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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney

January 07, 2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:17 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for being here. It is wonderful to see you for the first time in the New Year. I hope everyone here had some time off and time with family.

Q: What Washington were you -- (laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I'm sure there were many of you, like many of us, who had too little of both, but it is what it is. And with that I'll take your questions.

Q: Thank you. I noticed that in the nomination ceremony in the East Room, the President, as he was speaking about Senator Hagel, never mentioned Israel, never mentioned Iran. Those have been two of the main criticisms of Senator Hagel. Does the President feel like Hagel needs to address his past comments on Israel and Iran before he can be confirmed, or does he feel like those comments are irrelevant to this process?

MR. CARNEY: Well, today the President announced his nominees for Secretary of Defense and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and he made broad comments about why the two men he nominated are the right people for the jobs. There will be a process in each case where the Senate reviews the nominees and the President asked the Senate to move quickly because these positions are very important for our national security. And I know Senator Hagel and John Brennan look forward to that process and to fair hearings in both cases.

It is a routine part of this exercise that nominees are asked about their views on various issues. And on the matters you just raised, Senator Hagel has been a staunch supporter of Israel, of the Israeli-American relationship, of the United States' support for Israel's security throughout his career. And he has also been, as demonstrated by his record, a supporter of the broad sanctions regime that this President has put into place against Iran -- a sanctions regime that is unprecedented and which as recently as I think last spring, Senator Hagel wrote about favorably and urged Washington as a whole to continue. So I know -- I'm sure Senator Hagel looks forward to discussing his record in his nomination hearings.

Q: But does the President feel like it's important that Hagel clarify some of the statements that he made? Even after the President's announcement today we saw statements from various lawmakers asking him to clarify what he meant.

MR. CARNEY: I think that the process will allow for what it always does, which is a review by the Senate of presidential nominees. I think that Senator Hagel's record on those issues and so many others demonstrate that he is in sync with the President's policies. And, on the first issue, let's be clear. President Obama has, in his administration, overseen the closest, most substantial support for Israel's defense of any administration in history. And that is a judgment that is not just made by me or others in the President's administration; it's a judgment that has been made and expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And that is a policy that will continue under President Obama with all the members of his national security team.

But again, the process is what it's supposed to be, and I'm sure that there will be the kind of proceedings that normally take place when nominees for these positions are put forward.

Q: The President also said that with national security positions in particular it's important to not have a gap. Over at Treasury, Secretary Geithner has said that he plans to leave by about January 20th. Given all of the fiscal issues that are coming up and all of the deadlines that are coming up, does the President also feel that it's important to not have a gap between when Secretary Geithner leaves and his replacement is confirmed?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no other announcements to make or updates to give with regards to personnel. I am sure that when the President nominates a successor to Secretary Geithner, he will look forward to speedy consideration by the Senate. But I don't have a timetable for that.

Q: So we shouldn't expect something before Geithner leaves on January --

MR. CARNEY: I have no guidance to give you on the timing. It's very important for any President to have time and space to consider his or her nominees for these important positions, and when he's ready to make an announcement, he will.


Q: The fiscal cliff deal, as you know, included a package of tax breaks for businesses worth about $64 billion, including the wind tax credit. And Republicans are saying that the President insisted on these, and I'm wondering why, given all of the difficulty reaching that final deal, the President really insisted on including these business tax breaks.

MR. CARNEY: Well, you're assuming that what you've been told is correct. I would simply say that it would strain the credulity of everyone in this room to suggest that Republicans did not support or want tax credits for business. That would truly be turning Washington on its head, and that is not what happened.

The President did support giving certainty to American businesses and consumers by including in the fiscal deal the bipartisan extenders package that the Senate Finance Committee, this summer -- or summer of 2012 -- passed 19 to 5. And more than 90 percent of the cost of the extenders package is associated with longstanding provisions in the tax code, with clear policy rationale for businesses or individuals, including the R&D tax credit to support domestic job-creating research investments; the production tax credit, which you mentioned, which supports clean energy jobs -- if this key support had been allowed to expire, as you know because it was discussed during the campaign, as many as 37,000 clean energy jobs could have been lost; mortgage debt relief to help homeowners, which protect homeowners from paying taxes on up to $2 million of forgiven debt. And the list goes on -- bonus depreciation.

So again, going back to the first point, this package of tax extenders was supported on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Finance Committee. The President supported it. But it is, again -- you would have to suspend disbelief to accept the premise that Republicans did not.


Q: Thanks, Jay. Is there a moment that the President sat down with Senator Hagel and offered him the job, and had a heart-to-heart talk about what kind of shape he would like to see, or what direction he'd like to see the Pentagon move in?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President did formally offer Senator Hagel the job, I believe, by phone over the weekend. But the fact is that Senator Hagel and President Obama have a long relationship that dates back to their service together in the United States Senate. As the President mentioned today, they traveled together abroad. And Senator Hagel, after he left the Senate, was co-chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. So they have had an ongoing conversation about this nation's national security needs and the President's policies in the last four years, which I think is clear that Senator Hagel believes have been the right policies and that he looks forward to helping implement, if he is confirmed by the Senate.

Front row is kind of docile, but I'll go to Chuck. Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: What in the President's background -- what in Chuck Hagel's background gave the President confidence that he could run a bureaucracy as big as the Pentagon?

MR. CARNEY: Well, among the items on Senator Hagel's rather unique resume is the fact that he was a CEO, and a successful one, and ran a business. And that is one of the many attributes that he brings to the job of running, as you say, an institution as large as the Defense Department. And that's part of a record that, as the President noted today, is really quite remarkable.

Here is someone who fought and bled for his country, who enlisted as a volunteer to serve and fight in Vietnam, who was awarded the Purple Heart twice, who then served in the VA and as head of USO, and then as a United States senator, and since then as an advisor to the President on intelligence matters on the Intelligence Advisory Board. This is a remarkable career of service in which all of Senator Hagel's many talents are reflected. And he will bring those talents to the job.

Q: Did anything that was out there trouble the President enough where he re-interviewed Senator Hagel? Like, when he saw a report about --

MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to go through the process of --

Q: I mean, how -- did he make Senator Hagel answer some of these questions --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not -- I won't go through the process that the President uses to select nominees, except that he does so in a very deliberate fashion. He looks for the very best people for these jobs both in the national security arena and elsewhere in the administration.

When it comes to Senator Hagel, as I was just saying, he has known Senator Hagel for a fairly long time and has worked with him directly both in the Senate and as President. So the President knows his record, he knows Senator Hagel's commitment, and he has full confidence that Senator Hagel will be an excellent Secretary of Defense who will look out, as the President said, for those who serve in our armed forces as volunteers, as he did, who implement the policies, the decisions that are made here in Washington, often at such a far remove from the battlefield. And he has great confidence that Senator Hagel will be an excellent Secretary of Defense.

Q: On John Brennan, what makes it different today than four years ago when John Brennan withdrew his name from consideration for the CIA over at the time was thought to be -- there was going to be -- that he wasn't ready to answer questions about his role in devising the enhanced -- in being a part of the enhanced interrogation technique?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say two things. One, at the time, Mr. Brennan wrote a letter in which he made clear that he opposed so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. And two, for the past four years, John Brennan has served as this President's chief counterterrorism advisor. And it is this President who banned torture as one of his first acts in office, and he has implemented that policy and many others with the remarkably capable assistance of John Brennan.

Q: And finally would you respond to secretary -- sorry -- Senator McConnell over the weekend said the tax issue is now done. Does the White House share his view?

MR. CARNEY: No, we believe that any further deficit reduction, of which there must be, in the President's view -- must be pursued with the same balanced approach that the President has insisted on up to now.

Q: -- now, though?

MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to itemize how it breaks down. But the fact is as part of the overall $4 trillion deficit-reduction package that the President put forward, the ratio was more like $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue.

Q: Going forward now, now that this --

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you'd have to break down the numbers and look at it. And I'm not going to prejudge any proposals that might come forward.

But one of the things you heard the President of the United States say on New Year's Day when this fiscal cliff challenge was resolved is that the agreement enshrined the principle that we must have balance as we move forward in our deficit reduction. In the spending cuts that were part of the fiscal cliff deal, they were paid for in a balanced way with both -- rather the buy-down of the sequester was paid for in a balanced way with both -- roughly 50 percent spending cuts and 50 percent revenue. And that is an approach the President -- balance, anyway, is an approach the President believes is very important to continue.

And when members of Congress suggest that revenues are now somehow not part of the equation it doesn't really make a lot of sense, because as I stood here and discussed with you the various proposals going back and forth during the fiscal cliff negotiations, when the President was seeking in negotiations with Speaker Boehner a big deal, one that would address our long-term fiscal challenges through broader deficit reduction, the Speaker put on the table what he claimed was an $800 billion revenue proposal made up entirely of the closure of loopholes and the capping of deductions -- tax reform. Now, either that was good policy that they no longer support, or Republicans also believe, as the President does, that through tax reform we can achieve an improved tax --

Q: So you think the Republicans are going to put forward $800 billion in tax increases --

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would ask you what about that $800 billion proposal was okay then, it's not okay now. And the President believes, as Republicans have said they believe, that we need to reform our tax code, and that there are loopholes that are crying out to be closed that no longer serve the country, if they ever did, and that there are ways of capping deductions and reforming our tax code that can produce more revenue in a fair way that, again, does not burden the middle class, but asks the wealthiest to pay more.

Q: Jay, since you talked about the conversation with Boehner, at that last stage it was $1.2 trillion of revenue the President put on the table in the last conversation with Boehner. Does that mean the President is looking for ballpark $600 billion-$700 billion more in tax reform revenue?

MR. CARNEY: I prefer not to get into the negotiations for how we eliminate the sequester, which the President obviously is interested in doing, from this podium today. But it is clear from the proposals the President put forward dating back to his submission to the super committee, through his budget proposals, and through the negotiations with Speaker Boehner, what his principles are, where he believes we can appropriately reform our tax code and produce more revenue, and the balance that we need to inform us as we make the kind of spending cuts that are necessary for broader deficit reduction.

But the fact is, going back to Chuck's question, is that we know that balance is the way to go here. It is the path that the public supports, and it is inconceivable to the President -- and I would think to many of you -- that the Republicans want to, as we approach the coming months, have as a basic position that what we really need to do is -- for example, going back to some of their previous proposals like the Ryan budget -- voucherize Medicare or slash benefits for seniors without asking the wealthy to do any more. I don't think that's a position that is plausible to take, and it's certainly not a position the President supports.

Q: Is he adamantly opposed to a revenue-neutral tax reform approach? And would he veto a bill that was operating on that premise?

MR. CARNEY: Well, you're getting way ahead of any process that's in place now. He is --

Q: But Republicans have said --

MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just on the first --

Q: -- revenue neutrality is their opening bid on tax reform.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate that it's their opening bid, but for some reason it was viable a few weeks ago to find $800 billion in revenue through closed loopholes and capped deductions that presumably aren't good for the economy. And the President believes that tax reform can and should produce more revenue, because balance is essential as we achieve further deficit reduction -- because it is not the President's position, as he made clear from this podium just last week, that we will reduce our deficit going forward simply by asking seniors or middle-class families or parents with kids in college to bear the burden solely.

Q: How long does the President -- the tepid reaction of Senate Democrats to Senator Hagel's nomination --

MR. CARNEY: The President believes that when the Senate considers the totality of Senator Hagel's career that they will confirm him as the next Secretary of Defense.

The Senator's record is exemplary both in uniform and in the private sector, and as a United States Senator, and as an advisor on intelligence matters to the President. And I know that Senator Hagel looks forward to discussing that record with the Senate.

And I won't bore you or tie up too much of your time by reading the number of endorsements that Senator Hagel's nomination has already received from a variety of quarters, but they are numerous and we expect that more will come.

Q: Is it your position that when Hagel was skeptical of sanctions on Iran in 2006, 2005, called for direct negotiations with Hezbollah -- all that stuff was that was then and this is now, it just isn't relevant to the record at all?

MR. CARNEY: Well, those are I think descriptions of the positions that are slightly skewed by the current debate. They're not part of -- the fact is on sanctions, for example, Senator Hagel supported an aggressive sanctions regime against Iran. And he, as recently as last year, wrote about the need to continue to isolate and pressure Iran through sanctions.

Q: -- in their roll-call votes in 2005-2006 --

MR. CARNEY: Again, there is the approach that President Obama has taken -- which has been vastly more effective and which has been multilateral in nature, and therefore more effective, to Iran -- and there are individual votes that you can isolate and say represent the whole, which they do not. The fact is Senator Hagel supports a sanctions regime against Iran. And as Secretary of Defense, he will aggressively implement the President's policies, including his very aggressive approach to sanctioning Iran for its failure to meet its international obligations with regards to its nuclear program.

Q: What about Hezbollah?

MR. CARNEY: Again, Senator Hagel's record is exemplary on all of these issues. And he will, I'm sure, when he has the opportunity to have a confirmation hearing, be asked a lot of questions about what his views are on policies.

Fundamentally, what's important to remember is that members of this President's national security team, just like members of his broader team, are hired for and do the work of implementing the President's policies. And when it comes to Israel, to the Middle East, to Hezbollah, to Hamas, to Iran, this President's policies are very clear. And Senator Hagel will, as Secretary of Defense, carry out those policies, just as John Brennan will as Director of the CIA, and as other members of the President's team have and will going forward, including, as you know, Secretary Gates, one of this President's Secretaries of Defense who just a few moments ago expressed his admiration for Senator Hagel and his desire that Senator Hagel be confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

Q: Jay, in light of that, what do you make of Senator Lindsey Graham's assertion that the Hagel nomination is an "in your face" nomination that suggests an in-your-face second-term President?

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I'm not going to get into a rebuttal of every stray comment made by members of Congress. The fact of the matter is Senator Hagel's record is exemplary. He fought for his country in uniform as an enlisted member of the armed services in Vietnam. He served his country in the United States Senate.

And it is rather remarkable to hear some of the critics out there question Senator Hagel and whether or not he should have this position when you look back at what those very same members of the Senate said effusively in praise of Senator Hagel just a few years ago. He is the same man today, the same patriot today, the same intellect today that he was then. And we agree with, for example, Senator McCain who said not too many years ago that "Chuck Hagel will be an excellent Secretary of State." The President happens to believe that he would be an excellent Secretary of Defense.

Q: On another matter, the Vice President has been charged with what we are to understand will be a broad approach to dealing with the problem of gun violence. Senator McConnell says he doesn't want to talk about anything but fiscal matters for the next few years. Does that mean we shouldn't expect any movement, any recommendations from the Vice President over the next few months? I'm sorry, I said years, I meant months.

MR. CARNEY: Well, with respect to Senator McConnell, I think the President will move forward with his agenda in a timely fashion, and that includes the work that Vice President Biden is doing on the effort to examine measures that we can take to address the problem of gun violence in this country.

I think that many Americans, if not most -- I believe most Americans would disagree with the idea that in the wake of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, that we should put off any action on the issue of gun violence. I think that sentiment would be met with surprise by the vast majority of the American people who don't watch the Sunday shows, especially on the Sunday after New Year's Day. But it's certainly not a sentiment the President supports.

Q: And talk to me about a broad effort as opposed to something that deals with strictly gun laws.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I can cite the President on several occasions where he talked about the fact that issues that -- that approaches that address access to guns including legislation like the assault weapons ban, or legislation that would ban high-capacity gun clips, or legislation that would close the many loopholes in our background check system are only -- while very important and he supports congressional actions right away on those matters -- are only part of the problem and only address part of the problem. And he believes that issues of mental health, issues of education, for example, are part of this problem and need to be addressed as part of the effort that Vice President Biden is undertaking.


Q: Jay, on the Hill, Senators had greeted -- or had criticized Susan Rice, who was not nominated for a new position, in a way that prompted the President to suggest that if in fact she was being used as a proxy, that they were actually criticizing him. Does the President listen to the criticism of Senator Hagel in much the same way, believing that the criticism is more aimed at him than it is at Senator Hagel?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I will reject the temptation to compare one to the other. I will simply say that the President believes very firmly as you heard him just moments ago say, that Senator Hagel will make, if confirmed, and excellent Secretary of Defense, that his record is exemplary and unique in that, as the President said, Senator Hagel would be the first Vietnam veteran to run the Defense Department, the first enlisted person to run the Defense Department, and with that he would bring a keen understanding of and appreciation for the men and women who serve throughout our armed forces.

So he looks forward to a speedy consideration by the Senate and believes that Senator Hagel's record will convince the Senate to confirm him as the next Secretary of Defense.

Q: And a quick follow-up on Major's question about the process towards sequestration. For those who think that the President maybe learned from the process he just went through on the fiscal cliff that he will not be dealing with Speaker Boehner, does the President -- can you just clarify, does he fully intend to have continuing conversations directly with the Speaker, to negotiate with him directly?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that as part of our system of government the executive branch engages with and negotiates with the legislative branch, and that will continue -- on a range of issues, not just economic and fiscal matters. And the President, as he said, is very open to compromise on a range of issues when it comes to addressing our fiscal challenges and putting in place policies that help our economy grow and continue to create jobs. He will not negotiate over Congress's responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has incurred.

As you know as a veteran reporter here in Washington, a President cannot by himself or herself spend a single dollar. Congress passes the laws. Congress appropriates the funds. Congress racks up the bills and Congress must pay the bills. And it is simply inappropriate and extremely dangerous to suggest that in the name of a political agenda we would default, for example, on our obligations to pay our bills. That is Congress's responsibility and the President will not negotiate with Congress over Congress's responsibility to pay its bills.

Q: Jay, the Speaker, prior to --

MR. CARNEY: Glenn, how are you? Happy New Year.

Q: Happy New Year.

MR. CARNEY: Where's your hat? (Laughter.)

Q: I'll put it on for you later. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: It's a little -- the lights are bright and they reflect and -- (laughter.)

Q: It's polite to take your hat off -- it's good manners.

MR. CARNEY: It is, actually. I remind my son of that periodically. Thank you for that.

Q: I will respond to that later. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I don't want to read that. (Laughter.)

Q: The Speaker apparently said explicitly to his own conference prior to his reelection as Speaker last week that he does not want to negotiate directly with the President anymore. Do you think that's appropriate? And what's the President's response?

MR. CARNEY: This is not personal and this is about putting in place the policies that are best for the country. That's how the President looks at it.

There's no question that President Obama, in the course of his four years in office, has learned a great deal about how to work with Congress and how to enlist public support on behalf of policies that are very important to the lives of everyday Americans across the country. And as we've discussed in recent months, the President will continue to make the case to the American people for the policies that he believes are right, and even as he works with and negotiates with Congress on matters of legislative importance.

So I'm not -- I only heard about this indirectly. I didn't obviously have this conversation directly with the Speaker or even read the article that you're talking about. But I did hear this. I think it is incumbent upon the leaders in Washington to continue to work together to get the necessary work done to advance the economy, continue to create jobs, and to ensure that we're doing everything possible to make America safe. And that includes confirming, for example, presidential nominees for a national security post.

Q: Is he committed to pressing that with Speaker Boehner? Will he try to talk to Boehner even if Boehner --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the distinction I'm trying to make here, in answer to Alexis's question, is that he is, as he said from here, eager to and willing to compromise in order to achieve policies that advance our economic growth and help the economy create jobs, and bring down our deficit in a responsible and balanced way. He will continue to do that. And we have, as a result of the fiscal cliff, two more months to deal with the so-called sequester, and that's something that the President will obviously be addressing.

What he will not do, as he has made clear, is negotiate with Congress over Congress's sole responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has already incurred. Nobody forced Congress to rack up the bills that it incurred. And it is an abdication of responsibility to say that we're going to let the country default and cause global economic calamity simply because we're not getting what we want in terms of our ideological agenda. The President is not going to participate in that.

And I would remind you of the damage caused to our economy by the approach that House Republicans took on this matter just in the summer of 2011. As a result of their flirtation with default, the stock market plummeted. The DOW fell 7 percent, or almost 900 points, in late July and early August of 2011. The United States was downgraded and the DOW fell another 10 percent, or 1100 points after the S&P downgraded the United States. Consumer confidence plummeted to its lowest point since the financial crisis in 2008. Uncertainty for businesses froze hiring. Widespread uncertainty for middle-class families was created and caused. And job figures, job growth in August of 2011 was the lowest of any month in our economic recovery.

And that is what you get when you play games with the full faith and credit of the United States. We don't expect, and certainly don't hope -- or certainly hope that the Congress does not engage in that kind of activity.

Q: Back to Senator Hagel for a second. In his first interview today, he said that he was "hanging out there in no- man's land," unable to respond to charges and falsehoods and distortions against him. I'm wondering if you could walk through what specific groups, outside groups, outside the Senate, have Jack Lew and other administration officials been reaching out to in hopes of smoothing this nomination.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the opportunity, but I'll pass on it. Obviously, broadly speaking, the White House is reaching out to a number of groups and individuals with regards to this nomination and others, and will continue to do so in making the case for these individuals.

But as far as the initial part of your question, it is certainly an unfortunate reality that has become the norm here in Washington that even when names are bandied about in the press as possible nominees, that a process begins where critics jump all over them. And that's just part of -- well, one of the reasons why Washington has become a more fractious place.

But again, the President looks forward to Senate consideration of his nominees that he announced today. He believes that the Senate will confirm both Senator Hagel and John Brennan to those positions. And in each case, as the President said, these are uniquely qualified individuals for the offices that they will hold if confirmed.

Q: Is the White House enlisting other outside people, though, to help with these groups?

MR. CARNEY: No, I think that -- well, I'll simply say that we have conversations with individuals all the time about -- and groups -- about our policy proposals and nominees for higher office. But I don't have anything specific to report to you and there's nothing unusual about that process for either this administration or its predecessors.


Q: Jay, the recent personnel announcements that we've heard have all been men. I'm wondering how important it is to President Obama to have women in prominent roles in his new Cabinet.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. The President does believe that diversity is very important and he also believes that picking the absolute right person for each job is very important. And the nominees he announced today represent that principle in that he believes Senator Hagel and John Brennan are the right individuals for the jobs to which they have been nominated.

I would remind you that as part of President Obama's national security team we have Secretary Clinton, who, after four years, is leaving office. We have Secretary Napolitano, who continues as Homeland Security Secretary. We have Ambassador Susan Rice, who has indicated that she will be staying on in New York as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, a Cabinet-level position. And there are obviously other remarkably capable women in positions of high office in this administration and will continue to be.

Q: But presumably, I mean, some of them will obviously leave over time, and I'm wondering, in terms of having a replacement, for instance, with Secretary Clinton leaving, do you think that --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that any suggestion that Secretary Clinton was chosen because of her gender would be rejected by Secretary Clinton and others. And any suggestion that nominees not be chosen for their qualifications would be rejected by everyone whose interest is in, as the President's is, the very -- finding the very best people for each job. And that's what he's done today and that's what he'll continue to do.

And he, in that process, insists on diversity on the lists that he considers for the job because he believes that in casting a broader net, you increase the excellence of the pool of potential nominees for these positions. But in the end, he'll make the choice that he believes is best for the United States. In this case, that would be Secretary Hagel -- or Senator Hagel for Secretary of Defense and John Brennan for Director of the CIA.

Q: And on the Biden group, when will we hear from the Biden group?

MR. CARNEY: I think the President has indicated that he wants the effort led by Vice President Biden to report to him with dispatch, but I don't have a timeline to give you. The President has already urged Congress when it comes back to work to take up initiatives -- legislation to ban assault weapons, to ban high-capacity magazines, and to improve our background checks system because it does have loopholes. The so-called gun show loophole is a problem that he thinks that Congress can and should address. As for the other aspects of what the President will recommend, I'll leave it to him to announce.

Q: It seems January was sort of the absolute last time that he wants for recommendations, and there have been some reports that there will be listening sessions. I'm wondering, is there time?

MR. CARNEY: Well, it is January 7th and it would be --

Q: Are there going to be listening sessions?

MR. CARNEY: -- a disservice to the month of January to assume that it was over one week in. (Laughter.) So I would ask you to stay tuned. I just don't have any --

Q: I just wish we had December back. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: December, yes --

Q: Will there be a chance for people to weigh in in the listening sessions?

MR. CARNEY: I just don't have any more information for you. I know that the Vice President is leading a process that is very inclusive, that is including, as I think has been reported, conversations with many stakeholders who have a keen interest in this issue. And that will continue to be the case.

Roger Runningen, and then Mr. Nakamura.

Q: Jay, can you tell us who the sherpas are for each of the nominees today?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have sherpas for you. I think a sherpa is commonly associated with Supreme Court nominees. I don't know that there are such beings in this case. Senator Hagel and Mr. Brennan will be assisted as they go through the process of confirmation in the Senate by a number of people, but I don't have individuals to provide to you.

Q: The Senate Chairman will of course set the dates on that, but do you have commitments for them to set an early date as soon as they return on the 22nd or so?

MR. CARNEY: The President, as you heard him earlier today say, hopes that the Senate will take up these nominations, as well as the nomination of Senator Kerry for Secretary of State, as soon as possible because of the importance of filling these positions quickly, importance to our national security. But I don't have a date certain for you and, obviously, we defer to the relevant committees.

Q: Jay, just to follow up on Brianna's question, you talked just a minute ago about when the President believes in diversity, insists on diversity, and that he casts a broad net when he's talking about looking for candidates to serve. During the campaign, Mitt Romney was sort of ridiculed for saying that he wanted a binder full of women to make decisions on Cabinet members. What do you mean by the President is insisting on diversity and casts this broad net? Does he interview people like Michele Flournoy for defense jobs to make sure that he's really hearing from women, from other minorities in specifically this job and other jobs? Or does he insist on other ways to find qualified candidates that --

MR. CARNEY: He, again without addressing any specific nomination process, I would say that the answer is yes. He speaks with numerous potential candidates for various positions and diverse candidates. He selects, as I think the officeholders in his first administration and first Cabinet demonstrates, he selects men and women who he believes are the right individuals for the jobs to which they've been appointed. And that continues to be his process.

It's not uniform. It's a broad sentiment. And he believes that the country is served by a process that does seek out the diverse talent in this country for different positions.

Jon Christopher.

Q: These early nominations to Senators Kerry and Hagel and Mr. Brennan -- does this prove that the President's second-term agenda will be really focused in terms of priority on national security and foreign policy?

MR. CARNEY: It proves that the President, as he said today, considers the security of the United States and the American people his highest priority and responsibility. And that is why he has asked individuals of such talent and records of service as John Brennan and Senator Kerry and Senator Hagel to serve in the positions that they've been nominated for.

Broadly speaking, as he has said repeatedly, his policy priority -- I mean, there are obviously many, but his top priority continues to be having our economy grow, having it create jobs, giving security to the middle class, and building a foundation for future economic growth in the 21st century that will allow for future generations to enjoy the opportunity and promise of America that previous generations, including the President's own, have enjoyed. That remains his top priority.

But there is no question that, as he said today, that his primary responsibility, as he views it, is the safety and security of the United States and its people.

Q: Can these two priorities be basically intertwined?

MR. CARNEY: I think the answer to that is absolutely yes, because that is the responsibility of every President, and one that this President takes very seriously.

Q: I'm going back to the debt ceiling debate for a minute. The Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report today that said the government would actually run out of money prior to what we had normally talked about, so as early as February 15. So I was wondering if the administration was thinking about asking the IRS to postpone refunds for people. Or also, were you all thinking about issuing an order about which creditors would be paid first?

MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the Treasury Department handles questions like these and has put out information about it, including in a letter at the end of the year about both the estimates as to when the debt ceiling would be reached and to the measures that the Treasury Department has in the past and is now taking with regards to that matter. But I would refer you for the questions that you asked to the Treasury Department.


Q: You keep saying the President won't negotiate on the debt ceiling. At the risk of sounding naïve, how does that work practically? If the leaders of Congress tell him they don't have the votes to raise the ceiling, does he just say, no, I'm not going to talk about that?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that members of Congress were elected to serve their constituents. And as one of their essential responsibilities, to ensure that they do no harm in Congress to this economy and to the livelihoods of average Americans, flirting with default or, even worse, allowing default, would be a violation of those primary responsibilities.

And again, George, I can't be more clear: These are bills that Congress racked up. If Congress felt that they should not be paying these bills or that there should be less spending and less borrowing, then they should have passed different legislation that appropriated funds. It is not the President's responsibility to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling; it is Congress's responsibility. And he will not engage in a negotiation with Congress that as some advocates of this themselves have described as a hostage situation -- a hostage situation that would result, as it did in the summer of 2011, in great harm to this economy and great harm to American businesses and great harm to average Americans.

So it's just not the right thing to do. I think that there will be a -- if we were to travel down that road for any time, a great deal of unanimity behind the idea that it's a terrible proposition to flirt with default or to allow default. And let me remind you that if the position of Republicans in Congress will be that your choice, America, is between default and therefore economic chaos on the one hand, or voucherizing Medicare or slashing benefits for seniors, the American people are going to say no in both instances.

This is not the right way to do things in this country. You have to heed to your responsibilities here, and that includes paying for the bills that you racked up. This has nothing to do with future spending. This has to do with spending that has already been incurred. And it is Congress's responsibility to pay its bills.

George, when you get a credit card bill, you pay it, and if you don't, you get penalized. And in the case of not paying your bills when you're the United States of America, when you're the United States Congress, the penalty is both real in financial terms and severe for the economy and for the American people. The President won't negotiate with Congress over Congress's responsibility to pay its own bills.

Thank you, all.

Q: Jay, the President signed all of those spending bills, so why doesn't he share responsibility?

MR. CARNEY: Well, he did not sign all of those spending bills. The President has been in office for four years. And in fact, a huge portion of our current deficit problems were racked up under --

Q: All the spending bills that were enacted on his watch


MR. CARNEY: -- previous administrations. And it is often forgotten by Republican leaders that this is the case, that some of the very Republican leaders in office now who claim as their objective deficit reduction, primary objective, presided over enormous budget-busting legislation in the previous administration. It is also often forgotten that the only President in our times here in Washington to have balanced the budget was President Bill Clinton, and he passed to his successor surpluses. And it was actions taken by Congress in the previous decade and the administration in office at the time that eliminated those surpluses and turned them into the largest deficits of our lifetimes, at the time.

So the President takes his responsibility very seriously, but when it comes to bills that Congress has passed and needs to pay, they ought to take their responsibilities seriously and pay those bills.

Thank you.

Q: Is the President going to watch the game tonight? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I haven't asked him.

Q: Still believe that there should be playoffs in college?

MR. CARNEY: (Laughter.) We're getting closer, right? (Laughter.)

END 3:03 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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