Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 3, 2012 – 12:50 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Happy New Year, everyone. Welcome back to the White House. Thank you for being here for your daily briefing. I hope everyone in this room got some down time with their family and friends. Everyone needs a break sometime and I hope you took advantage of the break that the President took.
We are back, back in action, ready to go to work for the American people and — as I know you are on behalf of your readers and viewers and listeners.
With that, I have no other announcements. I will go straight to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. Happy New Year.
MR. CARNEY: Happy New Year.
Q Two quick domestic questions and then one foreign matter I wanted to ask you about, please. Can you give us a sense of how the President plans to follow the Iowa caucus returns tonight? Is he watching it on television? Does he plan to get updates from advisors? I know obviously he’s speaking to supporters on the Democratic side, but how does he plan to follow what’s happening with the Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: I confess I haven’t had that conversation with him yet. I know because I know him that he’s not a big TV watcher. When it comes to news, he tends to read things either on paper or online, so he may hear about it that way either from advisors or if he’s following it directly.
He will as you’ve mentioned be delivering remarks to Iowa Democratic caucus-goers this evening from Washington via video link. And he’ll use that opportunity to thank his supporters in Iowa, who will turn out by the thousands for what they did four years ago in showing up at the caucuses in record numbers and delivering him an important and historic victory.
And I think I can remind you that that night, in the speech he gave after his win in Iowa, he made some promises. One of them was to end the Iraq war. Another was to succeed where others over 100 years had not succeeded and deliver broad health care reform to the American people. Another was to make progress in clean energy. He continues to — and a fourth was education reform. So he will talk about those things, the things that have been accomplished, thanks to his supporters in Iowa and across the country, and on behalf of Americans everywhere, and all the work that needs to be done.
So that will be his focus this evening. Like many of us he will, I’m sure, be interested to see what the results are in the other party’s caucuses. I’m sure he is as no more or less interested than the rest of us.
Q No more interested? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think in the sense that — I think that he knows what his focus is right now, which is continuing to work on behalf of the American people, continuing to do whatever he can, working with Congress and with the private sector and through executive action, to grow the economy and create jobs, to help protect the middle class and expand it. That’s what his focus is.
How long the process takes in the other party to pick a nominee is really anyone’s guess, so he’s got a lot of work to do before he engages aggressively in the general election campaign. That will come in due time.
Q Okay. In Ohio tomorrow, could you give us any preview about whether this is a broad economic message? Or does he plan to follow up on specific elements of the jobs act or the full year of the payroll tax? What should we expect?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to give you specifics. He will be carrying an economic message. He will be echoing a number of the themes that you heard him talk about last year in the fall and early winter. He’ll talk, again as I just mentioned, about how his commitment is to do everything he can as President, working with Congress and independently from Congress, to grow the economy and create jobs, to protect the middle class, to expand it and to make the middle class more accessible to those who aspire to it. That’s his number-one focus.
And going back to Iowa four years ago, that was his number-one focus then — even predating the economic crisis that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. So I think those will be the themes that you’ll hear from him tomorrow. I don’t have any more specifics for you.
Q One other topic, please. Should Americans be worried about what appears to be an escalating conflict with Iran today? Iran has warned the United States to keep its aircraft carrier away from the Gulf, returning to the Gulf. The Pentagon says that it has no plans to do that. I mean, is this bluster, from an historical perspective, or do you think that this is something that we should worry about?
MR. CARNEY: I think it reflects the fact that Iran is in a position of weakness. It’s the latest round of Iranian threats and it’s confirmation that Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failures to live up to its international obligation. Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behavior and domestic problems. This is simply a measure of the impact that sanctions have been having on Iran and the broad international support for taking — putting pressure on Iran and isolating Iran because of its refusal to live up to its international obligations.
I think one measure of that is a story that was in The Washington Post this morning about the dramatic decline in the Iranian currency as a result of some of the latest sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. And that’s not the latest sign. I stood before you in November and December and talked about the obvious impact that the isolation had been having on the Iranian economy and the effect that it had on things we were hearing from the Iranian leadership and on the economy itself. So I think that continues and I think this is more indication of that.
Q The New York Times today has some details on the defense cuts that the President would propose in February, and I understand there’s going to be a news conference later this week by Panetta. With the President having seen the details of what these cuts will look like, is he concerned about the overall ability of the United States to defend itself and this question of whether the United States will still be able to fight two wars?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me talk broadly about the defense strategic review, which recognizes that we are at a turning point after a decade of war, with new challenges and opportunities that call for a reshaping of our defense priorities. To meet these new challenges under increased budget constraints, the President made clear to his team that we need to take a hard look at all of our defense spending to ensure that spending cuts are surgical and that are top priorities are met.
This review is ongoing and will ensure that we are able to meet the challenges of this moment responsibly and emerge even stronger, in a manner that preserves our global leadership, maintains our military superiority and keeps faith with our troops, military families and veterans.
The President has been deeply involved in this process. He’s personally engaged in the defense strategy. He has met with Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey and other senior DOD leaders six times since September, and in December the President took the unprecedented step of bringing all the combatant commanders to the White House for consultations.
Having said that, I think it’s important to point out that the cuts in defense spending that we’ve discussed around which the defense strategic review is being written about now were agreed to on a broadly bipartisan basis — roughly $489 billion over 10 years. And the important part of this process is that the strategy come first and the reductions come — are driven by the strategy. They’re not across the board; they’re not random. And that’s certainly the approach the President will take.
Q Now, above and beyond that, it could be double that amount of cuts — $500 billion additional if there’s a sequestration. Does the White House plan to give us any kind of glimpse of what those cuts would mean when the budget is released in February?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, Caren. We firmly believe that Congress should fulfill the responsibility it took upon itself as a result of the Budget Control Act and take actions necessary to ensure that the sequester never happens. The sequestration, the sequester, was designed to be onerous so that it never took place; that it was an alternative that neither party preferred and therefore compelled both parties to compromise in finding a broader balanced approach to deficit reduction.
We believe that even though the super committee’s tenure has expired that there is still ample opportunity, if Congress is willing to take a balanced approach, if Republicans are willing to go along with what every bipartisan commission that’s looked at this, with everybody who takes this issue seriously acknowledges, and that is that we have to have a balanced approach to deficit reduction — if that happens, and it can happen, then the sequester will never be an issue.
Q And just a quick follow on Ben’s question on Ohio. Will there be new policy unveiled there, maybe an executive action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the President and I don’t have anything more specific to say about his remarks or events tomorrow in Ohio except that it will be — they will be focused on the economy and on what he can do as President to deliver on his promise to do everything he can to help the middle class, grow the economy and create jobs, working with Congress collaboratively where we can and either with the private sector or through executive action where we must.
So that’s the message he’ll carry to Ohio. And it’s a message you have heard him deliver around the country since he introduced the American Jobs Act in September. This is his focus. This is the primary focus of his domestic efforts right now. And it’s a continuation of a cause that began with his decision to run first for the Senate and then for the presidency. I mean, this is a theme that has dominated his time on the national stage, and it will continue throughout his presidency, because as he said on numerous occasions, he will not rest until he knows that every American who’s looking for a job can find a job.
I’ll go to Jill and then I’ll start moving back.
MR. CARNEY: Welcome back to the White House.
Q Thanks. Glad to be here. One domestic and one international, please. The domestic question: Could you give us a little bit more clarity on this “with or without Congress,” because it’s been interpreted by some — Gingrich, for example — as virtually a monarchy, the President says, I can’t work with Congress; I’ll do it myself. And there’s a lot of criticism — if you could explain exactly what the idea of that is and whether it could backfire, whether it would look as if he is trying to just ignore Congress? And then we could get into the international.
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. We have made clear, and the President has made clear for a long time now that he will do whatever he can to help the economy, to help it grow, to help create jobs, to protect the middle class. A lot of that work needs to be done and has to be done with Congress. And after he introduced the American Jobs Act and pushed and pushed and pushed Congress to act on the American Jobs Act, some provisions of it were acted on. And he will not let up on that pressure. And he hopes and anticipates that Congress will return to Washington and that Republicans in particular will show a willingness to work with him to deliver on this number-one priority of his and the American people’s, which is the need to continue to have the economy grow, to continue this recovery, and to continue the kind of job creation that we need to bring down the unemployment rate.
So this is not an either/or, it’s a both/and situation. He will work with Congress. And we believe, actually, that there will be opportunities to work with Congress, beginning with expanding — extending the payroll tax cut for the full calendar year. We absolutely believe that Congress will do the right thing and continue upon the work that was finally achieved in late December, and extend the payroll tax cut for the full calendar year, extend unemployment insurance for the full calendar year, extend the so-called doc fix.
But there are more things that need to be done. There are elements of the jobs act that we believe, as we did from the beginning, merit bipartisan consideration and support. This country is in crying need of work on its infrastructure. Now is a great time to do that work. And there has historically been bipartisan support for supporting infrastructure projects across the country. We should take action on that. We hope to work with Congress to take action on that, to continue to grow the economy and create jobs.
Separate from that — and this was the case last year and will be the case this year — we can’t wait for Congress to act. And when Congress refuses to act, when Republicans choose the path of obstruction rather than cooperation, then the President is not going to sit here — this gridlock in Washington is not an excuse for inaction. He’s going to take the actions that he can take, using his executive authority, to help the cause here, to help Americans deal with this challenging economy. And they can be small, medium, or large actions, and they don’t have to be just executive authority actions, they can be things that we can do working with the private sector.
So he’ll pursue all tracks. But it is not accurate to suggest that he doesn’t want to engage with Congress and that he won’t engage with Congress. In fact, he wants to continue to work with Congress. He and his advisors believe that there will be opportunities to cooperate with Congress this year. We believe that as a purely political matter that some members of Congress who have pursued an obstructionist path may begin to see it in their political interests to actually demonstrate to their constituents that they can get some things done. And we hope that’s the case because that may provide some more opportunities for cooperation.
So we’ll take every approach available to us on behalf of the American people.
Q Thanks. And just a question about the Taliban. They’re apparently opening up an office in Qatar. They also are asking for the return of Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo. How does the White House look at both of those issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things. As the President said in June, peace cannot come to Afghanistan without a political settlement. Going back to his speech at West Point, the President has made clear that we would support and participate in Afghan-led reconciliation efforts. And we’ve always said that Taliban reconciliation would only come on the condition of breaking from al Qaeda, abandoning violence, and abiding by the Afghan constitution. And that remains the case. And this is about U.S. support for an Afghan-led process.
As far as releasing Afghan prisoners, we’re not in a position to discuss ongoing deliberations or individual detainees. But our goal of closing Guantanamo is well established and widely understood.
Q Jay, will the President be accompanied by either Congresswoman Kaptur or Congressman Kucinich when he’s in Cleveland tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have any specifics to give to you on tomorrow’s trip.
Q And when he’s talking to supporters in Iowa tonight — you were just talking about the relationship with Congress — is there any broad shift in the change of their relationship, the working relationship that he has with Congress, as a part of the 2012 strategy?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think so. I think that his approach is to engage, to press Congress to take action on the highest priorities of the American people, which are now so focused on the economy, on growth and job creation. And he’ll continue to do that. And he’ll continue to do it in a way that maximized the potential for a positive result. And that’s why you saw him in the fall travel around the country talking to Americans in states, north, south, east and west, about the need for Congress to take action on the American Jobs Act, about the need to extend the payroll tax cut, provide money for infrastructure jobs that will not just create jobs right now but help build the foundation this economy needs for the 21st century. And he’ll continue to do that.
We had some success with that approach. In the end, we were able to pass some measures of the American Jobs Act. We were able to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and the SGR for two months. It is inconceivable to us that Congress will not extend it for the full calendar year. That will be a good thing for the economy. It will be a good thing for the average American family out there — $1,000 tax cut in 2012. That will help them make ends meet and it will help the economy by pumping that money back into local businesses, which, in turn, will then seek to hire more people.
Q So the President is happy with the relationship that, the way you just described it, yielded some success?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s focused on making the relationship work for the American people. And that requires a cooperative relationship where he and members of Congress — leaders and rank-and-file members — are willing to compromise to get essential things done. We saw some progress in 2011. Don’t forget we passed important free trade agreements — important trade agreements, as well as measures from the American Jobs Act. And we anticipate that there will be other opportunities this year as members of Congress choose to do the right thing for the economy and also perhaps see it in their political interest to demonstrate to their constituents that they’ve delivered on the American people’s overwhelming number one priority.
Q Jay, just to follow up on that point, quite recently there have been members of the staff that have said that you have 60 to 70 Democratic members that have been prevailed upon to pass most of the big pieces of legislation in the House last year. Do you think Speaker Boehner should sort of get rid of this strategy of his to require things be passed exclusively by a Republican majority and just accept the fact that this is almost coalition governing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t presume to tell Speaker Boehner what his best political approach should be. What I think is best for the American people is that everyone recognize that we have divided government — that is the fundamental nature of our system — and in this particular instance we have a situation where there’s a Democratic President and Republicans control the House, and they have a lot of power in the Senate because of their ability to filibuster and willingness to filibuster virtually anything. And that means that to get real things done, there has to be some bipartisan cooperation. There’s no other way around it.
The President has been committed to that kind of approach throughout his presidency and throughout the duration of this Congress when the Republicans have had control of the House and substantial control in the Senate. He’ll continue to take that approach.
Q Do you think Speaker Boehner — we saw a situation with the payroll tax increase where he was — he had to go back to the drawing board after having a tough conference call with some of his membership. We all knew who were covering this that there were a substantial number of Democratic votes in that. Why do you think that that wasn’t part of his calculation when, in fact, it was part of the ultimate deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I wouldn’t want to guess what was going through any congressional leader’s mind during that process. What I know was the focus of the President was on the need to extend the payroll tax cut, and there was no exception to that focus for the President. He knew it had to happen. It was the right thing for the economy and the right thing for the 160 million Americans who could not afford to have their taxes go up this week. And so he kept the pressure on Congress to act. He kept the pressure on Republican leaders to act, and he was gratified that in the end, they did.
I think the point that you’re making is worth remembering that there was a process through much of last year where a segment of the House Republican caucus seemed to dictate the direction that the House Republicans would take, which prevented the kind of compromise that might have been achieved in some other areas, and that is regrettable. Hopefully that dynamic will change this year because the American people demand it. They really want Washington to work for them. They don’t much care about ideological purity or the psychic benefits of winning by losing. They want their elected officials in Washington to compromise and do the right thing for the economy, for jobs.
All the way in the back. Yes.
Q Iran, please. Does the White House have any concern of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to Central and South America? There’s many Latin American journalists who say he’s taking advantage of U.S. has put little attention to the region in the last couple of years. Is there any concern that he’s taking advantage of that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would disagree with the assertion about this administration’s focus. We have a robust level of engagement with Latin America that has persisted for three years. The President made a very important trip to the region earlier in — well, in the spring of last year, and we continue to engage at many levels with Latin America.
Iranian behavior that we’re focused on right now is its refusal to live up to its international obligations with regard to its nuclear program. And what we’ve seen out of Iran is a series of indications that the pressure on them is mounting and that their economy and their leadership is feeling the impact of that pressure. That’s what we’re focused on right now.
Q But is the trade business to South America and Central America, is that a concern in that regard for the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that we’re focused on our engagement with Central and South America, which we intend to continue to have at a robust level. We have very important partnerships with countries in the region that we’ll continue to develop and grow, both diplomatically and economically.
And as regards to Iran, we’re going to focus very clearly on Iran’s unwillingness to get right with the world and become responsible with regard to its international obligations.
Q Thanks, Jay. Quick domestic, maybe not as quick international. Can you give us beyond tomorrow, any sense of the rest of the week? And then —
MR. CARNEY: You want a week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: Josh, you didn’t give them one?
MR. EARNEST: I did not.
Q He’s tan.
Q It is a new year and the violence in Syria is continuing. And I’m wondering if you can talk from the podium about what sort of contingency planning is happening at the NSC level, the State Department level. Does President Obama think that he may need to adopt more of a Libya-esque approach in the coming weeks? What’s going to happen next?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for your question. I’ll say what I’ve said in the past, which is we — the President takes no options off the table in this situation. But we are very focused on a diplomatic approach. And it’s been 16 days since the Syrian regime signed the protocol on Arab League observers, and nine weeks since it agreed to the Arab League four-point plan of action. We have made clear that if the Arab League initiative is not implemented, the international community will have to consider new measures to compel a halt to the regime’s violence against its own citizens.
As sniper fire, torture and murder in Syria continue, it is clear that the requirements of the Arab League protocol have not been met. Across the country the Syrian people continue to suffer at the hand of the Assad regime and as indiscriminating killing and — indiscriminate killing of scores of civilians continues.
So we’re going to continue to work with our international partners. We believe it’s past time for the Security Council to act. We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, but we’re working with our international partners to increase the pressure on the Assad regime to cease the completely unacceptable violence that it’s been perpetrating on its own citizens.
Bill, did you have something?
Q And the week ahead?
Q The week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a week ahead for you. I just don’t. (Laughter.)
Q Does it depend on what happens in Iowa?
MR. CARNEY: No, it does not. (Laughter.) It depends not a bit on what happens in Iowa. We’re very confident that the President is going to win overwhelmingly in the Democratic caucuses tonight. (Laughter.)
I just — we’ll get you more details on the rest of the week as they become available.
Bill, do you have anything? Ed?
Q Thanks, Jay. I know you said there were no announcements, but your deputy, Josh Earnest, announced that he’s getting engaged in Hawaii, so we congratulate him.
MR. CARNEY: We all congratulate Josh. (Applause.) It’s a wonderful development.
Q And for having said something nice about him, I just wanted to ask about something — (laughter.) As a transition.
Q As a transition.
Q I think these questions about the relationship with Congress, what I’m trying to understand is when Josh was quoted in Hawaii as saying, “If the playing field includes working with Congress, all the better. But I think my point is that that’s no longer a requirement.” I think people — critics of the administration were jumping on the idea that the President is not required to work with Congress. When you were saying a moment ago that the American people want to see Washington work together, how can you on one hand say we’re not really required to work with them, but on the other hand, the American people want us to?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because, Ed, the point that we’re making is that during the many engagements with Congress in the previous year, 2011, one that we all remember very well was the multi-week process that became known as the debt ceiling crisis or the debt ceiling negotiations. And one, I think, important and under-appreciated outcome of that process, which did not, unfortunately, result in both sides coming together around a grand bargain because in the end Speaker Boehner simply did not have enough Republicans behind him to support that, was the President’s insistence that Republicans could not force this country to go through that crisis again every six months or so, which was their stated desire. The President prevailed in ensuring that that would not happen, that the debt ceiling issue had been removed from the table until 2013.
And I think that that is very important for the American people, because as I think some of us noted at the end of December, some of the stated concern about the uncertainty created by a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut coming from the same corner of Congress where people were not just willing to throw the global economy into an uncertain state but seemed to be relishing the prospect of it by having the United States default on its obligations was very ironic. And the President made sure through those negotiations that led to the Budget Control Act that that would not happen again in this Congress.
So I think that’s what we’re talking about, that there is not — obviously there is business we will do with Congress. There is business we must do with Congress, and there is absolutely business we want to do with Congress. And as I said earlier in this briefing, we actually are somewhat hopeful that Congress — and in this regard I mean Republicans in Congress — will be more willing to compromise and cooperate as they view it in their own self-interest to do so because I don’t think — I know the focus has largely been lately on the primaries in terms of the polling data, but the polling data also continues to show this Congress registering historically low levels of approval among the American people, polling data that shows that a huge portion of the American people view this Congress to be the worst in history. That can’t be good on your resume as you’re running for reelection in November if you’re a member of Congress, and particularly because I think folks associate the obstructionism with the Republican Party, I think it’s a particular problem for Republicans in the House.
So we hope that the dynamic will continue to change in a way that leads towards opportunities for cooperation and compromise.
Q A quick follow-up in terms of working with Congress. The President, four years ago tonight in Iowa, you mentioned he said we want health care reform. He got that. Iraq — ending the war. But he also said something about he wanted a world where — the world would see America differently. America would see itself as a nation less divided and more united. And one of the talking points that Mitt Romney in particular has been pushing lately is the idea that this President is a great divider I think he’s been saying — something about how he hasn’t met with Speaker Boehner in six months, along the same —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he had to admit that that wasn’t the case. But in that interview —
Q Several months —
MR. CARNEY: In that interview where — I forget who did the interview —
Q Well, he hasn’t since the summer.
MR. CARNEY: — O’Reilly pointed out that it had been more recent than that. And of course, they have spoken on the phone since then.
But, look, there is no question that Washington remains too partisan, that folks here place party over country too often. Certainly the President feels that way. And he continues to work on doing everything he can to bring the country together and Washington together.
What we have seen — and I think that it’s simply a matter of fact, if you look at surveys of the American people, is that unfortunately Republicans in Congress have pursued a path of blocking everything and obstructing everything — whether it’s nominations or appointments or things that used to enjoy bipartisan support like payroll tax cut or infrastructure spending — and that’s not lost on the American people.
But what is also true is that there’s still another year of this Congress in which we can change all that. A lot of folks have asked me in recent weeks about the President wants to run against a do-nothing Congress. And the fact is the President would like nothing more than to be deprived of the opportunity to run against a do-nothing Congress because Congress could deprive him of that opportunity if Republicans were willing to do something, or to do more.
So we continue to look forward to those opportunities.
Q Two follow-up questions. On that point, is it still accurate, though, to describe the payroll tax and UI as the only must-do pieces of legislation on the agenda for next — for this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that it’s accurate in the sense that it’s an absolute necessity for the economy, and the President is absolutely committed to making it happen. And we believe that it is inconceivable that Republicans in Congress would want to go through this process again and somehow prevent it from happening. It would be bad for the economy and bad for 160 million Americans. So we believe it’s a must-do and it will happen.
Q That’s the only one? Only must-do?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that what we’re talking about there is the comparison to 2011 where because of the leverage the Republicans took on to themselves by linking — raising the debt ceiling to deficit reduction, and the game of chicken that they engaged in around that in the summer, that that was very damaging to the economy, and the President as President absolutely had to do everything he could to prevent default. And that was a very challenging situation.
He made sure in the negotiations that led to the Budget Control Act that Republicans in Congress would not get their wish to do this again in December of 2011 or to do this again sometime in calendar year 2012, which is a good thing for the economy and good for the American people, and means that debt ceiling issues are not must-do this year, which is a good thing.
Q In terms of what’s happening with the Taliban, you mentioned what the U.S. objectives were in any sort of negotiated settlement. But do you have any specific reaction to the opening of the office in Qatar? Is that a positive development?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we welcome any step that — along the road here of the Afghan-led process towards reconciliation, mindful of the fact that the standards for reconciliation have not changed — the conditions, rather, that insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms and reconcile must meet in order to be accepted by the Afghan government and by us.
Q Jay, thanks. You said that you were hopeful that Congress would come back and be more amenable to compromise. Can you talk specifically about what is making you hopeful? And are you hopeful that they will be more willing to compromise over the issue of new revenues, over a more balanced approach to some of these issues?
MR. CARNEY: We are more hopeful — or rather hopeful that Congress will return in a more cooperative tone. Again, it is important to point out that we did get those trade deals passed. We did get patent reform done. We did get several elements of the American Jobs Act passed with this Congress, and that represents significant bipartisan cooperation. It’s not nearly enough, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy. That’s why this President is going to continue to push Congress to take action on jobs and the economy.
We’re hopeful because of the reasons that I’ve stated, that the dynamic may have changed a little bit for Republicans in Congress and perhaps their assessments about what the best approach is for their constituents might have changed, and that could create opportunities for compromise.
The principal focus that the President has is on economic growth and job creation. It would certainly be a welcome development if Republicans also fell in line with the vast majority of the American people who believe that a balanced approach is the right approach to deal with deficit reduction. That would be a good development and a welcome indication of a willingness to compromise.
But I think it’s because of — for those reasons — and perhaps beyond the economic sphere, there are opportunities for cooperation, too. So this President is committed to doing that, and he is committed additionally to taking action where Congress won’t because we can’t wait for Congress to act if Congress won’t act.
Q When the payroll tax cut is revisited will the President push for the millionaire surtax and will that be something that he says is necessary?
MR. CARNEY: Before we get into the process of negotiating the way that the payroll tax cut will be extended for the full year, I’ll just say that we’re confident it will be. Given what happened at the end of December, it seems unlikely to me that Republicans in Congress would not want to extend the payroll tax cut for the full calendar year. How those negotiations play out, let’s let them get underway before we begin to lay odds on what they’ll look like in the end.
Q And one international question. Do you have any sort of a timeline about when a decision will be made about the President of Yemen — whether he can come to the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a timeline for you. I can just tell you that the situation remains the same, that the United States is still considering President Saleh’s active request to enter the United States for the sole purpose — the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment.
Q Jay, related to Congress, obviously the President has shown how he wants to run against a do-nothing Congress. You talked about their poll numbers. But there are many Democratic incumbents who are running this year and are concerned that maybe they get painted with the same brush. So how is the President going to be explaining to voters that he’s talking about Congress in a nuanced way? We have one chamber obviously controlled by Democrats. So how is he going to be helping them in their election battles?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think what I’ve been saying for the large portion of this briefing is that the President would be delighted not to run against Congress — not to run against a do-nothing Congress if Congress — Republicans in particular — would do something to prevent him from taking that approach.
The fact is that I think it’s pretty clear to most Americans and was quite evident at the end of last year which members of Congress have been blocking mainstream, traditionally bipartisan solutions for the challenges that we face economically. But this President remains hopeful and committed to working with Congress — both parties — to take action on — in those areas where Congress didn’t take action last year.
So as far as who voters — I think voters are pretty sophisticated and they understand where the obstacles to progress have been raised and by whom. So we’ll trust in their wisdom as this cycle proceeds. But we’re really not focused on the election right now. We have a campaign operation in Chicago that’s obviously up and running and will be doing important work on behalf of the President’s reelection effort. But the President himself does not have a primary, obviously, and he’s focused on the work he absolutely needs to do on behalf of the American people. And there’s a lot of time between now and when the general election campaign will be fully engaged.
Q One other quick question. We didn’t — the President didn’t do an end-of-the-year, full-blown news conference, press conference. Can we expect him to do one before the State of the Union?
MR. CARNEY: It’s possible. (Laughter.)
Q Can you recommend that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you heard from the President quite a bit in December and engaged with him quite a bit. We didn’t have an end-of-the-year press conference like was held at the end of 2010, but was not held at the end of 2009, if I recall correctly. But the President had many engagements with you all last year, and I’m sure there will be many more in the weeks and months to come.
Q Thanks. It’s a new year. Can you talk a little bit about what the President sees as what he’s able to do to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the table? We have the talks going on in Jordan today. We have the deadline, the Quartet deadline coming up later this month. What is it that he thinks he can do to try and move that whole —
MR. CARNEY: Well, first let me say that we welcome and support the positive development that you just mentioned, and we applaud the efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan and his foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, to bring the parties together. We are hopeful that this direct exchange can help move us forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet.
As for the President’s engagement, he will continue to take the approach that he’s taken, which is engaging directly with leaders in the region, empowering his senior officials to participate in that process, and then to take the kinds of actions both with public statements and behind-the-scenes diplomacy that he hopes will guide the parties together. Because ultimately, the two-state solution can only be achieved — the outcome that both parties say they want can only be achieved at the negotiating table. And he is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table. And this is obviously a challenging issue; it has been so for a long time. But the President is very focused on doing what he can to make it happen.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q A few months from now it will be almost two years he will have brought everyone here, way back in 2010. Would he bring them back again?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have any announcements for meetings or summits for you today. But he’ll be focused on that, as he will on a whole host of issues. And these questions and some of the others that have been raised I think are a reminder of the fact that as President of the United States, President Obama has a very consuming day job that he’ll be engaged in that is entirely separate from political campaigns. And we are quite a time away from when that will be engaged in aggressively by the President.
Thank you all, very much.
1:36 P.M. EST