Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 21, 2012 – 12:28 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House.
Before I take your questions I just wanted to note that today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 12.8 million Americans will benefit from $1.1 billion in rebates from insurance companies. These rebates will be delivered by August 1st. The rebates were made possible by the Affordable Care Act, which generally requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of consumers’ premium dollars on health care, not advertising, bonuses, or overhead. If insurance companies do not meet that standard, they must provide rebates to their consumers.
The rebates are just another example of how the Affordable Care Act is giving consumers a better value for their health care dollar and making our health care system stronger.
I’m sure there will be a lot of questions about that, and perhaps on other issues.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask about Fast and Furious and the move by the House panel to cite the Attorney General for contempt. Historically, in these standoffs, there’s some arrangement reached between the White House and Congress to prevent a potential court fight that could hurt either side. Can you tell us if there’s any such effort underway right now between the White House and Republicans on the Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that we certainly would like to resolve this if there is a good-faith desire to resolve it on the part of House Republicans.
I think it’s worth taking a step back. At the beginning of this year, Republicans announced that one of their chief legislative and strategic priorities was to investigate the administration and damage the President politically. We are nine days away from the expiration of federal transportation funding, which guarantees jobs for almost a million construction workers because Congress has not passed a transportation bill. We are 10 days away from student loan rates doubling, potentially impacting over 7.4 million borrowers. Yet, instead of creating jobs or helping the middle class, congressional Republicans are focused on this politically motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition.
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous administration, and it was this administration’s Attorney General who ended it. In fact, the Justice Department has spent the past 14 months accommodating congressional investigators, including producing 7,600 pages of documents and testifying at 11 congressional hearings. Yet, Republicans insist on moving forward with an effort that Republicans and objective legal experts have noted is purely political.
Given the economic challenges facing the country, we believe House Republicans should instead be engaged in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, rather than political theater.
Q So you think it’s political theater. But is there something happening behind the scenes? Do you think there is a good-faith effort that can be had here to resolve this?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the Attorney General requested a meeting with the chairman of the committee and, while I would refer you to the Department of Justice for more details, made an effort to reach a resolution on this matter. And it is certainly in our — we believe worth the effort of trying to find a solution. But we have to have a willingness on the other side to work with us to find that solution.
It is important for the public to know — the public, by and large, is not particularly aware of this matter — that every document related to the Fast and Furious operation has long since been provided to congressional investigators. And as I noted before, this is an operation and a tactic that was generated in the field during the previous administration that, when it was discovered by the Attorney General, when he became aware of it, he ended it in this administration. He referred it to the Inspector General for investigation. It has been recognized by the Attorney General and others in this administration, including the President, as a flawed tactic that needed to be ended and investigated, and this administration has done that.
What this is about, after all this time and all these documents and all the testimony, is an attempt to score political points. I think it’s a — speaking of flaws — a flawed attempt, because it is this approach I think that explains at least in part why this Congress has the lowest public approval ratings of any in memory, if not history. So that is our view of the matter.
Q Last question. Can you clarify or elaborate on what you mean by every document has been provided when the President has asserted privilege on some documents?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. The issue here is about after-the-fact, internal documents that have to do with the executive branch’s ability to operate appropriately and independently in response to congressional investigations and media inquiries. Everything that has been — every piece of documentation that relates to the operation itself — if the interest here is in the operation — how it came about, its origination, how it was approved, why such a flawed tactic was employed, that has been provided to congressional investigators.
The assertion of privilege has to do with the protection of the executive branch’s capacity, enshrined in the Constitution in the separation of powers, to deliberate independently and respond appropriately to congressional investigators’ requests and to media inquiries.
I would note also that, as I said, the Attorney General referred this manner, when he learned of it and put a stop to it, to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has access to all the documents at issue here, and is investigating at the Attorney General’s request.
Reuters and then Jake.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the resignation of the Commerce Secretary, does the President plan to nominate somebody else and try and get them confirmed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first, I would refer you to the President’s statement thanking John Bryson for his service, noting Mr. Bryson’s many decades of service both in the private sector and the public sector. And I would refer you to Secretary Bryson’s letter explaining his resignation.
Dr. Blank, Becky Blank, will serve as Acting Commerce Secretary. If we have a personnel announcement to make beyond that we’ll let you know. But the President has a lot of confidence in Dr. Blank — she has served in this position already and did it quite well — and has a great deal of confidence in her ability to carry on the important work that the Commerce Department does.
Q So that’s a no, there’s no plan to nominate someone else?
MR. CARNEY: No, I said that if we had a personnel announcement to make we would provide it, and we will, if and when we do.
Q Okay. Let’s try on another thing. There’s a story in the Times today about the CIA helping allies make sure that weapons don’t get into the wrong hands in the Syrian opposition. I don’t know that I can get you to talk about intelligence matters, but I wonder if you could talk about how much you know about the opposition and how much confidence anyone can have that weapons that go to the Syrian opposition stay out of the hands of potential foes?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate what you noted because I’m not going to discuss intelligence matters.
I can say that as a general matter — and this is something I’ve noted before — that part of this period of helping the opposition consolidate itself has been one where we have evaluated who makes up the opposition. And we’ve certainly noted that there are some elements of the opposition that are not necessarily friendly to the United States. They do not make up the bulk of the opposition, and the opposition is not entirely unified, as you know. But again, that would be a separate matter from the issue that you raised at the top of the question.
Q So how much confidence do you have that you know enough about the opposition that you can actually direct the flow of weapons in the right direction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not commenting on an article so I can’t — I can only say to you that our position on providing lethal assistance has not changed.
What I can tell you is that we provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. We provide non-lethal assistance to the opposition, and we continue to work with the opposition, in concert with our international partners, to help them organize themselves, to help them develop greater capacities, all as part of the process of preparing for a political transition that the Syrian people absolutely desire and deserve and that will take place.
Q And that stops short of giving the opposition weapons?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we do not, as a matter of policy, provide lethal aid to the opposition.
Q The documents being blocked through executive privilege, are any of them to or from individuals in the White House? Or are they all internal DOJ documents?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a way to characterize the documents in question here. I can tell you that long ago, the administration provided documentation about specific questions regarding officials at the White House and the national security staff. That was a long time ago, which speaks to — it was last fall — speaks to how prolonged this political investigation has been ongoing.
The point I made earlier is that this is an assertion based on the absolute need for this President, as the steward of the executive branch — not just for his administration but for every administration going forward — to retain the separation of powers, to protect the capacity of the executive branch to deliberate on these matters, and to work independently and appropriately in response to these kinds of inquiries.
The issue here has been the operation known as Fast and Furious, and that operation is being thoroughly investigated by the Inspector General, who has access to all these documents, including the ones that you’re asking about. And when it comes to the operation itself, everything has been provided to congressional investigators. And that is really the issue, isn’t it? It is, how did this operation come about? And it originated in a field office during the previous administration. It was ended under this administration, by this Attorney General.
Q The operation began in fall 2009. The operation Fast and Furious began —
MR. CARNEY: The tactic began in the previous administration.
Q Okay, but the operation — you keep saying —
MR. CARNEY: Okay. The tactic began in the previous administration, and it was ended under this one when this Attorney General discovered it and believed it was a flawed tactic. He then referred it to the Inspector General.
Q The documents that the President is asserting executive privilege and not disclosing — you don’t know or you’re not going to say whether any of them are to or from anybody in the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to characterize documents related to this except to say that, on the specific matter of White House — anybody in the White House — and this refers, I think — and you know if you cover this, and I know some folks here have — you know because these documents were provided and are out there and were provided back in the fall — they relate to anybody in the White House knowing about the so-called Fast and Furious operation. Any document related to the White House, anybody at the White House knowing about the Fast and Furious operation was provided — at the time was provided back in the fall.
Q In early 2011, the Justice Department wrote a letter to Congress in which they said something that was not true.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Right? They said that ATF had nothing to do with guns going over into Mexico. That wasn’t true, and it took them until December 2011 to take that back. Is there not a legitimate investigative and oversight responsibility to find out what the Department of Justice knew when they were giving false information to Congress?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I think that matter has been thoroughly discussed in congressional testimony, including nine appearances by the Attorney General, including the 7,600 —
Q — after the false statement?
MR. CARNEY: — documents that have been provided. The issue — I would refer you to a leading member of Congress in the Republican Party who, himself, called this politics. I think most people in this room understand that this is about politics. It is not about an effort to divine the truth in a serious matter — which is why the tactic used in this operation was used, how it originated, and the consequences of using it.
This administration takes very seriously, the Attorney General, as demonstrated by the actions he took, takes it very seriously. And he has demonstrated his willingness to try to reach a resolution to this matter with congressional investigators. To this point, the interest of House Republicans has been to use this politically, as they previewed for the world in the beginning of this year when they made clear that that was one of their chief goals of the year.
Q Jay, just one last question. The family of Brian Terry, the slain Border Patrol agent at whose murder scene at least two of these guns were found, they disagree with your characterization about these investigations. They say that the Attorney General’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth. That’s a statement from the Terry family lawyer.
MR. CARNEY: Look, we absolutely agree with the need to find out the truth about why Fast and Furious happened, why the tactic that, again, was employed in the previous administration in different operations and was stopped by this Attorney General — why it came about. And that’s why the Attorney General referred it to the Inspector General. That is why we have provided Congress every document that pertains to the operation itself that is at issue here when you talk about the family that you referred to. And —
Q The Terry family.
MR. CARNEY: The Terry family. And that is separate from an attempt by members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, to try to score political points — as Senator Grassley referred to his desire for a “political scalp” — that is separate from trying to find out the truth about what happened in this operation, which this administration has been pursuing since the Attorney General discovered it.
Let me move around a little bit. Steve, and then Norah. Yes.
Q Can you say categorically that there is no — there’s been no cover-up?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q There’s nothing being covered up by the Justice Department, by the White House, as far as your involvement in —
MR. CARNEY: Again, the Attorney General —
Q — not in the initial thing, but in the —
MR. CARNEY: The Attorney General referred this matter to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has full access to all documents we are discussing right now — full access. And he is investigating this matter. Congress has been provided an enormous number of documents — 7,600 pages. It has been provided access to the Attorney General on eight occasions, as well as other Justice Department officials and relevant officials to this matter. And this has gone on for months and months and months.
The assertion of privilege has to do with the absolute necessity of retaining the executive branch’s independence enshrined in the Constitution in the separation of powers, to allow it to appropriately and independently respond to — deliberate and respond to these kinds of inquiries. That is an assertion that has been made by administrations of both parties dating back 30 years. And that is the matter — that is what the issue is here.
Again, the Attorney General of this administration ended this practice. He referred it to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has been investigating since that time, and has access to all these documents.
Q On Syria, is the United States, along with allies, willing to give President Bashar al-Assad safe passage out of the country?
MR. CARNEY: It is not for us to decide that. It is up to the Syrian people to decide the fate of Mr. Assad. And it is — I know the report you’re referring to, and I would simply state that it is our position to work with the international community, to work with our partners to try to bring about the political transition that the Syrian people desperately deserve. And it is our firm belief that that political transition cannot take place without Bashar al-Assad stepping down, removing himself from power.
Q So what are you suggesting happens to Assad when he removes himself from power?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is not a matter for the United States to decide, certainly not alone. The fact of the matter is we need to —
Q So when Assad steps down he can stay in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: President Assad has not made any indication — I think he’s made every indication to the contrary — that he is going to participate in this political transition that his people are demanding. Instead he has launched a brutal assault against his own people, an assault that continues to this day.
Q But the U.S. policy position is to call for a peaceful political transition. Is there no answer with what to do with Assad once he steps down?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that is not something that the United States decides. That was an issue, I think you’ll recall, that was raised during the Libya situation. The United States does not make a decision about the disposition of leaders who remove themselves from power. That’s obviously up to the Syrian people.
Q But perhaps Yemen is a better comparison. Is the U.S. encouraging Kofi Annan to host sort of a conference-type, where there would be a transition of power like they did in Yemen and President Saleh got immunity? Is that a potential option?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate from here an outcome in Syria except to say that our clear position is that Assad has no place in Syria’s future. He has long since relinquished any claim he had to a spot in Syria’s future as its leader by the horrific actions he’s taken in an effort to thwart the will of the Syrian people and to retain his own hold on power.
Q And then final question on Syria. After the bilat between President Obama and President Putin, there seemed to be some indication afterwards from U.S. officials and others that Putin expressed that he was not wedded to Assad. Is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speak for President Putin. I can only tell you that, as the President said and others said, that Syria was certainly a topic of discussion during their lengthy bilateral meeting and the two leaders share the desire for an end to the violence in Syria. And I would refer you to the statements that each leader made. But I can’t speak for President Putin from here.
Q Since we were talking about transparency on Fast and Furious, a quick one on Bryson, Secretary Bryson stepping down. He’s now — you’ve added an event with the President and Secretary Bryson. Why is that not open to the entire media and to television cameras? We haven’t seen him since the hit-and-run incidents. Maybe people want to ask a question. Maybe we want to see how healthy he is. Why is it not open to cameras?
MR. CARNEY: Secretary Bryson submitted his resignation letter; the President accepted it. It is a matter — in terms of his medical condition, I would simply refer you to his letter of resignation and refer you then to him and to the Commerce Department for further questions about that. This is a situation where —
Q Well, we’d like to —
MR. CARNEY: — the President is meeting with Secretary Bryson to thank him for his service, to thank him for the months he spent as Commerce Secretary and to commend him for his lifetime of service in the public and private sector.
Q You repeatedly, on Fast and Furious, kept saying that the Attorney General deserved credit for ending the gunrunning operation, but you seem to be leaving out the fact that Agent Terry was killed, and not —
MR. CARNEY: Not at all, Ed. That’s an insult.
Q No, but you’re not mentioning — does he not deserve — the Attorney General — you’re giving him credit for ending the operation. Does he not deserve some blame for the fact that this gunrunning operation resulted in a federal agent being killed on his watch?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Attorney General made clear and has made clear on numerous occasions, including the eight times he has testified on Capitol Hill with regard to this matter, that when he learned about it, took this matter exceptionally seriously. That is why he ended it, and that is why he referred it to the Inspector General for investigation.
This is a tactic that was employed in operations in the prior administration — during the prior administration. It was a field-driven tactic. It was not something that was generated out of Washington. When it was discovered by the Attorney General he put an end to it, and he launched — or requested an investigation into it. I think that demonstrates the seriousness with which he regards it.
Q You’ve also given the Attorney General credit here in this briefing for turning over — I think you at one point said every page to Congress — 7,600 pages. But my understanding is the Inspector General at the Justice Department has gotten tens of thousands of pages. I think the number is something 70,000 — 80,000 pages. So how can you say every page has been turned over if Congress has gotten about 10 percent of it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re engaging in a little selective listening.
Q Well, you said every page —
MR. CARNEY: What I did say is every page related to the Fast and Furious operation. And that is what is at issue here — how did this operation come about, how did this tactic begin to be used — a flawed tactic, which everyone recognizes — including the Attorney General, the President of the United States, congressional leaders of both parties was a flawed tactic and a mistake. And that’s why this Attorney General referred this matter to the IG for investigation.
What is being — the documents over which privilege is being asserted are internal executive branch documents that have to do with response to congressional inquiries, response to media inquiries. Those kinds of deliberations have been protected under privilege as a matter of the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution by administrations of both parties dating back 30 years.
Q How many pages is the —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a page count for you, Ed.
Q Well, why not?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t.
Q I mean, you have given us no information about what is covered by what the President is claiming executive privilege on beyond the broad protecting advisors advice —
MR. CARNEY: As you, I think perhaps more than others, given the interest in this at your network, knows the administration, principally the Department of Justice, has cooperated extensively with congressional investigators, provided extensive documentation. The administration has even provided documents related to an interest in whether or not people in the White House knew of this operation at the time —
Q But why is there not a piece of paper —
MR. CARNEY: — and provided that —
Q How many pages —
MR. CARNEY: — let me finish, please, Ed — and provided that last fall. And there wasn’t a lot of interest in it because it disappointed those who were trying to make politics out of this.
And here is the central fact of this matter: This many months into it, this many months where House Republican leaders have been focused on this rather than helping the economy grow or helping it create jobs, is that there is no evidence of anything beyond what the Attorney General has said about this matter. And our level of cooperation has been extensive.
Q But when you say, “go back to last fall,” the President’s executive privilege claim only came in yesterday. So why are we getting no information —
MR. CARNEY: Because we made every —
Q — and how broad is the scope? I mean, what does it cover?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I can attempt to get more details for you, in terms of what it covers. I don’t have page numbers for you. What I can tell you is that the assertion of privilege came at the time when it became clear that there was no intention to resolve this matter, at least to that point, in a good-faith effort by House Republican leaders; that they were committed to their previously publicly announced intention to hold a contempt vote — a highly political gesture, a completely partisan vote; and when efforts to resolve this matter otherwise were exhausted, in order to provide the absolutely necessary stewardship to the executive branch that this President must provide on behalf of his administration and every future administration, this action was taken.
Q Jay, on this question of how far the privilege goes, traditionally, privileges involve either the interactions with the White House and the White House staff, or national security. In this case, it seems to go beyond that. Is it a general thought in the White House that executive privilege — is it applied to all the executive branch, even in the —
MR. CARNEY: Well, Steve, I’m not the counsel, but I think that you need to do a little research. The truth is our assertion is consistent with the positions taken by prior administrations in disputes with Congress that date back to the Washington administration in 1792. The legal analysis is blessed by the career DOJ staff, who have advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on congressional executive relations. And as both historical practice and judicial decisions confirm, the fact that documents reside within an agency rather than in the White House is irrelevant to whether they are privileged.
There are at least five examples we can provide to you from recent history where that is demonstrated.
Chris and then Dan.
Q Jay, in 2007 President Obama criticized former President Bush for asserting executive privilege, for not handing over documents related to the firings of the nine U.S. attorneys. Does he not run the risk of looking hypocritical by criticizing the former President and now essentially evoking the same action?
MR. CARNEY: No, because this President, again, is — after making, through his Department of Justice, an extraordinary effort to cooperate with Congress on this matter of providing thousands of pages of documents, having the Attorney General testify eight times — asserting a privilege that retains the capacity of the executive branch now and in the future to operate independently, as enshrined in the Constitution.
I would note that this is the first time President Obama has asserted the privilege. But as you know, previous Presidents of both parties have done so repeatedly. According to CRS, executive privilege has been asserted 24 times since 1981. President George W. Bush asserted it six times. President Clinton, 14 times. President George H.W. Bush asserted it once. And President Reagan, three times. In fact, President Obama has gone longer without asserting the privilege than any President in the last three decades, which is consistent with the statement that you quoted.
Bottom line is, after a level of cooperation that I think demonstrates this administration’s absolute interest in finding out the truth about the Fast and Furious operation, and why that flawed tactic was used, its origins and its implementation, its efforts to work with Congress to provide it the information that was required under legitimate oversight needs, an assertion was made — because this has become a political fishing expedition.
And it is absolute evidence — and I would refer you to the statements by congressional House — rather, Republican congressional leaders from the beginning of the year, where they made clear that one of their chief priorities for this year was to use their investigative power in the House to score political points in this election year. I think knowing that tells you everything about the motivations here.
Q You make the point that you’ve turned over thousands of documents, and yet not all of the documents that Congress would like to see. So what’s the difference? Why not —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I made clear in answers several times to the questions that every document that relates to the Fast and Furious operation has been provided. And others have been provided, as I mentioned last fall, that relate to any knowledge anybody in the White House had contemporaneously about the Fast and Furious operation — again, as part of an effort to cooperate, as part of an effort to resolve this matter in a professional way, not in a partisan way.
Unfortunately, there has been a clear commitment by the chairman involved and leaders in the Republican Party in the House but also in the Senate to try to turn this into a political issue.
And I think it is worth checking in with the American people as to whether they think that is worth the effort — that that is what they what Congress to be doing at a time when Congress could be passing bills tomorrow that would keep a million construction workers on the job in this country in this economy. They could be passing bills tomorrow that would ensure that teachers would not be laid off, and that teachers that have been laid off would return to the classroom. They could pass a bill tomorrow to provide access to historically low mortgage interest rates to Americans across the country, during a period where we’re still very much recovering from a terrible housing — having the housing bubble burst and a crisis that ensued for so many families with regards to the values of their homes.
These are actions that the American people expect Congress to take. They do not expect Congress to waste time on politically motivated fishing expeditions, which this has clearly become.
Q And on that point, the President is going to hold an event later today to call on Congress to pass a bill that would keep student loan rates low. Leaders in the House and Senate in the Republican Party say that they haven’t heard from the President or from anyone in the administration in recent days in response to a letter that they sent.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s simply not true.
Q It’s not true?
MR. CARNEY: It’s simply not true. I can’t speak to any communications the President has had — as you know, he was participating in the G20 summit. But we are actively working with members of Congress to get this done.
Q In both parties?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely in both parties. And the fact of the matter is the only reason why we’re having this discussion is because President Obama raised it, brought it to the public’s attention, went around the country talking about it. You would not be hearing about the absolute necessity of ensuring that these loan rates didn’t double if it weren’t for President Obama’s decision to highlight this need. And in the end, we’re going to get this done, I believe, because that’s the action that he took. And we are actively working with members of Congress to get this done.
I would — we’ve seen this pattern before: Refusal to act; refusal even to acknowledge there’s a problem unless and until the President highlights it, goes around the country talking about how it matters, how — contrary to the assertions of some in the Republican Party — education is very much an economic issue, how — contrary to the assertion of the Speaker of the House — this is not a “phony” issue, it is a deadly serious issue for more than 7 million students in America. And that’s why we have to take action on it, and that’s why in the end we believe that we can get there and get it done.
Q Well, have you gotten closer to determining what a pay-for would look like?
MR. CARNEY: I think that — I will not negotiate from here the particulars, but the answer is, yes, broadly speaking. Because as you saw, which, again, is part of the pattern, when there was a recognition by Republicans that this had to be done because the public insisted on it, there was a kind of slightly angry effort to have a scalp thrown in by having non-germane, irrelevant pay-fors attached to it. But now we’re getting to a point where we can hopefully reach an agreement that everybody can sign on to that will ensure that in just a few days these loan rates won’t double for 7.4 million or 7.3 million American students.
Q During her press conference this morning, Nancy Pelosi suggested that Republicans were going after the Attorney General because he has been fighting voter suppression in various states. And in fact, as she wrapped up her press conference, she again reiterated that point. Does the White House share that view?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t get into — or I cannot divine the motivations behind what I think I’ve clearly suggested is something we believe has become a fishing expedition that’s unnecessary and unworthy of Congress at this time, when they could be acting on things that the American people care about, that could help the economy grow, help put teachers back to work and keep construction workers on the job. I didn’t see the press conference that you’re referring to.
What I do believe, and what we do believe, is that Republican leaders have, and Republican members of Congress have, through the actions that they’ve taken with regards to this matter, lived up to their announcement at the beginning of the year that one of their chief legislative and strategic priorities would be to investigate the administration and damage the President politically. If you don’t believe me, I refer you to them. They said it. And they’re acting on their own agenda, which is unfortunate for the American people.
Q Earlier you said that you would like to see this resolved. As part of that resolution, do you see a point where the White House, the administration would be willing to hand over these documents in question, perhaps, with some conditions?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate from here how that would work. I’m not the appropriate person to do that either in here or with members of Congress. I would simply say that we have made every effort to resolve this matter, to cooperate with Congress, to provide the response — adequate response to the legitimate oversight interest of Congress.
We believe very strongly that there is an absolutely appropriate role for legitimate congressional oversight, and that’s why we have cooperated as extensively as we have with this investigation and others. It may be why — as I pointed out in response to another question, given the history of assertions of privilege of this kind in the last 30 years, this President is asserting it for the first time at the latest point of any history in those — at the latest point in his term of any President in those past 30 years.
But there is a point beyond which it is his responsibility, as steward of the executive branch, to the American people and to future Presidents and future administrations, to retain the constitutionally enshrined separation of powers, to retain the capacity of the executive branch to deliberate and consult internally so that it can appropriately and independently respond to inquiries like this.
Q On the Bryson case, is the White House conducting any kind of inquiry into those accidents, or this just a police investigation?
MR. CARNEY: The White House is not. And again, I would simply note that on this day that Secretary Bryson has submitted his resignation and the President has accepted it, that our interest is very much in thanking Mr. Bryson for his service both in this administration and his service both in the private and the public sectors over the many years, and to wish him well.
Q Jay, you said to an earlier question that there was no White House cover-up involved in these documents that the President had declared privilege on. And you also said that, just again, that the President is just trying to protect the constitutionally enshrined power of the executive power to make decisions independently. In the documents in question is there any information that if put on the public record would jeopardize national security interest or embarrass the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, those are — (laughter) — I’m not going to give you a readout of documents that are under question here and relate to the assertion of privilege. What I can tell you is that there is nothing in these documents that pertains to the Fast and Furious operation. And I would simply note and have you ponder the fact that the Attorney General referred this to the Inspector General for investigation, and the Inspector General has access to all documentation as a member of the executive branch.
Q I guess the question is are you declaring it mostly on principle to ensure the separation of power or is there an issue of national security —
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for phrasing that. This is entirely about principle. It has nothing to do — (laughter) — no, no, this has nothing to do — we have been absolutely clear about the fact that this operation used a tactic that originated in a field office that was flawed, that was wrong, and that had terrible consequences for the Terry family, and should not have been employed. And this Attorney General, when he learned about it, put an end to it and referred it for investigation.
I think that is — long before this became an issue for House Republicans to politicize, this was something that the Attorney General made sure was being investigated by the Inspector General.
In terms of the assertion of privilege, it is, as I’ve said I think on a number of occasions already today, absolutely about the principle. It is not something that the President takes lightly. He does it because it is his responsibility as steward of the executive branch to retain the capacity of this administration, and every administration going forward, to function appropriately and independently from the congressional branch of government.
And I think, again, in answer to Ed’s question about why is he doing it just now: Because we have been working so hard to cooperate and reach agreement with congressional investigators as they pursued their legitimate oversight into the Fast and Furious operation. But as they made clear in their own statements, that’s not what seems to be the motivating factor here.
Q Is there a search underway for a permanent replacement for Bryson, and who will head that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make. And if I do have one, I’ll be sure to let you know. Dr. Blank has been Acting Commerce Secretary in the past. She did an excellent job. The President has full confidence in her ability to serve in that capacity again. Today, we are thanking John Bryson for his service.
Q And then, a follow up.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q For the last couple of days, Senator Marco Rubio has expressed frustration that he wasn’t consulted before the President made his immigration policy announcement. Why not, considering he said he was working on something along the same lines?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Congress has had the ability to act on this ever since Republicans blocked the DREAM Act, even though it had a majority vote in the Senate. And what the President made clear in his statement in the Rose Garden on Friday is that this is a temporary solution, this is not a permanent solution. Congress needs to act so that we have a permanent solution.
And to your point, this is an announcement, first of all, made by Secretary Napolitano. It has to do with building on an enforcement decision about prosecutorial discretion and this is about implementing our enforcement priorities.
It is not about — it has been reported as an executive order. Let’s just be clear, it is not an executive order. This is an announcement made by Secretary Napolitano that is about the enforcement of our priorities, which as I think we’ve made clear and demonstrated by the numbers, we believe should be focused on those who are criminals and those who are dangerous.
And that is what this new development that the President discussed in the Rose Garden, that Secretary Napolitano announced, is aimed at, which is ensuring that we are enforcing the law in a way that makes the right decisions in terms of priorities, and does not unfairly and unnecessarily punish people who come to this country through no fault of their own, often as infants or young children, who consider themselves American and are American in most ways, who contribute to this society and could be staffing our labs and attending our colleges — and that’s what this is focused on.
Q But isn’t it a way to build support in reaching out to a senator who clearly has a lot of —
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President has made clear all along that he is very interested in a legislative solution to this situation.
Q Why not reach out to Senator Rubio on it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have, broadly speaking, reached out to members of Congress. Look, we have a situation here where the nominee of the Republican Party, the head of that party at this point, has said he would veto the DREAM Act. That is not encouraging as a sign of cooperation or willingness by Republicans, unfortunately, to —
Q Senator Rubio —
MR. CARNEY: Well, Senator Rubio is one Republican.
Q He’s not Mitt Romney.
MR. CARNEY: And what we learned when this was voted on at the end of 2010 is that Republican opposition put an end to the majority support for passage of the DREAM Act. Now, if there is a change of view, this President would welcome that, and hopes that Congress will act — because the announcement made Friday is not by any means a permanent fix to this problem.
Q Jay, we’ve heard Republicans calling for Attorney General Holder to step down or be fired in the last couple days. Has anything happened in the last 48 hours that has dampened either the President’s friendship with or confidence in the Attorney General?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. I would refer you to my comments about partisan fishing expeditions and political theater, and one of the causes and consequences of the Congress with the lowest recorded approval ratings in history.
Q Would you favor us with a new statement of confidence in the Attorney General then?
MR. CARNEY: The President has full confidence in the Attorney General.
Q How far will the President go in standing by Eric Holder in the midst of all this —
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what that means. The President has full confidence —
Q Will the President come out making a statement? Will the President talk to congressional leaders, particularly Republican leaders to try to —
MR. CARNEY: We are engaged with — we have been and will continue to be engaged in an effort to resolve this, and await a demonstration of an interest to resolve this in a way that isn’t all about political theater.
Q So should we be able to — would we assume that the President will —
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about the President’s schedule.
Q Jay, were your comments a couple of minutes ago about Romney’s threat to veto the DREAM Act if he were elected, is that something that would preview what the President’s going to be saying tomorrow in Orlando?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s a statement of fact that I think I’ve uttered before.
Q So what is the message?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a preview for the President’s remarks. I simply — in regard to questions about why there was not congressional action on the DREAM Act, I pointed you to a vote that took place where 55 United States senators voted yes, and the vast majority of Republicans blocked passage of it through the filibuster. So that’s a fact.
And the President would gladly engage with Congress if there was a demonstration of a sincere interest by Republicans to act on the DREAM Act because, as he made clear on Friday, the enforcement decisions that were made by the Secretary of DHS did not represent in any way a permanent solution to this problem.
Sorry. So much interest today. Ari.
Q Thanks. Setting aside the most recent enforcement action on immigration, this morning Senator Rubio said in the year and a half he’s been in the Senate, he’s not had one conversation with anyone in this administration about immigration. So if the White House is serious about —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not aware that the Senator — I’m not aware that the Senator has called expressing interest.
Q He’s made a lot of public statements expressing interest.
MR. CARNEY: The fact is that there was a vote on the DREAM Act and it failed, despite receiving a substantial majority, and it failed because of overwhelming Republican opposition. If there’s a change in that disposition, the President is very happy to engage with Congress to achieve the kind of legislative solution that is absolutely required.
The fact is that that’s what is needed here to ensure that these kids are not unfairly punished for the actions of their parents. These kids who are American in every way except for their papers should not be punished. And the actions that were taken by Secretary Napolitano and announced on Friday, and that the President spoke about in the Rose Garden, temporarily alleviate the problem, but they do not fix it. And that is for Congress to take up.
And we’re certainly — the President welcomes any expression of interest in resolving this matter by legislators of either party and welcomes the expression that you’re referring to. But I have yet to see a bill emerge from the Republican side, in the Senate or the House, that addresses this program. I haven’t even seen legislation submitted that addresses this problem. And if there’s a sincere effort to do that, I’m sure — I can guarantee you the President will be happy to see it.
I’ll take one more.
Q The GOP leaders in the House and Senate are insisting that you guys have not reached out to them on the student loan issue, responding to their May 31st letter. So if you’re not talking to them, who are you talking to?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know which — a response to a public letter that — was that where they called it a phony issue, or where they called it not an economic issue?
We are engaged with Congress in trying to get this done. I don’t have a roster of which members or which staffers. We are certainly engaged with Congress. I don’t have a roster of with whom, but it obviously requires both parties to get this done. And, therefore, we are working with Congress, broadly speaking, to get it done.
And the only reason — let’s just remember — the only reason why we’re talking about this is because the President made it an issue. It wasn’t in the Republican budget. Rates would have doubled. Rates would double under the Republican budget’s proposals. The President thinks that is a terrible thing to do to students right now, and that’s why he made it an issue. And it’s only because the President sort of raised the volume on this that there is now pressure on Republicans in Congress to do the right thing and take action, so that 7 million-plus American students don’t see their interest rates double.
Q So you’re talking to Republicans who are not in leadership then?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure the purpose of the question. I don’t have in front of me a list of contacts.
Q Why can’t you tell names, though, so we could just call them and say, are you guys in talks?
MR. CARNEY: Because is this like — because you guys are interested in the gotcha — oh, well, he is not talking to this person. I’m saying —
Q Because they’re saying that they’re trying to reach out to you, and you’re saying we’re talking to them and you can’t name —
MR. CARNEY: I can guarantee you that this is being worked at by this administration with Congress. I just don’t have names for you, Ed. I’m sorry.
Q But is it committee chairmen, or —
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what’s going to happen. When it gets resolved, and I think it will, it will not be a miraculous conception. It will be the result of negotiations between this administration and Congress — broadly speaking, Congress. That includes Democrats and Republicans.
Q We’re being told by McConnell’s and Boehner’s office specifically that it’s not true. I mean, specifically.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that there are consultations going on in Congress that involve the administration to get this done. I don’t have, again — they know — I don’t have specific names for you to provide. It is irrelevant whether or not I have a roster of names. What I can tell you is it’s being worked on by this administration and it’s, we hope, going to get done, again because they know it has to get done because the American people are demanding that it get done, because it is entirely unfair to not take action to ensure that these loan rates don’t double.
And as I said to Ed, if it does happen and we get this done in time to prevent the doubling of the rates, it won’t be an accident. It will be the result of conversations, discussions and negotiations that involve the administration and Congress.
1:20 P.M. EDT