Barack Obama photo

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney

January 09, 2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:30 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: Welcome. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Sorry we had to postpone the briefing. Very busy day. I have a very important personnel announcement to make. Actually, I'm just kidding. I'll go right to the AP. (Laughter.)

Q: Jay, on that topic -- (laughter) -- it's been widely reported that Jack Lew is the President's choice to be the next Treasury Secretary. I'm wondering if you could comment on those reports. And also, if that's the case, what does Jack's selection as Treasury Secretary say about his economic priorities for the second term?

MR. CARNEY: Let me say two things. First, I don't make Cabinet-level personnel announcements; the President does. And I will not get ahead of the President. When he is ready to make an announcement about his next Treasury Secretary, he will make that announcement.

Secondly, I would say that Jack Lew, who is the President's Chief of Staff, has been and continues to be an extremely valuable advisor to the President. Over the past more than quarter of a century, Jack Lew has been an integral part of some of the most important budgetary, financial, and fiscal agreements, bipartisan agreements in Washington. He was there when Social Security was reformed under President Reagan, working for the Speaker of the House. He was there when tax reform passed at the table in the 1980s. He was there -- he was the Cabinet-level Director of OMB for President Clinton when our budget was balanced for the first time in a generation.

And he served also, as you know, as Deputy Secretary of State, and has again served as OMB Director, overseeing some very important agreements and playing a major role in achieving them for President Obama; and now has for the last more than a year, has been a remarkably capable Chief of Staff.

I just thought I'd say that about Jack. (Laughter.)

Q: For no apparent reason at all?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I work with him every day, and he is an exceptional, exceptional public servant.

Q: Has he been working on his signature then?

MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Just stepping aside from the pick, though, I mean, how does the President view the role of the Treasury Secretary in the second term? I mean, the person will obviously have a different set of obstacles and challenges that Secretary Geithner had in 2009. Is it more about an emphasis on fiscal policies, economic issues as opposed to the health of the financial market?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say, again, without speaking to any announcements, the President sets policy, and his advisors and Cabinet secretaries carry it out. The fact of the matter is Secretary Geithner has over his four years in office been at the helm of the Treasury Department through a remarkable period of challenge and change that included the financial and economic crisis, but also included negotiating a series of agreements with Congress that strengthened the middle class, aided economic growth and helped job creation. And certainly, as you know, because the President spoke about it all the time on the campaign trail and since, economic growth and job creation continue to be the President's top domestic priorities.

So all the members of his economic team will be focused on those priorities in the second term.

Q: Just one on the debt ceiling. A group of House Democrats said the President should consider using the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling. This obviously came up last year, and when it did you said from the podium that the 14th Amendment would not give the President the power to ignore the debt ceiling. But I'm wondering, given the President's insistence that he's not going to negotiate over the debt ceiling this time around, is the White House considering revisiting that issue, reconsidering its position on the 14th Amendment?

MR. CARNEY: Our position on the 14th Amendment has not changed. And let's be very clear -- Congress has the responsibility and the sole authority to raise the debt ceiling. And Congress must do its job.

And I think it's very important, as we approach the deadline of the debt ceiling, that people understand what we're talking about. Because sometimes the language we use and the phrases we use here in Washington I think make this a lot more mysterious for average folks out there than it needs to be. Raising the debt ceiling is simply authorizing Congress to pay the bills that it's already racked up.

This is not about future spending. This is about you going to the store, the department store, and charging some goods on your credit card; you've made those purchases, the bill comes, you pay the bill. You don't tear it up and decide you're not going to pay it unless you get what you want from store management. You pay your bills. And the United States has always paid its bills. Congress has the responsibility and the authority to do that, and the President will not negotiate over it.

Let me go to Reuters. Yes.

Q: Jay, talking about Treasury secretaries, when Jack Lew was head of OMB, the Department of Energy restructured its loan to Solyndra. When he was in the private sector, he worked for a group that profited from investments that conceivably were based on the declines in the housing sector. Why wouldn't those raise red flags for any Treasury Secretary that the --

MR. CARNEY: You're trying to, in a back-end way, get me to talk about an announcement the President has not made. And I will leave it to the President to announce who his next Treasury Secretary will be.

I will certainly say -- and would have said this at any time in my tenure as Press Secretary -- that Jack Lew's record has and continues to be stellar. And he is that rare person in Washington who has been here for years who has done some very hard things and brokered some serious bipartisan agreements and done it in a way that has earned the admiration of almost everybody he's worked with; so certainly, the Presidents that he has served. But I'll leave it at that.

Q: Let me shift to gun control for a second. The Vice President is due to meet with representatives of the National Rifle Association later this week. That group has been very influential in politics, has been effective at preventing previous efforts to control the spread of guns in this country. What is his message going to be to them? And what is the White House strategy in dealing with that influence?

MR. CARNEY: The President believes that in the wake of the incident at Newtown, the tragic incident at Newtown, at Sandy Hook Elementary, that we must as a nation examine every possible action that we could plausibly take to reduce this terrible scourge of gun violence. As you heard him say, it is in many ways our first responsibility to ensure that our children are safe. And what Newtown brought home to us is it that we need to do a lot more to ensure that they are safe.

And he wants to hear through the effort that he assigned to the Vice President from stakeholders of all kinds, and that certainly includes gun owners and organizations that represent gun owners. And he hopes and the Vice President hopes that these organizations will bring constructive ideas to the table. That is the purpose of the effort the Vice President is leading. As you know, he had some important meetings today. He has more meeting coming up, including the one you mentioned, and he is in the process of putting together a series of recommendations that the President will consider. And once the President has decided on the path forward that he will promote, he will I'm sure make that known to you.

Q: Is there any deadline for coming up with those recommendations and rolling that out?

MR. CARNEY: The President himself I believe from this podium mentioned that he had hoped to act -- or hear from the effort led by the Vice President this month.

Q: Is there any particular low-hanging fruit? The Vice President mentioned executive actions that you could take unilaterally.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to get into specifics because I won't get ahead of the President or the Vice President, but also because the process is ongoing. Decisions have not been made. You heard what the Vice President said earlier today and I think that represents an area where action is possible. Legislative action is certainly part of this. The President has already called on Congress to act on an assault weapons ban, to act on a ban of high-capacity ammunition clips, and to confirm an ATF Director, and to close the loopholes in our background checks system. These are things that Congress can do and should do, and the President has called on Congress to do those things.

But there are other things that need to be done. I won't get ahead of the process here, but as the President has said, he's looking at this broadly -- not just in terms of the things that can be done legislatively and not just in terms of the things that can be done through executive action.


Q: Jay, thank you. What are the -- on gun control, what is the area of action on executive action that the White House would consider?

MR. CARNEY: Well, as I just said to Mark, I won't get into specifics because I won't get ahead of the President and the Vice President. And I also can tell you that those decisions haven't been made.

Q: It seems like there may be some -- I mean, there's some limitation as to what the President can do on his own. I'm assuming -- is it background checks?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get ahead of the President and the Vice President, the process being led by the Vice President. Background checks I think are something that we have discussed in terms of legislative action.

Q: The database action for background checks?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I think there's a variety of -- there are a variety of ideas that have been put forward publicly. And obviously, the Vice President's group is listening to a lot of these groups and hearing their ideas, but it's up to the Vice President and the President to decide what combination of things he wants to proceed with, and I'll let him make that announcement.

Q: Mayor Bloomberg has said with the stroke of a pen the President could do certain things, but others have raised concerns that there may be lawsuits that would gum up the works. Is that a concern for the administration?

MR. CARNEY: Again, without getting into specifics, we look at all consequences of actions that could be taken, including consequences of promoting legislation in Congress and other kinds of things. But that's a broad assessment that I'm making and I don't know the specifics that you're -- or Mayor Bloomberg might be referring to or the critics who suggest, or people who have concerns about what the response might be to some kinds of actions. I think that's all speculative until we know what the President will put forward.

Q: And anything on the Walmart reversal and their decision to send a representative in person tomorrow?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I've seen reports, and I can simply say that we, as part of this effort led by Vice President Biden, we invited a broad array of groups and individuals to participate in these meetings and conversations, and welcome the participation of everyone who accepts those invitations. So it's important that we hear from these stakeholders. And I know the Vice President and his team look forward to all the meetings that they're going to have.

Q: Jay, the Speaker of the House has made it perfectly clear that he is willing to increase the debt ceiling, but that the principle is for every dollar the debt ceiling has increased, a dollar of spending must be cut. Given that you're saying that the White House will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, are you willing to accept that principle from the Speaker -- a dollar in cuts for every dollar increase?

MR. CARNEY: I think the President has been very clear that his absolute principle is that we need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way that does not shift all the burden through cuts exclusively on senior citizens, on families who have disabled children, on families who are trying to send their kids to school. That's just unacceptable.

One of the things we learn in the process that we just went through late last year is that when it comes to specificity, we never saw any specificity from Republicans in terms of how exactly they would achieve the kind of sweeping cuts that they say they want, and out of whose -- from whom would they demand that payment.

And what the President has been very clear about is he will not negotiate on Congress's responsibility to pay its bills. He will negotiate and is willing to compromise, as he has demonstrated repeatedly, when it comes to moving forward in a balanced way to reduce our deficit -- we have to deal with the sequester, we have to deal with a variety of budgetary and economic and fiscal challenges. But he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

And the threat itself is a problem as we saw in the summer of 2011. The binary choice that Republicans seem to want to present to the American public is either we got Medicare and Social Security, or we tank the global economy. I'm not a communications director for the Speaker of the House or the Senate Minority Leader, but I would think selling that would be very hard.

Q: But help me understand how this works. You say you will not negotiate on this issue. They put out a principle, so they produce something -- and they say they will -- that cuts a dollar for every dollar increase. And you're saying you won't negotiate on that?

MR. CARNEY: Have you seen that?

Q: This is what they say they are going to go forward with. So either --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, words are not actions, and there has been up to this date very little specificity since the Ryan plan, which itself was lacking in specifics. And if their position is we're going to voucherize Medicare or tank the global economy, they should say so. That is unacceptable to the American people. It's certainly unacceptable to the President.

Look, here's the thing. Congress has the authority to authorize money, right? Not the President. Congress racked up these bills. Congress has to pay these bills. We are very interested in a discussion and negotiation about getting our fiscal house in order.

This President has already signed into law over $2 trillion in deficit reduction. He is eager to do more in a balanced way. But it is not appropriate to, in this President's view, say that if I don't get what I want, I'm not going to raise the debt limit. That is basically saying, I will abandon the history of the United States, maintaining the full faith and credit of its currency and its Treasury by refusing to pay bills because I didn't get what I want, politically. And that's just not acceptable to the President.

Q: I'm just trying to understand how saying you're not going to negotiate resolves this.

MR. CARNEY: We're not going to negotiate. Congress has a -- if Congress wants to give the President the responsibility to raise the debt ceiling, he would take it, as we saw when in 2010 or -- I forget -- there have been so many of these confrontations -- in 2011, when the so-called McConnell plan was adopted.

But they assigned themselves this responsibility. They need to be -- the fact that they assigned it to them is something that they have to deal with. They assigned it to themselves. They need to act, and they need to, without drama or delay, raise the debt ceiling.

We still have -- there's plenty of opportunity, outside of threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, to debate fundamental differences over our economic and fiscal policy proposals. But it is not wise to do that around raising the debt ceiling; it would have been not wise to do it around the simple principle that we, the United States of America, pay our debts.

Q: And if I could just ask you about Chuck Hagel, who was criticized pretty strongly today by Ben Cardin, who's not exactly an arch-conservative here, somebody right in the mainstream of the Democratic Party in the Senate. One of the things he raised was the comments that Hagel made about James Hormel, which had come under fire by anti-gay [sic] groups. And I'm wondering if you can help me understand. He made those comments 15 years ago, calling James Hormel "aggressively gay," and didn't apologize for them until a month ago when it was clear that he was in the running to be named Secretary of Defense. Why that kind of a delay? And does he have to explain why for 15 years those comments --

MR. CARNEY: I think Senator Hagel was very clear about the fact that he thought those comments were not appropriate, he regretted them, and that they don't represent the totality of his views. I would point you to the statement he made. And he will have -- senators will have an opportunity through the confirmation process, as they do traditionally and routinely, to ask him questions about his views on issues.

The Secretary of Defense -- Senator Hagel, when he is confirmed, as we hope he will be -- carries out the President's policies. And I think the President's policies on LGBT issues are both commendable, supported by the LGBT community, and will continue to be the policies of this administration as long as President Obama is in office.

So, again, I think you've seen what Senator Hagel said about this, and the President is very confident that Senator Hagel will be confirmed and that he will be an excellent Secretary of Defense and will implement all of the President's policies with regards to the Defense Department.

Let me move around here. Chuck.

Q: Following up on debt ceiling, I know your position hasn't changed on the 14th Amendment. Do you guys have a position on this trillion-dollar coin business? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I would simply go back to what I said. The option here is for Congress to do its job and pay its bills -- bills that have already been racked up. We saw what happened last summer, the summer of 2011, when Congress flirted with the idea of default, didn't even go all the way to default and yet the impact on our economy was severe, the impact on average Americans was severe.

We had the lowest job creation in the month of August of 2011 of any month during the recovery, and the reason is because of what House Republicans did that summer.

Now, we can't do that again. So let's not even pretend that that's an okay scenario. Let's just ask Congress --

Q: But you have gladly ruled out -- on the 14th Amendment, you finally said you do not believe you have that power via the 14th Amendment. Do you believe you have this power to mint a trillion-dollar coin?

MR. CARNEY: Look, there is no plan B. There is no backup plan. There is Congress's responsibility to pay the bills of the United States. This is not about future spending. We will have that debate. We will continue to have the debate about how we -- the budgets that we design and the path forward in deficit reduction. And the President's principles in this matter are very clear. There is no alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling. It's its responsibility. Congress has to pay the bills of the United States. That is an obligation they assigned to themselves.

Q: It's a little evasive in your answer. I understand. But I mean, are you trying to leave room?

MR. CARNEY: -- never be true.

Q: Are you trying to leave room or not leave room?

MR. CARNEY: Look, there is no substitute for Congress extending the borrowing authority of the United States.

Q: But you believe this is an option? Viable, unviable?

MR. CARNEY: I think the only option here that there is no backup plan. The only option is for Congress to do its job.

Q: Will you totally rule it out? (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: You could speculate about a lot of things, but there is -- nothing needs to come to these kinds of speculative notions about how to deal with a problem that is easily resolved by Congress doing its job, very simply. And then coming back and having the discussion and conversation and negotiation and debate about how we continue to bring down our debt in a way that's responsible, in a way that allows our economy to grow, in a way that protects the middle class, in a way that continues the 54 months of job creation that we've had during this recovery -- that's the conversation and the debate and the negotiation that is correct to have. That's the conversation and negotiation and debate that the American people expect us to have.

They don't expect Washington -- and in this case, Congress, and really in this case, one house of Congress -- to do enormous harm to the economy for partisan reasons.

Q: I wonder if today on the front page of The New York Times, on the photo of the senior staff with the President, when The New York Times caption says, "Try to find Valerie Jarrett," whether the President was embarrassed that here was a picture of his supposed senior staff and you could not see a visible woman.

MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, as you know, and I would point you the content of the story as opposed to the headline or the photograph, the President's senior staff here is well -- women are well represented in the President's senior staff here. Two of the three deputies -- Deputy Chiefs of Staff are women. The White House Counsel is a woman. A woman runs homeland security for this country, Secretary Napolitano. There are -- the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the most important piece of domestic policy legislation in a generation is a woman, Kathleen Sebelius.

And, again, I would point you to the New York Times story itself that makes the point that the White House staff here is 50/50 in its analysis. And as I said, including Valerie Jarrett, women serve in key policy roles here within the White House as they do throughout the administration and that includes, I forgot to mention, Director of Domestic Policy, Cecilia Muñoz and Chief of Staff for the First Lady, Tina Tchen; White House Personnel Director, Nancy Hogan. And I think it's -- again, this President is committed to diversity. And look at the record; it is a vast improvement --

Q: Well, let's talk about diversity, though. Let's look at the "big four." He's about to do --

MR. CARNEY: These stories are in reaction to --

Q: State Department, Defense Department, Treasury, although I know you're not --

MR. CARNEY: Right, but these stories are in reaction to a couple of appointments. I think it would be useful to wait and make judgments about this issue after the President has made the totality of appointments that he will make in the transition to a second term.

Q: When you look at a Cabinet, there is the "big four" that it's always been accepted -- I'm just asking you --

MR. CARNEY: The Secretary of State was a woman and the one -- the person we've nominated is a man. That's the issue here.

Q: Is there any sort of --

MR. CARNEY: Janet Napolitano is the Secretary of Homeland Security, a Cabinet-level position. The U.N. Ambassador -- the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is Susan Rice. And, again, I could go through the list. This President has appointed -- has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, both of them women. And I think that his commitment to --

Q: You think it's an unfair charge?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the record speaks for itself, and certainly, that photograph is not reflective of the diversity within the White House staff or within the broader administration. And I think, again, I would urge everyone who only got to the headline of the photograph to read the story, because the story documents that the comparative here with not just President Bush and the increase in the representation of women in senior positions is dramatic; it's consistent with or greater than President Clinton's staff as well.

And when it comes to judges, 47 percent of President Obama's confirmed judges -- and we have an issue with confirmation here with Senate as you know -- but the 47 percent of those who have been confirmed have been women compared to 22 percent for President George W. Bush and 29 percent for President Clinton. So I think the record here speaks for itself.

Q: So when you say that totality that there is going to be some other Cabinet appointments it sounds like in the next, say, couple of months.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no personnel announcements.

Q: I understand that, but is it fair to say that after all that's done that there is -- that diversity is taken into account?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I've answered this question a couple of times this week, and the President believes that diversity is important because it -- having diversity increases the excellence of the pool of advisors around you, the pool of the staff that you have here. And I think that's been demonstrated by the kinds of -- the degree of talent that he has around him now and has had around him in the first term, and I think it will be true in the second term.

Yes, Major.

Q: Can you tell the House Democrats who believe the President ought to use the 14th Amendment and should use it why they are wrong?

MR. CARNEY: We answered this question at the time. I just said, again, we just don't believe that it provides the authority that some believe it does.

But the point here is, because of a resistance to the reality that Congress has a responsibility to pay the bills that it has racked up, we should not be pursuing these kinds of options. Congress should simply do its job. The American people are tired of this sort of approach to governance. I mean, I think we've seen some polls recently that demonstrate that. It is time for Congress to get back to doing the business that the people elected them to do.

Q: On that point, some in the House Republican conference suggested an incremental approach -- two months, three months, short durations to extend the debt limit. Is that something the White House, since it is not going to negotiate, comfortable with?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics, but the idea that we should play this game every month? You think that's -- this is the United States of America, right? The idea that we would send the message around the world and around the country that we're going to have a debate about whether we should default every month or every two months, I think that would be extremely harmful to the economy, extremely harmful to the middle class in this country.

So as we said in the past, that's -- you're trying to negotiate with me and I won't do that. That sounds like a terrible idea to me.

Q: And the President would reject it.

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it's a hypothetical, speculative thing. The whole principle here, Major, is that he will not negotiate. So you're -- and I won't either over the debt ceiling. Congress --

Q: I'm just asking about ideas that are being discussed.

MR. CARNEY: Well, right, but that's a negotiating position over something that we're not going to negotiate over. Congress needs to do its job.

Q: Okay. On gun control -- those who support what the President has already asked Congress to do consider that a rather aggressive agenda and they're not even sure that that could get through Congress -- the four things you've mentioned, okay? That's their sort of premise. Is the Biden group looking at things that would be beyond those already identified gun control initiatives and goals of this administration on gun control specifically, meaning an agenda that would even be broader than one those who are experienced in the trenches of this kind of battle perceive as difficult enough as it is?

MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that he would like to see congressional action on the four items that I mentioned. I do not have a preview for you of other actions that the President may or may not push -- either congressional action or other kinds. I will let him -- the Vice President first, and then the President make those decisions and announce them.

Q: And because these things can be subject to all sorts of interpretation -- they already are on the Web -- when the Vice President talked about executive orders, is that in a context specifically related to gun control, or other issues that he is looking at in this context?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have an elaboration for you. I would just point to what the Vice President said. And I think it reflects the general approach the President is taking, which is to look at every way we can, both here in Washington and beyond, to address the problem that I think we all acknowledge we have. When six- and seven-year-olds are gunned down in their own school, there's a problem here that we need to address.

And it's not just a gun control problem. It goes beyond that, as the President has said. And that's why the effort the Vice President is leading is looking at the totality of the problem and a broad array of actions that could be taken to help address the problem. And it is a difficult problem. And it is difficult to -- on this issue and has been traditionally -- difficult to get things done. And I acknowledge that part of your question.

But as the President said, we can't simply not try because it's hard. The problem is too important. And so you'll hear more from him when he's ready to make some decisions.

Mike, then John.

Q: Jay, on the gun issue, are there plans for the President to drop by any of these meetings with stakeholders to perhaps go face-to-face with some of these different groups that are coming in to meet with the Vice President?

MR. CARNEY: Well, he's asked the Vice President to lead this effort. So I can't preclude that possibility, but I wouldn't necessarily expect it. Nothing like that is planned. The President, obviously in the array of conversations he has with elected officials from around the country and other people, discusses this issue and has in recent weeks. But in terms of these specific meetings I don't necessarily anticipate that he would drop by. I wouldn't rule it out.

Q: I was just wondering if he might personally convey a message to the movie industry or the video game folks to say, hey --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any -- I don't anticipate that he will be dropping by any meetings. Of course, that could change if he so decides. He obviously has conversations separate from the meetings that the Vice President is leading, and talks about these issues and many others when he has those conversations.

Q: Briefly on the debt ceiling, you guys say you're not going to negotiate; the Republicans are saying got to cut. How are we not heading for another Washington-created cliff of some sort?

MR. CARNEY: Well, here are the facts: We have to raise the debt ceiling. Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner have said that in the past, that it's inconceivable that we would default. And that's one issue, and that is an issue that is Congress's responsibility, and they need to fulfill their responsibility and make sure that the United States of America, as it has throughout its existence, pays its bills.

Separately, we continue to have challenges embodied in one instance by the sequester that we need to resolve in concert with Congress. And the need to do that presents an opportunity to in a balanced way achieve further significant deficit reduction. The President, as you know, twice now has pursued a big deal with Speaker Boehner that in its totality would have achieved over $4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade. Because of the nature of those negotiations and the inability of the Speaker to, in the end, reach a compromise with the President, we have found ourselves needing to take sort of smaller steps in pursuit of that overall goal.

But the goal remains one that the President believes is the right one. And he hopes that in dealing with our further budgetary and fiscal challenges that he will be able to reach an agreement with Congress to further reduce our deficit in a balanced way, and to most importantly -- because deficit reduction is not a goal -- a worthy goal unto itself; this is all about making our economy stronger and making it more productive and allowing it to create even more jobs. I mean, that is the most important thing when it comes to economic policy as far as the President is concerned.

Q: If we're down to the last moment, have you guys researched a way of bypassing this process?

MR. CARNEY: Well, that's another way of asking questions about amendments and coins and articles. And, again, there are no plan Bs here -- and I know that plan B is kind of a bad phrase these days. But the fact of the matter is this is a simple process. Congress assigned itself the responsibility of raising the debt ceiling, and this is about past spending, not future spending. It is about paying our bills. And Congress has that responsibility, Congress needs to fulfill it.

I did say John. Yes. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Jay. Happy New Year.

MR. CARNEY: And to you.

Q: You talked about plans without specificity. A number of the freshman Republicans that I talked to actually talked about dusting off the Simpson-Bowles plan and introducing it as legislation. I believe that the freshman Congressman, Steve Stockman of Texas, said he was actually going to proceed in that course. What's the administration's reaction --

MR. CARNEY: The position the President continues to have on the commission that he created was that it provided a very important framework to move forward on deficit reduction. I don't know -- I trust your reporting about the interest of some House Republicans in putting that forward. I'd be interested to hear what Chairman Ryan has to say about it since he sat on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, as did I believe other House Republicans, and they all voted no.

So it is important to remember -- and I think a lot of people when they talk about the commission that the President set up, that that commission called for significantly higher revenues than the President has called for and significantly deeper defense cuts than the President called for; and, actually, in the first 10 years, fewer savings from entitlement programs than the President has called for. So when you get into the details of it, you have to wonder whether or not support from Republicans would really be there; it certainly wasn't there when the commission was taking its votes.

Q: Thanks, Jay. Forgive me if it's already been asked, but it was on my mind since I saw it last night. Has the President seen "Zero Dark Thirty" yet? I know he's seen "Lincoln" and he's meeting with the "1600 Penn" folks. Has he actually seen "Zero Dark Thirty" yet and with whom? What's his reaction?

MR. CARNEY: I don't know. I haven't asked him if he's seen it or not. So I don't know his reaction.

Q: So can I revisit then the not-negotiating question just to beat a dead horse? (Laughter.) To further beat the already dead horse. Are you saying that -- or would you say that Rob Nabors, Gene Sperling, Jack Lew, whoever replaces Jack Lew -- none of these people will now go to the Hill to talk debt ceiling? Are you saying that Biden will not meet with McConnell to talk debt ceiling? Are you saying that the President will not invite leaders from both chambers of Congress to the White House to talk debt ceiling?

MR. CARNEY: Yes. We will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. As the President said, he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is willing to compromise when it comes to moving forward with deficit reduction. We obviously because of the sequester and the CR and other issues have economic, budgetary, and fiscal challenges that we need to confront, and that requires discussion and negotiation with Congress.

But he will not negotiate over the fundamental responsibility that only Congress has to raise the debt ceiling. And if that is a responsibility that is just too onerous for them to bear, they should pass it off to the President as they did previously. He will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. This is not -- we're not going to play a hostage-situation game where the economy of the United States and the world suffers because of an insistence on a political agenda by one party and one House of Congress -- or one party in both Houses of Congress.

Q: So if none of those things happens, and then -- so it's kind of a game of chicken -- and then if Congress doesn't blink and you're not going to do the 14th Amendment and you're probably not going to do a trillion-dollar coin --

MR. CARNEY: There are so many ifs here that I'm having trouble following you. I'm probably not going to answer. (Laughter.)

Q: Just summarizing -- so doesn't that mean that he's betting that Congress will raise the debt ceiling? I mean, otherwise, what are your options? Go over the cliff --

MR. CARNEY: The President believes it's Congress's responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. He hopes that Congress will exercise that responsibility without drama or delay. He understands that there are further issues that we need to work with Congress on when it comes to getting our fiscal house in order, but they have to be separate from their responsibility to pay bills that Congress has already racked up.

I like to do this because I was around when it happened, but it is instructive to remember, when we're talking about who's responsible when it comes to getting our fiscal house in order and reducing our deficits -- and you can look at the graphs here about when deficits went up and when they went down, and they went up in the 80s and they went down after President Clinton took office. They went up again from surpluses to massive deficits under President Bush. We had an economic financial crisis the likes of which none of us in this room have ever experienced. That obviously exacerbated our deficits. And then, since then they've been coming down under President Obama.

He is very serious about responsible deficit reduction. He has signed into law significant deficit reduction already. But he insists that we do it in a balanced way because he does not believe it is fair to ask only some sectors of the population -- seniors, children who have disabled parents, kids who are just trying to go to college -- to bear the burden alone of the kinds of choices that we need to make. And so that's why he hopes to engage Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- in a process that leads to more deficit reduction that includes the kind of balance that was enshrined in the agreement recently reached over the fiscal cliff.

Q: In the past, when you've been asked what leverage he would have since he's not going to negotiate with them, you've pointed to the business community in the hopes that they would bring some pressure to bear on Republicans. Do you see that happening? Are you satisfied --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I won't speak for the business community, but I would be surprised if they -- if anybody in the world of finance or business, in this country or anywhere, would welcome the prospect of default.

Q: Well, that's not what I'm asking. Of course, they won't want --

MR. CARNEY: So I would certainly expect that they would -- I would hope that they would make that opinion known.

Q: Well, I guess what I'm asking is, other than you just standing here day after day saying the President won't negotiate and all the reasons you're giving, other than that rhetorical effort, what else are you doing, can you do to make sure that Congress lives up to the responsibility that you've outlined?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we can't --

Q: Since you're not negotiating.

MR. CARNEY: Because Congress has retained for itself this responsibility and obligation, they have to act. If they want to pass it to a more willing actor, the President of the United States, he will gladly ensure that we do not default. But the fact of the matter is Congress has that responsibility and Congress has to act. We can't do it for them.

Q: Right, you've said that. I mean --

MR. CARNEY: Right, but I'm not sure what you're saying.

Q: Well, I'm asking since -- what else can you do, since you've ruled out negotiating, to bring pressure to bear on them? You do this all the time when you want something to happen. You call on outside actors. You try to get public opinion. Other than just standing here over and over again saying you're not going to negotiate, what else is the White House doing to try to get them to pass the debt ceiling?

MR. CARNEY: I cannot see into the future up to the point where the debt ceiling might be reached, so I can't predict everything that we will do. But it is simple common sense that -- we hope -- that leaders in Congress will not default and, in the end, they will do what is right, which is ensure that we do not default.

In the meantime, we have other important issues to resolve with Congress, other important fiscal and economic and budgetary issues to resolve with Congress, and we can address those. But negotiating over raising the debt ceiling is not in the cards.

Mr. Nakamura.

Q: Getting back to the talks -- talking about a man everybody in Washington is thinking about right now, did the President see the highlights, by any chance, of the game that ended Robert Griffin III's season? Did he express an opinion that you've heard about whether he should have been in the game? And what's your personal opinion as a Redskins fan?

MR. CARNEY: You're trying to get me in trouble. I have not -- I know that the President, like so many sports fans, followed with interest the remarkable season that RGIII had. I have not had a discussion with him since that game about its terrible outcome.

I did see in a -- yesterday somebody forwarded me a tweet from the Onion, so I can't -- I'm not sure it's true, but it did say that -- (laughter) -- that Mike Shanahan had cleared RGIII to carry furniture down some wet steps.

Q: Were you watching the game, personally --

MR. CARNEY: I did.

Q: -- or did you see the highlights? And when you did, what were your thoughts? I know you're a Redskins fan.

MR. CARNEY: It was painful to watch and --

Q: Yes, very painful.

MR. CARNEY: -- I'm not a football coach, but it sure seemed like, as remarkable a player as he is, he wasn't in a position to continue playing. Just got myself in trouble with -- (laughter.)

Q: More serious -- debt ceiling again. So last time, the White House was looking for a $1.2 trillion increase. How much of an increase would you like to see this time? Not negotiating, but just how much would you like Congress to increase that?

MR. CARNEY: As you know, in the process that we just went through over the so-called fiscal cliff, the President in good faith negotiated with -- or tried to -- with the Speaker of the House, and in that process, lowered his target for revenue significantly, came, as they say, halfway towards the Republicans between the $800 billion that Speaker Boehner was offering and the $1.6 trillion that the President had initially requested. And that figure was $1.2 trillion.

Something very important occurred, which is the fiscal cliff deal, which ensured that higher-income Americans would see their income tax top rate return to the levels of the Clinton era and, through that, a significant amount of revenue has been achieved.

But it is not enough now, any more than it was when we talked about the reason for achieving enough revenue -- $1.2 trillion -- in order to allow for the essential balance that would combine with spending cuts and savings from interest and the like -- would allow for that $4 trillion deficit reduction over 10 years.

So it remains our position, and the President spoke about this, that we need to, going forward in deficit reduction, achieve it through a balance of both revenues and spending cuts.

And I don't have specific figures for you, but our position is what it was.

Q: Syria?

MR. CARNEY: Yes, Syria.

Q: Thanks, Jay. After they've all seen President Assad delusional speech on Sunday, and today U.N. envoy Brahimi actually for the first time he said that it's a lost opportunity and "there is no political process after this speech." So it seems that after two months, things look even worse than ever before. What's your step forward from this point?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'll say a few things. The speech by Bashar al-Assad was, indeed, evidence of how delusional he is. The proposal he made was nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to power, and it would only allow the regime to continue its oppression and killing of the Syrian people.

The momentum in Syria is with opposition forces and with the Syrian people. It is clear that as defections continue -- and we've seen a number of them -- and the regime continues to lose control of territory, that Assad cannot restore his control of Syria.

The future in Syria does not and will not include Bashar al-Assad. He has lost all legitimacy, as we have said, and he must step aside to enable a political solution that ends the bloodshed and suffering, and meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.

The United States will continue its support for the Geneva Action Group's framework, which was endorsed by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League, and the U.N. General Assembly. And we will continue our efforts in support of Joint Special Representative Brahimi to build international support for the Geneva Framework, and urge all parties in Syria to take steps toward its implementation, to help expedite an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and to bring about the day when Syria and the Syrian people can decide -- or the Syrian people, rather, can decide their future for themselves.

Q: Basically, you summarized what you have been doing for the last two years, actually. Many argue that something else needs to be done, such as arming the rebels. And the fact that you talk about the rebels continuing to gain power on the ground is being done mostly led by Abushar Front or other groups that your government has been saying -- labeled as terrorist organizations.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it's a good point to make our point, which is that our position regarding lethal support has not changed. We are not providing it. As we have said, we continue to take a hard look at every feasible policy option to evaluate whether or not doing so would advance our goal of hastening an end to the violence and supporting political transition in Syria. In other words, we look at all feasible options and evaluate them based on whether or not we believe that goal would be achieved.

We firmly believe that a political solution led by the Syrian people and supported by the international community is the best chance for a stable and democratic Syria. We do not believe at this point that providing arms will promote a political solution.

And I would argue to you, on your first point, about our policy. We have, over time, ramped up our assistance to the Syrian people through humanitarian aid. We have ramped up our non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition. We have, as you know, recognized the Syrian Transitional Group as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. These are steps that demonstrate movement in our policy towards further isolating Assad, further isolating the regime, assisting the opposition. But we do not believe at this point that providing lethal assistance is the right policy.

Yes, and then Donovan.

Q: There are supporters of immigration reform that are worried that the administration's efforts on gun violence are now going to push off immigration reform. You had talked -- or the administration had talked about something post-inauguration. I'm wondering if that timetable still stands, or what the commitment is.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't believe I've given a specific time frame. I would point you to the President's commitment to do it early in his -- to take action on immigration reform early in his second term. But beyond that, I won't be specific. But I can assure you that it is a top priority of this President, and it is something he will act on, as he has promised.

Q: Can we expect to hear about that in the State of the Union or the inaugural address?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say, broadly speaking, that State of the Union addresses tend to include at least a sample of a President's agenda, and immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, is a very high priority of the President's. But I don't want to get ahead of the speech.

Q: There have been reports in recent days about cyber attacks by Iran, one report quoting a security expert as saying there's no doubt within the U.S. government that these attacks on the banking sector, including what they call denial-of-service attacks, come from Iran. Has that come to the President's attention, or can you talk generally --

MR. CARNEY: I don't know whether that report has. I don't have anything on it for you. You might direct that question to the Treasury Department.


Q: I want to follow up on the NRA. Is there a belief the NRA will still be a hurdle to new gun legislation? And if so, how does the President plan to go about getting around that in Congress?

MR. CARNEY: I don't want to and the President doesn't want to prejudge the actions of organizations or groups who are stakeholders in this discussion. He hopes that in the aftermath of Newtown that we are in a place that appropriate action, both legislatively and through other means, can be taken and will be supported broadly.

You certainly have seen, when it comes to a number of the measures that the proposed legislation represent, that there is broad support publicly for those kinds of actions, and broad support among gun owners, broad support among members of the very organization that you mention.

So we'll have to see what happens as the process moves forward. The President will certainly push for passage of the legislation that he supports. But obviously Congress has to act when it comes to legislation, and we all as a nation need to make sure our voices are heard when it comes to our position on the kinds of measures, sensible measures, we can take to address this problem.

Q: So should we expect an outreach to the American people, a new hashtag, maybe?

MR. CARNEY: I won't get ahead of the process here, but the President is committed, as he has said, to taking action and he looks forward to the recommendations from the Vice President.

Yes, Laura, and then Chris.

Q: Just to follow up on Syria. Each day all over the world there are a lot of reports about Syrians killed -- between 40,000 to 60,000 Syrians are killed. You don't feel you have a moral obligation to stop what's happening in Syria?

MR. CARNEY: Laura, as we've discussed repeatedly, we find Bashar al-Assad's attacks on his own people, the mass killing of his own people to be abhorrent. The actions he has taken ensure his place in history as a tyrant with an enormous amount of blood on his hands, Syrian blood. And we have, with our international partners, taken significant action to isolate Assad, to put pressure on Assad, to help the opposition against Assad unify, to provide humanitarian relief to the Syrian people, and we are working every day with our international partners, and unilaterally, to help bring about the day when Assad and his tyranny are no longer.

And I take your point that the situation in Syria is terrible, and responsibility for that situation belongs to the man who claims that he represents the people he's killing.


Q: The website "ThinkProgress" is reporting that Pastor Louie Giglio, who President Obama asked to deliver his inaugural benediction, held vehemently anti-gay views in the 1990s. In a recording attributed to him from that time, Giglio advocated for a wildly discredited ex-gay therapy, references a biblical passage often attributed to require gay people to be executed, and impels Christians to firmly respond to the aggressive agenda and prevent the homosexual lifestyle from becoming adapted in society. Does the White House have a problem with Obama's inaugural pastor holding those views?

MR. CARNEY: I haven't seen that report. I would refer you to the Inaugural Committee. I haven't seen the report.

Q: So it's fair to say that the administration was not aware of these --

MR. CARNEY: I'm just saying that I haven't seen the report.

Q: This is breaking days after the President nominated Chuck Hagel and, as you acknowledged, he had made those 1998 anti-gay comments against Jim Hormel. Is there some kind of statute of limitations on when someone can make anti-gay remarks and still be deemed acceptable by the administration? And if so --

MR. CARNEY: I think I've addressed the question about Senator Hagel. And I would simply point you to President Obama's record on LGBT issues as representative of his beliefs and convictions, his policies and where he believes this country is moving and where he hopes to lead it.

Q: Jay, can I clarify one question?

MR. CARNEY: I'll try.

Q: I heard you unequivocally rule out using the 14th Amendment on the debt ceiling. I heard you unequivocally rule out negotiating with Congress. But you did not rule out this trillion-dollar coin idea. So can I ask you just a yes or no question -- does the White House rule out the idea of minting trillion-dollar coins as a way of dealing with the debt ceiling?

MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to Treasury for the specifics of this question. I can tell you that the President does not believe that there is a backup plan or a plan B or an off ramp. The only viable option here is Congress to fulfill its -- is that Congress fulfills its responsibility and ensures that the United States of America pay its bills, as it has always paid its bills throughout its history.

Q: But why will you rule out the 14th Amendment and not rule out the trillion-dollar coin idea?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I can tell you that there are no backup plans, there are no plan Bs. I refer you to the Treasury for --

Q: But, Jay, that's the thing -- you are leaving this -- it may be the tiniest of openings, but why would you do that --

MR. CARNEY: I'm just saying I don't have analysis here of every idea that's thrown out. I can tell you that the President --

Q: Is somebody back there trying to figure this out?

MR. CARNEY: Again -- not that I know of. But since Treasury, I believe, oversees printing and minting, you might ask Treasury.

The President's belief is that Congress needs to do its job. Congress needs to pay the bills that Congress racked up. And we can continue to negotiate and debate over the important economic budgetary and fiscal challenges that we face within the context of our budgets and our sequester and all the issues that confront us. But it is not acceptable to this President, and therefore he will not negotiate over the prospect of default. Congress needs to do its job.

Q: That's a long answer to a yes or no question.

MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I answered it thoroughly, at length, with great detail. I have no coins in my pocket. (Laughter.)

END 3:26 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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