: Am I the warm-up act?
MR. CARNEY: I have no — nothing more to say on the matter.
END 2:35 P.M. EST