Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 12, 2011 – 12:54 P.M. EDT. See below for an answer to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Before we get started, I just wanted to give you a quick readout of the meeting the President had with Senate Republicans. It was a good and constructive meeting; lasted about one hour and 15 minutes. The President listened attentively to Republican senators and their — what they had to say about deficit reduction and the need to do that.
The President had very much the same message for Senate Republicans that he had for Senate Democrats yesterday, which is that we all need to work together to find common ground and to achieve a goal that we all share, which is serious deficit reduction. And he says that we all recognize what the problem is; we have to work together to solve it.
He also made clear that both sides have to give a little and that no one is going to get everything he or she wants. And that’s a message, again, that he delivered to both Democrats yesterday and Republicans today.
And with that, I’ll take questions.
Q And so what did the President hear from the Senate Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speak for the Senate Republicans, but he did obviously hear a variety of things from a number of Republican senators who spoke on a range of issues involving aspects of proposals for deficit reduction. And he appreciated the input, obviously made some of the comments that I just stated to you. You may — I will anticipate a question about whether the debt ceiling came up, and while that was not at all the dominant topic of discussion, it did come up. And everyone in the room, at least who spoke to that issue, agreed that we absolutely have to raise the debt ceiling, which was a good thing.
Q The trigger idea that Obama has been promoting, McConnell said on the Senate floor today that agreeing to a trigger today is to deny the crisis. Was that discussed? And given that Republicans are rejecting the idea, why does the President —
MR. CARNEY: Well, if that’s a reference to what the President said in the town hall with Americans on CBS that I think aired mostly this morning, he was reiterating his proposal from the fiscal plan he put forward, which contains substantial deficit reduction, spending cuts of $2 trillion, further reduction of a trillion dollars through tax expenditures and a trillion dollars in savings from reduced interest on our debt, for a total of $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years. That proposal also contains within it the failsafe, the trigger that he was referring to yesterday, which we see, the President sees, as a means of holding everyone’s feet to the fire to ensure that we take the action necessary to reduce both spending and — reduce spending in all ways, including through the tax code, in order to reduce our deficit, but allow us to continue to invest in those areas that will make American — the American economy the dominant economy in the 21st century as it was in the 20th.
Q Given that Republicans are roundly rejecting the trigger idea —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not sure that that’s —
Q — what leads the President to believe that it’s viable?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think this is — as I’ve said before, we are in the process of serious and constructive negotiations led by the Vice President of the United States, at the President’s request, with appointed leaders of Congress, at Blair House. Another meeting is being held today that we hope will build on the productive meetings held already, and hopefully this process will lead to an agreement on significant deficit reduction.
Q On Libya, can you tell us whether the President will be dropping by the meeting with the opposition tomorrow, and are you moving any closer to recognizing that opposition?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information on whether or not there will be additional guests at the meeting with the National Security Advisor. I think — we think that the Council serves and has served as a credible and legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people, for the opposition, and we obviously think — we appreciate the statements that the TNC has made with regards to renouncing violence and al Qaeda, and embracing democratic reforms and — but I think recognizing — if the question is recognizing the TNC as the official government of Libya, I think that’s premature.
Q Jay, are you any closer to a budget deal as a result of today’s talks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think anytime you can get Democrats and Republicans together, in this case a Democratic President and Republican senators together, to talk about this issue, that’s a positive thing, because it takes — as the President has said and others have said, including Republicans, this is not the kind of thing you can do by ramming through one side’s proposal. It just — it won’t happen. And progress needs to be made. Everybody recognizes the problem exists. There is broad consensus on a solution or a target for serious deficit reduction — $4 trillion. And so we need to come together, Democrats and Republicans, the White House, to find these kinds of — this common ground that we need in order to produce a result the American people very much expect out of their elected leaders.
Q Did they do any negotiating, or are they simply in a stage of just sort of describing each other’s positions?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think when you have 50-odd people in a room you’re going to get a lot of negotiating done. I think this was an exchange of ideas. The President obviously gave his views on issues, but he also made sure to spend a large portion of the meeting listening to Republicans, because he wanted to hear what they had to say.
Q And finally, what’s driving the decision behind FBI Director Mueller?
MR. CARNEY: I think it is a testament to Director Mueller’s remarkable service and commitment to this country that after a 10-year term, during one of the most difficult periods in this nation’s history and during the total reorientation of the FBI towards counterterrorism and the threats that emerged in the wake of 9/11, that he has been willing to serve for an additional two years. The President very much appreciates that and thinks that for continuity it’s a welcome development, and he looks forward to Congress, both House and Senate, approving this extension.
Q The Libyan opposition is coming here tomorrow and will meet with the National Security Advisor, but not with President Obama. Is there a reason?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just answered this question with Erica. I mean, he’s meeting with the National Security Advisor to the President. I don’t know that others may or may not be part of that meeting. But I think it’s an important meeting. It’s his first trip to Washington, first trip to the White House, in his capacity, at least as far as I know. And —
MR. CARNEY: That’s okay.
Q The other question I had, about the cyber security plan, is there a reason — did she ask about that, too?
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a reason the cyber security plan does not impose a fine, as opposed to the Lieberman-Collins-Carper plan had a fine if a company — their plan was deemed insufficient — their cyber security plan was deemed insufficient, and the administration’s plan does not have a fine. It has like a shame mechanism where the administration can call out the company publicly. Is that because it will be easier to get through a Republican House, or are there political considerations, or is — what was the reasoning behind it?
MR. CARNEY: Let me step back and say that I think you all got the notice that for your cyber security reporting colleagues, there is a — will be a conference call —
Q It’s going on right now.
MR. CARNEY: — at 1:00 p.m., moments from now. So I hope your colleagues are aware of that.
And for details on this proposal, which we do believe will garner bipartisan support, because it’s a very important issue, and the specifics, in terms of how it differs from other legislation — there’s a lot of legislation out there, so there are differences in details, obviously, with many other proposals. But the overall effort, the overall goal of this proposal is to better protect the American people from cyber crime and identity theft; to better safeguard critical infrastructure as well as the federal government’s computers and networks; and to better protect individuals’ privacy and civil liberties.
Now, in all those things, there is a balancing effect that you need to reach so that security is protected, privacy is protected. And I think that would go to industry as well.
Q Right, but there are a lot of individuals who have been calling for tougher cyber security measures. The administration says that there are too many vulnerabilities right now and that’s why this needs to happen. And one of the arguments for fines is companies are not doing it and they need to have the threat of a financial penalty or else they won’t do it, as is the case right now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we believe that the approach that’s put forward in this proposal would serve as a strong incentive for those industries that this would affect to take the necessary measures to — for cyber security. Again, more details, I think, in terms of how we think this would work and why it’s the best approach, can be provided by our cyber security experts, if not on this conference call maybe on another one. But I don’t have any more details for you on that.
Q Jay, can I just ask again about the FBI director. I know that it was asked, but I just wanted to follow up, which is that Director Mueller — no knocking his credentials, I mean, leaders of both parties believe he’s fantastic — but he made no secret about his desire to leave. And the administration has been interviewing candidates for months. Could you just not find someone with the right credentials? Did nobody want to take on such a big task? What happened?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all. I mean, what the fact is, is the President believes that Director Mueller has done an excellent job for him — for this President; obviously for President George W. Bush. It’s remarkable to think — to remember the fact that he started on I believe September 4, 2001, a week before 9/11, and has served so effectively since that day.
And he really appreciates the willingness of Director Mueller to do this for another — to serve for another two years. He’s already — since they instituted the 10-year term — already the longest-serving FBI director. And obviously this would be — add to his remarkable service.
And it’s important to note, too, that Director Mueller — to your point about the bipartisan support — has been nominated to confirmable positions by four Presidents: first President Bush, President Clinton, second President Bush, and now President Obama.
So the President is very appreciative of the service that Director Mueller has provided and thinks that — remember, we have a change at CIA, we have a change at the Defense Department. This willingness of Director Mueller to continue to serve for two more years helps provide continuity, which is important.
Q Quick question about Afghanistan. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was at a forum last night and said that he thinks the responsible level of troop reduction in Afghanistan, come July, would be in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 out of the 100,000 U.S. troops coming out. Does that sound like a fair range that the White House would be considering, or do you anticipate there would be more troops coming home than that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we appreciate Senator Graham’s input and others. What I think I said still holds true, which is the President has yet to receive a proposal from General Petraeus which would emanate from the commanders on the ground and looks forward to that. I don’t have any update on that except to say that the transition point of July 2011 will happen and it will begin a drawdown of U.S. forces, the pace and scope of which will be determined by conditions on the ground, based on the recommendations that the President receives from Secretary Gates, General Petraeus, and other commanders.
Q Jay, you said earlier that in the meeting with the Republicans, the President said both sides have to give a little. Did the President make clear that that means for the Republicans that’s on taxes, that they need to give a little?
MR. CARNEY: This was not a meeting to get into specifics, not to negotiate the details of an agreement. But I think the point that he is making is a broader one, which is that as we saw in the CR debate for fiscal year 2011 that bipartisan compromise has to come — can come, will come — when each side is willing to take a sober, serious, constructive approach and also be willing to move off of his or her starting position.
Q So are you saying that that meeting was as vague as you’re being and the topic of the Republicans saying that taxes are off the table never even came up?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to speak to what — specifically what the Republicans said, and I think it’s fair to assume —
Q Well, did he bring up the topic of taxes in any way at all?
MR. CARNEY: He did bring up his belief that we need to tackle our overall long-term deficit and debt problem with a bipartisan — rather, a balanced approach, also a bipartisan approach, and then that would have to include, in terms of a long-term solution to this problem, has to include all aspects of spending, including spending through the tax code. And — otherwise one segment of society has to take on an unfair portion of the burden. And that’s just — his vision of shared prosperity and shared responsibility would indicate that you need to have a balanced approach to this. And obviously he believes that; he put that forward very publicly in his proposal. And while he was mostly listening in today’s session, of course he did make clear his views on that.
Q And do you think in making clear his views the Republicans left the room clearly understanding that their position of taking taxes off the table is unacceptable?
MR. CARNEY: I think they all left agreeing entirely with his position. (Laughter.) Again, I’m not going to speak for the Republicans, but I think it was a useful meeting, a productive meeting, where views were exchanged and, again, the President appreciated the meeting and looks forward now in coming weeks to meet with the House side, both Democrats and Republicans.
Q The meeting was more specific — not as vague as you’re being —
MR. CARNEY: Well, correct. It was an hour and 15 minutes long so there were more specifics that were put forward, principally by Republicans, because, again, the President wanted to hear from them and there were a number of Republicans in the room. So he didn’t want to dominate the meeting by doing all the talking.
Q On another topic, yesterday you said at one point — you were asked about the Republican nominating process, and I’m sorry, I forget who asked the question but —
Q It was me, Chip.
Q It was the brilliant Mike Viquera, I believe, who said that — (laughter) — and you were asked if the President — Mike asked if the President has expressed an opinion about why it’s taking so long for Republicans to get into the race to run against him, and you said — quoting in part — “I have not heard him discuss in private even that process, so I don’t have anything to add.” Are you suggesting that the President — is that because you leave the room when the topic —
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q — of politics comes up, or are you actually asking us to believe that the President has never mentioned that whole Republican nominating process going on, it just doesn’t even occur to him to mention it?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say that at all. I simply said I have not had that discussion with him — and I think it was more specifically about — the way that Mike phrased the question. I think broadly speaking, this is not a topic that’s very much on his mind right now. He’s obviously been busy with other things. And there will be a time for the campaign, and for him, by and large, it’s not now. Obviously his campaign has started and he does have some of that on his calendar, but the overwhelming focus of his time right now is on his policy agenda, both national security and domestic. And that honestly is what we spend most of our time talking about. That and raising kids.
Q But this is a man who loves politics. It’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t spend time back there talking to David Plouffe and David Axelrod and people like that about the Republican nominating process. You seemed — you were trying to suggest that he’s just not even talking about it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that. I’m saying that I have not had any kind of sustained conversation with him about it, and I don’t leave the room when politics comes up. Honestly, it just is not coming up, especially on the Republican side, very much. It’s just not. I’m sure it will at some point, but it’s not now.
Q Would you let us know? (Laughter.)
Q A couple more Democrats — Senator McCaskill, Congressman Connolly joined independent Senator Joe Lieberman today in criticizing the draft order on procurement. The senator is saying it risks injecting politics into the contracting process. How would you reassure them that it would not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you’re asking me to talk about a draft of an order that probably or may change, as all drafts tend to do, so I don’t have anything more to add to the specifics of that.
I would simply say that disclosure is a good thing, and I’m not sure when it became a bad word or a bad idea. Disclosure used to be something that Republicans supported very much, and I think that the American people support it a great deal.
So specifics of this executive order I do not have for you, but I think that the principle of disclosure and transparency are very much at the heart of a notion that — at the heart of a goal that has — I mean, of a drive that has as its goal the direct opposite of what you’re suggesting, which is that transparency and disclosure allow for everyone to see — look into a process and probably reduce the possibility of politics entering a process like that. And I’m just speaking, again, in broad terms, and not specifically about any possible executive order.
Q Congressman Issa, one of two committee chairs holding hearings on this today, said in a release, contractors “fear a corrupt, Chicago-style spoil system where contracts are tied to partisan political affiliations.” Would the President be offended by that?
MR. CARNEY: Could you repeat that? Because I can’t be offended if I don’t quite understand it.
Q “Concerns that this executive order will have a chilling effect on contractors who fear a corrupt, Chicago-style spoil system” —
MR. CARNEY: Let me just again talk about the broader principle. Is it really the case that disclosure — honestly, Wendell, I used to cover the Senate and I can remember, during the McCain-Feingold negotiations, the Republican mantra was disclose, disclose, disclose. We agree.
Q Sir, the Attorney General says it’s crucial that the FBI have sustained, strong leadership to confront the threat; there’s no better person for the job than Bob Mueller. You have similarly lauded Mr. Mueller, Director Mueller. Why two years, then?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the man has served admirably in what must be one of the hardest jobs in the country, if not the world, for 10 years. And the President appreciates his willingness to serve for an additional two years to provide that continuity.
Q Is it — and that’s sort of a political — is there a correlation with the political calendar?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all. In fact, I think you could argue the opposite, that the President has an opportunity — would have under the normal procedure an opportunity to nominate someone new. He’s asking instead to have the current occupant stay on for another two years.
Q Through his first term.
MR. CARNEY: While we are highly confident that the President will be reelected, it is certainly possible that he might not be, and then the next President would have the opportunity to nominate —
Q So the timing of the presidential election is a consideration?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just made the case for why it’s not.
MR. CARNEY: Do you get that?
Q I thought you said, actually, two sides — I thought you were on both sides of that —
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that if it was about politics and the President wanting to nominate his own — because obviously this current FBI — he was nominated by the previous President — then he would do that now. But instead he is — has asked the incumbent director to extend his service for another two years. Two years from now he will either be in his second term — we’re confident that he will be — or there will be a new President who will then nominate the next FBI director.
Q Okay. You said it’s premature for recognition of the Libyan rebels. What about their desire for access to frozen Qaddafi family funds?
MR. CARNEY: I think we — I don’t want to be too specific because I just — I haven’t looked at this in a while, but I believe Secretary of State Clinton has spoken about this and we’ve worked on that quite a bit in trying to make funds available. And I’m sure that effort continues.
Q And finally, yesterday there were revelations that came out of the captured diaries of Osama bin Laden. What is the United States government doing in reaction to keep citizens safe in the aftermath of those revelations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you can be assured that, as we have from the moment we got access to the information that was collected by our team at the compound in Abbottabad that we have — we began the process immediately, poring over that data. That is what led to the alert regarding our rail system, because of the information suggesting the consideration of an attack against the rail system back in February of 2010. No imminent specific threat for now, but that was action taken with regard to that. And that is the approach we’re taking as we review all of the information that’s been secured through that raid.
Q Can I follow up on that, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q Has the administration given any thought as to how it plans to share some of this relevant information that could be of security — strategic and security relevant to its allies? And how would it do that?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, absolutely. I think you can be assured that as we do all the time, we’re consulting with our allies and the relevant intelligent services and sharing information that would be helpful for our allies improving their own security.
Q Their concerns are in their own cities that similar things would happen, that you may be able to glean some information.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything specific about who’s talking to whom and on what timetable, but obviously we have very important collaborative and cooperative relationships with our allies and with our counterparts in this effort, and I’m sure those consultations are taking place.
Q Thank you, Jay.
Q To follow up on Chip’s question, you said the President made clear that both sides have to give to get. So are Democrats still willing to move? Is that —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to negotiate the specifics. I’ll let what he said in this meeting and what he has said many times stand for itself. I think he has demonstrated his willingness to, for example, cut programs that he thinks are meritorious, that in times with less fiscal constraints he would like to see continue funded — continuing funding for, but understands that we need to live within our means and find areas that we can cut so that we can invest in those programs that we need to keep growing and creating jobs. And I think that that’s the approach he’s taken; that these are — this is about — this process is about making very hard choices in order to ensure that we continue on in this century on more solid economic ground and fiscal ground so that we can grow and compete.
So, yes, the answer is his approach is an approach that has at its core the idea that you need to be open-minded about ideas while obviously sticking to your principles and willing to compromise.
Q And then several days ago, Senator Robert Menendez said that if we end — or, excuse me, if the government ends the oil tax subsidies, then it should be used to lower the deficit, not for renewable energy funds, as the President has suggested. Would the White House support that, or —
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we’ve — what I would say about that is that this is a very good first step. We think that, as the President has made clear, that there’s an imperative here to deal with our long-term energy security and that that $4 billion a year that go to oil companies in the form of subsidies should not go to the oil companies, but should be used for clean — to invest in clean energy because of our long-term energy security needs. The fact is in this time of very high prices at the gasoline pump, it’s more evident than ever that we need to have a strategy for the long term to deal with our energy consumption.
However, it is also true that reducing the deficit and debt is a very important priority, and the President obviously shares that goal. And certainly that would be a better use of the money than continuing to provide billions and billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to energy and oil companies that are making record profits as we speak. And I think some executives were on the Hill today testifying from the oil companies, and I just would note that some executives of those oil companies in the past have made clear that they, too, believe that they do not need the subsidies that are provided in the billions of dollars from American taxpayers to their companies.
Q Just to make sure I understand, does that mean that the White House is hoping to use that money if it is — and I understand this is conditional — but if the breaks are —
MR. CARNEY: Our position is the best use of that money would be to invest in clean energy, because we need — as the President said, there are no short-term solutions to our dependence on foreign oil. There are no silver bullets here. But one of the things that has become abundantly clear as we go through these price shocks is that there’s a mad rush to declare a five-point plan to do something to bring down prices at the pump by politicians of both parties; then the prices go down — usually not because of anything that any politician did — and people forget about the urgent need to — and the long-term need — to do something to address our energy policy.
And the President has a very long-term vision about where we need to go in terms of cutting our dependence on foreign oil, investing in clean energy, investing in renewables. And that’s why he thinks it is an appropriate change from investing in subsidies for oil companies to investing in clean energy.
Q I have a couple of questions on this Libya meeting, but I also had a quick logistical thing on this FBI — is the President going to mention this in his law enforcement event that he’s going to have out here?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that he is.
Q Is Mueller going to be there? He’s been at these kinds of things in the past.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think so. Well, I don’t have anything — I don’t think so.
Q Okay. On Libya, is this more of a courtesy call, Jay, or will they talk about some of — is Donilon ready to talk about some of the more dramatic things that this group has talked about in the past couple of days? They want weapons. One of their leaders said in London today that it would be legitimate for NATO to target Qaddafi. Do you expect those kinds of hard issues to come up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously Mr. Donilon will listen and looks forward to listening to what Dr. Mahmoud Jibril has to say on a range of issues. I mean, this is a substantive, serious meeting, and he looks forward to it. But I don’t have any policy change announcements to make for you from here.
Q Same topic, Jay. I was wondering how does the U.S. feel about another one of their requests, which is technical assistance or tactical training and those sorts of things?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to — I mean, our position is we have been consulting with and assisting the opposition in a variety of ways. The Secretary of State has been leading that effort. There’s a contact group that’s been stood up that is very much involved in efforts to assist the opposition. We are also, as you know, a member of the NATO coalition that is continuing to perform its duties under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, and we have instituted the sanctions and other measures that we’ve talked about before in terms of putting pressure on the Qaddafi regime.
Specifics about other measures we may take in the future I don’t have for you. I’m sure that could be discussed tomorrow in the meeting with Mr. Donilon, but I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q On the asset freeze, is Congress involved in something like — what’s the mechanism for release of that money, if it is to be released?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to take that. I’m not sure.
Q Jay, a question about the debt ceiling negotiations. We know the President said both sides won’t get a hundred percent of what they want. At this point, is he clear about what the Republicans want?
MR. CARNEY: I think the Republicans have made very clear what their starting position is, if you will, through the House Republican budget proposal, through some of the other ideas and proposals that have been put forward — speech by the Speaker of the House the other day. And that’s all part of a process.
There is also a negotiating process going on through these talks that the Vice President is overseeing, and the goal of that process is for each side to find common ground and to find an agreement for significant deficit reduction that all the parties to those talks can sign on to.
Q Right, I get that that’s the goal of the talks, but Republicans have said different things, so that’s why I’m asking. Are you clear as to what, in these negotiations, what they want?
MR. CARNEY: Again, they — you’ve just made the point that sometimes some Republicans have said different things. The process through which we are hoping to reach an agreement is being conducted over at the Blair House by the Vice President. So we look forward to that process producing an agreement that we can sign on to.
Q Okay. And a question about immigration. This morning at the prayer breakfast he said again — he said this before — I know there are some folks who wish I could just bypass Congress with an executive order; I can’t. Does he mean he can’t because he’s been advised by his legal counsel that he doesn’t have the authority, or that it would be a bad way to get immigration reform, by issuing an executive order on deportation, for instance?
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is that it’s the —
Q He literally doesn’t have the —
MR. CARNEY: To make sweeping changes in our immigration law?
Q No, no, not to make sweeping changes. Just to make changes in the narrow issue of the deportations for college-age kids that some of these people are asking for.
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ll just leave it with what he said. The President supports comprehensive immigration reform. He thinks it needs to be done in a broad and bipartisan way.
Q But when he says he can’t, do you know whether he’s been advised by his counsel that he doesn’t have the authority?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take that.*
Q Could you take that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q I would appreciate it.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q The President’s speeches the last few days have said that the advocates of immigration reform need to, like, build a public campaign to get that passed. What is the President’s vision of that? There were protests all over the country four years ago about immigration in 2007; nothing happened. I mean, is the idea that people should call John Boehner’s district and get their constituents to change their minds? It’s not clear to me what is the pathway that people should take that the President is advocating. What are the steps they should take to make this happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he mentioned in his speech the other day about going to the website, and there’s a process there that you can get involved at that level.
But I think, yes, pressuring Congress, speaking out, organizing in a way that elevates the issue, makes clear what the aspects of the issue are, and why we need comprehensive immigration reform, and hope that that then is heard by members of Congress.
Q I don’t get it, because they’ve done that the last two years. Do you think they haven’t done that, or — I think it seems really — they’ve been trying to do that.
MR. CARNEY: The nature of these questions is always — you know, why are you guys even bothering, because nothing can possibly get done. And it’s just like — that’s just not an attitude that we have or that anybody who gets elected and sent to Washington should have. And the fact is, unlike some issues, this one has had bipartisan consensus or support behind it in the past. And for that reason and many others, including the urgent need to do it, we believe that bipartisan consensus can be created again. And that’s why he’s launched this effort again to try to get this done.
Q One following on that, you sort of bristled the other day when you were asked about —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t bristle. (Laughter.)
Q — when you were asked why he hadn’t tried to do this in his first two years when Democrats controlled Congress. Is that — and you indicated there was a lot going on and he was very busy. Is that the answer; it wasn’t that Democrats in Congress had urged him not to do so before the midterm elections? Why didn’t he do it in the first two years?
MR. CARNEY: Well, by “do it” — I mean, he obviously supported and wanted comprehensive immigration reform from the day he was sworn into office. He was also confronted with the worst recession since the Great Depression, which at that point in January of 2009 showed every sign, at least, of possibly slipping into the worst depression we’d ever had, or certainly one that rivaled the one in the 1930s. So with massive bank collapses and predictions of 25 percent unemployment and all that sort of stuff, that crisis certainly became the principal focus of his efforts in those — in 2009, in those early months.
But he has been committed to this from the beginning, and in fact, obviously, one aspect of it, the DREAM Act, he was — had hoped very much that in the waning days of that last Congress, not only would it get a majority vote in the House and a majority vote in the Senate, which it did, but that it would not be blocked and that it would come to his desk for his signature. And he was obviously disappointed that that didn’t happen. He is hopeful that it will be voted on again and that he will have the opportunity to sign it in this Congress.
Q He also didn’t — I mean, he spent a lot of time on health care reform, of course, so that was a higher priority, safe to say, than immigration overall.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you can — I’ll let you guys rank the priorities. I mean, there are a lot of urgent priorities, and health care was one of them. The crisis and the economy was paramount. Our ongoing national security challenges. I mean, there is — they’re all top priorities. What I will say is, those two that I just mentioned are the ones that he focuses on — I mean, if you had to rank them, protecting the United States of American citizens abroad and the economy and jobs, those I will concede outrank everything else that he worries about every morning and every night. But immigration reform is a priority.
Q And on the FBI director’s job, had the President — there have been about five or six names in circulation. And had the President met and talked with James Comey or Ray Kelly, Ronald Noble, any of those people? I know Raymond Kelly was here for a unrelated meeting recently. Has the President talked to anyone himself about the director’s job?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on what private meetings the President may or may not have had with regard to that. I just know that he is very pleased that Director Mueller has agreed to serve another two years on top of his considerable service so far.
Q Did it take much persuading?
MR. CARNEY: You’ll have to ask him.
MR. CARNEY: Ann.
Q Jay, on health care, what does the President think today when he hears Governor Romney say that if he were elected, on his first day as President Governor Romney would issue an executive order that would launch waivers for all 50 states to allow them out of the Affordable Care Act?
MR. CARNEY: Let me address the specific, first, which is that the President, as you saw earlier this year, strongly supports giving states flexibility. In fact, he supports legislation that would move forward the date, the year by — during which states could apply for and receive waivers of the Affordable Care Act to 2014. So the President’s support of flexibility is significant. Obviously those waivers would be granted provided that the states demonstrated their capacity to provide the same level of coverage, and the extent of coverage in terms of the number of people covered, as would be the case in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Now, Governor Romney seems to be running away from some of the goals of his own law that he passed and signed into law in Massachusetts and his previous support of a nationwide individual responsibility provision. So there’s a lot of similarities between the Affordable Care Act and the law in Massachusetts.
And we are focused now on implementing the Affordable Care Act and delivering the benefits of reform to the American people. In terms of — I’ll leave it at that.
Q Does he agree with the DNC chair who said today that Governor Romney seems to be kind of twisting his head into a pretzel on this issue? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t hear that, so I don’t — I don’t have a comment.
Q Jay, two questions. Thank you. One, when the President spoke with the Prime Minister of India this week, did he brief as far as Osama bin Laden’s death? And also, 500 Fortune companies which President (inaudible) in Mumbai are asking what is going between U.S. and India as far as trade and economic relations are concerned to create jobs in this country?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has a robust trade agenda, as you know, because he believes that it — with the right approach, it creates high-paying, sustainable jobs in the United States and adds to our overall economic growth. I don’t have anything specific — specifically new for you on U.S.-Indian trade. And in terms of the content of the conversation, I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q And second, as far as the raid on Osama is concerned in Pakistan, I have been speaking with many Pakistanis in the area here. What they’re telling me is that Pakistan is — majority of Pakistanis salute the President, the action he took. But second, what they are saying is that they were misled by their own government; so was misled the United States. What they’re asking now that President Obama should take action against General Kayani and General Musharraf, because they both knew at that time — General Kayani was the ISI chief.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re enunciating a position and not actually asking a question. So I think I’ve stated the importance of maintaining our cooperative relationship with Pakistan, precisely because it’s in U.S. national security interests.
Let me go — yes, April.
Q Jay, on the CBC meeting with the President today, this administration is tallying 14 consecutive months of job growth in the private sector. And you have African American leaders, to include Mary Frances Berry and Reverend Al Sharpton, who are saying, who’s getting those jobs? Because data shows African Americans are not getting those jobs, when the African American unemployment rate is right now 16.1 percent, and the black teen unemployment rate is 44 percent. So who’s getting those jobs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that the unemployment remains unacceptably high for everyone. It is — the numbers you cite are also unacceptable to this President, as they should be to any President. And his economic policies are very much geared toward economic growth and job creation for all Americans. And he is aware of the persistent high unemployment among the African American community and some other communities, and it is of great concern to him. I’m sure this will be a topic of discussion in the meeting.
Q So what is he prepared to go into — I mean, with these numbers, these very high numbers, what tangible is he prepared to go into this meeting with? Because that’s one of their primary concerns. It was one of their concerns when they met with Daley last week. So what is he willing to tangibly —
MR. CARNEY: I think I could go through with you the President’s economic agenda, and I think that the goal here is to create jobs, grow the economy, bring down the unemployment rate for everyone, and I’m sure that’s what he will discuss with members and lawmakers when he has this meeting. And I’m sure he will look forward — I know he looks forward to hearing if there are any specific proposals that they have for addressing the specific problems that you cite.
Q So nothing new from him, but they —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to preempt his conversation, but he obviously has a substantial economic agenda.
Q Jay, are we making direct contact with the Syrians about what’s going on over there? Is our ambassador or somebody else talking directly to Syrian —
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we have an ambassador there, and one of the reasons to have one is because of the capacity to communicate directly with the Syrian government. But I don’t have anything specific for you on that.
Q What does the President hope to achieve next week with his address to the Muslim world?
MR. CARNEY: I think I addressed this a little bit yesterday, which was — I think it was slightly misreported that this is an address to the Muslim world. It is not an address only to the Muslim world. It is an address — he will speak to — about the changes, the remarkable changes — more changes — more change in six months in that region of the world than we’ve seen in 60 years. And it’s a significant time, and he will talk about it broadly. But the address is to all audiences, and it is not to one alone. And I think that I won’t preview it beyond that except to make that point.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Date or time on that? Date or time?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a date or time. No announcement on that yet.
Sam, go ahead.
Q Yes, I just wanted to go back to the Senate Republicans meeting again. You said that the members who — the senators who did speak out on the debt ceiling agreed that it needs to be raised — absolutely needs to be raised. Did the President receive any assurances that they would approach it separate from spending cuts, or did he ask them for such assurances?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll let the members — the senators speak for themselves in terms of that. And obviously the position that some Republicans have taken about that is well known, so I’m not — there’s no need for me to repeat it here.
What we have said and feel very strongly about is we need to take action on the debt ceiling. We need to raise it. It should not be held hostage to action on any other issue.
Q The President —
MR. CARNEY: Having said that — I don’t know that he specifically said that. I’m pretty sure he probably did. But having said that, we are committed, as this meeting demonstrated, and the meeting he had yesterday, and the negotiations the Vice President is overseeing — we’re committed to moving forward aggressively on further deficit reduction.
I think it’s important to know, too, because I got some questions about this yesterday about the fact that the drop-dead deadline for raising the debt ceiling had been moved back because of an increase in revenues to August 2nd so that it created some sort of substantial breathing room, and that is not the case.
In fact, it’s really this coming Monday that we hit the debt ceiling. And it’s only because of the extraordinary actions that have been taken in the past and are allowed to be taken by the Treasury Department that we have the additional time until August 2nd.
So the need to act on this and act on it quickly is great. And the clock is ticking.
Q Could I just have one on Director Mueller? Senator Grassley says obviously the director’s resume is exemplary. But he’s concerned about the precedent of extending the 10-year term. Is the White House going to do anything to sort of assuage those concerns?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ll obviously make the case that this is a circumstance where service for an additional two years — he has broad bipartisan support. There is — not specifically with this office, but there is precedent for extending term-limited appointments on other offices. So there is precedent here. This is not an unprecedented move. And again, we hope and expect he’ll be broadly supported by both the House and the Senate.
I’ll end with Bill. Yes — no, sorry, I want to get you — yes.
Q Just one last question on the Arab Spring. You said that the President says that there’s been a change, unprecedented change, over the past six months. But clearly over the past six weeks or days that has not been the case in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, other places. Where is the President’s sense of the future there now, even the present? Is this over? Is he doing anything specific to encourage — there was really not an answer about the Syria situation. Is the Spring over? Or where — how does the administration see this now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that, again, the remarkable amount of change we’ve seen in such a short period of time in some ways answers your question, which is that to suggest that because there isn’t blossoming Jeffersonian democracy in all the countries where there’s been unrest yet, by May 12th, is asking a lot. And this is a very dynamic, fluid situation in all these countries. And all of them — each of them is different.
The President will make his views known in the address that he’ll give on the subject, and these are very — this is a remarkable period of time. And I think you can expect that he’ll have some very considered views on what we’ve all witnessed and experienced in these last several months.
Q Just to follow up quickly, the most striking thing recently has been the level of violence in places like Syria and in Libya, even. What is the President’s response to — and each is in fact different, specifically —
MR. CARNEY: We’ve strongly condemned the use of violence by all the governments in the region that have used it against unarmed civilians, and have strongly urged governments in the region to refrain from violence and to instead engage with their citizens to move forward on a political reform process that answers the aspirations of their people; that responds to their demands for greater political participation and greater economic prosperity; and that from that they will find the stability that they claim they seek, because further repression will lead only to further and greater instability. And I think that is our message to governments around the region.
Let me end with Bill because I promised him.
Q Jay, eight members of Congress — four Republicans and four Democrats — have sent a letter to the President saying that in light of the very successful mission in Abbottabad a couple weeks ago that now is the time to radically change the focus in Afghanistan from nation-building to depending on special ops. So has the President seen the letter? Does he agree with it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know whether the President has seen the letter. I think we had a little bit of a discussion about this the other day, Mr. Tapper and I did.
The President’s policy is very clear. It was the product of an extraordinary, deliberative process. And I think that we would disagree with the notion that it is a nation-building process, in fact — policy — because in fact, the principal objective of the President’s AfPak policy, if you will, is the — the number one objective is the disruption, dismantlement, and ultimate defeat of al Qaeda. That is the principal objective.
The secondary objective is to make sure that Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists again, as it was in the past. It is a balanced policy that has met — has experienced some progress. And in July of 2011, as prescribed in that policy, we will begin to transition authority — leave authority for security to the Afghans in areas, and we will begin to withdraw American forces at a pace and scope that will be determined by conditions on the ground.
Long way of saying the policy remains in place. I’m going to run.
1:50 P.M. EDT
*The President takes very seriously his responsibility to enforce the law, which is why DHS has deployed a new strategy to focus its removal efforts on criminals, and why we are taking the steps at the border that he described in his speech. DHS will continue to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its strategy, and will continue make adjustments to strengthen its impact. The President, however, is focused on permanent, comprehensive solutions for the range of flaws in the nation’s broken immigration system. Permanent solutions to these persistent problems can only come from legislation that’s passed by the Congress and signed by the President.