Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for your patience. Before I take your questions, I just had one announcement to make. To honor the victims of Monday's horrific shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, the President will attend a memorial service on Sunday. We will provide more details as they become available, but I wanted you to know that today.
Q: Can we know where that would be?
MR. CARNEY: Again, more details about the time, the specific time on Sunday, and where the service will be will become available soon. But I just wanted to let you know today that the President will be attending a memorial service for the victims, on Sunday.
Q: Can we anticipate he'll speak or just attend?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have anything more on that. The President will want to mourn the loss of these innocent victims and share in the nation's pain in the aftermath of another senseless mass shooting.
Q: Thanks, Jay. Now that we have a clear sense of the trajectory in the House on their budget plan, does the administration think the fact that they're taking this approach and the fact that they are probably not going to vote, it sounds, until Friday, does that make the possibility of a government shutdown more likely at this point?
MR. CARNEY: I hope not. But as I think we saw in the reporting today, House Republicans have decided to pursue a path away from the center, away from compromise, in favor of voting on a piece of legislation that they know will not become law. And one sobering paragraph I read in one story about this, I think in the Washington Post, was that members of both parties are becoming increasingly worried that the fact that a faction of the House of Representatives, the House Republicans, is driving this thing in the wrong direction could bring us closer to a wholly unnecessary and damaging shutdown of the government.
And Congress has some basic responsibilities. One of them is to fund the government, the operations of the government, and it is not to attach ideological aspirations to the kinds of bills that ensure that the government doesn't shut down and that we don't inflict another unnecessary wound on our economy just as it's continuing to grow and continuing to create jobs.
And what has become more and more apparent is that the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress may want to avoid a shutdown and may want to avoid, even worse, a default. But there are members of that party, especially in the House, who seem to embrace the prospect. And the irony is that they are doing it in the name of trying to defund or delay, or defeat in some other way, a law designed to provide access to insurance for millions of Americans -- to health insurance -- a law that is already providing tangible benefits to millions of Americans; a law, as I said the other day, that when implemented will ensure that at least close to 6 in 10 uninsured Americans will now have the capability of buying insurance for less than $100 a month.
That law was passed by the House, it was passed by the Senate, it was signed by the President, and it was upheld by the Supreme Court. And yet, in order to refight this political battle, some members of the Republican Party in Congress seem to want to shut down the government and maybe have, for the first time in the history of this great country, see the United States fail to pay the bills that it's already incurred.
So this is a problem. And we have to be crystal clear about the fact that there is a majority in Washington, a member of which is the President of the United States, a member of which is every Democrat on Capitol Hill, and a member of which are many Republicans on Capitol Hill, who do not want to see the government shut down, who do not want to see the pain inflicted that a shutdown would inflict on the middle class, and will not negotiate over the ideological aspirations of a small group or a -- unfortunately, not that small group, but a faction within the Republican Party in the House.
Q: But given the dynamic that you're talking about, does the White House feel like there's anything that the President can do at this point to change that dynamic, or are you largely powerless to let this play out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you heard the President talk today at the Business Roundtable about the need for common sense to prevail here. He has made clear that, in both the words that he has spoken and in the proposals that he has made, that he is willing to reach common ground when it comes to budget policy. And he has had numerous conversations with Republican lawmakers in pursuit of that common ground.
At the very least, Congress needs to move forward with a bill that continues the functioning of the federal government and then do what Congress has done hundreds of times in the past, without drama and without threat to the economy, and simply extend the debt ceiling so that the bills Congress racked up can be paid.
The debt ceiling, I know, is often viewed as a vote over spending, but it is not. It doesn't increase the deficit -- by raising the debt ceiling, you don't increase the deficit by a dime. You don't add new spending. All you are doing is telling Congress that the bills it has already incurred can be paid. Must be paid. And Congress needs to make sure that happens.
Q: I guess what I don't understand, though, is we've heard comments from the President this week, we've heard similar comments from him in previous budget fights. So I guess what I don't understand is, is there anything more than just talking that the President and the White House can do at this point to change this dynamic on the Hill, which at this point seems to make it more likely that we are going to have a shutdown.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think we are speaking out. We are engaging in Washington, and we will continue to make the case that, while it is absolutely true that we have real differences and differences that are honestly come by among ourselves, between Democrats and Republicans, and we should debate those issues and hash them out, and try to reach a compromise, we cannot hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States government. We cannot and should not shut down the government in order to make an ideological point.
I saw one Republican House member quoted in the paper saying, all that matters is that my constituents are for this. And my question to him would be, will they be for it when, in the wake of the devastation of default, they can say, well, I don't have a job because the economy is cratering, but thank God you've taken away my opportunity to buy health insurance. I doubt it.
Q: Jay, ahead of the Syria thing on the Hill, you guys were talking to everybody -- the President was on the phone, Denis McDonough was up on the Hill. I'm not seeing that in this case. Why isn't that the case?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we have been meeting with Republicans all year long over our budget challenges and our efforts to try to find common ground, and we will continue to work with Congress in the days and weeks ahead.
But, I mean, it is -- to ask the question, do you think that meeting with President Obama is going to prevent House Republicans from what they've decided to do, which is to -- for the leadership to ignore their own wishes, not to lead, but to then say, we'll follow the will of 40 House Republicans who want to attach the funding of government to a bill that will never pass, never become law, to strip away funding for Obamacare -- that, in the end, Republicans in the Congress need to make a decision about what outcomes they really desire here.
One provision related to the Affordable Care Act, that Republicans have pressed or said they might press when it comes to raising the debt ceiling, would increase the deficit. Right? Let's remember, the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit significantly. And trying to repeal it in a backhanded way or a side way, through delaying a central provision of it, would increase the deficit. So in the name of fiscal conservatism, these Republicans would increase the deficit and call that a victory. It doesn't really square.
Q: Well, are you willing to accept any delays in Obamacare in order to avoid a government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: No. The Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. The President signed it. The Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional. And it is providing benefits to millions of Americans today and will provide access to affordable health care to millions of Americans when the marketplaces take effect.
Republicans seem to believe -- or that faction of Republicans who have entertained this seem to believe that taking away those benefits is good messaging, is good politics. What it is beyond that, if they believe that, is harmful to the people who have those benefits, harmful to our economy. And they can, as they have 40 times already, continue to vote to repeal or change or defund the Affordable Care Act, and we can all watch that exercise as it unfolds. But they should not harm average folks out there in order to participate in that exercise. They should do their jobs by making sure that the essential functions of government are funded and making sure that the full faith and credit of the United States government is upheld, as it has been since the birth of the nation.
Q: Jay, so are we looking at sort of a "Gridlock-Nado," where we could have the government shut down at the end of the month and then go into default a couple of weeks later? Is that a possibility?
MR. CARNEY: (Laughter.) I'm not sure about the NATO part of it, but the --
Q: Maybe a better term, then.
MR. CARNEY: It depends on what Republicans really want to achieve here.
Q: But it's possible? The government could shut down and then go into default?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there's no question that Congress is the body responsible for passing legislation to fund the government, and body responsible for passing legislation to ensure that the debt ceiling is raised so that the bills Congress has already racked up are paid.
So if Congress fails to act, yes, it's possible. Leaders of Congress in both parties have said they would never allow the United States to default. We saw just a few years ago when even the possibility of default was in the air, and when some House Republicans enthusiastically flirted with the idea of default, what that meant for our economy. It did harm to our economy, did harm to our recovery. One can only imagine what would happen if they did it again.
Leaders say they don't want that to happen. John Boehner, in March, told Sean Hannity that he thought it would be -- that threatening to shut down the government -- we're not even talking about default -- but shutting down the government over Obamacare was a bad idea. That's what he said in March. Today, he's I guess reacting to the will of 40 members of the House who insist that it is a good idea.
Q: And we know the President has had dinner with various Senate Republicans and met with them privately over the last several months. He doesn't do that with House Republican leaders. Has he just given up on dealing with the House?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President has met many times with the Speaker of the House. He's met many times with other members of the House of Representatives, of the Republican Party, and --
Q: But the outreach has not been the same.
MR. CARNEY: But, again, the President has looked for -- the President laid forth a budget that represented compromise when it came to entitlement reform, something that Republicans said they want but they never talk about now because what they really want is to defund Obamacare and take away health insurance options from the American people and maybe raise the deficit at the same time. But that's what they said they wanted, so the President put it forward.
He put forward a comprehensive budget proposal that deals with our debt and deficit in the long term while funding important aspects -- while providing funds for investments that will help our economy grow, make sure that we're building our infrastructure, educating our children, and conducting research and doing development in a way that keeps our economy competitive.
A lot of Democrats did not love that proposal because it represented compromise; it represented a willingness to take less than the ideal by the President. And he met -- he said, my door is open; anybody who wants to meet with me to talk about finding common ground -- Republicans that is, as well as Democrats -- are welcome. And we had a lot constructive meetings. But what we never saw from even the Republicans who said they were interested in common ground was a counter proposal, one that represented the same kind of willingness to compromise as the President had put forward.
And that's what the American people expect us to do here. That's what they sent their representatives to do here, was to work out their differences, reach principled compromises, and take action to ensure that our economy continues to grow, and that we're investing in the right places, and that we're responsibly reducing our deficit.
And again, the deficit arguments are important, but I would point out that you don't hear them a lot anymore from Republicans because the deficit will now be cut in half over the time that the President has been in office.
Q: And what do you say to Americans who see this and say, we've seen this movie before -- the government did not technically default the last time; there hasn't been a shutdown while President Obama has been in office, that this is just sort of Washington theater?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly hope and the President certainly hopes that sooner rather than later, Republican leaders in Congress will be willing to do the right thing and responsibly continue funding of the essential functions of the federal government and, without drama, as they did earlier this year, extend the debt ceiling. And then we can continue to negotiate over a broader budget compromise. And they can continue to vote again and again and again to defund or repeal Obamacare in the House as we go about the business of providing expanded opportunities to Americans to get health insurance.
Q: Hey, Jay, when was the last time the President had a substantive discussion with Speaker of the House John Boehner about --
MR. CARNEY: I got this question yesterday. I don't have any new conversations to read out to you. Again, I think Speaker Boehner is very much engaged in trying to deal with what everybody in your business has accurately reported as essentially an all-out civil war within the Republican Party, where a faction of the party is basically at odds with the leadership and making demands that, if acquiesced to, could lead us to a shutdown or, even worse, to a default.
Q: Is the White House strategy simply to lean back and watch this, as you call it, Republican civil war --
MR. CARNEY: No, I think you saw the President of the United States meeting with business leaders from this country today, business leaders who have no small amount of influence over leaders in Washington, including, you might say, especially Republican leaders about the need for responsible compromise when it comes to our budgeting and responsible action by Congress when it comes simply to extending the debt ceiling. And I think those leaders would tell you that even threatening default is unwise.
And even as John Boehner said in March to Sean Hannity, threatening to shut down the government over Obamacare is a bad idea.
Q: But I guess the question really is this question of giving up, because --
MR. CARNEY: No, we're not. We are making our points every day. See, on Monday --
Q: You're making your points, but are you actually talking to Republicans? You may make the argument, look, they're completely unreasonable --
MR. CARNEY: I assume there are some watching now. And there were a bunch of Republicans in the room with the President today, I'm guessing, right? A bunch.
Q: Members of the House -- to pass this?
MR. CARNEY: Highly influential, card-carrying Republican Party members who have the ear of Republican lawmakers and who believe that Congress ought to do the responsible thing, which is not shut down the government and not allow the government to default.
Q: But your position -- let me just be crystal clear. The President's position is you will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q: How is that tenable? So the White House is really willing to risk default --
MR. CARNEY: The White House is not -- here's the thing --
Q: No, but you're threatening default.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, Jon --
Q: Because you're saying you won't even negotiate with Republicans on this issue. How is that tenable?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, who has the power to raise the debt ceiling? Who has the power to raise the debt ceiling?
Q: Well, the Congress does --
MR. CARNEY: Who has the power to raise the debt ceiling?
Q: And the Republican Congress have put forward a plan -- you may call it ridiculous, whatever you want to call it -- but they have put forth a plan for raising the debt ceiling --
MR. CARNEY: The Congress has the power to raise the debt ceiling.
Q: -- and you are unwilling to negotiate.
MR. CARNEY: I like turning the tables here -- I can't get a direct answer. (Laughter.) The Congress has the power to raise the debt ceiling.
Q: I did answer you. (Laughter.) And I said they put forward a plan.
MR. CARNEY: All they have to do is do what they have done hundreds of times before and raise the debt ceiling. What is the debt ceiling? The debt ceiling is not new spending. Raising the debt ceiling doesn't add a dime to the deficit.
Q: Well, can I get a question?
MR. CARNEY: Hold on. A lot of the rhetoric around it suggests that it has to do with new spending, but as everyone in this room understands and everybody on Capitol Hill understands, and I believe a lot of Americans who are paying attention understand, this is simply a vote to allow Congress to pay the bills that Congress has already incurred. And that is something we have done as a nation for every year of our existence.
So what the President has said and what John Boehner periodically has publically agreed with is we cannot hold the full faith and credit of the United States government hostage to the ideological desires of a faction of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill. And it is incumbent upon the leaders of that party to ensure that doesn't happen, because though he would like to be able to give direction to members of the Republican Party in the House, the President can't. Hopefully, the elected leaders of the party in the House can.
Q: But you're saying you won't event negotiate on the issue. I mean, the debt ceiling has been raised -- you're right -- countless times, but there's often been a give-and-take.
MR. CARNEY: Not on the debt ceiling.
Q: Remind me how Senator Obama voted in 2006 on the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: Right. And we have addressed this many times, and there was never a threat of default then. What the debt ceiling has been attached to again and again and again --
Q: He refused to vote for raising the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: -- the debt ceiling -- because Congress didn't like to take the vote, because they knew it was their responsibility to ensure that the debt ceiling would be raised, would attach the provision that raised the debt ceiling to other bills that were going to pass anyway, and that is what would happen. And what we had never seen before in our history is what we saw in 2011 when the newly empowered leaders of the Republican Party in Congress insisted that we negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.
And we all saw, and you reported on, what happened when they flirted with actual default as opposed to protest votes, as opposed to attaching the debt ceiling to some other piece of legislation and holding their noses and voting for it. This is qualitatively different -- there's no arguing that. 2011 was different from any other occasion that we've seen when the debt ceiling has come to a vote, and it has severe economic consequences. We cannot allow that to happen again.
The President is willing to negotiate over budget policy. He's willing to negotiate over how we reduce our deficit further moving forward, as we've reduced it significantly since he's been in office. But he's not willing to negotiate over Congress's fundamental responsibility not to default on its obligations.
Q: Is this just semantics, though? I mean, you'll be willing to negotiate on those things and --
MR. CARNEY: We have said all along and we have negotiated all year long over how we pass a budget. The Senate said -- I mean, the Republicans in Congress said, as part of the end-of-the-year deal, New Year's Day deal, that they insisted -- that one of their demands was that the Senate pass a budget just as the House had been passing budgets and that normal, regular order would prevail. So we said, yes. The President said, yes. Democratic leaders in the Senate said, yes. All of that happened. And then, when it happened and Republicans got what they wanted, they walked away from the process.
So we're willing and have been willing to negotiate over how we can responsibly reduce our deficit, how we can responsibly reduce the cost of entitlements over time -- how we can do all that in a way that's fair and helpful to the middle class. But what we won't do, what the President will not do, what he cannot do is negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States. That should be an absolute certitude that Congress will not default.
Q: But to return to an earlier point, all he's been doing is talking.
MR. CARNEY: As opposed to what?
Q: Why doesn't he twist somebody's arm? Twist some arms.
MR. CARNEY: Hey, Bill, you know what he did? He wrote a budget. And he proposed it, and he sent it to Congress in detail -- detail we have not seen from the Republicans -- and in response, in return, in terms of a compromise proposition. And he sat down again and again and again with members of the Republican Party in Congress who said they were interested in trying to find a deal.
Q: Since the 14th century, it's been known that it's better to be loved than -- I mean, feared than loved when it comes to these things. Why isn't --
MR. CARNEY: Probably prior to that.
Q: Yes, okay. But why hasn't he done some more arm-twisting, for example? I don't want to go to kneecaps, but arm-twisting? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: He has twisted arms. He has used the powers that are available to him to try to convince, persuade, cajole Republicans into doing the sensible thing, which is not threatening to shut the government, not threatening to default, but working with him on a compromise. And what they said they wanted when it came to some of their demands on entitlement reforms, he gave. And then they walked away and didn't come back.
So at some point, you have to have a negotiating partner who is willing to -- if you're willing to compromise, they have to be willing to compromise, too. And instead, what we have in the House now is a situation where the House leadership indicates a reasonable approach to making sure the government shuts down and the rank-and-file members say no, so the House leadership says nevermind.
We're not -- we cannot -- as much as we would like to be in charge of the House Republicans, we're not. And that's not how the system works.
Q: So basically you're saying he's not to blame at all? It's the other guy's fault?
MR. CARNEY: I'm just saying that it's his responsibility to offer compromises, and he has. It is also absolutely the right position to take that he and no President should negotiate over Congress's responsibility to pay its bills.
Q: Can he afford to remain above the fray like this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're assuming that he's above the fray. He's not. He's in the fray. And he was in the fray today, and he'll be in the fray until Congress does the right thing.
Q: With talks.
MR. CARNEY: As opposed to what, Bill?
Q: That's what I'm asking.
MR. CARNEY: I don't think we'll take up arms, okay? I think we're just going to have to -- this is going to have to be worked out, and Congress is going to have to act.
Q: Jay, when you told Jon the debt ceiling is never attached to anything, don't you find that --
MR. CARNEY: I said the opposite.
Q: You said it's not attached to other issues, that the Congress does it as a stand-alone.
MR. CARNEY: I said that in the past, in order to mitigate the unpleasantness of voting for raising the debt ceiling, it has been attached to other bills that aren't germane that were going to pass so that the debt ceiling has been raised. And that has been used as an example by the Speaker of times when the debt ceiling itself -- raising the debt ceiling itself has been negotiated over, which until 2011 had not been the case.
Q: Right. But based on 2011, at that podium, you often take credit for $2 trillion in spending cuts the President got that were attached to the last debt ceiling fight. So when you get something you want, it's a good thing. And if it's something about health care or whatever, it's a bad thing. You tout that you got $2 trillion --
MR. CARNEY: The President puts forward a proposal to reduce the deficit beyond what was included in that deal.
Q: Okay, but do you think that was a good thing? You got $2 trillion --
MR. CARNEY: No, we don't think the sequester was a good thing.
Q: I'm not talking about sequester. I'm talking about --
MR. CARNEY: Sequester was part of that deal.
Q: Part of that deal. But you've touted again and again $2 trillion --
MR. CARNEY: $1.2 trillion --
Q: The sequester is a small part of that.
MR. CARNEY: Actually, it's not.
Q: It's not $2 trillion.
MR. CARNEY: You got to go back and check your facts. The initial reduction in non-defense discretionary spending that was part of that deal was roughly $1.2 trillion. Josh, am I right? Along those lines? A trillion bucks. And that represented a compromise between the President and the Republicans.
Then the super committee was tasked with coming up with additional deficit reduction. And if it did not and if Congress failed to act in the ensuing years to come up with a more responsibly achieved deficit reduction in a balanced way, as the President saw it, then the sequester would kick in.
We've never said that the sequester itself was good policy or that we take credit for it. Far from it. The President has long said the right and responsible thing to do would be to reduce our deficit in a balanced way so that the burden of deficit reduction does not fall solely on the shoulders of the middle class.
Q: And when you say it's such a bad thing for the Republicans to want to delay the health care implementation, the President has delayed pieces of the law. And you said that was a smart way to do it, we need to more slowly implement it, help businesses deal with it. So if the Republicans come up with it, why is it such a bad idea if they say let's slow-walk some pieces of this, and when you do it, it's perfectly fine?
MR. CARNEY: Ed --
Q: Well, you did, right? On the businesses, you said they can delay.
MR. CARNEY: On the employer responsibility provision, which represents a very small portion of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, it was the right and responsible thing to do, reacting in part to the requests of businesses to delay implementation of that for a year.
As every Republican who is pushing the idea of delaying implementation of the individual responsibility provision, they know that that is the heart of the Affordable Care Act. It is what is essential to ensuring that everyone in your extended family who has a preexisting condition can still get health insurance and isn't blackballed by the insurance companies to making that work, making sure that the individual responsibility provision is there.
Furthermore, delaying it would do what? Add to the deficit. So in the name of deficit reduction, Republicans are saying we should add to the deficit, even as we're taking away health care for millions of Americans. Seems like a bad idea.
Q: A couple other quick things. You've a couple of times mentioned that John Boehner, in March, said that shutting down the government is a bad idea, and now apparently --
MR. CARNEY: Over Obamacare, specifically.
Q: Over Obamacare. Over that, specifically. Now he's changed his mind. The President changed his mind on Syria. It wasn't a bad thing; he thought it was smart -- go to Congress.
I'm just asking. These are the facts you've been presenting every day at this podium for the last couple of weeks. He was not going to go to Congress to vote on Syria, then he changed his mind. Everyone here says it's a great idea. He slowed everything down. John Boehner changed his mind. What's wrong with that?
MR. CARNEY: Because shutting down the government over Obamacare is a bad idea. Going to Congress to seek an authorization for the use of military force --
Q: That he can't get now.
MR. CARNEY: -- was a good idea according to hundreds of members of Congress.
Q: But he hasn't been able to get it.
MR. CARNEY: There hasn't been a vote. Ed, I'm not sure of the arguments you're making. I see oranges and I see apples, but I don't see --
Q: Let me ask you then -- let me ask you about a specific thing on Syria. Last night there was a forum where two of the President's former Defense Secretaries, Mr. Panetta and Mr. Gates were there. They both said going to Congress to authorize force was a bad idea, number one.
Number two, Mr. Gates said, even though I know previously he's put out a statement saying he supports a mission in Syria, he said that air strikes would be "throwing gasoline on a very complex fire," and he went on to say, my bottom line is if you blow up a bunch of stuff over a couple of days, to validate a point or principle, is not a strategy. How do you respond to that, a former Defense Secretary?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say two things. One, the President does believe that it was the right thing to do -- given that there was not an imminent threat to the United States, given that military action -- the success of military action was not dependent on acting immediately, and therefore there was time to allow debate in Congress -- that Congress should be consulted and Congress should be given the right to vote on authorization. The President has been very clear about that. Others can disagree, and that's fine, but the President believes it was the right thing to do.
Secondly, it was precisely because of the credible threat of U.S. military action that we saw Syria do an about-face -- a nation that had -- or a government that had refused to acknowledge that it even possessed chemical weapons, and for 20 years had refused to be a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, one of the very few nations on Earth to refuse to sign that, utterly change its position on both issues within days because of the credible threat of U.S. military action.
The same is true for Russia, which had -- prior to their adoption of this proposal to have Syria give up its chemical weapons, turn them over to international supervision and be signatories to the CWC -- had acted aggressively to block all efforts to hold Assad accountable.
Now, there is a diplomatic avenue available to achieving the President's goals that allow -- without the use of military force -- and the President believes it's the right thing to do to pursue it. That avenue opened up because of the threat of force. And for that reason, as well as others, it's important to make clear that the threat of force remains on the table.
None of these issues are easy. None of the decisions that a leader makes in these circumstances are obvious or clear. But I think it is hard to argue that we are not globally in a better place when it comes to Syria's chemical weapons today than we were three weeks ago -- when Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people, when Syria denied that it even possessed chemical weapons, when Syria refused to be a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and certainly had not even entertained publicly the idea of giving up its chemical weapons.
So we have a long way to travel on this road and a lot of work to do and a lot of verification to achieve. But the positions the President took helped bring us to this point, which is a better point than where we were in the past.
Q: Jay, NBC's Ann Curry sat down for an exclusive interview with Iran's President Rouhani today in Tehran. I know we addressed this briefly yesterday, but I just want to follow up and make sure I get it on the record again today. Does the President have any plans to meet with the Iranian President during the United Nations meetings in New York next week?
MR. CARNEY: There are currently no plans for the President to meet with President Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly. I think it's fair to say that the President believes there is an opportunity for diplomacy when it comes to the issues that have presented challenges to the United States and our allies with regards to Iran, and we hope that the Iranian government takes advantage of this opportunity.
We have heard a lot in the world from President Rouhani's administration about its desire to improve the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran's relations with the international community. And President Obama believes we should test that assertion, and we are and we will do that.
As you know, the President mentioned in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that he and President Rouhani have exchanged letters, and in his letter the President indicated that the U.S. is ready to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that allows Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes. The letter also conveyed the need to act with a sense of urgency to address this issue, because as we have long said, the window of opportunity for resolving this diplomatically is open, but it will not remain open indefinitely.
Q: Jay, in that event that was held last night, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also said that the President should have directed limited action in Syria. He went on to say that Iran is paying very close attention to what we're doing -- "There's no question in my mind they're looking at the situation, and what they are seeing is an element of weakness." Is Leon Panetta wrong in that assessment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple things. I have enormous respect, the President has enormous respect and appreciation for both of his former Secretaries of Defense, but as your two questions noted, they actually disagree on this issue, which only reinforces the fact that these are not easy decisions to make or easy positions to take.
The President believes that the credible threat of military force was important and remains important, and that it has brought about this potential for a diplomatic resolution. He believes it was the right thing to do to go to Congress for authorization prior to the diplomatic breakthrough. And he understands that others can differ with that view; that others might say he or any President should have deployed military force without going to Congress.
The President believed, consistent with the principles he has espoused since he was a candidate for President, that given the fact that there was not an imminent threat to the United States and given that the military response that he was calling for could be executed successfully even if there was a delay allowing for congressional debate, that it was the right thing to do to go to Congress. He understood and made clear when he made his announcement in the Rose Garden that this would be a tough debate. And that does not take away from the fact that it was a good debate and the right debate to have.
Q: Briefly, on the topic of the shooting that took place only a few miles from here at the Navy Yard. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, today said, "Those who have served in the military should not be stigmatized by having to answer questions about their mental health status on security clearance forms." Acknowledging there's a review in place right now, what's the President's position on whether there should be greater mental health checks done, more information provided by people that want to become contractors in that forum?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is a review taking place -- one that has been ongoing with regard to some contractors that is being undertaken by the ODNI and then another that is being undertaken by the Office of Management and Budget here, at the President's direction. And I wouldn't want to dictate what the outcomes of that review should be. There's obviously an issue, broadly speaking, separate from matters of clearances -- but broadly speaking when it comes to gun violence, there's an issue that is important to examine when it comes to mental health. And that was something the President talked about when he put forward his comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and it is something that he believes is important to talk about today. How that plays into security clearances and work clearances for contractors I think we should wait and see once these reviews are done.
Q: Given what you've described as the obstructionist bent that we've seen from some congressional Republicans, would you say that the -- does the President believe that the best way to achieve his second-term goals might be through the midterm elections and putting in a Democratic -- getting a Democratic Congress?
MR. CARNEY: The President is not waiting to achieve any of these goals, to push for the achievement of any of these goals that help create a better bargain for the middle class, that help making the middle class stronger through broad economic growth and job creation, through education investment and investment in research and development, and new energy and infrastructure.
He's put forward these proposals. He put forward his compromise proposals on the budget. And he's continued to press leaders in Congress to take him up in discussion and debate about moving forward on these issues. That includes his tax reform proposal, coupling corporate tax reform with investments in infrastructure and job creation. So he is throwing out ideas to try to see if he can move the ball forward when it comes to growing our economy, and he is going to continue doing that.
A term in office for the President may, to some, seem like a long time -- four years -- but there is much work to be done, and he is not going to wait for elections or changes in the seasons to try to move forward. He has been pushing this ball uphill, sometimes frequently, from the day he took office.
And as we've noted on this five-year anniversary of the financial collapse, there has been a great deal achieved. Remembering where we were five years ago is to almost reinsert yourself into a nightmare when you think back about the fears that everyone was dealing with in September of 2008 and for the next 18 months, really, at least.
And it's important as we do that to remember that many millions of Americans are still struggling and we need to make the right decisions to insert -- to make sure that the economy grows and more good-paying, middle-class jobs are created; 7.5 million is a lot, but it is not nearly enough. We need to press on.
Q: Earlier this year, the President had a real --
MR. CARNEY: When do you go to London?
Q: January. You've got me for a few more months yet.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Well, make sure I get an invitation to the going-away party.
Q: Absolutely. The President had a real charm offensive with Republicans -- he took them to dinner, he paid out of pocket, he went to a nice restaurant. Is the difference between that approach a few months ago and this sort of going to business leaders and speaking publicly instead of courting Republicans in person, does that reflect a sense in the White House that the charm offensive failed, that the wooing them didn't work?
MR. CARNEY: We have tried and we will try all manner of ways to get to yes with Republican leaders when it comes to doing the responsible thing on budget policy and on raising the debt ceiling, and on a bunch of other issues like immigration reform. I mean, I think that while it was notable that the President footed the bill for a very expensive dinner at a very nice restaurant in a lovely hotel up the street here, there were many other meetings with the President, and with the Chief of Staff, and with the Vice President, and others, with lawmakers, well into the year, and all around this effort of trying to find common ground.
And I think that what we discovered is that there is a sincere desire by Republican lawmakers -- some of them, anyway, and not an insignificant number of them -- to try to work out a way to make budget policy and economic policy that reduces the deficit responsibly but invests responsibly as well, and in a way that is fair to the middle class. And the President remains hopeful that those members who sincerely want to achieve that will be able to -- working with him and working with Democrats. In the meantime, we're going to keep pressing, at the very least when it comes to these deadlines, that Washington not inflict harm on the economy.
We may not be able to achieve the big deal when it comes to a long-term budget with Congress between now and October 1st, but we certainly shouldn't therefore allow -- and the Republicans in the House should not insist upon -- shutting down the government over that, over the fact that Obamacare is the law of the land and it's being implemented, and it has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and it's providing benefits to millions of people.
I understand that they -- we understand that those Republicans who feel adamantly about this oppose the law, and they've campaigned on it, and they've talked about it, and they've voted on it, but they should not then pair it with shutting down the government or defaulting on our obligations.
Q: Two questions, first on Kathy Ruemmler. Does the President have any opinion on her leaving? Is there any kind of timetable to replace her in the Counsel's Office?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can confirm that she will be leaving at the end of the year, so she is here for a good bit longer, and that the President had asked her to stay on as long as she has and will, and that she is an enormous asset and a very important advisor to the President, and one of the smartest people I've ever met and one of the best people I've ever worked with. So we will all be sad to see her go when she goes. Beyond that, I have no information to provide, as ever, on personnel decisions by the President.
Q: Has he identified a successor, or is this going to take time?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have no information to divulge on that matter or any other personnel matter.
Q: And on immigration --
MR. CARNEY: As long as you're asking.
Q: Well, I wanted to ask on immigration. Yesterday the President said in the Telemundo interview that he was not going to use executive authority to delay deportations of illegal immigrants. Some immigration advocates wish he would do more while Congress is still sort of kind of stalled out on this bill.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President has made clear is that comprehensive immigration reform is the way to resolve our immigration challenges. And when it comes to this matter of deportations and the idea that there's a plan B available to him, he said yesterday in the interview that you cited that it's not an option. He said, "That to do so would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. That's not an option."
If John Boehner, going back to the Speaker of the House, would put the Senate comprehensive immigration bill on the floor of the House today, it would pass and the President would sign it. We're confident of that. There is a majority not only in the nation, but even in Congress to achieve this important piece of legislation that would grow our economy and reduce our deficit. It would provide a system to allow for the best and the brightest from other countries who study here to stay here and start businesses here, and would ensure that everybody is playing by the same set of rules -- whether it's employers or people working in the United States, that they're paying their taxes and contributing to the common good.
So the President believes that the House ought to do that. He is entirely confident that comprehensive immigration reform will pass, will become law, and that he will be the one who signs it into law. And the House ought to do it right away and maybe address some of the political challenges that they've been encountering lately by doing so.
Q: Jumping back to Aaron Alexis, does the White House have any sense for how sequestration budget cuts are affecting/have affected the background clearance check process? And has that had any impact on this case?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to the investigation and the FBI, who are making assessments about this particular case. And I'm not aware of any impacts one way or the other of sequestration on background check systems or security systems. These are all under review as a general matter by the DNI and by the OMB. And I imagine that that piece of it will be taken into account.
Q: Thanks. Mr. Netanyahu said yesterday that the way to end the Iranian nuclear crisis was for Iran to stop enriching uranium, to ship out the uranium that it's enriched out of the country, to close Qom, and to stop plutonium activity.
The President yesterday said in his interview that the way for it to end would be for Iran not to weaponize its nuclear program. Does that not show that despite the good feeling of the President's trip to Israel earlier this year, that the two sides are still deeply divided on the fundamental way to stop this crisis?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don't think -- I mean, both are ways for Iran to resolve its obligations to the international community when it comes to nuclear weapons. Any resolution would have to come through a verifiable compliance and a verifiable commitment by Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. That has long been our position. So again, we're ready to talk in the P5-plus-1, as well as bilaterally, with Iran if Iran is willing to engage substantively on this matter.
Q: Thank you. What are the President's thoughts on for the first time an Indian American winning the Miss America beauty pageant?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't spoken about it with him, so I don't have his thoughts. But I think it's great, personally.
Q: And is he aware of the racial slurs she is facing after she won the beauty pageant?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry?
Q: Is he aware about the racial aspect --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven't discussed that with him, so I don't have a presidential response.
Thank you all very much.
END 1:17 P.M. EDT
Jay Carney, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/305015