Washigton, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 14, 2014 – 1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Happy Friday. There is no clearer path, as you know, to middle-class opportunity and success than higher education. And many career-training programs are offering millions of students the opportunity to further their education and get ahead. But too many bad actors are luring students in with promises of an education that will get them a high-paying job only to leave them with a mountain of unsustainable debt, and without a job or without the skills needed to succeed in the workforce.
That’s why, today, the Obama administration is taking action to protect Americans from predatory and poor-performing career programs that burden students with debt and leave them unprepared to succeed.
I have with me today, as you can see, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He is here to talk to you about the steps that he and the administration are taking with regard to these poor-performing career programs. And as we traditionally do, I’d ask you to direct questions you have for him on his areas of expertise at the top of the briefing. I will remain to take your questions on other subjects, if you have questions on other subjects.
And with that, I give you Secretary Duncan.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Thank you so much, Jay. Career-training programs offer millions of Americans an opportunity to further their education and reach the middle class. And these values are absolutely the cornerstone of our economy, but too many of these programs today fail to provide students with the training they need at taxpayers’ expense and the cost of students’ futures. And that’s why we’re taking action to protect Americans from poor-performing career programs that burden students with debt and leave them with few opportunities to succeed.
Earlier this morning, we released a proposed regulation that addresses growing concerns about unaffordable levels of loan debt for students enrolled in gainful employment programs by targeting those that are the lowest-performing, while giving all programs the opportunity to improve. This rule is designed to identify those programs. They’re doing a good job, and target those that are failing both students and taxpayers.
Over the past year, our Department of Education has collaborated with higher education leaders to determine how best to craft a rule that protects students from enrolling in poorly-performing programs that leave them saddled with debt that they can’t repay, and with a degree or certificate that they cannot use.
The effective programs, those that provide training to prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation, include nearly all programs at for-profit institutions, as well as certificate programs at public and private nonprofit institutions, such as community colleges.
And here’s how it will work. Our department has proposed a framework with three different components: First, certification requirements; second, accountability metrics; and third, public disclosures, greater transparency. This proposal distinguishes programs that provide high-quality, affordable education and training from those that leave students with poor earnings prospects and high amounts of debt, or which lead to high student loan default rates. The programs with the worst outcomes would lose eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs more quickly to protect those students and taxpayers, while other poor-performing programs would be given additional time to improve and to better serve their students.
The proposed rule also increases transparency about gainful employment programs by requiring institutions to tell both current and potential students about key outcome measures, like debt, earnings, loan repayment rates, loan default rates, completion and withdrawal rates. This information would identify those programs that best serve students and help them make more informed decisions about their educational investment.
Under our proposed rule, programs that don’t pass the two-part accountability metrics — how much debt former students have relative to their income, and how often they are defaulting — would eventually become ineligible to provide federal student aid.
To be clear, the majority of gainful employment programs out there today will pass these metrics. High-performing institutions, where real training is leading to good jobs, see an opportunity here — they can expand their programs and serve more students in more communities. Success will be rewarded. But today, too many programs, particularly those at for-profit colleges, will fail if they don’t improve.
We are especially concerned about the students at these schools. Of the students who are in the lowest-performing programs under our new metric, 98 percent of them are programs at for-profit institutions. What’s more, students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but they make up 46 percent of all loan defaults.
And of the for-profit gainful employment programs that our department could analyze, and which could be affected by our actions today, the majority — the significant majority, 72 percent, produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.
It’s important that people understand these institutions are overwhelmingly taxpayer funded. For-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of the revenue from taxpayer dollars, with the additional revenue on top of that frequently coming from veterans’ benefits and private student loans. In fact, the programs that would fall under this rule receive $21.6 billion in federal loans and $7.1 billion in Pell grants each year. That’s close to $30 billion every single year. And over time, that number has been growing.
To be clear, a program that leads to unaffordable debt and default isn’t an opportunity, it’s abuse. We want to shine a light on the career programs that are doing good work, while making sure that students and consumers are aware of those that are not. The regulation is designed to do six things. First, make improved information about gainful employment programs available to consumers. Second, result in higher-quality programs. Three, lead to reduced costs and reduced student debt. Four, result in higher earnings and a better return on educational investment for students, prospective students, and their families, as well as for taxpayers and the federal government. Fifth, lead to the growth for high-performing institutions, and we want them to expand and create greater access and more opportunity. And finally, eliminate the worst-performing programs.
The proposed rule provides institutions with the opportunity to make immediate changes to avoid becoming ineligible for federal financial aid. Institutions will have a transition period that takes into account any immediate reductions in cost for students or any improvements in the debt-to-earnings ratio for graduates. For many institutions, every one of their gainful employment programs passes those proposed metrics.
We want to see these high performing expand and serve more students, while we want to make sure that the ones that prey on students do not continue their abusive practices. We want more, not fewer choices for Americans pursuing their career training, which they need to enter the middle class.
In recent years, we have seen the rapid growth of enrollment and the rise of default rates at for-profit institutions. These problems, and the widespread evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse, prompted President Obama to embark on a negotiation with the higher education community over new regulations. The students at these programs, including many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, enrolled in the hope of finding steady, well-paying careers, but too often they didn’t get what they need and what they deserved. Instead, they found confusing or blatantly misleading information, excessive costs, poor quality, low completion rates, and programs that provide training for low-wage occupations or, in some cases, where there simply aren’t any jobs.
College must open up doors of opportunity, but students in these failing programs often ended up worse off than before they enrolled.
Thank you so much. I’ll stop there and take your questions.
MR. CARNEY: Major.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you give us some aggregate numbers about the number of for-profit institutions you’re talking about that would likely be ineligible if they stayed on the same path? And how many students we’re talking about? And isn’t it possible that some of the students are bad students?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Anything is possible, yes.
Q But isn’t that part of the —
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Let me just walk through the numbers. And to be clear, we’re not talking about institutions, we’re talking about programs. So this is at the programmatic level. So institutions might have 10, 20, 50 different programs and widespread. Some institutions, all of their programs are passing, some it’s a mix, some not many.
So at the program level, we’re talking about roughly 8,000 programs and a total enrollment — 4.5 million people. And if things don’t change, we anticipate about a quarter of those 8,000 programs failing. But to be clear, we just looked at a one-year snapshot; we actually think there will be rapid improvement. We’ve actually seen some pretty significant improvement in these past couple years. And our hope is that many fewer programs will actually fail at the backend.
Q On the call yesterday, I believe I heard that this would be — this is a proposed regulation that you envision taking effect in 2016, is that correct?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: So we’ll put this out, we’ll get public comment, get feedback for the next 60 days, the next two month; take that feedback very seriously. And if we go according to plan, this rule would go into effect July 2015, and then we would have results towards the end of 2016.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. What do you say to some of your critics who would argue that ultimately this could wind up hurting some students by depriving them of the chance to get a higher learning opportunity?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: So I think said six or seven times we want more opportunity, not less; we just want those to be high-quality opportunities. And, again, many, many programs — the majority of programs pass these metrics. We want to see them grow, we want them serving more people. We need this sector to do well. We need more people — often, these are folks who are struggling, trying to make their way up the economic ladder. This has to be a path to the middle class.
So we want to expand opportunity, but it’s got to be high-quality opportunity. When that opportunity is leading to massive debt, when that opportunity is leading to massive default rates, that’s not opportunity any of us can be proud of, that’s not fair to people trying to climb the economic ladder, it’s not fair to taxpayers, and, frankly, it’s abusive.
Q And, Mr. Secretary, so you’re issuing a “buyer beware” warning, basically, about for-profit colleges?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: No, I wouldn’t even say “buyer beware.” We just want much greater information out there. These are hardworking, often single moms with two and three children trying to do the right thing; people going back to work, who want to go back to work who have been laid off. We just want them to know what are graduation rates, what’s my earning potential, what are debt rates, and just having clear information there.
We want to see good actors, great programs grow and expand to serve more folks, but where the wrong thing is happening for both people and taxpayers, we have a real problem with that. Again, you go back to so many people coming out the backend with earnings less than high school dropouts — that’s not why people are investing their time and energy and resources. Other places, this is an absolute chance to enter the mainstream, enter the middle class of America. That’s what we want. And so this is about being tough, being clear, but helping people improve as well.
Q What percentage of money did you say these for-profit institutions get from the federal government?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, this is important for people to understand. First of all, the total number is roughly $30 billion, not quite that. That’s been going up each year. But let me be very clear: They’re allowed to get up to 90 percent of their income from taxpayers and then many actually go well beyond that because there’s an additional rule, which we understand, where veterans can take their benefits as well. So you go up to the 90 percent threshold and then many go beyond that because they’ve actively, actively recruited veterans. And, again, when they’re giving veterans a chance to be successful, that’s fantastic; when they’re taking advantage of veterans, that’s morally staggering to me. But the overwhelming majority of their income comes from you and I and Jay — from taxpayers.
Q If they’re so unsuccessful or their track record is so poor, why do people continue to go into them? Is it because they’re — basically the taxpayer is paying for it all?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: There’s been no accountability and there’s been very little transparency, and it’s been interesting to me — you sort of look at this, these are for-profits; they have historically had no risk. So all of their revenue comes from us as taxpayers, the overwhelming majority. And whether or not they’re producing graduates who can be successful, there was no sense of accountability. A pretty good business model, but not good for people and not good for taxpayers, not good for people doing it.
And, again, there are many players who are doing a fantastic job, doing it the right way, really helping people get real skills that lead to real jobs —
Q In the for-profit sector?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Absolutely. Advanced manufacturing, IT jobs, health care jobs, green energy jobs. We just want to see more of those — we want to see those types of programs grow and thrive, but those that are being abusive, we think is just simply not fair to people struggling to improve and it’s not fair to us as taxpayers.
Q Just one other on this. So they can get up to 90 percent if they can get another —
SECRETARY DUNCAN: X percent.
Q — the rest of it. But, overall, this sector, this for-profit higher education, do you have an aggregate figure for how much money comes from the government?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: It’s close to $30 billion.
Q No, no, but the percentage.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Again, the vast majority go right up to that 90 percent.
Q The vast majority go up to — wow, okay.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: And, again, many go beyond because of the veterans’ benefits.
Q I know you’re talking programs and not specific institutions, but can you cite any especially egregious offenders here who use these programs? Is there anyone that really stands out?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: I’m not interested in names. Again, as I said earlier, there are some institutions that every single one of their programs passed these metrics, and that’s a really good thing. There are other programs — there are other institutions where very few or almost none passed these metrics, and there’s tremendous spread — there’s everything in between.
And, again, we just want good players, good actors to grow and thrive, and we want bad actors to, frankly, go away. And as folks here know, we’re just not the only ones interested in this — many states attorneys, attorney generals are looking at this in the most egregious situations. So you could look at those cases or those complaints, criminal charges are involved here.
Q Since you’re here with us, could you give us an update on the related program that the President announced last year for traditional colleges and universities, where he was going to create a rating system kind of like U.S. News?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Actually not like U.S. News, very different from U.S. News.
Q I stand corrected.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Thank you. And lots of differences there and some pretty significant disincentives that are for good behavior we think in the U.S. News. So, first of all, that’s a ranking system. This is not a ranking system, this is a rating system. We are still very early on thinking it through. We’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings with higher-ed experts and students and faculty and presidents. I was in Boston earlier this week, had some very productive meetings. It’s tough, it’s complicated. We’re going to really think it through carefully. We’ll come out with a draft down the road a little bit. Again, just like this, there will be a draft, we’ll put public comment out, get public comment; we take that feedback very seriously. And so we’re still in the early stages there, but spending a huge amount of time and energy, and it’s a fascinating body of work.
Q Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you a variation of the question I asked the Chancellor of the New York State Higher Education System when she was here for your roundtable conference. Do the rules that you’re laying out, and standards, also apply to trade schools as well? Are they included in the list of institutions of higher education?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, folks who are in the gainful employment space — so for-profits, nonprofits, public/private community colleges — it applies across the board.
Q Would that include metallurgical schools and agricultural schools?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, I don’t know program by program, but I think so. Yes. James is much smarter than me, he says yes.
MR. CARNEY: Anyone else? In the back.
Q What are you doing to extend these rules to K-12? For example, there are some surely bad actors in the K-12 sector, so what are you doing to push bad actors, as you say, to push bad actors out of the K-12 sector?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Well, that’s a very different sector, to be clear, and lots of things we’re doing to try and improve that sector. We’ve invested billions of dollars to turn around low-performing schools. There’s actually an amazing low-performing — technical — it’s a longer conversation, I don’t want to go into it, but we’re trying to turn around low-performing schools.
We would love to fix the No Child Left Behind law with Congress. The law has been broken for a while, and unfortunately Congress is pretty dysfunctional. We’ve provided waivers to the vast majority of states in this country. We’re thinking through very positive accountability systems, looking way beyond test scores but looking at reductions in dropout rates, graduation rates, college-going rates, college perseverance, going to college, and not needing remedial classes.
Overall, big picture, we’re actually pretty pleased with the progress. High school graduation rates are at all-time highs, 80 percent. Dropout rates are down very significantly. Over the past decade, Hispanic dropout rates have been cut in half. African American dropout rates have been cut in half. Their improvements are leading to higher high school graduation rates. College enrollment rates are up; we have to make sure that translates into graduation rates, but some pretty positive trends there. But we are challenging the status quo in unprecedented ways in historically underperforming schools.
Q You have no plan to push bad actors out of the K-12 sector?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: No, to be very clear, we are investing north of $5 billion in the bottom 5 percent of schools in each state, and we’re seeing tremendous transformation. And just, again, literally from this week — amazing school, Worcester Tech, an amazing education to careers, a school in a community that’s struggling. This was one of the worst schools not just in Boston, the Boston area, but in the state of Massachusetts. A couple years later, it’s one of the highest-performing schools we have. So that is one horrendous school, was absolutely transformed and turned around. And we’re going to continue to see those kinds of efforts.
MR. CARNEY: All the way in the back, and then Jared.
Q Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask about the geographic dispersion of how the impact might get as the efforts go forward to sort of ramp up these programs.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, I don’t know sort of state by state or whatever it might be. And, again, I think many communities have good programs, many communities have bad programs, and we just want to see more good programs grow and flourish and expand. And we want to see those bad programs, frankly, wherever they are, we want to see them either change and improve and do it with a sense of urgency, or we don’t think as taxpayers it’s a right thing to do to continue to fund them.
Q Obviously, you’re reluctant to name bad actors now at this point and you’re being very deliberate over the timeline over the next few years. For a veteran who is coming home this week, or for someone who’s looking to transition to jobs this week, by the end of 2016 could have an associate’s degree, is there any Department of Education information or any other information?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, we have a huge amount of information on our website and transparency and scorecards. And it’s been interesting that, as we try to get more information — again, we just think the truth is important; there’s been pretty significant resistance to just sort of getting basic information out there. So we think veterans deserve the best — not just veterans, but everyone deserves the best. We just want much more transparency around outcomes, and we’ll see everything from As to Fs and we want people to make informed choices.
And historically, honestly, what’s driven much of this market has been marketing, and less on the results side. And I’m less interested in the marketing; I’m more interested in where people are getting great results. Real training leading to real jobs — we want to see those grow.
Q Is the marketing budget or percentage spent on marketing a factor that you guys are putting into that —
SECRETARY DUNCAN: It’s not. There’s been lots of public — that’s a longer conversation — lots of public deliberations there. I’m interested in outcomes. I’m interested in outcomes.
Q Mr. Secretary, on this issue, I mean, is there also maybe a broader issue about whether too many colleges are making — measuring success just by enrollment and graduation, and not making it a higher career-ready thing?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: It’s a great question; that actually goes back to the original question. That’s why we’re working on this rating system more broadly. And this is an area where it’s easy to critique all this, but I really challenge ourselves to be part of the solution. So bigger picture — each year, the federal government puts out about $150 billion in grants and loans, that’s with a “B.” Again, that’s all of our support. And the overwhelming majority of that has been based upon inputs, not outcomes. And so that’s exactly what the President is asking us to look at and challenge, and over time have more resources go to those places that are doing a good job not just on access, which is important, but on completion.
In the current budget that the President proposed for 2015 — this has never happened; we would love to see it happen — is additional dollars going to universities that are graduating Pell grant recipients. So Pell grant recipients, often first-generation college-goers, more financial need, often more disadvantaged — the goal is not to just have them enroll, the goal is to get that diploma at the backend. So we want to do more in that space, and the President is challenging us to do better there.
Q And also, an unrelated question. But the state of Indiana this week has moved to roll back Common Core Standards. Could you comment on that at all?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: They absolutely have the right to do this. This is a state-led effort; it always has been, always will be. And whatever Indiana decides, we want to work with them to make sure that students have a chance to be successful.
MR. CARNEY: Chris, last one.
Q Secretary, there’s going to be a briefing in about an hour on Capitol Hill on the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to set up anti-bullying policies and report them — report instances of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, to the federal government. The administration has articulated support for this bill in the past. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how it should pass that legislation.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Is this Congressman Polis’s bill?
Q It’s Linda Sanchez. There’s two of them, but Linda Sanchez is the one –
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Okay, so I don’t know details of each one. I’m just a huge fan of Congressman Polis; I think he’s worked so hard on these issues. Not dissimilar to this conversation — the more honest we are, the more transparent we are, the more we’re dealing with the facts and trying to improve whatever they are. We desperately need to do that. And I worry tremendously not just about physical bullying, but about cyber bullying. I worry that if we don’t have safe schools, children simply can’t learn. There’s certain fundamentals, certain foundational things. Children have to be safe, they have to be fed, they have to be able to see the blackboard. Their physical and social and emotional needs need to be met, and then we can talk about algebra, trig, and AP biology and chemistry.
So I don’t know all the details, but whatever we can do to bring greater transparency, greater information, and share best practices, we have to protect kids. One of the hardest parts of my jobs is meeting with parents who have lost their children due to both physical and cyber bullying. And my wife and I have two young kids; that’s something obviously no family, no parent should have to go through.
MR. CARNEY: All right, Goyal.
Q Mr. Secretary, what is the future of Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative? What are we still waiting on?
SECRETARY DUNCAN: I’m sorry, his what initiative?
Q Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative that was signed between the two leaders here at the White House. And where do we stand? Because that’s supposed to bring a lot of jobs in the U.S. and will benefit both countries as far as the education system in both countries are concerned.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Yes, I’ll have to follow up with you on details on that. I don’t — I’ll come back to you.
Thank you so much.
MR. CARNEY: I want to thank Secretary Duncan for being here. Thank you all for your excellent questions.
SECRETARY DUNCAN: Thanks, guys.
MR. CARNEY: All right, if you have questions on other subjects, let’s try to answer them.
Q Thanks, Jay. A U.S. official has been saying that the Malaysian jet that disappeared may have been caused — the disappearance may have been caused by a person, and it could have been an act of piracy. Can you confirm that that’s something that investigators –
MR. CARNEY: Who’s saying that?
Q A U.S. official.
MR. CARNEY: Which U.S. official?
Q That U.S. official has demanded anonymity to make that comment.
MR. CARNEY: So what I can tell you is the Malaysian government is in the lead in this investigation, and U.S. air safety officials are in Kuala Lumpur working closely with the Malaysians on the investigation. This is a difficult and unusual situation, and we are working hard, in close collaboration with the Malaysian government, to investigate a number of possible scenarios for what happened to the flight.
Our hearts of course go out to the families of the passengers who are in this agonizing situation. Unfortunately, definitive conclusions still clearly cannot be drawn at this time. The U.S. government is tracking the situation closely, and we are in communication across agencies and with international partners to provide any appropriate assistance we can in this investigation. We are also continuing to participate actively in the search efforts. We are consulting with our international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy, including to the new search areas to the West.
So to the extent that you have questions about what happened to that flight, I can assure you that I don’t have conclusive answers. I don’t think anyone does. But we are participating with an array of international partners, assisting the Malaysian government in the effort to find out what happened to the plane and where it is.
Q I know that you don’t know any more than any of us where the plane is, but is it among the possibilities that investigators are considering that the plane may have landed somewhere?
MR. CARNEY: I think for specifics about what we know and what we’re doing in the investigation, I would refer you to the FAA and the NTSB, and I wouldn’t speculate about the scenarios that have been laid out there in the media or by people participating in the investigation, because I don’t think any of us or any of them has been able to reach a conclusion as to the whereabouts of the plane or to what happened to it.
Q And, Jay, the President has been saying for a long time that he doesn’t have it within his power to further ease deportations. He’s confronted hecklers, but he’s said even as recently as last week that he’s already stretched his administrative ability pretty far. Has the President changed his mind?
MR. CARNEY: What we announced last night is that the President met with Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman, Ruben Hinojosa; CHC Immigration Task Force Chair, Luis Gutierrez; and Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Xavier Becerra in the Oval Office last night.
The discussion focused on their mutual efforts to pass common-sense immigration reform legislation through the House. The President emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system. And he told the members that he has asked new Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, to do an inventory of the department’s current practices to see how it, the department, can conduct it more humanely within the confines of the law.
What the President has made clear, and what those speaking for him have made clear, is that he does not have the authority to achieve comprehensive immigration reform; only Congress can do that. And that is why it is imperative that the House follow suit, take up a bill that is ready to go in the House that mirrors the principles that you see in the Senate bill that was passed with Democrats and Republicans that, in turn, reflects the principles the President has put on the table, so that this can become a reality and the President can sign it into law.
There is no other way to fix all that is wrong with our immigration system. What the President has asked Secretary Johnson to do is conduct a review of practices to ensure that within the confines of the law we are carrying out these policies in the most humane way possible, because he is very cognizant of the pain that families who are separated have been feeling as a result of deportations.
But there is no fix here that does not include legislation. That is why it is so important for the House to move forward, for the House to continue the progress that we saw earlier when leaders announced that they had settled on a set of standards and principles that would guide them in the effort to reform the immigration system comprehensively. And I would note that Speaker Boehner has said very recently that it is important to move forward on immigration reform. The President could not agree more.
Q So what changed between when the President said last week he’s done everything he could do, and now when he’s saying there might be other things that he can do, even if it’s not a fix?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that Secretary Johnson will conduct this review and look at our practices, and make sure that they are being engaged in and that the laws are being enforced in a way that is as humane as possible.
What remains the case — because we have obviously priorities when it comes to enforcement; they are border security and they are public safety. And on the public safety end, that means making sure that we are using the resources we have, when it comes to enforcement, on ensuring that those with criminal records, convictions, are made a priority when it comes to detainment and deportation. And I think that’s part of what the Secretary will engage in when he looks at this review — to ensure that the guidelines that are on the books, that reflect the laws that are on the books, are being followed and executed as well as possible, acknowledging all along, as the President has, that is it long past time that the House take up comprehensive immigration reform and pass it. Because there is no doubt in my mind — and I know that you all know this — that if that bill were allowed to have a vote on the floor of the House, it would pass and it would pass with Democrats and Republicans, because neither party has a corner on understanding the importance of this issue or knowing that passage of comprehensive immigration reform would be a tremendous boon for our economy and our businesses and our security.
So this is just another reminder that Congress has to act, and we certainly hope that the House will do so as soon as possible.
Q Knowing that Republicans are actively looking for reasons to argue that the President has overreached, how concerned is the White House that by taking these steps you’re actually making it less likely that the President will be able to sign an immigration bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Republicans in Congress ought to pass comprehensive immigration reform. They know and we know that the way to fix the broken system is to do that, and that there is no executive action that this President or any President can take that would fix our immigration system comprehensively in the way that it must be fixed.
So I think that the House ought to, as the Speaker has said, take up this issue, acknowledge that it’s serious, acknowledge that there are economic and security benefits to passing comprehensive immigration reform, take that argument to their districts and their states where we’re confident it will be embraced, and let’s get this done. This is the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for the economy. It’s the right thing for our security, and it’s, frankly, the right thing politically for the Republicans to take up.
Q But they say they can’t trust him to enforce the law. Doesn’t this play into that directly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, if the Republican message is they refuse to reform our broken immigration system because they have an issue with the President, I think they ought to explain that to the American people.
What the President has said is — and he’s made this very clear — there is no substitute for legislation that fixes our broken immigration system. Congress ought to get about the business of passing that legislation.
Q Jay, has the President decided on what the cost will be for Russia once this referendum comes through?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you, Steve, is after the executive order was signed, teams in the government have been working on assessing possible actions that can be taken using the authorities that the executive order provides. I would point you to what Secretary Kerry said not long ago in London following his lengthy meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
We have obviously not gotten to a situation where Russia has chosen to deescalate, where Russia has chosen a path of resolving this situation peacefully and through diplomacy. That is regrettable.
We will have to see how the next several days unfold. I would note that Secretary Kerry mentioned that his counterpart said that President Putin is not prepared to make a judgment about or a decision about Ukraine until after the so-called referendum on Sunday takes place.
That referendum, as Secretary Kerry, President Obama and so many others here in Washington and around the world have made clear is not legitimate, will not be legitimate. Its results will not carry the weight of law because the referendum itself is inconsistent with and in violation of the Ukrainian constitution. Russia has violated its commitments. It has violated international law.
We still hope that there is an avenue here that Russia will take in order to address its concerns in Ukraine in a manner consistent with international law, in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. But there’s no question that we’re pretty late in the game here with regards to the situation in Crimea and this referendum on Sunday.
Q So a diplomatic solution looks like it’s simply not going to happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to pursue and remain open to a choice by Russia to resolve this diplomatically and engage in an effort to deescalate tensions in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. I’m not going to speculate about what happens tomorrow or Sunday, or into next week. I can tell you that as the Europeans have said, and Chancellor Merkel has said, we stand ready to respond should the referendum go forward on Sunday.
Q And how quickly will you respond?
MR. CARNEY: I think without putting too fine a point on it, I’d say quickly.
Q Getting back to the missing flight, or missing plane, is there a sense within the White House that as this goes on, as it takes longer to solve this mystery, that the U.S. should step up its involvement?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I promise you that we are involved. We have dedicated a lot of assets to the search effort. We have engaged through the NTSB and the FAA onsite, as well as through officials from other agencies here in a collaborative effort with the Malaysian government and our international partners to try to find out what happened to this flight. And that effort will continue.
First and foremost, I think all of us who have been following this story can only imagine the agony that the family members of those passengers continue to suffer because of the lack of answers. So we are focused on it, we are working with the Malaysian government, we are working with our international partners. What we aren’t engaged in, publicly, anyway, or anonymously, is in speculation about what might have happened. We’re working with a whole host of authorities to try to find out what did happen.
Q And has the President offered any thoughts on what’s happening or has he been watching this?
MR. CARNEY: He’s fully aware of it and has been briefed on it, and knows where things stand. And he, too, is very concerned about the suffering that the families have to endure in a situation like this, and very concerned about the whereabouts of the plane.
Q And getting back to Secretary Kerry’s comments, he said that President Putin has indicated that he’s not going to weigh in on what’s happening in Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday. Might that be a potential diplomatic opening, not to disagree with Steve here, but maybe that President Putin is thinking about this?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t want to speculate except to say that the time is certainly now, the time is right to decide to deescalate and deal with these challenges in this very tense situation in a manner consistent with international law, for Russian military personnel to return to bases and for the levels of Russian military personnel in Crimea to be reduced to ones consistent with agreements between the Ukrainian and Russian governments; and for Russia to engage in a dialogue with the Ukrainian government in partnership with members of the international community; and for Russia to avail itself of the offer being made here to send OSCE monitors into all parts of Ukraine to assess whether or not the rights of all Ukrainians are being adequately observed and protected.
That’s the path out. That’s the path that avoids transgression of international law, violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity. That’s the path that allows Russia to reverse a downward trend in its own economic situation, its markets and its economy and its currency; allows Russia to reverse a trend towards isolating itself within the international community. And we hope Russia embraces that opportunity.
Q There’s a Russian media report of a U.S. drone being intercepted over Crimea.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that report.
Q And on immigration, you said something about — and it was in the readout last night that Secretary Johnson will be looking at policies so that enforcement is pursued more humanely. What does that mean? That maybe perhaps special dispensation might be offered for families that are being broken up?
Q I’d refer you to DHS, which is engaging in this review. I think the point is, as I mentioned earlier, we have our very top priorities when it comes to enforcing our immigration laws, and that’s border security and that’s public safety. And when it comes to public safety, we have as our priorities targeting those with criminal records, those who have been convicted of crimes, violent crimes in particular, and that is what the guidelines say about what our priorities should be. And the review I believe will assess how effectively those guidelines are being utilized on the ground.
And I just want to make clear that the President understands and is concerned about the pain caused by separations that have come about through deportation, but he also understands and has made clear that there’s no comprehensive fix here that he can himself enact. Congress has to act; the House has to follow the Senate’s lead. There is an array of benefits that comprehensive immigration provides, many of them could be argued — could be described truthfully as conservative benefits when it comes to security and economic growth, and making sure that our businesses are all playing by the same set of rules. This is something that everyone has and everyone on Capitol Hill should be able to embrace.
Q Jay, on the missing Malaysia Air flight, you mentioned the NTSB being involved — of the United States helping in the search. Obviously, the military has moved assets in to help in that search process as well. But are there also U.S. intelligence assets and U.S. counterterrorism personnel involved in investigating whether or not this was an act of terror?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, we’re in a constant and ongoing interagency communication on this issue, but I don’t have anything specific about every individual from every agency that’s participated in discussions about this or weighed in. Our lead agencies are the NTSB and FAA, and the DOD through the assets that it’s providing. But everyone has been obviously engaged in a conversation and discussion and analysis about what’s happened here. Malaysia has the lead in the investigation. It’s a Malaysian airline flight that was lost, but we are assisting, as are many other nations, in every way that we can.
Q But can you answer — I’ll try one more time a little more directly. Are we investigating — is the United States government investigating whether or not this was an act of terrorism? Is that part of what we are doing here?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we’re not ruling anything in or out, and we are, in our investigation, assessing all possible leads and potential scenarios that are plausible when it comes to what happened to this flight. So I think that’s a way of —
Q So that would be a yes.
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is we’re not ruling anything out. I’m not having conversations with our investigators. What I can tell you is that we’re actively involved in the investigation in which the Malaysian government has the lead.
Q And on Ukraine, you’ve mentioned before the visa ban obviously that was done at the time you started the process on sanctions. Can you tell us how many individuals have been subject to that visa ban? I know you can’t give us names, but can you give me a number?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if the State Department is able to do that, but I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Okay. And then one last one. This is the third anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and it’s been a while — it’s been about a year and a half I think since we’ve heard the President say that Assad’s days are numbered. Do you still think Assad’s days are numbered?
MR. CARNEY: It is certainly our view that Bashar al-Assad, who has brutally murdered his own people routinely over far too long a period now, will never rule Syria again in the way that he did in the past. The Syrian people have made clear that they won’t tolerate that. The cost of his brutality has been enormously high. And we have, with our international partners, engaged in a broad effort to assist the Syrian people through provision of humanitarian aid and to assist the opposition through a variety of forms of assistance to help it in its effort to achieve a better future for the Syrian people.
So the answer is the days when Assad could rule all of Syria and that Syrians would go along with that are over.
Q But I assume when the President said I believe Assad’s days are numbered, he meant that he would be out of power in Syria, period.
MR. CARNEY: The conflict — I take your point. Obviously, the conflict hasn’t ended and that is a shame, and it is especially regrettable because the only resolution here is through a negotiated settlement, a political settlement. And that’s why we continue to press with our partners in this effort for the Geneva II process to continue, for a process that can lead to a transitional government and to a better and more democratic and prosperous future for Syria to be achieved. But the fact that Assad continues to oversee an effort that crushes his own people and murders women and children is a terrible thing. There is no question about it.
Q But do you still believe Assad’s days are numbered? And, obviously, the number would be —
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I’ve answered the question.
Q Well, no, you haven’t. Do you still believe that his days are numbered? And I assume that number would be — everybody’s days are numbered, I guess in a larger sense, but —
MR. CARNEY: Well put. (Laughter.)
Q But the President — when the President said I believe Assad’s days are numbered, the impression wasn’t that he was still going to be in power a year and a half later, was it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think anybody is glad that Assad still has control over his military and some portions of his country and is using that control to slaughter other civilians — Syrian civilians in other parts of his country. That is a terrible thing indeed.
Q I’m not asking if you’re glad, I’m asking if you think he’s still going to be there much longer.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to make predictions about how long he will continue to have any kind of control over a military operation that’s brutally murdering Syrian civilians.
Q Could you go back, and come back to me?
MR. CARNEY: Cheryl.
Q A much lighter question. There’s a bill headed to the President’s desk probably pretty soon that’s supposed to fund cancer research but also would eliminate public funding of the party conventions. Does the President intend to sign this bill — H.R. 2019?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, the President is pleased to see that Congress has come together to pass legislation that aims to accelerate the search for cancer treatments for children, and he looks forward to signing the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. While the potential annual increase of nearly $13 million in children’s research at NIH is beneficial, the President looks forward to working with Congress to make even greater strides towards accelerating lifesaving research and strengthening public health in the future.
We support this bill because its chief aim is increasing our investments in potentially life-changing and lifesaving children’s research.
Q There is great anxiety that after this referendum Putin may decide to use the troops that are now massing along the Ukrainian border to expand his area of influence eastward. Are you prepared —
MR. CARNEY: You mean westward, I think.
Q Westward, I’m sorry, forgive me, westward. Are you prepared to say something on behalf of the White House to warn Putin in no uncertain terms about the costs and what that would do to this particular crisis, which is already pretty significant?
MR. CARNEY: There most definitely will be additional costs if Russia escalates this conflict rather than deescalates. And they will be imposed by the United States, but also by our European partners who have made abundantly clear that they intend to take actions should Russia not engage in efforts to deescalate but rather take steps towards escalation.
I’m not going to speculate about any particular thing that might happen. We are focused on efforts to avoid conflict, to avoid further escalation. We’re encouraging the Russians to move towards a dialogue with the Ukrainian government, move towards engaging with the international community, allowing international monitors into all of Ukraine so that they can make assessments about how the rights of Russian ethnics and all Ukrainians are being protected. That’s the proper path. The Russian government, the Russian economy have already endured costs because of the violations the Russian state has engaged in by transgressing international law by violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. And there will certainly be further costs if Russia does not deescalate.
Q You would agree that that’s not necessarily a hypothetical, that anxiety is genuine about that —
MR. CARNEY: No question.
Q — and the threatening presence of the troops is of grave concern for everyone in the sovereign nation of Ukraine. If things do move westward, which appears to be a legitimate fear, does that in any way, shape, or form, open up the question of a possible Western military response?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate about that. I would simply say that escalation would be —
Q But should Russia know that that would change the character of this in a dramatic way?
MR. CARNEY: Further escalation of any kind would result in costs to Russia. I’m not going to enumerate what those would be or attach costs to certain hypothetical actions. I think Russia understands that the whole of the international community views what it has done in Ukraine thus far, in Crimea, as a violation of international law, a violation of Russia’s obligations under the U.N. Charter, and obviously further escalation that demonstrates further disregard for a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity would be viewed similarly.
Q Does the President believe it’s time for him to weigh in with Putin again directly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know President Obama has spoken —
Q It’s been a while. It’s been a while.
MR. CARNEY: He’s spoken on a number of occasions with President Putin. And Secretary Kerry has met and spoken with —
Q I know he’s been the main interlocutor. I’m just saying does the President think now —
MR. CARNEY: — with his counterpart more times than I can count at this point. So we have been actively engaged at the very highest levels with the Russian government, senior Russian officials, with our allies and partners and, very importantly, with the new Ukrainian government on these matters. The President met with the Ukrainian Prime Minister just the other day, and as you know, Vice President Biden has been very engaged in this effort and meeting with and speaking with leaders in Ukraine and elsewhere.
So I don’t have a conversation schedule to tell you about right now, but I think it’s been fairly demonstrated that from the President on down we’ve been directly engaged in this.
Q On immigration, let’s try to cut to the chase. It’s no secret in the Latino community that there’s been tremendous conversation with this administration about the deportation issue and a lot of pressure, both public and private, about getting a reassessment of the kind the President set in motion last night. It’s also well known that the threat of that reassessment has been communicated to House Republicans — if they didn’t move immigration reform, the President would engage possibly in this prosecutorial discretion on the nonDREAMer side of the deportation question. Are you not sending a signal to the Hill, you better pick up the pace, because if you don’t we have executive branch tools and we very well might use them, and you better reassess this slow walk in immigration? Isn’t that what’s happening here?
MR. CARNEY: I would say a couple of things about that. First, it is absolutely the case that this kind of review would not be necessary if Congress had passed and the President had been able to sign into law comprehensive immigration reform that fixed all the problems that have been identified and are addressed in that legislation. What is also the case is that suggestions that the President has the authority through his executive power to achieve everything that that legislation would achieve are false and cannot happen.
Q No, but with the DREAMers — it’s clear that with discretion, decisions can be made that address the particular issue deportation has raised with those who have been lobbying this administration to take the same look there that you did with the DREAMers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, what I can tell you, because I don’t want to predict what —
Q And you give them hope that that’s going to happen.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to predict what the product of Secretary Johnson’s review will be. He’s reviewing existing policies to ensure that the immigration laws are enforced and administered effectively, sensibly, and in line with our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
But whatever the result of that review, I promise you it will not provide a substitute for the urgent need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Congress has an opportunity to do that. Congress, I think it’s fair to say, would be rewarded for doing that, by demonstrating its capacity to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation that is sorely needed, as recognized by business leaders across the country, by labor leaders, by law enforcement leaders, by faith leaders, by a coalition the likes of which we rarely see when there is a much debated political issue here in Washington. So this is an opportunity for Congress to show the American people that it can do something substantial in a bipartisan way. And we hope that House Republicans will seize that opportunity.
Q Last, you can’t be as satisfied as the statement said last night about the unemployment insurance extension legislation. It’s five months; you wanted much longer than that. It requires pay-fors, which sets a precedent you said didn’t necessarily have to stand. It’s the best you can do, an unhappy compromise, I’m guessing.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re pleased the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have come together around an agreement to extend emergency unemployment benefits for the more than 2 million people now — Americans who have been fighting every day to find a job. The President, as you know, has repeatedly called on Congress to take action on a compromise solution to extend this vital lifeline for millions of hardworking Americans.
And this is not just the right thing to do for these Americans looking for work; it’s the right thing to do for our economy, as economists have made clear. The benefits of this legislation are felt directly and quickly in our economy. And so we urge the Senate — the President does — to pass a bill — the bill, and for the House to do the same so that he can sign it into law.
Look, the point we’ve made and continue to make is that far often than not — in fact, in the vast majority of occasions — Congress has seen fit to extend emergency unemployment benefits without an offset because this is emergency assistance, and that was the point we have made all along. We also urge Congress —
Q Lost that argument.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we win here because we aggressively have been calling for extension of unemployment insurance. That is vital for our economy and most vital for those, now, 2 million families. We have called on Congress to find a compromise. We’ve never ruled out — and certainly aren’t now because we’re embracing this progress — the fact that there could be a compromise. But the point we were making in the past and we’ll make in the future, if necessary, is that the argument that there had to be an offset was belied by the fact that President George W. Bush signed on more than one occasion an extension of the very same benefits, absent offsets.
Q So on the deportation issue, you’ve set up a couple of times today a straw man —
MR. CARNEY: I have?
Q Yes, by saying — by suggesting that there’s no way in which any action that he could take could solve all of the problems that a comprehensive immigration bill would solve, which is not at all —
MR. CARNEY: Moral majority. The thing is there is no substitute here for comprehensive immigration reform. And suggestions that we’ve seen that there is some action he could take that would resolve this issue are simply not the — are not accurate. They’re not —
Q I’m sure there are some people who make that suggestion. I’m not saying there are not. But many of the suggestions that activists and now the lawmakers that have been through the White House in the last couple of days have suggested is not it could solve everything, but is there some discrete — some other discrete steps that you could take akin to the DREAMers, like, for example, could you carve out the parents of DREAMers as one subset? Could you carve out another subset of people that might be a discrete group that would still fall within the phrase confines of the law but would both be a signal to the community that you’re doing something, and also substantively improve the lives of people that would no longer be deported?
And I guess the question is — without sort of the answer about, like, well, it wouldn’t solve everything — does the President hope that this review comes back and either — and concludes from the DHS or from his own lawyers that, yes, there are additional subsets or additional groups that you could do something with?
MR. CARNEY: I think I lost track of what the question is. But I’m going to — (laughter.) I kind of guess what you’re looking for. Clearly, the President has asked Secretary Johnson, who was already engaged in this effort, to review the implementation of existing laws and to do so in a way that looks very closely at how the laws are being implemented with regard to our top priorities, which are border security and public safety, and to make sure that the implementation of the law is being carried out in a way that is mindful of the fact that we have a tradition here — or traditions here that is a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants and that there is pain being caused here to families.
Having said that, without predicting what the outcome of the review will be, what is absolutely the case is that this review will not produce a solution that obviates the need in any way for comprehensive immigration reform to be passed.
The opposite is true, as I said earlier when I was asked this, I think by Major, one thing we can say is that if the House would follow the Senate’s lead and pass comprehensive immigration reform, it’s highly unlikely that we would have to conduct a review like this. That’s the reason why comprehensive immigration reform is so important and why it needs to be comprehensive, so that it can address not just all the undocumented people in the country but the enhanced security issues with visas for students who come here and we want to stay so they’ll start business here, and matters involving making sure that businesses across the country are playing by the same set of rules.
So there are a lot of things that need to be addressed, and our hope is that Republicans won’t block progress here. It’s in the country’s interest most importantly. It’s in the economy’s interest, equally importantly. And it’s also in Congress’s interest to demonstrate to the American people that they can get this done, and we hope they will.
Q Jay, can I follow on that? Just to ask —
MR. CARNEY: Geez, I think I’ve said almost everything I can. (Laughter.)
Q You don’t have to restate that whole thing, you can just —
MR. CARNEY: Ah, I forgot my water. (Laughter.)
Q You mentioned that the President’s concern about inhumane treatment seems to focus on the separation of families. Is that part of Secretary Johnson’s charge, to look at ways to reduce specifically that?
MR. CARNEY: What Secretary Johnson is doing, and what the President has asked him to continue doing in a formal way is to review or do an inventory of DHS’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely. And the President singled out the issue of family separations as one that obviously causes pain to too many families. But this is all something that falls into an approach that is undertaken within the confines of existing law.
And the guidelines that we have which set priorities — border security and public safety — and within the context of public safety, it sets a priority on targeting convicted criminals, violent criminals, and making sure that they’re removed because they pose the greatest threat in the country.
Q Not a priority on keeping families together?
MR. CARNEY: I think the point of the guidelines is to ensure that the resources we have are focused on those priorities, and that in carrying out the implementation of the policy we are mindful of the need to do so humanely.
Q Could you just speak to the timeline too? Was there a time certain?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a timeline associated with it. This is a review that’s being conducted at DHS, so I would refer you to them.
Q Jay, on the subject of Kerry’s press conference — he used an interesting term, a curious term to me — “hooliganism” — to describe some of the unrest that’s being fomented in three Eastern Ukraine cities. Hooliganism implies a certain spontaneity, randomness. The New York Times this morning used a very different description of it, citing reports that Russians are being bussed across the border into these three Eastern Ukraine cities under the direction of Russian intelligence forces to foment this kind of agitation. Have you verified that those reports are correct? Which is hooliganism?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information that can further elucidate that report. And I don’t think there’s a distinction between the way Secretary Kerry described what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine and what you just reported. And I’m not confirming how these incidents have come about or how they’re being directed. I’m simply saying that the kinds of pretext that may be created or aimed at trying to stir up a conflict are ones that have a lot of historical precedent and we’re keeping a very close eye on. What we have seen throughout this very tense situation is a Ukrainian government that has shown tremendous restraint and exercised extreme caution and responsibility in dealing with a very difficult situation. And we obviously encourage them to continue to do that.
But I don’t have anything more on reports of the nature that you just described except that we are very concerned about the prospect for any kind of violent conflict that the situation in Ukraine might devolve into.
Q On that note, Lavrov said that they have no intention of a military intrusion in Eastern Ukraine. Given that Russia has already denied the presence of its own special forces in Crimea, why should they believe — we believe when it comes to Eastern Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a great question. I mean, we’re obviously monitoring things very closely.
Q You don’t believe, in other words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not predicting the future. What I’m saying is we’re going to look and see what’s happening and what happens, because, obviously, as Doug points out, descriptions by Russian leaders of what has happened in Crimea are starkly at odds with the facts and have been consistently for many days now.
Q One last question on that — has there been any reconsideration at all of resurrection of a missile defense shield in Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania?
MR. CARNEY: We have a very robust missile defense program, as I guess you know, and we continue to work with our partners and allies on it. When it comes to this issue and this conflict between Ukraine and Russia, perpetrated and instigated by Russia, we are interested in de-escalation and we are dedicating a lot of effort to trying to persuade Russia to avail itself of an opportunity to address its concerns in Ukraine in a way consistent with international law, with the partnership of the international community and international monitors.
Q Jay, I want to go back to the question about the timeline. I know you don’t have a specific date, but did President Obama not say, can you get back to me in a couple months with this review, or a year —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more on a timeline for you. The review is being conducted by Secretary Johnson, so DHS might have more specifics.
Q Okay. And going back to Ukraine, obviously we heard some strong language from Chancellor Merkel yesterday. Has President Obama gotten any assurances from his European partners that sanctions will go into effect almost immediately if the referendum does go through on Sunday?
MR. CARNEY: I think there has been a lot of consistency in the way that the United States and our European partners have viewed the situation in Crimea and Ukraine in general, and in the actions that we believe together have been necessary to take in response to the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and, obviously, steps that we would take quickly should there be an escalation in that conflict.
I would point you to what Chancellor Merkel has said publicly and what other leaders have said publicly when it comes to steps that might be taken as soon as Monday should the scheduled referendum take place.
Q Has he spoken to Chancellor Merkel today, since her remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any other foreign leader communications to read out to you today besides, obviously, the Prime Minister of Ireland who’s here.
Q And getting back to sanctions here, there’s obviously legislation pending in both chambers, and one of the things that’s holding up the legislation in the House is this IMF quota increase. As you know, Republicans are saying that they could get on board with this if that were dropped. Given the enormity of the situation, given the referendum that’s going to pass, the increased presence of troops along the Ukrainian border, does President Obama think that that should be dropped and that the legislation should be passed without it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we support what’s happened in the Senate and we commend Senators Menendez and Corker for passing Ukraine legislation out of their committee on Wednesday with a strong bipartisan vote — 14 to 3. You don’t see that every day, especially in this Congress. That’s a good thing. And I think that reflects the fact that Democrats and Republicans alike — or at least a substantial number of Republicans in the Senate understand that in addition to the direct assistance the United States can provide and that the administration wants Congress’s help in providing to Ukraine, passing IMF quota reform, which has been long delayed, is vital to ensuring that the IMF can lend resources on a scale that Ukraine needs to regain its financial footing.
So there is a direct connection between passing IMF quota reform as part of this package and providing additional support to Ukraine. So the broad bipartisan concern that lawmakers have on the Hill about the situation in Ukraine, the consensus that has taken hold up there around the idea that the United States ought to be doing what it can and everything it can when it comes to providing that assistance and making sure that Ukraine is able to regain its financial footing, suggests that the right thing to do is to pass a bill that includes IMF quota reform.
My understanding is that Senator Reid filed cloture on the Senate’s Ukraine bill and the Senate plans to consider it when members return from recess next week. And we support legislation that includes IMF quota reform because it’s the right thing to do generally and because it provides additional means for the IMF to give support to Ukraine.
Q Jay, at this point, it doesn’t appear as though you will be able to get it through both chambers. So given the resistance that you’re hearing on the Hill, given the resistance that you’re hearing from Democrats and Republicans, in some cases, do you think, in order to move this through quickly, that the President would consider dropping it?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we support legislation that includes bolstering the IMF in its capacity to lend to Ukraine. The Senate has moved that forward out of committee. We support that. We urge the Senate — full Senate to pass it and for the House to do so as well if, in fact, they share our concerns, which we believe they do, about the situation in Ukraine.
Q What do you say to those who say the IMF has assistance programs that would allow enough funding?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the “enough” is the issue here. Obviously the IMF has assistance programs. But what is also true is that the IMF has not seen passage of these quota reforms out of the United States now for a number of years; they ought to be passed because passing those reforms would expand the IMF’s capacity to provide assistance and loans to Ukraine.
Q You said that sanctions could come quickly —
MR. CARNEY: Both Jareds. You first.
Q Thank you — could come quickly, as soon as Monday. Russia will likely respond with actions against economic, military and diplomatic interests of the United States. What does the administration anticipate? What are we ready for in terms of a counterpunch?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know how to answer that. We’re obviously focused on efforts to resolve the situation in Ukraine diplomatically and persuading Russia to avail itself of a means through the international community to address its concerns in Ukraine and make sure that ethnic Russians are having their rights observed and protected.
Look, when we look at sanctions, as a general matter, we look at the consequences of imposing them. That is certainly the case here. But the actions we’ve taken through the executive order — the visa bans and other measures that we’ve taken already — they reflect our belief that that’s the right policy to pursue given the circumstances created by Russian actions in Ukraine. We’re not alone here. Europe has indicated the same posture.
So I’m not going to speculate about what reaction there might be if, in fact, the action you describe takes place on Monday or soon thereafter. We’re obviously monitoring all the situations and examining how any scenario might play out.
Q Do you anticipate and are you prepared for actions like effects to the North Distribution Network, additional actions taken against American companies, diplomatic pressure on Iran and Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don’t — I’m not going to speculate about, certainly, what another government might do. What I can tell you — or do — is point you to statements by the Russian government when it comes to their continued support for the P5-plus-1 process and for the effort to rid the Assad regime of its chemical weapons and the responsibilities that the Russian government has in that process.
On other matters, I’m not going to speculate.
Jared, I owe it to you, and then I’ll give you a week in review.
Q Week ahead.
Q We know the week in review. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: If Bill Plante were here I’d play that video. That would be pretty good. Has everybody seen it?
Q I saw it.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure it’s playable for — on family television.
Q Just a quick one, what does the President hope to get out of Monday’s meeting with Mr. Abbas?
MR. CARNEY: He will discuss progress made with President Abbas, as he did with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He will commend President Abbas, as he did Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the tough decisions that each leader has made thus far in an effort to move the process forward. He will speak of the need to establish a framework for negotiations going forward and the need to — as that takes place, for additional tough decisions to be taken so that we can see a resolution to a conflict that’s been going on for a long, long time and that results in two states — a Palestinian — a sovereign Palestinian state and a secure, democratic, Jewish state of Israel.
We hope that we will see progress. This has been a very difficult issue for a long, long time. It’s one that Secretary Kerry and President Obama have engaged in directly. We are doing everything we can as a partner to both Israelis and Palestinians in trying to help them move forward in this difficult process.
Week ahead — not in review — begins this way: On Monday, the President will welcome Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. The President looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — I could have just read this and not answered your question. They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is something that we and many others have worked with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in doing.
On Tuesday, the President will award 24 Army veterans the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. These veterans will receive the Medal of Honor in recognition of their valor during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. This event will be held here at the White House.
In the evening, the President will attend a DNC event here in Washington.
On Wednesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Orlando, Florida for an event on the economy. Following this event, he will travel to Miami, Florida to attend DNC and DCCC events.
On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
I feel bad because you had your hand up, Jessica. Did you have anything —
Q Yes. One of the readouts came out of the Lavrov-Kerry meeting, and Lavrov said that he wasn’t going to make any moves until after the referendum. Is that too late?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s certainly too late with regards to the referendum, which we believe is not valid because it doesn’t — it’s not legal under the Ukrainian constitution.
We’re going to continue to engage with Russia in an effort to see Russia deescalate and resolve this conflict in a manner that’s consistent with international law, that honors the integrity of Ukraine’s territory and its sovereignty. So we’ve been engaged in that process. We would like to have seen Russia avail itself of the off-ramp that the international community has built here already, but we certainly will continue in an effort and remain open to a diplomatic resolution to this conflict.
Thank you all very much.
2:38 P.M. EDT