Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)–June 30, 2011 – 12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Before I get started I just wanted to say that today, as you know, I believe, the White House announced through its official Twitter account, @whitehouse, that it will host its first ever Twitter town hall on Wednesday, July 6, at 2 p.m. in the East Room of the White House.
Twitter cofounder and executive chairman Jack Dorsey will moderate a conversation between President Obama and Americans across the country about the economy and jobs. Starting today, Twitter users can submit questions using the hashtag #AskObama. More information from Twitter can be found at the event’s homepage, AskObama.twitter.com.
Very exciting. With that, I will take your questions.
Q Is the President going to accept Senator McConnell’s invitation to go to the Hill today? And how does he justify going to Philadelphia for fundraisers when he just called on Congress to stay here and do its job?
MR. CARNEY: Erica, as you know, the President has met repeatedly with leaders and with members. In fact, he had the entire Senator Republican caucus here not long ago. Then he had the entire House Republican caucus. And he has had Senator McConnell here as recently as this week.
What the Senator invited the President to do was to hear Senate Republicans restate their maximalist position. We know what that position is. And he also invited him to hear — invited the President to hear what would not pass. That’s not a conversation worth having. What we need to have is a conversation about what will pass — negotiations that build upon the tremendous success that negotiators involved in the Vice President-led talks had — and then to move forward with a significant deficit reduction deal that is balanced and fair, and that the American people are demanding.
Americans — I honestly think that we can say that the American people are tired of the posturing; they just want us to work. They want Washington to negotiate and reach an agreement. They want each side to move outside their comfort zone to accept tough choices that they wouldn’t ordinarily want to accept but which the demands of the time — or rather the times demand.
So we are in a situation where the parameters of what a deal would look like are very clear and that nobody who is not an elected official honestly believes that a comprehensive, substantial budget deficit reduction deal does not have to be balanced, would not include cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, in defense spending, savings in health care spending, as well as savings from the tax code. And we believe that that’s what the American people want.
And I’ll say further that a position — stating a maximalist position that we would rather have the United States default on its obligations, we would rather have the United States not maintain its full faith and credit, we would rather have that than eliminate tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry — which has had tremendous multibillion-dollar profits — we would rather have that happen than eliminate a loophole for corporate jet owners, I just don’t think that that’s a tenable position, and the President doesn’t either.
Q So if the President doesn’t think that it’s worthwhile to converse with Republicans until he sees signs that they agree to dial back their maximalist position?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure whose talking points you’re repeating with the question, but the —
Q You just said that the President doesn’t think it’s a conversation worth having.
MR. CARNEY: He does not think it’s worth — that we’re in a position now where we need to hear what the Senator has said and others have said, which is that their maximalist position is they would walk away from talks, walk away from negotiations that have made a lot of progress, rather than accept that as part of getting a big deficit reduction deal we need to eliminate tax subsidies and loopholes for corporate jet owners, for oil and gas companies, for hedge fund managers — okay?
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t negotiate and talk. He wants that to happen, and it has been happening. This administration all week has been in conversations with — at the staff level, at the President level and the Vice President level, with members of Congress about this. And we believe that we can still get a significant deficit reduction deal.
Q Then why doesn’t he cancel his fundraisers and keep talking —
MR. CARNEY: We can do — we can walk and chew gum at the same time, as the President said yesterday. And he has met, again, this week with Senator McConnell, this week with Senator Reid, last week twice with House Speaker Boehner, and has had, as I said, the Senate and House Republican caucuses to the White House at his invitation already, and heard — and those were listening sessions where the President listened to, as they themselves said upon departing the White House, listened to what they had to say about these very important matters.
Q Okay. And finally, can you just state unequivocally that the August 2nd deadline will not move? Because there’s been scuttlebutt that with revised revenue estimates from Treasury that it could be pushed back somewhat.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that Treasury — career people at the Treasury Department evaluate the data, and this is obviously a big economy and a government that takes in a lot of money and has a lot of obligations to meet, and that their assessment is, A, that we already surpassed the debt ceiling but because of things that we can do, that previous administrations have done, that we have been able to — that they were able to say that the deadline where we basically run out of tools in the toolbox to keep this going is August 2nd.
If they make changes in that, that’s for them to do. But I think we’re talking about a narrow margin here. Whether it’s August 1st or August 2nd or August 3rd, we are up against the wall. And it is not at all reasonable to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States government. I mean, you hear some folks saying that this is not a serious issue; that this is not something to be alarmed by; that somehow, as the President said yesterday, that we should — that it would be okay to pay interest on the debt, to pay bondholders, the Chinese government or others who hold treasuries, but not pay something else — maybe Social Security checks or veterans benefits. I mean, that’s just not acceptable. That’s not a good alternative. And there is no question I think, according to outside economic analysts, that the markets would not view a decision to default charitably.
And I think that, again, it’s always worth reminding those lawmakers on the Hill who think somehow that this is a game, that President Ronald Reagan did not think so. As he wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker on November 16th, 1983, about the need to vote to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States did not default on its obligations — he wrote, “This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world.” That was true then; it is true now. “The full consequences of a default or even the serious prospect of default by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result, the risks, the costs, the disruptions and the incalculable damage. We need but one conclusion: The Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.” President Ronald Reagan, on the need for the United States to pay its bills.
Q Has the President ruled out any debt deal that doesn’t include significant increases of revenue and with “significant” defined as hundreds of billions of dollars?
MR. CARNEY: What I won’t do from here is negotiate the particulars of an agreement. The President made clear that we have the capacity — if we have the will, we certainly have the capacity to achieve significant deficit reduction of the size that has been discussed in the past — the $4 trillion over 10-12 years. That requires taking a balanced approach — the balanced approach that was supported by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, that was supported by the bipartisan Domenici-Rivlin commission, and which is embodied in the President’s proposal from George Washington University.
What the details of that look like, again, I don’t want to negotiate, but what is not possible is a significant deal that does not — is not achieved in a balanced way — which includes cutting spending from non-defense discretionary, from defense, from health care entitlement programs, and from the tax code.
Q Also, has the White House made a proposal to Speaker Boehner’s office?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to negotiate particulars of what a deal might look like. We are obviously in conversations with leaders of Congress of both parties, of both houses, and relevant members at different levels on a regular basis.
We believe that this is an important moment, a rare opportunity to do something significant. The President has shown himself in the past and made clear again yesterday in his press conference that he is willing to make tough choices, that he is willing to get outside of his comfort zone and to ask the Democrats to follow him and to make some decisions about spending that in a different environment he would not want to make and that Democrats would not want to make, because he believes that it’s important. And he believes that the American people expect us to do it, that they don’t — I think to the extent that people are paying attention to the arcana here, the details of debt, deficit, and the different ways that we’re going about this, what they want is for Washington to work.
And we live in a great country with a two-party system that requires compromise to get things done. That’s what we need to do now.
Q And with the Senate having canceled its July 4th recess, can you talk at all about what might now be on the schedule for next week in terms of meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have specific scheduling announcements to make, but obviously we will be engaged, as we have been at all levels, in negotiating with members of Congress to try to achieve the kind of agreement we believe is possible. And obviously that would include next week.
Q Jay, can you explain what changed the President’s mood yesterday? A lot of people were mentioning he was toughening it up. Why did he decide to do that? What’s his level of frustration? Could it actually make things worse because you have some pretty tough comments coming back at him? And not to beat a dead horse, but doesn’t he open himself up to a lot of criticism to go to fundraisers at the very same time that there is a possibility of meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I would, first of all, say that he was just glad to see you guys yesterday, so that’s why he was so expansive. What he was trying to convey yesterday, and I think he conveyed very well, is that he feels a great sense of urgency; that this is a rare moment, as I was just saying, that offers the opportunity to do something big that has needed to be done for some time, which is to achieve a significant, comprehensive deficit reduction deal that demonstrates to the country and the world that we are getting our fiscal house in order and that we can do it in a way that’s balanced; that will not just allow our economy to continue to grow and allow our economy to continue to create jobs, but give it a boost because of the confidence that it creates by the fact that Washington can work and get things done; and that lawmakers who are sent here to do the will of the people, to do the nation’s business, actually do that, and that leaders lead, leaders make tough decisions.
Nobody got elected to Congress or the White House to make easy decisions. They were sent here as representatives of the people to make hard choices. And that’s what the President hopes will happen. And he expressed that I think quite clearly yesterday at the press conference.
Q And this thing about the fundraisers —
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that, again, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. There are any number of elected officials who are raising money for their campaigns probably all week and all weekend. This is not — that is not the issue. The President has been deeply engaged in these negotiations. He has had, again, Senator McConnell here this week, House Speaker Boehner here twice — here once last week and then met with him over the weekend the previous weekend. He has had the full Senate Republican caucus here, the full House Republican caucus here. He looks forward to more engagements and conversations with leaders and members of both parties.
And, again, I’m not going to make scheduling announcements. And, again, part of the fact that we’re so serious about getting a deal done as opposed to engaging in political theater is that we are going to have meetings that I’m not going to tell you about. And we do have meetings that we don’t — I mean, we’re trying to get a deal done here.
Q What’s the purpose of not telling us about when they’re meeting?
MR. CARNEY: My point — I’m not trying to — I hope I didn’t send some sort of mysterious signal here — is that we don’t read out every meeting that he has and we don’t necessarily advertise every meeting that he has. And I’m not saying that there are — let me be clear. I am not saying there are some meetings scheduled with leaders that I’m not telling you about. That is not the case. But as has been the case in the past, he’s had phone conversations with leaders of Congress, he and the Vice President and other members and with relevant members of Congress who are engaged in these negotiations, that we don’t, obviously, run out here and tell you about as they happen or before they happen because we are — and why we didn’t read out the day-by-day details of the negotiations that the Vice President led is precisely because we want them to produce a positive result. We don’t want to win points today politically. We want to do what works to allow for an agreement to be reached.
Is the front row satisfied?
MR. CARNEY: Always? Mark.
Q — back of the room?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I was coming down, are you — you’re kind of new here, so we have this sort of thing where I — it’s your turn, if you’d like to take it.
Q You’re aware of the Greek parliament approving its spending cuts there. From the White House view, has the storm passed — at least the current storm passed for Greece? And what kind of warning sign is the panic over a Greek default in the American context as you approach the August 2nd deadline? You saw how the markets reacted to that prospect. You’re a month away from —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think the analogy works here. But what I will say is that obviously we said consistently that we believe that the IMF and EU, Europeans and Greeks, had it within their capacity to address that problem, and we obviously think it’s important that the Greek government take the necessary measures to address the problem. But beyond that, I think obviously our circumstance is quite significantly different.
Having said that, I will only refer you to the comments I just made about how serious the prospect of default is for this country, for the United States of America, the most powerful and important economy on the globe, and a place that investors around the world look to as a safe harbor because we pay our bills.
Q I’m not equating the two. I’m just saying if the markets react to tiny Greece’s economy — the tiny Greek economy’s prospect of default, what kind of warning sign is that as you approach that August 2nd —
MR. CARNEY: I think, again, it’s a distinct situation involving — in Europe. But I would say, as we have in the past, that it is not a good idea to play chicken with our obligations and the full faith and credit of the United States government and with the prospect of default in the United States. And I think that, as we said in the past, that the markets would react badly, as Ronald Reagan said in 1983 to the Senate majority leader, that even the prospect of default would be viewed very negatively by the markets. And we expect that would be true here.
Q A clarification. When the President was talking about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires yesterday, was he talking specifically about rate for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000?
MR. CARNEY: He was talking about corporate jet owners. He was talking about —
Q Was he talking about individual tax rates?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I’m going to get there. He was not talking about individual tax rates. He was also talking about some of the other provisions that we’ve set out in terms of hedge fund managers, who through a provision, a tax preference in the law, are allowed to have their income, which is designated income from their labor, be taxed at a capital gains rate — called carried interest. We believe that is a loophole that should be eliminated. And hedge fund managers, by and large, make a whole bunch of money.
Q He said hedge fund and he said jets, and then he said millionaires and billionaires. Are you talking about provisions on individual taxes — denying deductions for people making more than $200,000 —
MR. CARNEY: We are talking about the itemized deduction for people who make more than $250,000, yes, for the 28 percent. That’s been a proposal that the President has had on the table for a long time now.
Q So people making more than $200,000 a year is a millionaire?
MR. CARNEY: No. He was not — Chip, you want to have a game exchange here, but the President —
Q That’s the proposal he was talking about, people making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 — and he grouped them as millionaires and billionaires.
MR. CARNEY: No, that’s not what he was talking about. There are a variety of provisions, which I’m happy to go through with you, that include carried interest, that include the hedge fund managers and carried interest — those are the millionaires and billionaires that he talked about. Obviously the millionaires and billionaires who are affected by the itemized deduction is true, too. But we have been very clear from the beginning, it’s been a proposal from the beginning that we believe that we should change the law in terms of allowing for itemized deductions for those who make more than $200,000-$250,000.
Q As this package —
MR. CARNEY: Our proposal includes all of these things, including not renewing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which include —
Q Part of this package that you’re talking about now — I mean, yesterday —
MR. CARNEY: There is no separate package. But the provision — when we talked about what the Republicans, when they said they couldn’t negotiate anymore because of tax increases — let’s just talk about where they were drawing the line. They were drawing the line not on everything here. They’re drawing the line on corporate private jets; they’re drawing the line on hedge fund managers; they’re drawing the line on subsidies for oil and gas companies, including not just the direct subsidies but the provision that allows them to — which they benefit from disproportionately — which allows them to mark their profits based on the last barrel of oil that they bought as opposed to what they purchased —
Q But to clarify, you’re saying part of the deal that the President would like to see here is eliminating some deductions for people who make more than $200,000. So it’s not just millionaires and billionaires.
MR. CARNEY: What we have said is that that is our overall proposal. What we have also said is that we are willing to make tough choices. But the Republicans have said they’ve drawn a line in the sand on anything. They’ve said that they would walk away from a deal over a provision that gives tax preference for owners of corporate jets, a provision that gives oil and gas companies $40 billion in subsidies even as they are making record profits.
Q Speaking of corporate jets, it’s been estimated that that would save $3 billion over 10 years. That’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the amount of money we’re talking about here. The President said the American people are tired of political posturing. He mentioned it six times yesterday. Isn’t that really the essence of political posturing?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re making my point, Chip, in that that’s the line they’re drawing, that they would rather protect that loophole than come to an agreement, a balanced agreement that allows us to pay down the debt, reduce our deficits, and continue to grow and create jobs.
Q — that loophole that would be —
MR. CARNEY: I’m not negotiating particulars here, but they have made very clear that that’s unacceptable. They have made very clear that eliminating the subsidy for the oil and gas industry is not acceptable; that allowing for a provision that gives hedge fund managers the opportunity to have their income taxed at significantly lower rates than your income and my income. That’s unacceptable. And we just think that that’s a maximalist position that doesn’t reflect who the American people are and is not tenable if you’re serious about getting a significant deal.
Q Senator Schumer has said that he believes the Republicans are trying to tank the economy intentionally for political gain. Does the White House agree with that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen those remarks. I think that everybody has their position and that we all believe that we need to grow the economy and create jobs, and that we should do the things that help us get there. And I think that’s a position that we certainly believe is widely held in Washington.
Q You talked about Senator McConnell’s invitation. I understand Senator Reid has also invited the President and Vice President next Wednesday to the Hill. Have you guys accepted that?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t believe I have any scheduling announcements to make or any acceptances to announce for next week. We’ll obviously be engaged in conversations at a variety of levels. What form they will take, I don’t have an announcement about yet.
Q There’s been some suggestion that the tougher tone with Republicans is perhaps a sign that you guys are losing hope that they’re going to agree to a deal at some point. Have we gotten into that danger zone?
MR. CARNEY: We remain optimistic that it is still possible to get a significant deal, a balanced deal. It goes without saying and it was said explicitly by the President yesterday that we will not get everything we want. We accept that. That is what the American people expect, that we are willing to compromise, that we are willing to get outside of our comfort zone, that we are willing to accept cuts that we would traditionally not want to, that we are willing to look at everything that’s being put on the table by all parties.
So, obviously this is hard business and we are in a situation that’s increasingly urgent. But we remain optimistic that we can get this done.
Q By the President’s own admission, it seems at this point a new deal will have to include big cuts in defense spending — more cuts in defense spending. Given that this is a critical time with a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and an uptick in violence in Iraq, is the President concerned that more cuts in defense spending would jeopardize the gains that were made —
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has — as you know, he asked Secretary Gates — and obviously his successor will pick up the baton here — to identify further cuts that can be made in the defense budget. His framework I think called for $400 billion, if I recall correctly, in further defense cuts. He obviously sets as his highest priority the national security of the United States, the safety and security of the American people both here and abroad, and our assets abroad. And he believe that those cuts can be made in a way that does not in any way restrict our ability to protect our national security.
And I think it’s important to remember how significantly the Defense Department’s budget had been increased over the past 10 years, for obvious reasons, and that within the context of this — you mentioned Iraq — we have withdrawn 100,000-plus troops from Iraq. And we, as you mentioned, are beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan next month.
Q Is he getting any pushback, though, from any commanders on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: From commanders? No.
Q Switching gears, an Nigerian man flew cross-country with a boarding pass that was invalid. What’s the President’s reaction to this, and is there any concern that there needs to be a review of TSA’s practices and procedures?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a reaction from the President on this. He is obviously updated on security matters. I don’t know specifically whether he’s been updated on this, although I imagine he was. All I can say is that this is an ongoing negotiation, so in that case, I need to refer you to the FBI. What I also can say is that every passenger that passes security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security, as we all know, including a thorough physical screening at the checkpoint as well as other measures. Our security agencies take any situation like this seriously, and I can assure you they are investigating this situation thoroughly.
Beyond that, I’d refer you to the FBI and TSA.
Q Just this week, President Obama was touting manufacturing in Iowa, and the manufacturers are one of the groups that have a major problem with the LIFO proposal that the President is touting as one of the revenue increases that’s needed. Is the White House at all concerned that implementing this provision would hurt manufacturing and hurt jobs at this fragile time for the economy?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes, we believe, that this is an appropriate proposal to make to get accounting basically in line with where practice is headed. And this goes to the provision that, by the way, is I think 40 percent of this existing LIFO provision — last in, first out — the benefits that are enjoyed — 40 percent of them are enjoyed by the oil and gas industry that, again, allows if you’re an oil company, you can sell a barrel of oil today for, let’s say, $100 that you bought two years ago for $40; instead of paying taxes on that $60 profit, you pay taxes on, say, a $2 profit — if that’s what you we’re able to buy a barrel for yesterday, for $98.
So this is about fairness so that companies across the board in the economy are treated the same way. And the President believes that if it were to be implemented in a way that will not harm industry but will in fact strengthen it, that it would simplify the tax code.
Q Industry will benefit from this?
MR. CARNEY: I think in the long term the simplification of the tax code will be a good thing, yes.
Q Is the point of insisting on revenues because you need the money to get to the target that you’re trying to reach, or because from a symbolic point of view it’s important that this be balanced? Or both?
MR. CARNEY: I think both are important. But we’re down here — we’re beyond symbolism here. We are about finding a way to get to a significant agreement and a deficit reduction of a significant size. And the only way to do that, that is balanced, that is fair, is to include reductions in spending through the tax code.
Otherwise, you’re faced with the choices that we saw in the House Republican budget. And those choices are not only unbalanced and unfair, because of the disproportionate burden those choices place on seniors who would have to — because you basically end the Medicare program as we know it, and seniors then pick up the tab to the tune of $6,000 per person, per year — $6,000 — that you also run a serious risk of harming the kind of growth in the economy that we need to see.
Only if we do this in a balanced way — if we do this in a balanced way we dramatically increase the chances that what we do will be a net plus for the economy; that even if we’re reducing government spending, which is an important goal, but done in the wrong way, can have a negative impact on economic growth. If we do it in a balanced way we believe we create the best opportunity for actually increasing growth and increasing job creation.
Q And finally, on the Twitter town hall meeting, will the President be giving his responses in 140 characters or less?
MR. CARNEY: Let me see if I have the details on that. That’s a good question. We’ll have to get back to you on how that works.
Q Will he be speaking or just tweeting?
MR. CARNEY: Do we know the answer to this? We’ll have to find out about how this will work. The Twitter —
Q It says webcast on the —
MR. CARNEY: It will be webcast, yes. So it will be live. He’ll be speaking. There will be — questions will come and Twitter oversees the process. There will be multiple ways that questions will get to the President. Twitter users will begin asking questions via the AskObama hashtag today. To identify popular and relevant questions, Twitter is developing a number of ways to identify the most common and representative questions.
Q So he’s not tweeting. Others are tweeting the questions.
MR. CARNEY: He’s just answering the questions. He’s not typing in — tweeting.
Q So it’s not really a Twitter town hall meeting, exactly. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, but the questions are coming in. It is a Twitter town hall meeting. The questions are coming in from Twitter users. I’m sure you’re one, right?
Q I am.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, ask away.
Q I’ll keep — I’ll try a third time on Twitter. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you can — you got to ask a question of the President yesterday. That would be two weeks in a row if you get to ask.
Q Going back to your previous characterization of political theater, who are the main actors on the political theater stage, in your estimation?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, all of Washington is a stage, Peter. (Laughter.) The point I’m trying to make is that we don’t — we understand what the absolutist positions are — the starting positions, to put it in a neutral way — that the positions that Republicans have taken, the positions that Democrats have taken, the position that this President has taken. What we have said is that we are willing and have demonstrated our willingness to move off of our starting position, and that hearing from, en masse, from one side or the other what their starting position is, which is clear to everyone, doesn’t really advance the process. It doesn’t, in fact, advance the process.
And the President had the opportunity to hear directly, live in person, face to face, those views from Senate Republicans, from House Republicans, when he invited and had them here at the White House. But obviously, political theater is engaged in all the time in Washington by a variety of actors. My point is simply that this is a situation that is serious enough and urgent enough that we need to negotiate. We need to roll up our sleeves, get to work, continue the work that’s been done — which it’s important to acknowledge that significant progress was made by participants — Democrats, Republicans, representatives of the administration — and that we can continue that progress and reach an agreement if we’re willing to make some tough choices.
Q Yesterday while he was —
MR. CARNEY: You’re in your new seat.
Q I am. While he was expressing his exasperation with Congress yesterday, the President said, “I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis.” And I was wondering if you can give us any more insight or detail into how he’s been involved in the Greek crisis beyond sort of standard briefings and maybe staff conference calls. I mean, has he been calling leaders personally? Who — can you give sort of any tidbits about his involvement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that in addition to the regular briefings he’s gotten from his senior advisers on this particular matter, that he has obviously had conversations with leaders about — over these many weeks about the situation there. I don’t have anything beyond that for you, because it is a fact that we’re confident and continue to be confident that the Europeans and the IMF have the capacity to deal with this and are dealing with it.
Q Has it been mostly then him staying in touch with people capacity? Or was he sort of advocating, this is what I think we should do?
MR. CARNEY: No, the former. And I think that, again, it’s important to note here that this is — while the President and I and others have made a point that the turmoil created by that obviously created a headwind for the global economy, and therefore the U.S. economy, that the response and the actions that needed to be taken and have been taken were local, European, and also with the IMF, and not actions that we took.
Q Thank you, Jay. A couple of things. In light of what we have been discussing, are you confident — can you say with confidence from the podium to international bondholders that their investments in U.S. treasuries are safe? And what’s the confidence based on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, it’s a question I think that most appropriately would be directed to the Treasury Department. I do want to state that we remain confident that Congress will do the right thing; that the leaders who have said that we will because we have to, make the vote that ensures that we meet our obligations and pay our bills — that that will happen. So we remain confident that that will happen. And that’s why I think it’s important to knock down some of the irresponsible talk our there about how it’s not a big deal, it’s not serious, or we could somehow pay some bills and not the other, because that’s — I think that’s the kind of thing that —
Q Scares people.
MR. CARNEY: — that could create some uncertainty that’s not helpful.
Q And secondly, if I may — again, in the spirit of walking and chewing gum, you are preoccupied — and by you I mean both the U.S. government, the U.S. administration, and the U.S. Congress — you are preoccupied with domestic issues. And for Russians, for example, the biggest issue involving both branches of the U.S. government is the WTO. My question is very simple: Will you have the time and the willingness to spend whatever political capital it will require to even consider the issue this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve talked about quite a bit. I’ve answered questions about it from here. And we certainly did discuss it in France at the recent meeting there, where the President had a bilateral meeting with President Medvedev.
And I think you’re right, that we — today and some days, that we spend our time talking principally about domestic issues. But I can certainly say that since I took this podium, we have spent a significant amount of time discussing international issues. And it just — it’s a demonstration of the fact that you don’t — both are incredibly high priorities, and both are things that this President and this administration, and any President and any administration have to deal with, and any Congress.
Q I’m saying it is — it may be a high priority for you, but how can you say it’s a high priority for the Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think you should address that to the Congress. I think that those members who deal with those issues directly are very focused on it and are working with us to address it. So it continues to be an important issue.
Q Jay, can I ask about Libya? Earlier this week the French acknowledged that they had air-dropped some guns, some RPGs to the rebels. The British today said they would be willing to supply body armor to the police in the rebel areas. Is the United States considering dropping lethal supplies? We’ve done humanitarian supplies before. Have we considered that kind of lethal aid, military aid?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I have seen some of those reports and I’m not in a position to comment about what France, for example, is or isn’t doing to assist the Libyan opposition. I think you know our position and what we’ve done, which is provide the Transitional National Council with extensive non-lethal aid and assistance, as have many other nations, to support the TNC in its efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya. But beyond that —
Q On the TNC, one of their people issued a plea today saying, we need this stuff if we’re going to keep up the fight.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to — I don’t have any comment on the reports that you’re talking about, about what other countries are doing. I can say what we’re doing, which is providing substantial non-lethal aid.
Q Jay, is the campaign at all involved with the town hall next week, or is that his official White House Twitter account that he uses?
MR. CARNEY: This is an official event.
Q Will he ever use that official account to send out — I believe he has himself sent out some messages on his campaign account, signed with his initials. Is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get to you on that.
Q And if — so the campaign is not involved in the town hall at all?
MR. CARNEY: I believe it’s an official event —
Q Did the President host some Democratic fundraisers in the Blue Room on February 25th?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure about the Blue Room. I do have information on that.
Q Will that become a practice?
MR. CARNEY: It was another meeting of the President’s political supporters in the residence. Again, I’m not sure what room it was in. All Presidents have meetings with their supporters in the residence — every one of this President’s predecessors. This particular event was a reception for the DNC members who were in town for the DNC yearly meeting, which kicked off the day before that event.
Q Can you distinguish between residence, meaning the third floor where his living room is, or the Blue Room, Red Room, the other —
MR. CARNEY: I think the residence is that building that we see over there.
Q The entire building. So meeting with him, say, in the East Room would be the same thing as if he was meeting —
MR. CARNEY: I mean, it’s the residence. I’m not sure of the nature of the question.
Q Some people make a distinction. Does the President have instructions for —
MR. CARNEY: But it could be a distinction without a difference.
Q I don’t know about that. Really? The East Room would be —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. You’re asking questions.
Q — suitable for a private political —
MR. CARNEY: I think — I’ve got ample
evidence here of a variety of Presidents, some of whom, in fact, a great number of them I think you covered, where events were held in other rooms in the residence, including the East Room, including the Christmas parties that the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee have for supporters, and where folks wander in and out of the variety of rooms in the residence.
Q Has the President issued any instructions to his staff here, as you’re moving into the campaign season, on how to keep kind of a firewall between official White House activities and campaign activities?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are definitely instructed, as previous administrations are, to maintain that distinction. And we follow all the rules accordingly.
Q This actually follows up a little bit on what Ann was asking about.
MR. CARNEY: I’m shocked.
Q The Office of Political Affairs, is it true that it has been disbanded? And can you tell us what the rationale or thinking was behind closing that office at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was closed — I mean, it was — that position was not filled when it became open again. I don’t know — I’ll have to get to you on the rationale. But, yes, there is not Office of Political Affairs.
Q And do you know when that happened? I mean, it was more than one job; it’s like seven jobs.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe — well, I mean, in terms of the director of it, when he left — but you’d have to look to when he left. I think that’s when it happened.
Q And can I follow up on something from yesterday? When the President was criticizing the work ethic of Congress, was he directing that at Republicans? Because it was a tad confusing — I mean, one branch of the Congress is under the control of the Democrats, but was that a bipartisan criticism?
MR. CARNEY: I think he was — I he spoke pretty clearly that it was about Congress, that Congress needs to do its job. That members of Congress, lawmakers of both parties need to come together and do the hard work that’s required to solve this problem and to achieve significant deficit reduction.
Q And to follow up on Josh’s question, just that answer, as you know, the President’s comments yesterday have been critiqued for good and bad. So when did this administration make the decision to shift strategy for the President to publically go out and forcefully push against Congress the way he did yesterday on the economy?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we shifted strategy. I think the President, in answer to questions from you, expressed —
Q I didn’t get a question.
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s — just to digress here, that you might have, and a number of others might have, if those who did ask questions in general kept to one question. (Laughter.) And I think that would be helpful for all of us.
Q Jake is not here to defend himself. (Laughter.)
Q He’s in the back. He just came back. I saw him —
Q Wait, I’m getting his questions now. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: So — because there’s only — the President can answer, let’s say, 15 questions in an hour, and he can either answer that many questions from eight people or from 15 people, depending on how people handle it when they get called on. So, to you —
Q He’s gone from ten to seven. Normally, he answers normally ten to seven questions in a press conference.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he answered more than that yesterday. So going to your other question, again, this was the President expressing his great sense of urgency and his feeling that now is the time to act. And he expressed that very clearly. This wasn’t a change in strategy; this was him reacting to questions very forthrightly and honestly about how he views what’s happening here, and how he thinks the American people view what’s happening in Washington.
Q But people are saying — I mean, people, just average Americans, have been tweeting about it, have been Facebooking about it, and political analysts have been talking about it — there was a marked difference in his approach yesterday. This President has been known from the very beginning to take the high road and stay above the fray. And now he came out very strong. He even compared Congress and their procrastination to his daughters and how they use their syllabus a day ahead and do their homework.
MR. CARNEY: Do their homework, yes.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President was speaking in very plain terms about a situation that everybody can understand, even those who don’t have the time to dive into the arcane details of what’s happening in negotiations here about deficit reduction and dealing with our debt.
I think overwhelmingly the American people view what’s happening here in the way that the President expressed it yesterday, which is that they don’t expect us to agree on everything, but they do expect us to reach agreement on important things; to compromise; to come together; to roll up our sleeves and do the work that we were sent here to do. And that’s what the President was saying yesterday, that it’s time to continue the progress that we’ve made, that an opportunity exists here that does not present itself very often, and that we should seize it.
Q Jay, could I follow up on something that Ann was asking, which is an important ritual when a President becomes a (inaudible.) I’ve been asking the same question. Usually, Presidents and their staffs and the Counsel’s office put out a memo to staff about the Hatch Act and how to not get (inaudible), and they do briefings in the Executive Branch —
MR. CARNEY: We get briefings all the time about this, yes.
Q So I’m trying to get information about all of the avenues that Ann just brought up that this White House and the administration are trying to pursue to make sure that the President and all of his staff stay out of trouble. But I can’t get any information. So can you
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m happy to —
Q — take control of this and maybe get —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking for. If you want to —
Q — a memo from the Counsel’s office that goes around —
MR. CARNEY: And you have memos from previous administrations? Let me — well, let me take it afterwards and see.
Q Since I am sitting in the Time seat right now, I feel compelled to ask. (Laughter.) What is —
MR. CARNEY: In my day, the Time seat was up here. I don’t know what happened. (Laughter).
Q What is your reaction to Mark Halperin’s comments this morning, and MSNBC issuing an apology? And separately, what is your reaction to yesterday’s appeals court ruling on health care?
MR. CARNEY: On the first question, it would — the comment that was made was inappropriate. It would be inappropriate to say that about any President of either party. And on behalf of the White House I express that sentiment to executives at the network. I have no comment on that — whatever action that network, any network, any newspaper or whatever might take, because that’s not for us to decide, and we didn’t certainly — we expressed our concern about the inappropriateness of the comment.
Q Can I follow up on that? All the TVs here are on MSNBC. Is that going to stay the same? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that’s true, at least not in my office. I think we mix it up. But the other question about health care, let me —
Q You didn’t (inaudible) —
MR. CARNEY: No, I did not. No.
I think it’s important to know this is the Sixth Circuit decision that you’re talking about. This is a significant ruling by a panel made up I think of a significant mix of judges. And I think that — I would just note that there have been a number of rulings upholding the constitutionality and legality of the Affordable Care Act, more than those that have not upheld it.
You would think sometimes, from reading newspapers or watching television, that only the ones that have been — that have gone against us are happening, because the ones like the one yesterday, a very significant rule upholding the full constitutionality of the individual responsibility provision, is a very big deal. And I would just note that, again, there have been a number of those rulings, and that we remain confident that as this works its way through the judicial system, that it is fully constitutional and that’s why we continue to implement, and why we continue to think provisions in it are so beneficial to the American people.
I’m going to go all the way back. Yes, sir.
Q The President said yesterday that he will be talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform a week from now, a month from now, six months from now. But when he’s planning to do something about it? I mean, go to Capitol Hill or send a piece of legislation about it? What’s he planning to do? I mean, just talking and —
MR. CARNEY: The President — well, we have seen already there an effort to move comprehensive immigration reform. This is what we’re talking about, right?
MR. CARNEY: And what we have seen is that there is a need to build pressure to place on Congress to again embrace bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, which it has in the past. There is a precedent here and this can get done. But we have taken an approach where we believe it’s important to do some of the things that the President has done and certainly many others in the administration have done, which is to reach out and to increase the visibility of this issue, and to encourage people to speak with their members of Congress, their senators, to encourage them to address this, because we need to do it. We need comprehensive immigration reform that takes into account that we are a nation of laws and we are also a nation of immigrants.
Q Do you think it will be done before the elections of next year?
MR. CARNEY: I would certainly hope that would be the case. I can’t, however, predict what Congress will or won’t do. But we will certainly continue to push it.
Q Can I follow up on that, Jay?
Q The President’s recommendation — or agitation yesterday, and then the Majority Leader confirming today, the Senate is going to be in session next week. What is the difference between success and failure, and what legislative vehicle is he looking for? Is it a week of floor debates? What’s going to be the better outcome of them being here will achieve?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, Congress needs to be here to take action. So what we will do is to continue to negotiate, to continue to meet and to have conversations with the relevant lawmakers — well, they’re all relevant, but the leaders and those specifically engaged in this endeavor, and to move this process forward, and to see if we can do what we think is possible, which is achieve significant deficit reduction.
The form that that takes matters less than how it happens. We believe and we think that the reason why — or one of the reasons why the talks led by Vice President Biden did make progress is because they were done in a way where they could address issues seriously and be confident that people weren’t running out to the microphones immediately afterwards and giving readouts of what was being discussed — because these are obviously difficult issues. And we disagree on these issues for a reason, and sentiments are keenly felt on both sides. But we need to get outside of our comfort zone, accept a little discomfort, accept a little heat, if you will, from our bases in each party, in order to do what’s right for the American people.
Q But is this punitive — but is it punitive, or is there some actual vehicle that’s going to come out of this in the next week that you’re —
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s not punitive. I mean, I think the Senate decided obviously to — on its own to say, no, there’s — I mean, the vehicle is the negotiation and conversation —
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: — what meetings there might be — I’ll wrap it up. What meetings there might be, I don’t have an announcement for you. But we will — we look forward to continuing the conversation and hopefully getting something done.
1:25 P.M. EDT