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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney

January 25, 2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:00 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. Of course, the President had an announcement earlier today, so we put the briefing after that so I can take all your questions about those announcements, if you like.

I have nothing else for you to start with, so we'll go to Nedra.

Q: Thank you, Jay. On immigration, should we be expecting some new proposals from the President, or will this basically be about his 2011 blueprint again?

MR. CARNEY: Well, you make a good point. The President's commitment to comprehensive immigration reform has been clear for a very long time, and it has been detailed for a very long time. So you can fully expect that when the President speaks about the need to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, which he will do in Nevada next week, that he will speak about the blueprint that has been available to the public for more than a year and is available as I speak on

These are the principles that the President believes we can now move forward on together as a nation. What has been absent in the time since he put those principles forward has been a willingness by Republicans, generally speaking, to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform. What he hopes is that that dynamic has changed. And there are certainly indications now that what was once a bipartisan effort to push forward with comprehensive immigration reform will again be a bipartisan effort to do so, because the President firmly believes that it should be. This is not a partisan or ideological pursuit. It's the right thing to do for our economy, and he looks forward to speaking about it next week and to working with Republicans and Democrats to get it done.

Q: On another topic -- will the administration appeal the D.C. Circuit's ruling on the recess appointments to the NLRB?

MR. CARNEY: Let me say, first, that with regards to next steps, I would refer you to the Justice Department. But the decision is novel and unprecedented. It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations, so we respectfully but strongly disagree with the rulings. There have been, according to the Congressional Research Service, something like 280-plus intrasession recess appointments by, again, Democratic and Republican administrations, dating back to 1867. That's a long time and quite a significant precedent.

So next steps, I'd refer you to the Justice Department, but our view is that we disagree strongly with the decision.


Q: Jay, following up on that question, what -- without going through next steps if you don't want to talk about that -- what does this mean for you guys? What does it mean for the NLRB appointments? And what does it mean for other recess appointments like Richard Cordray?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the case that was -- the decision that was put forward today had to do with one case, one company, one court. It does not have any impact, as I think the NLRB has already put out, on their operations or functions, or on the board itself. It has no bearing on Richard Cordray. And we, as I said, strongly disagree with it.

Q: So you don't think that this will invalidate the decisions that the board has made?

MR. CARNEY: Again, if you look at the case, the court decided a case brought by a specific company, and the decision applies to that case, it does not apply more broadly than that.

Q: And you're not concerned that it may call in question Cordray or his decisions, or anything out of that board?

MR. CARNEY: Again, it simply doesn't as a legal matter. I'm not going to predict what happens in the future, but in terms of this case, it does not bear on Mr. Cordray.

Q: And you said, obviously, next week, on a separate issue, that the Las Vegas trip will be focused on immigration. When can we see some of the gun control trips that you've also been --

MR. CARNEY: I have no other scheduling announcements to make. As you know, the Vice President is traveling in support of the President's efforts to move forward on common-sense measures to reduce gun violence in this country. The President will be pressing that issue as well. I just don't have any travel announcements to make, but you can be sure that he will be continuing that effort.

Q: The President has made clear that he believes more needs to be done to promote women's equality. What specific steps are on his agenda to promote women's issues?

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I mean, the President's commitment to gender equality I think is quite clear and demonstrated by the very first law -- act or bill he signed into law as President, and that will continue to be the case. I don't have a preview for you for future actions, but, again, his record is strong on this and he will work with members of Congress and through his administration to continue to advance the cause that he believes is very important.

Again, as all things, it's tied to his central principle, which is we need to do everything we can to help our economy grow, help it be more vibrant, help it create more and better jobs.

Q: In his inaugural address, he said, "Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts." So why doesn't he have a proposal ready to act on?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I wouldn't want to steal his thunder by presenting everything he's going to do in the second term on the fifth day of the second term. (Laughter.)

Q: Jay, today, he's already spoken to a gay rights group today. He's met with immigration advocates today. Women were 58 percent of the electorate that brought him into office, and you don't have a single policy agenda item you can point to that he promises to act on?

MR. CARNEY: The President's commitment to women, to women's equality is incredibly strong. It has been demonstrated throughout his first term and will continue to be demonstrated. It is reflected in the positions he took and the proposals he --

Q: Will he advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not -- I don't have actions of the future to announce today, but I promise you that the commitment he --

Q: For expanded sick leave?

MR. CARNEY: Again, you can throw things at me and I promise you I'm not going to get ahead of the President, but his commitment will be as strong in the second term as it was in his first.


Q: Jay, the circuit court in this ruling said that the President violated the Constitution by making a recess appointment when Congress was not in recess. It was January 4th, 2012 -- that is the same day that he appointed Richard Cordray. If this decision stands for the NLRB, doesn't it stand to reason --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you should consult lawyers. But this decision applies to and is written about a specific case that the court considered.

Again, it does not apply to Richard Cordray. It doesn't -- as the NLRB has already stated, it doesn't apply to -- it doesn't affect their functions. It applies to a specific case.

There are a lot of cases out there in different courts regarding recess appointments. I would simply say, again, we respectfully but strongly disagree with this decision. It counters 150 years of precedent. There are over 280 recess appointments made in -- during intrasession recess appointments by Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

So I think our view on this in terms of the precedent here is buttressed by some significant facts. As for next steps, I refer you to the Justice Department. For interpretation of its legal implications, I suggest you go to the lawyers.

Q: But what is different here is that these appointments were made when the Congress was not in recess. They were in --

MR. CARNEY: I think if you look at the ruling it calls into question -- or asserts that intrasession recess appointments -- or that recess appointments can only be made intrasession, I believe. And it basically calls into question 150 years of precedent of more than 280 appointments made by Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Again, our disagreement with this is respectful but it's strong. And it applies -- it's one court, one case, one company. And we'll obviously see how we move forward, and I would refer you to Justice for that.

Q: I have got a list -- I mean, I'm sure you're familiar -- there have been about three dozen, maybe more -- and this is just what I was able to look at very quickly -- of recess appointments made by this President when Congress was not technically in recess, in pro forma session. What are the implications for this administration if this ruling stands and applies to these other cases?

MR. CARNEY: You're asking me to make legal analysis that I am not qualified to make. I can tell you what I know about this decision and how it -- what it does apply to and what it doesn't. I can tell you our position of respectful but strong disagreement with the decision. I can tell you about the fact that it contradicts 150 years of precedent. In terms of broader issues of its implications, I would ask you to consult the Justice Department or outside legal experts.

Q: Can you at least tell me, are you concerned about those broader implications? Will they be part of the decision whether or not to challenge it?

MR. CARNEY: Again, we strongly disagree with the opinion, and I would point you to the fact that there are -- this is one court, one case, one company. There are many cases in different courts around the country that apply to these issues, so we will assess it in toto.

Q: I'm not a lawyer, you're not a lawyer, and I'm not asking you to be one. But when you say the word "precedent," you are talking about practices of Presidents, not something adjudicated by the courts, correct?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not a lawyer. And I think that I've kind of said what I can say about this.

Q: But, I mean, this is a new issue raised before the court, at this appellate court level, is it not?

MR. CARNEY: Its opinion is very sweeping, as I understand it. It contradicts 150 years of history --

Q: Not a legal precedent.

MR. CARNEY: -- significant precedent by administrations that are both Democratic and Republican. Again, beyond that I would ask you to consult with the Justice Department, consult with outside legal experts about the --

Q: But the precedent that you're referring to is of precedents in Congress, not of something that has been in U.S. law?

MR. CARNEY: Again, that's all I have on it.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the tone or tenor of the meeting the President had with various members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus? Was that to put together new ideas, or for the President to explain to them things he's going to be pressing forward and getting their either sign-off or evaluation?

MR. CARNEY: I can tell you a little bit about that. As you know and as just stated, the President and senior administration officials met this morning with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss a need to make things fairer for and grow the middle class by fixing our broken immigration system so that everyone plays by the same rules.

The President thanked the members for their longstanding leadership on the issue and reiterated that this is a top legislative priority. The President was pleased to hear from CHC members and noted that they share the same vision, including that any legislation must include a path to earned citizenship.

The President further noted that there is no excuse for stalling or delay. The President made it clear that he will continue to lead on this issue and that he looks forward to working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other key members of Congress in a bipartisan process, as I mentioned earlier, to move this debate forward at the earliest possible opportunity.

And then, as you know, the President is headed to Nevada next week.

Q: In addition to earned citizenship, could you enumerate the other priorities for the President in this particular approach to immigration?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, I could but -- again, I'm not making an announcement here. The President has had a blueprint that outlines all of this at since he gave a speech in El Paso in 2011. His support for this has not changed. The elements of his --

Q: But no changes to that blueprint?

MR. CARNEY: And I would note that this blueprint that the President has had in place and that provides these details has been -- is reflected now in some of the generalized proposals that have been discussed by Republicans in Congress, and that is a welcome development. We think that it at least suggests a possibility that an issue that was once embraced by leading Republicans like John McCain and President George W. Bush will again be taken up and embraced by Republicans, which would then afford an opportunity for a bipartisan consensus to move forward on this important issue.

Q: Back to the NLRB decision, just one thing -- what do you think is at stake here? Because the President thought he was advancing something by putting these members of the administration in positions because he was getting from his vantage point unsatisfactory or zero cooperation from the Senate in the advise and consent process itself. What's at stake here from the President's executive power?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply make the point again that this is one case, in one court, that applies to one case that involves one company. So we disagree with the decision, so I'm not dismissing it as irrelevant, or else we wouldn't make clear our strong disagreement with it. I would simply note that it is one case that applies to one company, decided by one court, in a universe in which similar cases are pending in different courts around the country. And it is a decision that does contradict more than 280 appointments made by administrations both Democratic and Republican.

Q: Jay, can I just follow up on the question of what the Republicans in Congress are doing? Is the President's announcement next week going to be coordinated in any way with the Senate group who apparently is working up a bipartisan proposal?

MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure what you mean. The President and his team have been and will look forward to consulting with and working with members of Congress on this important issue. The President will in his remarks sort of make clear his intention to redouble our efforts to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality. But this is not at the policy level, at the substance level different from what he's been pushing and what his positions have been for quite some time.

Q: But do you know if any of those I guess a half dozen or so senators are going to be with him out there?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have any further announcements about the actual trip or who is traveling with us. We are encouraged by, as I said earlier, efforts that are underway now in Congress to move forward on this issue, to address it in a comprehensive way. Some of the efforts supported by or talked about by Republicans who have standing on this issue reflect the President's principles, reflect the President's blueprint. He thinks that's a positive thing and, hopefully, signals that this could get done, which would be good for the country. It is certainly a top legislative priority for the President.


Q: Jay, how do you -- to follow on Jessica in terms of that you've got these promises made to women, made on gay rights, immigration reform we're talking about, the Vice President is out there talking about guns today. Oh, by the way, there's jobs, the deficit, a lot of important priorities. How do you prioritize that in the second term?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President made a comment I think from this podium in the last couple of months that he didn't get reelected just to be reelected. He intends to continue the work that his administration has been undertaking in the first four years for the next four years to make progress in this country -- to continue to have the economy recover, to create a stronger foundation for economic growth in this century, to strengthen and make more secure the middle class, increase the size of the middle class by providing ladders of opportunity to those who aspire to the middle class; and to continue his commitment on civil rights issues like LGBT rights, to take on tasks that require bipartisan support like immigration reform.

I mean, if your point is that it's a lot of work, he would agree with you. But I don't think anyone in Washington who cast a ballot -- I mean, anybody in the country who cast a ballot to send either the President back for four more years or members of Congress to do their jobs on Capitol Hill would expect anything less than them to engage in a lot of work.

Q: But a heavy lift around, and I'm wondering, at some point you've got to make a call and say, we're really making the push on immigration, because Congress oftentimes, as you know, can only focus on one big thing at a time. So how do you prioritize? Is immigration more important than guns?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you've seen the President push forward on his full package of proposals to reduce gun violence. I think you have heard now from me and others that he will be redoubling his efforts to push forward on comprehensive immigration reform. And remember that these are issues that have support in Congress. It doesn't mean they're easy. If they were easy, they would have been done in the past. But they have support in Congress and they have the support of the American people.

And he will continue to engage with the American people to make sure that their voices are heard in this process and work with Congress. It's a lot of stuff, but it's important. And he intends to -- as he just said today when he talked about the appointment he made of Denis McDonough to Chief of Staff -- I mean, we're here to do work. We're here to work on behalf of the American people and so are members of Congress of both parties. There's no reason why we can't move forward on all of this, because it's important.

Q: Right. But the reality is -- I guess this is my last question -- it would be that I'm not questioning the President's commitment to bring all these up and push for them. What I'm wondering is what we saw at the end of last year was an inability of Congress to get even the most basic budget work done, let alone major priorities. So what's going to change over the next few months so that the President can get all of these big things done in addition to the basic budget things that they can't seem to get done?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as he said, Ed -- and, look, I think your questions are completely legitimate. I mean, these are important issues. There are debates surrounding some of them. And there are disagreements on some of them, including obviously our fiscal challenges. But the fact is we have made significant progress on a host of issues, even during the past two years when we had a divided government, and we will in the next two and four years, under this President's leadership working with this Congress -- because in the end, he believes the American people will demand it. They are demanding it.

And to your point about the difficulty that we encountered in working out a fiscal cliff deal, a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, in the end it happened. It wasn't easy. There was an unnecessary sense of crisis built up around it and the President has talked about the need to stop governing from crisis to crisis. But when people's voices were heard, when the imperative to act was felt, Congress acted, the President acted. We got stuff done. And that's the approach he's going to take on all these issues.


Q: Thanks, Jay. The New York Times raises the point that not much is known about Jack Lew's time at Citigroup, and raises the point that some members of Congress have concerns. Senator Grassley said he intends to ask Lew about a reported bonus that he got from Citigroup before the bank got government assistance. What can you tell us about that? And what do you say to those who have concerns that Lew may have been too cozy with Wall Street?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, first of all, Jack Lew's extensive record of service is well known. He has spent most of his career serving the American people in Congress, as Budget Director twice -- once for President Clinton, once for President Obama -- as Deputy Secretary of State in this administration, and, of course, as White House Chief of Staff.

He also does have experience on Wall Street, and I would simply point you to that article, because I think it does demonstrate that the breadth of Jack's record is in Washington, but he also has an understanding of Wall Street in part earned during his time there. And that's appropriate for a Treasury Secretary.

Look, we are very confident and the President is very confident that Jack Lew will be an exceptional Secretary of the Treasury; that he brings unparalleled qualifications to the job, and especially for the time that he will take it if confirmed by the Senate. And we are confident that he will be confirmed by the Senate.

Q: And I'm wondering if you could weigh in on the Senate's agreement to make changes to the filibuster. President Obama obviously said it was a good thing, but some are concerned that it doesn't go far enough. Does he share those concerns, and will he press the Senate to go even farther?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we are glad to see a bipartisan agreement to address this issue. It is very important that we return or try to return to what was known or once was known as regular order here so that we can get the business of the American people done. And when it comes to votes on nominations, and votes on nominations that have no -- that present no -- should present no problems to which members have no substantive objections, we should be able to move in regular order through those.

And I think the President is glad to see that there is a bipartisan agreement on this, and we'll obviously see how it works, because this is important. It goes to, in many ways, to the question Ed asked about how do we, on behalf of the American people, increase the productivity of their representatives here in Washington. And this is one way, we hope.

Roger, and then Christi.

Q: Yes, thank you. Back to the NLRB. They have made more than 200 decisions since January 4, 2012. Businesses and unions are affected greatly by that. Can you give us any guidance or give them any guidance on what happens to the regulations?

MR. CARNEY: I would point you to the statement that was put out by the NLRB. This court case, this decision does not affect their operations, their ability to function. And they put out a statement to that effect. It's one court, one case, one company.

Q: So they can still enforce --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to them for the assessment they made. I'm simply echoing what they put out.


Q: Jay, you just talked about the ability of the Congress and the White House to focus on a number of things they want done. What about the ability of the American people to focus on multiple issues, especially if it's important, as you say, for the President to get out in the country and sell these ideas? Are you at risk of moving all of these things at one time and sort of having your message bleed a little bit?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't think so. It's, I think, remarkable to a lot of us -- reporters and folks on this side, and probably to members of Congress and their staffs and candidates -- that when you get out in the country, some of the obsessions of Washington are not the focus of concern among average Americans. They care about issues that affect their lives. They care about Washington functioning in a way, compromising in a way that it helps the economy grow, helps give middle-class families more security, more opportunities.

And I think they would welcome a circumstance in which Washington was more collaborative and cooperative and productive; where we were able to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform even as we deal with our fiscal challenges; where we were able to address the horrible scourge of gun violence in this country by moving on proposals that are very common-sense and not one of which would take away a gun from a single law-abiding American.

So I think to suggest that -- and I'm not saying you are -- but to suggest that the American people have a limited attention span or capacity is selling them short. I think their expectations are high. And the President believes we, together, if we act, can meet those expectations and can move forward on some of these important issues even as we acknowledge that we won't resolve all of our differences, we won't settle centuries-old debates about things like the role of government or other issues. But the fact that we disagree on some of these things doesn't mean we are not obligated to work together.

Q: But if you need a groundswell of support, for example, to push gun control measures through, and climate change measures, and even bipartisanship -- I mean, is that really something you expect to see all at one time? Or, I don't know, you're sort of alluding to a unifying theme, but I would be hard-pressed to say what it is.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the President's speech on Monday for unifying, high-altitude themes. But the --

Q: (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Ed.

But the -- I guess we're going to test the principle. These are all important issues. They're issues that the American people care about. And fundamentally, they're tied into the issue, as a matter of domestic policy, that most Americans care most about, which is stable economic growth, security for the middle class, opportunity for those who are working hard to attain membership in the middle class, security for our seniors. These are broad, fundamental priorities and goals that are generally shared by Americans no matter their political persuasion, and generally supported by lawmakers no matter their political affiliation. So there is the opportunity here, and the President is trying to seize it.


Q: Could I follow up on the NLRB? Can you speak to the broader frustration the President has had with the nomination -- with the confirmation process in the Senate? And do you know whether -- which forces him into the recess appointment in the first place -- and do you know whether these names from the NLRB had been languishing and how long they've been in Congress?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I would have to take the question on the last part and provide to you the information that I can gather on the -- I mean, a perfect example to -- I say this having noted that there has been an agreement, hopefully, that will help move this or resolve this problem to some degree. But there has been enormous frustration at the way that nominations have been handled.

I mean, Richard Cordray is a perfect example of Senate Republicans refusing to allow an up-or-down vote on an enormously qualified individual. No one put forward any objections to his qualifications, because his qualifications are impeccable. He had broad support from not just Democratic attorneys general but Republican, across the country. And because of the refusal to allow an up-or-down vote, the President took action to put him in this job because the job is important. As the President said yesterday, financial institutions, the financial sector, they have a lot of lobbyists here. They pay good money to lobby us to make sure their interests are represented in Washington. Consumers need Richard Cordray to represent them.

I mean, let's just look at what he's done in the year since the President placed him in office. A couple of facts: 6 million -- that's the number of consumers who received refunds because of the 2012 CFPB enforcement actions. 575 -- that's the number of colleges voluntarily adopting the financial aid shopping sheet developed by the CFPB and the U.S. Department of Education. 13 -- the number of public town halls and field hearings that CFPB has held since opening its doors in July 2011, and up to this month, in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Maryland, Georgia and other states.

I mean, this is -- it demonstrates what this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is all about. It's an entity designed to protect and represent average Americans, consumers, in their financial dealings. And it's a vital function, and it's the law. It exists. And objections to that can be debated. Legislation to try to change that can be submitted. But blocking the nomination of a highly-qualified individual for a post that exists under the law is not acceptable. It shouldn't happen. It's not fair to the American people.

So that's why the President put Richard Cordray in office. That's why he re-nominated him yesterday.


Q: Jay, there's been a lot in the news recently about the -- how servicemembers with same-sex partners aren't receiving certain benefits -- administratively any time, and they include military IDs, joint duty assignments, and access to certain family programs. Is the President aware of this issue, and will he direct the Pentagon to take action on this if they don't do it on its own?

MR. CARNEY: I can tell you broadly -- I don't have specifics for you -- the President is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT, and to ensure that proper benefits are provided. For more details, I would point you to the Defense Department. But this is an issue the President is aware of and it has his attention.

Q: I mean, the Pentagon has been saying since "don't ask, don't tell" was lifted in September 2011 that they've been reviewing this issue, but no action has been taken. I mean, isn't it reasonable to conclude that they need a little prodding?

MR. CARNEY: Again, this issue has the President's attention.

Andrei, and then Scott.

Q: Thank you, Jay. The U.S. has pulled out of a small but important working group with Russia today. And a few days ago you -- and it's a working group in the presidential commission, so I assume that it does rise to the President's level. A few days ago, you said that we want to work together despite differences. So my question is, again, how do we limit the fallout from such gestures, mutual gestures? Are they -- as you know, they started with the Magnitsky bill. So my specific question is whether the President asked President Putin to not respond to the Magnitsky bill with anything that would hurt the economy. And is he trying to not hurt the economy, too, in our --

MR. CARNEY: I would have to take the question about the working group. I'm not aware of that. I can simply reiterate that the President believes our relationship with Russia is very important. We work together on issues that are very important for our bilateral relationship, but also for issues of international concern. That has been the case throughout his first term, and he expects it to be the case throughout the second term -- his second term. And it is also the case that where we disagree, we disagree -- we are able to disagree and continue to move forward on those areas where we find common ground.

Q: Does the President still intend to send Mr. Donilon to Moscow soon for --

MR. CARNEY: I don't have a travel update for you on the National Security Advisor.

I think Scott. I had you next in mind.

Q: Jay, does the President have any thoughts on the idea that's been floated in Virginia and maybe some other states about changing the way electoral votes are assigned?

MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed that with him, so I don't have a response. I've seen -- I saw a tweet by David Axelrod that I thought was interesting, but I don't really have anything more on it than that.


Q: Oh, thanks. Budget question: Paul Ryan is working on a budget that he hopes will be balanced in 10 years. The White House has typically done a debt-to-GDP ratio. What kind of budget will the President be pursuing in February?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have the budget for you to present. When the President does, you will be able to review it. I can tell you it will reflect the principles that you've seen in detail in various budgets and proposals that the President has put forward in the last several years, including his most recent budget, including the proposal he put forward to the so-called super committee, including the proposals he put forward to Speaker Boehner in their negotiations last -- late last year.

The President believes that we need to address further our fiscal challenges; that we need to continue to bring down the deficit, to reduce the deficit in a responsible, balanced way; to build on the $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction that he has signed into law, the result of the work he has done with Congress. But that we should not balance the budget or reduce the deficit on the backs of senior citizens and vulnerable families and middle-class Americans who are trying to send their kids to college, people who are just trying to get by.

We have to do it in a balanced way. That means everybody shares in the deal, in the sacrifice. It doesn't mean that we ask, as the previous Ryan budget did, that seniors foot the bill, that costs for their health care shift dramatically to senior citizens so that the wealthy could get another tax cut. I don't want to -- maybe that won't be the case in a future budget, but it was certainly the case in the last.

Q: Are you saying it was too fast?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not a budget -- I mean, I think the issue here is composition. The issue here is how do you get there and who bears the burden. And that's the President's focus. The President believes that we need to reduce our deficit, that we need to get our, as Cheryl noted, our deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio in a place that will be -- is fiscally sustainable and also will allow our economy to grow faster and create more jobs.

But it should not be -- I think I've said a number of times that deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself. It is sometimes the Holy Grail for some folks, but the Holy Grail for this President is middle-class security, sustained economic growth, and the insurance that our seniors and our families with children who are disabled and others are secure.

Q: And that's a higher priority than balance?

MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.

Q: Could you address the USAID allegations made against officials there about rigged contracts?

MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department.

Yes, sir.

Q: Jay, Vice President Biden just finished a very long meeting in Richmond about guns, much longer than scheduled. What's going to happen with that information that he obtained in that meeting? What would be done with that?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I obviously wasn't in the meeting and haven't had a readout of it. This is part of the effort to make the case for taking common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. And as we discussed earlier, this is something around which the President believes we can come together to take necessary steps, responsible steps, common-sense steps that protect the Second Amendment, but also address this problem that was so horrifically brought to our consciousness at Newtown, Connecticut.

So again, I don't have any specifics on this particular meeting, but it's part of the overall effort, and it's an important one.

MR. CARNEY: Apparently, at the meeting, Vice President Biden did not mention the assault weapons ban or the high-capacity magazine ban. What should we think about that? Is that becoming a lower priority for you?

MR. CARNEY: No. Again, I don't -- I wasn't there. You're providing information about a meeting that I haven't had read out to me.

The President supports renewal of the assault weapons ban. He supports addressing or limiting the magazine capacity of ammunition -- the capacity of ammunition clips. He supports --well, as you know, the legislative action that he made clear he supported even before he put forward the comprehensive set of proposals last week.

So these are all priorities. The fact that they're hard, some harder than others, doesn't mean we shouldn't move forward on them and make the case for them. And that's what the Vice President is doing, that's what the President has done and will do.

Q: Jay, "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed more than a year ago, but many of these benefits that are still denied to same-sex military couples, they could be extended with Secretary Panetta's signature. Is the President satisfied with the pace at which the --

MR. CARNEY: I can only give you the answer I gave before, which this is an issue that has the President's attention, and I just don't have any more for you on that now.

Q: Because yesterday in a statement following the lifting of the ban on women in combat positions, he said that "I am absolutely confident that -- as with the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' -- the professionalism of our armed services will ensure a smooth transition and keep our military the very best in the world." This doesn't seem smooth when you have the Marines banning discrimination by spouses groups, and the Army of permitting it; you have some branches of the military permitting discrimination and others not. How is that a smooth transition?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say what I've said, which -- the President is aware of this issue. It has his attention. But I haven't got any more for you on it or any announcements to make about it. But he is aware of it.

Q: On immigration reform, from what I understand the outside groups are not calling it comprehensive immigration reform anymore. There has been some polling done on that topic. I heard you call it comprehensive immigration reform a couple of times. But is the President aware of this? Does he think that this is sort of bad lingo? And is he planning to use "comprehensive immigration reform" on Tuesday?

MR. CARNEY: That's like a Frank Luntz question. The President is pushing a broad approach that takes the issue as a whole in a comprehensive way, because that's the right thing to do. And what you call it is far less important than what it is, and you'll hear the President discuss that next week. It is reflected in the blueprint that has been on for more than a year. And he hopes, as I noted earlier, that these signs of a new disposition toward this issue among Republicans will -- are early indications of the real possibility for actual action on this issue, which he thinks is very important for our economy, for our businesses.

So he looks forward to working with members of both parties on this regardless of what they call it.

Q: So back last year or the year before, Grassley had called for you to release the briefing on -- the White House Counsel legal briefing on your basis for the constitutionality of making these appointments. Will you release that briefing now?

MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware -- I don't recall that. That sounds awfully like privileged presidential communication, but I'm not making that declaration -- but like communication between the White House Counsel and the President. But I'll have to take the question.

Q: U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini has been on trial in Iran over the course of this week. His supporters say yesterday he was transferred to another prison unit extensively to get him better medical attention and that he's kind of disappeared since that time. There are also reports from his supporters that he may have been beaten while he was in captivity. Has the President been getting any readouts on what's happening there? And has there been anything the administration has been able to do to try and assist in his case? I know we have limited contact with Iran, but have there been any diplomatic attempts to try to influence what's happening there?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you a couple of things. One, that we remain concerned about Saeed Abedini, who is, as you mentioned, detained in Iran on a charge related to his religious beliefs. The State Department is in close contact with his family and is actively engaged on this case.

As you know, Mr. Abedini's attorney had only one day to present his defense. And earlier this week, Mr. Abedini was not allowed to attend his own trial, so we remain deeply concerned about the fairness and transparency of that trial.

We condemn Iran's continued violation of the universal right of freedom or religion, and we call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Abedini.

On the first part of your question about reports that he might be missing, I would refer you to the State Department. They are, as I said, actively engaged in this case.

Q: Are there any diplomatic channels that the White House has been able to use in this case?

MR. CARNEY: That would be a question for the State Department.

Q: Thank you, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: Thanks very much.

Q: Week ahead?

MR. CARNEY: One day. (Laughter.) One day I'll remember. Okay, here we go, week ahead. Schedule for the week of January 28, 2013:

On Monday, the President will welcome the NBA champion Miami Heat to the White House to honor the team and their 2012 NBA championship victory. The President will also recognize the Heat's ongoing support to the men and women who serve in our military and their families, continuing the tradition begun by President Obama of honoring sports teams for their efforts on and off the court.

On Tuesday, the President will travel, as noted, to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he will deliver remarks. The President will return to Washington that evening.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.

And on Friday, the President will award 12 eminent researchers the National Medal of Science and 11 extraordinary inventors the National Medal of Technology and Innovation -- the highest honors bestowed by the United States government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors. This event will take place here at the White House.

Thank you all very much.

END 2:43 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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