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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney

January 23, 2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:57 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here on day two -- (laughter) -- of the second term. I have no announcements to make so we'll go straight to the Associated Press.

Q: Thank you. Secretary Clinton on the Hill today, when asked about the initial administration explanation on Benghazi, said, "What difference does it make?" Does it not make a difference whether the administration's initial accounting of the Benghazi incident or any other incident is accurate?

MR. CARNEY: Here's what the Secretary of State was saying and the clear point that she was making -- and it's one that I have made and others have made repeatedly -- which is that no one took more seriously the fact that we lost four American lives in Benghazi than the President of the United States and the Secretary of State of the United States.

And whatever was said, based on information provided by the intelligence community on a series of Sunday shows, bears no relevance on the ultimate questions of what happened in Benghazi, who was responsible, and what we must do to ensure that it never happens again and that we bring to justice those who killed our diplomats and other Americans.

So that is clearly a point that we have been making for a long time. And there has been an obvious political obsession over a series of talking points that, again, bears no relevance on the essential issues here, as I just enumerated. The fact is I and Ambassador Rice and others provided to you and through you, to the American people, the information that we had available at the time, making clear that it was preliminary, making clear that it would evolve as investigations continued and more information became available.

And nothing about that process in any way changes what happened in Benghazi or what needs to be done to prevent a tragedy like that happening again.

Q: One of the other things that the Secretary mentioned in her testimony was that the threat of al Qaeda-affiliated groups in North Africa is growing, is a threat to U.S. interests in the region, and perhaps ultimately to the homeland. How can the administration continue to say that al Qaeda has been decimated when the Secretary is saying that al Qaeda-affiliated groups are growing?

MR. CARNEY: Well, what the Secretary also said -- because she was asked specifically the question about whether or not it is true, as many have said, including the President and myself, that al Qaeda central has been decimated -- there is no question that that is the case, and any intelligence assessment would reinforce that point.

I mean, we have taken the fight to al Qaeda, both in its core location -- Afghanistan and Pakistan -- as well as to those affiliates that represent a threat to the United States and to Americans around the world. Our vigilance does not end there. And we have been very clear about the threat posed by AQAP and by AQIM.

What is also true is that, to this point, AQIM has not represented a direct threat to the homeland, but you can tell by our support of the mission that the French have undertaken and by our overall efforts to go after, and contain and defeat extremists who would do harm to our interests, that we are very serious about this.

Q: So you could square those two saying al Qaeda central command has been decimated even as al Qaeda-affiliate groups may be growing?

MR. CARNEY: I think you can square it stating it clearly, which Secretary of State Clinton did and which President Clinton has, and I have and others --

Q: President Obama.

MR. CARNEY: I mean, sorry, President Obama has, Secretary of State Clinton, President Obama -- (laughter) -- Press Secretary Carney. (Laughter.) Thank you.

Q: I thought you weren't going to speculate much. (Laughter.)

Q: Was that a lip-sync? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: You stole my thunder. I was going to make a lip-sync joke later. (Laughter.)

Q: Follow-up? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: Darn it, Knoller.

The absolute fact is that the President took office four years ago with a very clear objective, and that was to refocus our efforts on the war in Afghanistan, which was an essential war, because from Afghanistan al Qaeda had been allowed to establish a safe haven, and from that safe haven had launched an attack against the United States that took 3,000 lives.

He has been relentless in the pursuit of al Qaeda since he took office. And I think the evidence of that is very clear, including the elimination of Osama bin Laden. But as the President and Secretary Clinton and Secretaries Gates and Panetta and others -- John Brennan -- have consistently made clear, al Qaeda continues to represent a threat. Its affiliates in various parts of the region and the world represent a threat, and this is something that we are enormously vigilant about. And Secretary Clinton said as much today.

Q: The Pentagon has now cleared General John Allen of the allegations of misconduct. Does the President now plan to lift that hold that he had put upon the nomination? And if so, how does he plan to advance it? When does he plan to advance it to the Senate?

MR. CARNEY: As you noted, the investigation is now complete and General Allen's nomination, rather, to serve as the next Supreme Allied Commander Europe will proceed. We hope the Senate will consider it in a timely manner and we will press the Senate to do just that.

Q: So when will you send it to the Senate? When will the White House send it to the Senate?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have a specific timetable, but as you noted, the DOD Investigator General's investigation of that matter is now complete and we welcome its finding. And therefore, we intend for the nomination to proceed.

Q: If I might follow up, the President last week spoke to Prime Minister David Cameron and said, I believe, that he wanted to see a strong U.K. and a strong EU. So I'm wondering what the White House makes of the announcement today that there will be a referendum on that issue, and what the United States has at stake in the U.K. staying part of the EU.

MR. CARNEY: We welcome the Prime Minister's call for Britain to remain in the EU and to retain a leading role in Europe's institutions. And as the President told the Prime Minister when they spoke last week, the United States values a strong United Kingdom and a strong European Union.

We value our essential relationship with the U.K., as well as our relationship with the European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity, and security in Europe and around the world.

We believe that the United Kingdom is stronger as a result of its European Union membership, and we believe the European Union is stronger as a result of having the United Kingdom in the EU. So that's -- our views on this are very clear. The internal processes by which these matters are considered within the U.K. or any other country are obviously the province of those countries and those governments.

Yes, Dan.

Q: You talked about -- with Benghazi, you talked about the obsession with talking points. Are you suggesting that the American people should not care about the fact that they were told one thing and it turned out not to be the case?

MR. CARNEY: Dan, as you know, we've discussed this matter repeatedly, and I'm happy to do so again. We provided assessments of what happened in Benghazi based on information provided by the intelligence community which -- and information that was, as we acknowledged, evolving based on investigations and more facts that were coming to light.

It has been clear for a long time now, as we saw during the campaign, that there has been an effort underway to make this a political issue when the fundamental fact here is that four Americans were killed; those who are responsible for their deaths must be brought to justice; and actions must be taken to ensure that the tragic events of Benghazi do not happen again.

That is why, at the President's direction, the Secretary of State set up the ARB, the Accountability Review Board, which was chaired by two very prominent, nonpartisan leaders -- Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering. And their report was unsparing I think by any account, and its recommendations were accepted in their entirety by the Secretary of State, and they are being implemented under her leadership. I think that reflects how seriously we take this issue and how serious the substance of this issue is.

What is not serious is the repeated attempts to try to make this a political matter, because it's not. And the fact of the matter is, back at the time, we were dealing with a situation that was not just limited to Libya and Benghazi, but where there was a series of events and unrest around the region. And we were providing information to you and to the American public through you that was based on the best assessments at the time, and those assessments evolved as more facts became clear. A lot of the allegations about this matter that have been cast forward over the intervening months have proven to be false as the Accountability Review Board made clear.

Our interest, as an administration, and the President's interest is in the fundamental issue of bringing to justice those who are responsible, and taking the necessary actions to ensure that the tragedy of Benghazi is not repeated while -- and I paraphrase Secretary Clinton here -- we always acknowledge the fact that the important work our diplomats do around the world has to often take place in risky environments, and that they serve our country bravely, just as our men and women in uniform do, and take risks in order to fulfill their functions.

Q: It just seems when you use the word "obsession with talking points," it seems to almost diminish the fact that -- the facts that are there, which is wrong information was given at the time.

MR. CARNEY: What is it that you -- or speaking for those who are concerned about this -- believe that we are diminishing? The fact of the matter is the facility was attacked; four Americans were killed. The President took immediate action to ensure that our diplomats and diplomatic facilities around the world were reinforced and secured as necessary; that everything was done that could be done to provide assistance to our personnel in Benghazi and in Tripoli. That has all been borne out by the Accountability Review Board.

What is at issue here is essentially a phrase about whether or not there was a spontaneous demonstration, which was an early assessment that turned out not to be the case. But the fundamental facts about what happened there and the results of those actions and that attack have not changed. And no question has been brought legitimately, or that hasn't been proven untrue, about the actions that the administration took to respond appropriately.

So again, we fundamentally are talking here about a series of talking points that were provided to the administration as well as to members of Congress on Capitol Hill that acknowledged within them that this was preliminary information that everyone who spoke on the issue made clear might change, as is often the case here in situations like this. And that's how we view it.

Q: Did the President watch any of the hearings this morning?

MR. CARNEY: I don't believe he did. I haven't asked him.

Q: And then one more point on -- the President has talked about and other administration officials have talked about engaging the public in putting pressure on Congress to move the President's agenda forward in his second term. What can we expect from the President? Are we going to see a campaign-style effort where he hits the road a lot more to push whether it's gun policy or immigration?

MR. CARNEY: The President will travel. You can expect that. He will, as he does, make the case to the American people for the vision he laid out in his inaugural address, and the specifics that he will lay out at his State of the Union address on February 12.

I think you can fully expect that his commitment to engaging the American people in these important discussions about our future will continue. He believes very strongly that even when we're talking about seemingly arcane matters of budget policy -- things like debt ceilings and spending in the out-years, and budget caps and deficit or debt to GDP ratios -- that when distilled into common language, these are the essential matters that Americans care about because they affect their livelihoods; they affect their capacity to find work and then find higher-paying work. Growth of the economy, growth in job creation is essential to the President's vision. It is the core goal that informs everything he does on domestic policy and international policy.

So he believes that not only is it the right strategy to engage the American people, it is essential as a reflection of why he's in this to begin with, to explain to them his vision and to listen to them about what their hopes are and the direction that they hope the country will move in.

Q: And when is the first trip and where is he going?

MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling announcements to make today, but I can assure you he will be hitting the road throughout his second term.

Q: Today marks one of the last times we will see Clinton on the public stage as Secretary. We heard her receive a lot of praise from members of the Senate this morning for her work in the administration. What do you think her legacy is as Secretary of State?

MR. CARNEY: I think as every member of this administration, this team here at the White House and more broadly within the national security apparatus would admit as a starting point, I'm biased in saying this but I think she has been, and history will show her to have been, one of the great Secretaries of State.

She came in office at a time when we were dealing with a diminished reputation worldwide, where our alliances were frayed; where we were engaged in two wars for which there were not strategies to end in a way that was in the interest of the United States; where we had unmet interests in places like Asia and elsewhere -- Africa and Latin America -- that we needed to pay attention to, and she did extraordinary work in advancing the President's agenda on all those matters. And I know the President feels that very strongly.

Q: And a question on Algeria -- has the President spoken with the families of the three Americans killed in the attack?

MR. CARNEY: I do not have -- as you know, I think it was yesterday those names were released, but I don't have any calls or conversations of the President to read out today.

Q: Revisiting climate change from yesterday, in talking to environmental groups, Democrats on the Hill, they don't have an expectation of a refit or reintroduction of the cap and trade bill from 2010. But what they really are looking at is the EPA to soon release or formalize, finalize its carbon-based pollution regulations for future power plants and then to get quickly on the task of putting together some of the regulatory rules under the Clean Air Act for existing power plants. Is this what we can expect the President's emphasis since he brought it up so conspicuously in the inaugural address, refocused on dealing with climate change here in this country?

MR. CARNEY: I can certainly confirm that the President intends to continue progress on the new national standard for harmful carbon pollution from new power plants and to implement that standard. I can't comment on any specific future actions that he might take except that he has demonstrated in his record during his first term that we can together take action that is not only helpful to our environment in that it addresses the issue of climate change, but is also helpful to our long-term economic vitality by insuring that we make investments in new energy technology and that we develop new forms of energy, as well as traditional forms of energy here at home so that we are less dependent on foreign imports of energy.

That's a strategy that enhances our national security, improves the environment, addresses climate change, and very importantly helps our economy by allowing industries to develop here in the United States that if they don't develop here will develop elsewhere -- industries that provide good jobs and will be very sustainable in the future.

Q: Those who look at this issue say dealing with existing power plants would be the best way, most effective way to reduce carbon emissions and advance what the President said at the inaugural. Does he agree with that?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to talk about --

Q: I mean philosophically.

MR. CARNEY: Well, "philosophically" is an adverb that is somewhat synonymous with "speculatively," and I will not speculate on future --

Q: But he does have --


Q: -- and he did identify in the inaugural address, and those who look at this issue believe if you're not going to do something legislatively, this is the most effective way to do it. I'm asking is that something the White House --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any information to impart about specific future actions the President may or may not take. He is committed to continuing and building on the progress that was made in the first term, in his first term.

And we'll look at a variety of things that we can do together as a nation to address this challenge, and to address it in a way that provides the benefits that I talked about, that is not -- that there is the important goal of dealing with climate change, which is a real issue. There is the opportunity that actions we take to deal with that challenge present to us economically when it comes to clean energy and developing domestic energy alternatives to the import of foreign energy.

Q: On Social Security, is there anything inconsistent with what the President said in the inaugural address with his negotiating posture with Speaker Boehner that he would put chain CPI on the table?

MR. CARNEY: The President, at the end of the year -- and the premise of your question I think acknowledges this -- put forward a very serious proposal to Speaker Boehner that by any measure met the Republicans halfway, that included within it very tough choices with regards to entitlement reform, and it demonstrated his good faith in trying to achieve a compromise that would attain that goal that he has espoused for a long time, which is an overall package that reduces our deficit by over $4 trillion over a decade and thereby -- going back to ratios -- establishes a ratio of debt to GDP and deficit to GDP that is sustainable, puts us on a fiscally sustainable path. He is still committed to that.

His approach to these issues has always been that we need to strengthen those programs upon which so many Americans depend -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- and so the reforms that we need to introduce have to strengthen them for the long term. What we don't need to do is eliminate them as we know them, or slash benefits simply to protect the benefits of wealthy individuals or corporations. That's not a choice the President believes we have to make.

And that's why we have to have balanced deficit reduction. And in the name of balanced deficit reduction, he put forward the proposal that, unfortunately, even though it was widely recognized to have been made in good faith and to have represented an effort to meet the Republicans halfway, the Republicans walked away from, which is a shame.

Q: Is that offer still on the table or has it been rescinded?

MR. CARNEY: We absolutely look forward to working with Congress to continue the effort to reduce our deficits in a balanced way. That offer that, unfortunately, the Republicans walked away from remains the President's position.

It is absolutely essential that as we move forward we continue to build on the $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction this President has already signed into law, and with Congress brought into effect, but we have to do it in a balanced way. And what was true late last year is true today -- that the President will not entertain proposals that say, okay, now moving forward all of the burden is on seniors, or all of the burden is on middle-class families trying to send their kids to college or families who have disabled children. That's not an approach he will embrace. I think you have heard him say that.

What he is willing to do is continue this important work of deficit reduction in a balanced way, including revenues, including spending cuts, that helps our economy grow and create jobs. Because deficit reduction, with the exception of a few esoteric groups -- most of them inside Washington -- is not a desirable goal unto itself, it is a goal in service of a bigger goal, which is economic growth, stability for the middle class, more and better job creation.

Q: And since you inadvertently opened the door on 2016 by saying "President Clinton," there is --

MR. CARNEY: Let me just be clear, I had a nice long conversation with President Clinton, Bill Clinton, the other day, and that's -- he was in my head.

Q: Okay. Well, inadvertent as it was, it's still out there. (Laughter.) And there's a piece today talking about the Vice President, who you know very well, being intoxicated, possibly, by the idea of running in 2016. And the question I had -- because I know you're not going to speculate on it --

MR. CARNEY: Whose words were those? The Onion?

Q: No, no, no. (Laughter.) This is a very fine -- supposedly -- news organization that reports this. I just want to bring this up, not to speculate on it, but do you think there is anything about the Vice President's role in the second term that can or should be viewed through any sort of prism other than working for the administration or his record so far of being evaluated in the context of 2016? Because you know it's going to happen.

MR. CARNEY: I don't doubt it will happen. And I think the Vice President in an interview addressed this -- got this question and addressed it. And his focus -- and I know this because I do know him and I worked for him and I've spoken to him recently. He is focused on the job of helping this President and helping this administration achieve the goals that the President has put forward. That is his work and he is very committed to it. I think you saw that demonstrated most recently in his exceptional effort in a very short period of time to put forward to the President the recommendations on how to reduce gun violence in this country, an effort that he led and that his staff led on the President's behalf.

And that's the Vice President's focus, in his own words. And I think he's -- it was when I worked for him, it was throughout the first term, it is now. And I think, as he said, other considerations are for the future. He's focused on his work as Vice President, as the President's partner.

Q: Who has the better legacy, the Vice President or the Secretary of State?

MR. CARNEY: I think that the legacy here that we're concerned about is how the American people are situated four years from now compared to how they were four years ago. How is the middle class faring four years from now compared to where they were four years ago? How is our economy poised four years from now compared to where it was four years ago? Is our stature around the globe enhanced four years from now compared to four years ago? Are we safer four years from now compared to four years ago?

Those are issues that are not just about the President's legacy; it's for everybody who serves this President and this administration and this country at this time -- and including members of Congress. And I think that members who just got here this month, freshmen in the House and the Senate, I think will have that same measuring -- they want to -- they will look four years from now and say, did what I do in those four years improve the prospects of this country, help the economy grow, help the middle class, make us more secure or not?

And that's how I think the President looks at it. I know that's how the Secretary of State looked at it when she -- in her four years that are coming to an end. That's how we all look at it.

Q: So they're tied. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: Those kinds of assessments I'm sure will be made repeatedly in the future, not just with those two individuals. I think for the sake and sanity of all involved, it's worth taking a little bit of a break from presidential election-year politics.

Yes, sir.

Q: Jay, if I can please clear something up from yesterday -- I made a mistake. I asked you a question and said -- suggested there was an e-mail the White House sent out, picking out individual issues from the inaugural address. I had received an e-mail that had White House tweets about individual issues. I was asking you the question about -- because you had suggested a reporter should not pick it out into individual pieces -- I did not mean to imply that the White House had some strategy through e-mail to do that. I just want to correct that. I don't --

MR. CARNEY: I really appreciate that. And, yes, I was -- I think when I took that question I was a little flummoxed because it was news to me.

Q: I was referring to Twitter.

MR. CARNEY: Right, and as you know, this administration did not and probably would not have set the 140-character limit to tweet. (Laughter.) So when I or the New Media Office tweets on a speech, we have to do it in increments.

Q: I just wanted to be clear, though, you did say that the speech should be looked at holistically, in toto, not necessarily in 140 characters. That was all.

MR. CARNEY: Thank you, sir.

Q: I wanted to be clear.

On Benghazi, Secretary Clinton testified today that on the night of September 11, 2012, she participated in a secure videoconference with people from the Defense Department and from the White House, which would make sense in any crisis situation. My question is, did the President participate in that? If not, who from the White House participated?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm sure -- I know members of his national security team participated. I believe we've been quite open about the President being initially informed of this and being constantly updated on what was happening in Benghazi, what we knew about what was happening, and immediately ordering his Secretary of Defense to take all necessary action to provide assistance and to ensure that measures were taken to enhance security around our diplomatic facilities in the region and in the world.

Q: Was he on that secure videoconference?

MR. CARNEY: I would have to take the question. I don't know.

Q: Will you take the question and let us know?


Q: Okay, thank you. She also said that she spoke later that night to the President. Was that the only time they spoke? Can you just --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't know. I don't think -- I'm not sure --

Q: Senator McCain and others were asking about the President's role, and Senator McCain --

MR. CARNEY: Right, and Senator McCain and others have made a huge issue out of what I have made clear is our view is the non-issue, which is the talking points that were provided to senators, members of the House, and to members of the administration -- the non-classified talking points -- which have no bearing on what happened in Benghazi and the immediate reaction of this administration in response to it. As Secretary Clinton made clear today in her testimony -- or at least her initial round of testimony -- and as was made clear in the Accountability Review Board report, there was no delay in response, every asset was brought to bear to try to provide assistance. No requests were denied.

A lot of the reporting around this has proven to be wrong -- or the speculation around it has proven to be wrong on the fundamental issues here about what happened, who was responsible, the response and reaction to it, and now the investigations that have taken place and are continuing at the President's direction.

So the purpose served in pursuing this line of questioning is unclear to me beyond an attempt to continue to try to score political points.

Q: Okay. So on the question of what you call speculation, and in answer to Dan's question about the talking points, you said that you always made clear it was preliminary information and that's what Susan Rice did as well. I want to quote directly from you, September 18th, one week after the attacks, at this podium, you said, "I'm saying that based on the information that we -- our initial information" -- you did say "initial information" -- "and that includes all information, we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video." And then you said, "And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence, not supposition, concrete evidence that we have thus far."


Q: So my question is --

MR. CARNEY: I think that's pretty good. Based on the evidence we had at the time, the initial evidence, the facts that we had then that were concrete as opposed to speculation about it. And I -- so I think --

Q: So the question is, what was the concrete evidence you had that said it was the video, not a preplanned attack?

MR. CARNEY: I would take you back to the time and the events that were happening in Karachi and elsewhere, and other -- I believe it was Karachi -- but other -- Cairo, certainly. I would note that subsequent reporting by notable news organizations have shown that participants in the attack said that they were inspired in part by the protests outside of Cairo. So if it wasn't directly because of the video, it was because of protests in Cairo because of the video.

All of this is to say that these were assessments made by the intelligence community based on the information they had and based on -- they obviously and have spoken to this themselves -- but based on what we knew about what was happening around the world, not just in Libya.

And, again, I thank you for reading that because I think it represents the effort that we made, that Ambassador Rice made, and others made to make clear that these were initial assessments and that they were subject to change as more clarity became available on what exactly happened, who was responsible, who they were affiliated with or not, and why four Americans died as a result.

Q: Yes, but you're saying that because there were protests elsewhere in places like Cairo, which is an absolute fact, that that was concrete evidence that in fact the video --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I didn't make these assessments, the intelligence community did, and the intelligence community has spoken to this. And, again, based on what we, the U.S. government, knew at the time and the assessments that we had at the time, we made those assessments available to the American people through you. As more information became available, we provided that to you.

On the fundamental issue of -- I mean, we talked about militants. The President talked about an act of terror. I mean, the narrowness of the charge here has no bearing on what happened or what the reaction was, the response was, or on the essential work that's being undertaken to this day to bring to justice those responsible.

Yes, Kristen.

Q: Jay, Secretary Clinton said today in talking about the spreading Jihadist threat, "We have to recognize this is a global movement. We can kill leaders, but until we help establish strong democratic institutions, until we do a better job of communicating our values and building relationships, we're going to be faced with this level of instability." So what is the President's plan specifically to better communicate the United States' values and build relationships? And where more broadly does this fall in his list of priorities and his agenda? In his inaugural address, he seemed to focus largely on domestic issues.

MR. CARNEY: Well, it has been a priority of this President in his first term and will continue to be a priority. I think that we have seen in the last four years, in the last two years in particular, enormous change in the region, historic change in the region. And that change is continuing, and the effects of that change continue.

And it is absolutely in our interest as a nation to engage with those in the region who believe that there is a better future for the people of the Middle East and North Africa if they pursue democracy than the alternative, than the -- if they embrace the tyrannical ideology of al Qaeda, for example.

This is epical change and it is unfolding, and has been unfolding, over the course of this administration and in the last two years in particular, and it will continue to unfold. But it is an enormous focus as a security challenge and as a challenge to the expression of and -- of our values around the world. And the President has spoken to this many times.

Q: And so what specifically is his plan?

MR. CARNEY: His plan for?

Q: For building relationships, better communicating the United States' values?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure if you're looking for -- I mean, he has spoken to this many times and he will continue with that effort. And we engage with countries, governments, movements that espouse greater democracy, greater tolerance, a greater embrace of economic freedom as well as civil rights, and we will continue to do that. And we will also do it in a way that focuses on the President's primary responsibility when it comes to foreign policy, which is the safety and security of the United States and the American people.

Q: Jay, do you have a reaction to Congressman Paul Ryan saying that the President used a "straw man" argument in his inaugural address when he talked about the fact that the United States is not a nation of takers? Congressman Ryan has said that the President misconstrued what he meant, what Ryan meant when he used that term, "nation of takers."

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure that President mentioned Chairman Ryan, but that phrase has been used by a number of Republicans, including Paul Ryan.

The President's point was that these programs -- Social Security and Medicare in particular -- have been enormously valuable to seniors in our country and to providing the security that has allowed for stronger economic growth and stronger job creation and a stronger middle class. I mean, the facts and figures on what the plight of the nation's seniors was prior to Social Security are well known.

The insecurity that seniors face or would face if Medicare were voucherized and the costs were shifted to them if they had a limited amount of money to spend on health care and the rest was up to them, I think would not be good for the country. The President doesn't believe it's good for the country.

Q: And just one more -- on Syria. There is a bipartisan call urging the President to expedite delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, including the Syrian Opposition Council, coming from senators Ayotte and Kirsten Gillibrand. What is the President's reaction? Will he do that? And if so --

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President would say, as I will say now, that the United States is the single-largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. In coordination with our international humanitarian partners, we are supporting and complementing the generous efforts of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, whose governments and communities are hosting refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

The United States is providing $210 million in humanitarian assistance to help millions of people inside Syria as well as to assist nearly 670,000 Syrians who have fled beyond that country's borders. The American people are funding the provision of lifesaving food, medical care, blankets, and essential winter supplies, which are reaching children, women and men in all 14 governorates inside Syria as well as refugees in neighboring countries.

And let's be clear, the responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Syria lies with Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Every day, the regime's hold on power weakens, territory slips from its grasp, and the opposition becomes more capable and confident. Syrians are taking back their dignity, and the United States will continue to lead international efforts to assist the Syrian people and to provide the kind of humanitarian aid that we have thus far.


Q: I have a foreign policy question, but first I just wanted to ask for the administration's response -- the House has now passed the three-month suspension of the U.S. debt ceiling. What's your comment from the podium?

MR. CARNEY: That, just in case you were curious, that was what --

Q: Yeah, we figured.

MR. CARNEY: It's the same as it was yesterday, which is the President believes that we need to as a country do the responsible thing and without drama or delay pay our bills, meet our commitments. Ideally, we would extend or raise the debt ceiling for a long period of time so that this is not a question, so that the uncertainty that has surrounded this issue of late -- because of the political strategy that House Republicans have taken -- will be removed, or would be removed.

It is certainly important to recognize that the bill that passed the House today, the position that House Republicans took beginning late last week, represents a fundamental change from a strategy that they pursued up until that point, which is to try to link the debt ceiling to a specific ideological agenda of spending cuts in which the choice presented to the American people was either face dramatic cuts in Social Security or Medicare, or we'll default on our obligations and wreck the American economy and throw the financial system into crisis. Not much of a choice.

We are glad to see that that strategy is not being pursued anymore, so this is a welcome development. And as I said yesterday, the President will not stand in the way of this bill becoming law. His interest is in resolving our budget and fiscal issues for the long term. And he looks forward to engaging with Congress and building on the accomplishments achieved so far in deficit reduction, the $2.5 trillion achieved so far in a balanced way.

Q: Foreign policy. So now that the votes are in in Israel, I'm wondering if you would give us some comment about the President's reaction to Netanyahu's reelection -- not only his reelection, but sort of the weakened state of his reelection; what you think both the outcome and the backdrop of the outcome may mean for U.S.-Israel foreign policy going forward, for the Middle East peace process, for dealings with Iran.

And although you have not announced any calls to read out, has the President spoken with Mr. Netanyahu and has the President spoken with Yair Lapid?

MR. CARNEY: First of all, we congratulate the Israeli people on their election. And as I said yesterday, and it remains true today, I do not want to get ahead of the Israeli political process. Elections are a stage in a process in Israel, and the final results themselves are not yet in, and I'm not going to speculate on the government formation process, which I think goes to some of the questions that you asked.

I think it's very likely the President will be speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I don't have a call to read out to you at this time, but when appropriate I'm sure that call will take place.

In terms of the peace process, I would say the same thing I said yesterday, which our views are clear. We believe that what needs to take place is direct negotiations between the two parties that address the final status issues and that result in a two-state solution that provides a sovereignty that the Palestinian people deserve, and the security that the Israeli people and Israel deserves.

Q: As for Yair Lapid, do you know whether the President is very likely to call?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have anything more on potential calls the President might make.

Q: And any comment just on the impact of Yair Lapid's rise and --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I won't -- I'll resist being a commentator on another country's political process at this time.

Q: So regardless of what government emerges or who is going to lead that government, yesterday a big, much larger than expected turnout of moderate Israeli voters went to the polls and voted for parties that, at least in principle, support the two-state solution. President Obama often says elections matter. He's talked about it since his own reelection quite a bit in terms of specific policies. I mean, what does the administration believe that Israeli voters were saying yesterday in terms of the way they want their country to go?

MR. CARNEY: I don't want to get ahead of the process. And I think that, as you know in particular, given your expertise in the field, this process is not complete in Israel. What is important is that we recognize that Israelis should be congratulated on their election, on their democracy. What also should be recognized is that our relationship with Israel and our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security will continue regardless; and our position on the peace process and our pursuit of peace will not change, no matter the result of the government formation process.

As for the effect that these elections have on that, I wouldn't speculate. We're going to deal with the process itself with the government and press forward on what we firmly believe is a process that has as its goal a result that is good for the Palestinians and for the Israelis.


Q: Just to follow on Israel -- the administration often says that there has not been a White House with a closer strategic relationship with Israel than this one. But it's also no secret that sometimes the relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a little contentious. How important is personality and the personal ties between leaders in this as compared to the strategic sense? And do you expect now that the elections here and in Israel have taken place, there might be a little bit of leeway for the two leaders to perhaps seek a different relationship?

MR. CARNEY: I would answer by pointing out that no leader has met more often with or spent more time on the phone with President Obama than Prime Minister Netanyahu. That relationship is strong and it is a relationship that allows for a free and open discussion of ideas and positions. And that's good for U.S.-Israeli relations.

I think that the underlying foundation of the relationship is very important to understanding the approach that this administration takes and the approach that prior administrations have taken. And that is that we are committed to Israel's security, and we have demonstrated that commitment in the actions that we've taken, that the President has taken in his first term. And that will not change.

Bill, and then Susan.

Q: Jay, I want to take one for the team and ask the lip-sync question. (Laughter.) Did the President know she was lip-syncing, and does he care?

MR. CARNEY: I have not had the discussion with him. I'm not sure that I understand the variety and contradictory reports on the matter, and I would refer you to JASIC JCCIC or PIC. (Laughter.)

Q: But even the Marine Band say that they were faking it, they were not actually playing the Star-Spangled Banner. Doesn't that --

MR. CARNEY: Again, what I know about this I mostly know from what I've read and, shockingly, it has not all been consistent. But my understanding -- and this was as I recall from the inauguration in 2009 -- that as a precaution recordings are made. But I actually have no idea what's true and what's not about what happened here, and I don't think it's really a particularly important issue to address from the podium here.

Q: I'm curious, though -- he hasn't said whether or not he realized she was not actually performing?

MR. CARNEY: I have not had that discussion with him.

Q: When he invited her, did he expect that she was going to sing live?

MR. CARNEY: I'm glad you guys are focused on the important issues of the day here. (Laughter.) Again, I would point you to history here that includes what happened in 2009. There are issues -- again, I have no idea whether this bears on what happened in this inauguration or not, but as I think everyone knows, in 2009, it was so cold that Yo-Yo Ma could not play. I just -- as powerful as this office is, we don't control the weather, and as many issues as we deal with here, we still have to choose what we don't deal with and this is one of those issues.

Yes, in the back. Sorry, Susan, I owe you.

Q: Two questions, one on Benghazi and then on climate change. The first one, we haven't seen really a tick-tock of what happened and what the President was doing that night and how he was apprised of the developments that were going on in Benghazi such like we saw during the OBL raid. We've seen that sort of -- a lot of information about what happened that night. But we didn't see like -- what you said earlier to Ed, you seemed like you were saying that the President was giving Panetta carte blanche to do whatever it took --

MR. CARNEY: The President spoke to the Secretary of Defense, who was in the Oval Office when the President learned about initial reports about the attack, to do everything possible to ensure that assistance -- whatever assistance could be provided was provided, and that action was taken to secure our facilities in the region and around the world, because, as you know, there was unrest taking place in a variety of places at the time. So I think we've been very clear about that.

And, as is the case with developments of this kind, he is routinely updated by his national security team -- Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, John Brennan and others, as well as Secretaries Clinton and Panetta. And that was certainly the case here.

Q: So when there was a decision made, we've heard -- and our publication has reported as well as others -- that their Special Forces guys could not get into Benghazi and do any real good in time. Was that decision made by Panetta? Or who made that decision?

MR. CARNEY: Again, there has been a lot of false reporting, and I would point you to the Accountability Review Board on this issue that I think addresses it very directly. Speculation about this has been often wrong, and the ARB report makes that clear.

Q: Thanks, Jay.

Q: On the domestic issue, on climate change -- Bernie Sanders now has introduced legislation today, and he is saying that he hopes the President -- he's calling on the President to support this on climate change. The legislation would put some penalties on fossil fuel companies that emit carbon. And I'm wondering, is this something that the President could get behind? Is this Bernie Sanders just going off on his own? Is this something that -- is there any legislation that the White House and the President can get behind on climate change?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, that's an enormously speculative question. Is there any legislation?

Q: Well, you're not being specific on --

MR. CARNEY: I mean, again, you haven't even described the legislation that Senator Sanders may have put forward. I haven't seen it.

Q: I described it as his press release described it, saying that he's going to put --

MR. CARNEY: Penalties.

Q: -- penalties on --

MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we have not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax. Beyond that, I haven't seen the legislation that you've talked about.

Thank you all very much.

END 1:49 P.M. EST

Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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