Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:02 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. I would note that it has been a while since we've had a briefing here. Some folks who comment on this seem not to know that when the President travels, I or Josh travel with him, and we brief on the road and we have been briefing regularly on Air Force One and elsewhere.
But it is very good to be back here today with all of you. I have no announcements here at the top, so I'll go straight to your questions.
Q: Thanks, Jay. A couple of questions for you on Libya. State Department officials had a briefing last night, and in the context of that they said that they never, never concluded that the assault in Benghazi was part of a protest on the anti-Muslim film. They were asked about that and they said that was not our conclusion. And of course, we heard here for many days from you and others that that was the underlying cause of it until more facts came to light.
Isn't that problematic that two arms in the administration, the White House and the State Department, had a different conclusion from the very beginning about what happened?
MR. CARNEY: Let's be clear about what the State Department is saying. Pat Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, is testifying on the Hill today about this very matter. I will quote to you now from his prepared testimony:
"No one in the administration has claimed to know all the answers. We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time, and that information has evolved. For example, if any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said" -- which goes to your point -- "the information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack. But as the process moves forward and more information becomes available, we will be sure to continue consulting with you."
That is Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy, today.
The point we have made all along, Ben, as you know, is that initial assessments in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Benghazi were made, and it was a government-wide assessment that was the foundation of what Ambassador Rice said, what I said, and what others said. It is what we knew based on the limited facts we had available to us at that time. Ambassador Rice very clearly said on Sunday that these were preliminary conclusions based on the facts and the intelligence that we had available at the time. And they were conclusions of the intelligence community for the entire government.
I've made clear repeatedly when I've been here and on the road talking about this that no one is more interested in finding out exactly what happened in Benghazi than the President of the United States. That is why he directed his Secretary of State the day after the attack to take the actions that she did to set up the Accountability Review Board to assess the security posture in Benghazi and elsewhere. It is why the FBI is investigating the attack itself to find out who is responsible. It's why the President is so focused on ensuring that the perpetrators of the attack who killed four Americans are brought to justice. It's why the President has made clear and directed that action is taken to ensure the security of our diplomatic personnel and of our diplomatic facilities.
Again, from the beginning, we have provided information based on the facts that we knew as they became available, based on assessments by the intelligence community -- not opinions -- assessments by the IC, by the intelligence community. And we have been clear all along that this was an ongoing investigation, that as more facts became available we would make you aware of them as appropriate, and we've done that. And I think that the testimony of Pat Kennedy today reflects just that.
Q: Now that more facts are available, is it the view of the President that there was inadequate security at the consulate at the time of the attacks?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is no question that when four Americans are killed at a diplomatic facility, that something went wrong. And that is why we need to assess through the Accountability Review Board the security posture there, the security posture of other facilities around the world, especially in areas that are dangerous, as certainly Libya in this post-revolution stage and this period of transition in that country is.
And that's absolutely a focus of the President's concern right now, is that we make sure that our diplomatic personnel, who go abroad -- just like our military personnel, but sometimes Americans aren't as aware of it. A lot of diplomats go to very dangerous places and take enormous risks because they're serving their country and they're serving the interest of the American people abroad -- because it is in our interest that America be represented in a country like Libya, a country that the United States and its people played a role in liberating from a tyrant.
It is in our interest for diplomats as well as military personnel to be in dangerous places around the world, working to bring about democratic change and working to protect the American people.
But he is very focused on the steps that need to be taken to bring about enhanced security, where appropriate, for diplomatic personnel around the world.
Q: One last one. John Brennan met with Libya's President today and the White House statement about it says that they discussed ways Libya can take specific steps to bring the suspected killers to justice. Can you tell us what specific steps are being referred to there? What does President Obama want to see done that hasn't been done yet?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's not a question of what's not being done, it's a question of making sure that we're working cooperatively with the Libyan government in the investigation to bring to justice those who are responsible -- the very goal the President spoke about in the immediate aftermath of this terrible attack.
John Brennan was in Libya to discuss a number of issues, and not just this investigation. But it is certainly in our interest, in the pursuit of that goal, that we work very cooperatively with the Libyans.
Q: Sir, back on the committee hearings today -- the former head of the U.S. security team in Libya, it was Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood told the committee that diplomatic security there was drawn down ahead -- not long before the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and that U.S. diplomats did not have enough protection. Can you give me what level of concern the administration has on that point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say, as I just said, that we lost four Americans. We lost a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in the attack in Benghazi. And there's no question that the security was not enough to prevent that tragedy from happening.
Beyond that, I would simply say that this is a matter under investigation. It is a matter under review at the directive of the President and the Secretary of State. And the President is absolutely committed to following the facts wherever they may lead, and to making sure that we take steps to ensure that our diplomatic personnel around the world, in Libya and elsewhere, are adequately protected and that our facilities are secured.
Keeping in mind that it is inherently risky to represent the United States in some countries around the world that are very dangerous, and we sometimes -- except in situations like this -- forget that we have thousands of Americans abroad, bravely representing us and our values in places like Libya and other regions of the world that can be very dangerous, in countries and regions where being a representative of the American government can be risky. But it is the President's commitment and the Secretary of State's commitment that we take the necessary steps to provide the security that is needed in these specific areas.
Q: But are you ready to acknowledge at this point that there were some mistakes made in that security?
MR. CARNEY: I think I have said that there is no question that when four American personnel are killed in an attack on a diplomatic facility, that the security there was not adequate to prevent that from happening. It is not an acceptable outcome, obviously, that four Americans were killed.
And from the day that this happened, the President has been focused on ensuring that we're doing everything we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, making sure that diplomatic personnel and facilities around the world are protected, and that we take the steps necessary to find out what happened and why.
Q: And one other subject -- the fiscal cliff. Senator Schumer started some controversy yesterday when he said that cutting tax rates for top earners should not be part of any future negotiations about -- over all the tax code. And the President has, in the past, been open to cutting tax rates on the highest earners as part of tax reform. So I wonder, does Schumer's comments in any way reflect a hardening of the Democrats' stance on this? Does the President still support the idea of cutting taxes -- tax rates on top earners in a tax reform?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has made clear that he supports tax reform broadly, but what Senator Schumer is making is a very important point -- that the wealthiest must pay their fair share in any balanced approach to reducing our deficit in a way that protects the middle class, seniors, and our ability to invest in education and innovation.
He's making the very clear point that the President has made and others have made, that it is fanciful thinking to imagine that you can give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires and that the pixie dust of trickle-down economics will somehow erase any damage to the deficit or hold harmless the middle class. It is a mirage. It's not realistic.
The broader issues of tax reform are something that very much interest the President of the United States, but his approach has always been that everybody has got to pay their fair share, everybody has got to get a fair shot, and everybody has to play by the same set of rules. And that is the undergirding principle of his economic approach.
It's the foundation of the way he views this debate that he's having both in the election and he's been having with Republicans on Capitol Hill, that if we take a balanced approach that includes increased revenues by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more, we can reduce our deficit significantly -- $4 trillion -- while making sure that the middle class doesn't have its taxes go up, and making sure that we invest in education and infrastructure and innovation.
The alternative choice that's presented is that we should lower taxes for millionaires and billionaires, and in order to pay for that we have to turn Medicare into a voucher program, we have to gut investments in education and innovation, research and development, border security, diplomatic security. That's not the right answer. That's not the right approach. We've tried it. It didn't work. We shouldn't go back.
Q: Lieutenant Colonel Wood and Eric Nordstrom, the former regional security officer, have both suggested that there were efforts from the U.S. embassy in Libya to have more security and the State Department -- State Department officials wouldn't let it happen. Why? Why didn't the State Department listen to these men on the ground in Libya who wanted there to be more security?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, as I said, there is no question that the result of what happened in Benghazi is not acceptable. Four Americans killed is not an acceptable situation, and that is why the President moved so quickly to ensure that an investigation was launched to bring the perpetrators to justice, the killers to justice, and a review was launched at the State Department to look at our security posture at the Bengali -- I mean, not Bengali -- at the Benghazi facility and elsewhere.
Those matters are under investigation. They are also being discussed in a public hearing on Capitol Hill today by the individuals and officials, both career and otherwise, who know the specifics of that.
What I can tell you is what the President's interest is in. He is very interested in bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring that we find out what happened, why it happened, and taking steps to ensure that it never happens again.
Q: Well, it's been roughly a month. You have absolutely no idea why it happened? You don't know why the State Department --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, as we're hearing on Capitol Hill today, we have learned a great deal as this investigation has progressed. And we have been very clear about what we have known at different stages of this process over the last several weeks, and what we have yet to learn, and the fact that at each stage the investigation continues and more facts may be developed that change our understanding of what happened.
State Department officials are on Capitol Hill today being very clear about what we know now, based on the several weeks of investigation that have taken place. They are also making clear that the investigation continues and that the Accountability Review Board that is looking into the issues of diplomatic security is continuing its work.
I'm not prepared to preview the results of an investigation or review that are not yet complete, or to second-guess what the experts in the field are going to conclude.
Q: President Obama, shortly after the attack, told "60 Minutes" that -- regarding Mitt Romney's response to the attacks, specifically in Egypt -- the President said that Romney has a tendency to "shoot first and aim later." Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi -- that there wasn't even a protest outside the Benghazi post -- didn't President Obama shoot first and aim later?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, Jake, I think your assessment about what we know now is not complete. But I would simply say that --
Q: What part are you challenging? Because I'm just going by what the State Department said yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that in the region, including in Cairo, there were demonstrations --
Q: I'm talking about Benghazi.
MR. CARNEY: -- reacting to the release of that video. And I will leave it to those who are testifying on the Hill to talk about, as they are --
Q: The State Department said yesterday there was no protest.
MR. CARNEY: That's not what you said, though. There were --
Q: I'm talking about in Benghazi.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q: I'm not talking --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not disputing that there was a protest, but what we said at the time is our intelligence community assessed that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo, okay?
Again, this is a moving picture, and people who, on the night of an attack or the day after, claim they know all the facts without making clear that what we know is based on preliminary information, aren't being straight, and they're in some cases trying to politicize a situation that should not be politicized. I think that's what the President was getting at. And I think many other people felt the same way.
This President's focus has been, from day one, on going after those who killed four Americans; on protecting the thousands of diplomatic personnel we have around the world and those facilities that they work in; and on making sure that a thorough investigation is conducted to find out what happened and that looks into our security posture both in Benghazi and elsewhere.
Q: I'd have to go back and read the transcript, but I remember both President Obama and Secretary Clinton talking about the video in the remarks in the ceremony when Ambassador Stevens' remains were returned to this country. Maybe I am remembering that wrong, but it seems to be there was a lot of talk about the video in relation to the tragedy that unfolded.
MR. CARNEY: Jake, I don't have anything new for you about what the assessments are of how the attack came about, what the role of protests and demonstrations in other parts of the region were. I will point you to those who are testifying on Capitol Hill about this very matter as we speak.
Q: Can I just ask one last question? And that is Democrats have talked about budgets being cut for embassy security, and I'm wondering if that's something that the White House believes was a problem as well, that there was -- had something to do with money being withheld by House Republicans or whomever.
MR. CARNEY: Look, this is a -- the issue of the security specifically in Benghazi, more broadly in Libya, and more broadly than that, in the region and around the world, is under review by the Accountability Review Board, and those assessments should be made by those who are investigating it.
What is simply a matter of fact is that this President has fought for and put forward funding that he believes is necessary for our diplomatic personnel and diplomatic security around the world. And others have sought to reduce that funding over these past several years because of an approach to our budget priorities that prioritizes tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. That's just a fact. I am not making an assessment based on this incident. There is no question that what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy and it was -- that there was not security enough to protect those four Americans.
Q: Thank you. When did the White House learn that there was no protest in Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: Dan, we've been very forthright all along on the information that we've had based on, not opinion, not what folks have said or want to say on television, but on the assessments by those who make these assessments for the United States government. And we have discussed all along the fact that our assessments are preliminary and that they will change based on new information that's become available through the investigations that are underway.
I know for several weeks now we've talked about the fact that more information has become available. I've been very candid about that from here and very clear about what we knew at the time, what the assessments from the intelligence community were at the time, and what they've been over time. The DNI put out a statement making clear that initial assessments were revised and clarified as more information was gathered.
We're focused on the facts as we get them. We're not focused on opinions about what happened, and we're certainly not focused on efforts to politicize this matter.
Q: Right, but I'm still trying to understand when you learned that there was no protest. I mean, we're just learning of this now.
MR. CARNEY: I think you saw the head of the NCTC testify about what we knew at that time, which was after both I and Ambassador Rice and others spoke about what we knew prior to that. And it was Mr. Olsen's assessment, in his testimony, which was the same assessment that we all have and we all receive and we all work from, that new information had led us to believe that it was, at that time, an assessment based on that information -- that there had not been a protest but that there were -- that elements had been involved in the attack, extremist elements, and that it was a terrorist attack.
I would point out, however, that the President himself said the day after, or two days after, that referred to it as an act of terror.
Q: Since there were so many unknowns at the very beginning, why even then speculate that it could have been caused by this film? Why not just say, we're waiting for all the facts to come in?
MR. CARNEY: Again, based on what we knew at the time, based on the assessments -- not our opinion, not mine or anybody in this building's sole opinion, but the assessments made by the intelligence community, as the DNI has made clear, as is being made clear today on Capitol Hill, we provided the information that we had, and made clear that it was preliminary, that there were active investigations, and that in situations especially like this, that new facts come to light that often change what we know about an event. And we were very transparent about that, and we're being very transparent about it today, both here and up on Capitol Hill.
Q: Does the President still have faith in his intelligence community?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. Our intelligence professionals work extremely hard every day assessing an extraordinary amount of information in an effort solely geared towards protecting the American people and American interests.
Q: Jay, can I ask about Syria? There is now a U.S. military force that is on the border on the Jordanian side of the Syrian border. Secretary Panetta described it today as aiding the Jordanians. But having American troops that close to what's going on in Syria, is that not an escalation of our involvement there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have always said that contingency planning is a responsible thing to do, and we have been working closely for some time with our international partners, including Jordan, on a variety of issues related to Syria. Jordan has been taking a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance, as you know, to Syrian refugees fleeing Assad's brutality, and we coordinate closely on that issue with the Jordanians.
And as we have seen with the Syrian regime's violations last week of Turkish sovereignty, our partners in the region are greatly affected by Assad's brutal campaign. So we will continue to coordinate closely with our partners moving forward as we have in the past.
Q: Using U.S. boots on the ground right next to the war zone, is this an escalation, or does it foreshadow --
MR. CARNEY: No, it's not an escalation. It's us working with a partner as part of our contingency planning to deal with the impacts of Assad's brutality. And I would point you to Secretary Panetta's comments.
Q: One last question. As you know, many of the administration's critics would like to see a more active role. They would specifically like to see arming of the rebels. Are these troops any step toward that?
MR. CARNEY: Our position on providing military or lethal assistance has not changed. It is our position that we -- that what's needed in Syria is not more weapons, what's needed is a political transition.
You note critics who seem to support taking some sort of harder, more militaristic line, but they won't come forward and actually draw any real distinctions from what they're proposing compared to what the President is doing. If someone in Congress or elsewhere wants to suggest that the United States should engage militarily directly in Syria, they should say so.
The President's position is that we need to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, we need to continue to provide non-lethal assistance to the opposition, elements of the opposition who aspire to a democratic, inclusive future for Syria, and to work with our partners to isolate and punish Assad for his brutality, and we are doing that.
Q: So since you raised it, are you denying that the United States is helping to arrange covert military assistance to the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to talk about covert anything from here, as you know. But I can tell you that our position is we will not -- we are not providing lethal assistance to the opposition in Syria.
Q: Jay, going back to Libya, can I ask about this disconnect again between the State Department and the White House? I know you read to us from Under Secretary Kennedy's testimony today, but last night on a conference call with reporters, State Department officials said they never thought that this attack was linked to a protest. So is this revisionist history on the State Department's part, or are they getting different intelligence than you are?
MR. CARNEY: No, we all get the same intelligence. And I would point you again to what Pat Kennedy said in a public hearing today -- that with regards to this specific question, because it relates to what Ambassador Rice said on television on Sunday, September 16th -- and that is that any administration, including any career official, not just a political appointee, who was on television on Sunday, September 16th would have said exactly what Ambassador Rice said, because that was -- what she said was based on the assessments that we had available to us, the entire government at that time.
And I think I would point you to what the DNI has said about the assessments and how they have been clarified and evolved over time because of new information that has come to light. That is the nature of these things, and efforts to rush to a conclusion are not helpful.
What is our responsibility is to provide the information that we can, based on what we know, always with the caveat, which was always provided, that the information we have is preliminary and that more facts are coming to light. And this was especially true in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Q: Is the President concerned about what we're hearing from military officials in Libya, a very volatile country, that not only were they asking for more resources, but not only was that not granted, but that resources were taken away?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I answered this earlier. Matters of the security posture in Benghazi, or in Libya more broadly, are under review at the President's direction by this Accountability Review Board set up by Secretary of State Clinton.
I can speak broadly to what the President's priorities are, which are, one, bringing to justice those who killed four Americans. Two, taking every measure we can to ensure the security and safety of our diplomatic personnel and our facilities abroad, and investigating to the end what happened and why in Benghazi so that we can take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Q: How soon does the President want preliminary answers from everybody?
MR. CARNEY: He wants answers as soon as answers are available. And what he wants is for the investigators to have the space they need to follow the facts and reach conclusions based on the facts, as opposed to speculation.
Q: And then can I get the President's thoughts on this affirmative action case that's before the Supreme Court today?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, I think the Justice Department filed an amicus brief, so I would refer you to Justice for what's contained in that brief. I don't have anything specific -- I haven't spoken to the President about this particular case.
Q: Or on the subject of affirmative action?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I think you know the President's position on affirmative action. As the Supreme Court has recognized in the past, diversity in the classroom has learning benefits for students, campuses, and schools. President Obama has said that while he opposes quotas and thinks an emphasis on universal and not race-specific programs is good policy, considering race along with other factors can be appropriate in certain circumstances. But again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of this or any other individual case. For that, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q: Jay, you've been citing Under Secretary Kennedy and what he's saying in public today. Congressional sources have said that on September 12th, the day after the attacks, Under Secretary Kennedy did a conference call with congressional staffers and others, a day after the attacks and said then, this was not a protest, this was not a spontaneous reaction to the anti-Muslim video, that this was a coordinated attack.
And so my question is -- that was four days before Ambassador Rice went out on television, five shows, and said that we believe that it is a reaction. Did she, did you and others mislead the public because you didn't want to admit there was a terror attack?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. The President of the United States referred to it as an act of terror immediately after it occurred, Ed, as you know. Two, Pat Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, is testifying in public today. So I would look to what he says before your cameras and the American people, rather than what congressional sources, whoever they may be, may be telling you. What he is saying is that --
Q: But hold on for one second. You're saying that on September 12th the President called it terrorism -- he used a phrase like act of terror --
MR. CARNEY: Act of terror.
Q: -- act of terror will -- then why were you at this podium for several days after that saying, we don't know if it's terrorism? If you're now saying that --
MR. CARNEY: I never said that. I never said we don't know if it's terrorism. There was an issue about the definition of terrorism. This is by definition an act of terror, as the President made clear. What we were talking about is what --
Q: So you're saying now, just to be clear, on September 12th, the President believed it was terrorism?
MR. CARNEY: He said it was an act of terror, Ed. It was clearly, definitionally, if you look at the definition of terrorism, an assault with arms on a diplomatic --
Q: But we asked you several days after that, is it terrorism, and you kept saying, we don't know. How can you revise that?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, first of all, I would check the transcript. The issue was, what led to the attack. And that has been an issue that we have provided assessments of based on the information that we have gleaned through the intelligence community, preliminary information. And we have made clear all along -- as Ambassador Rice has made clear -- parts of these clips that I'm sure don't always appear on some air, where she makes clear on Sunday, September 16th, that these were preliminary assessments based on preliminary information.
Q: Several days after the President had said it was terror.
MR. CARNEY: You're making a distinction between an act of terror and what led to the attack. An assault with violence and force and weapons against a diplomatic facility is by definition an act of terror.
Q: So let me ask you then, since it's been noted that tomorrow will be the one-month anniversary of this terror attack -- why hasn't the President given a speech or a news conference laying out to the American people sort of the aftermath of what was a terror attack, four Americans killed? Instead, the Republicans have been hitting him for talking about Big Bird several days out on the campaign trail. He doesn't talk about this act of terror when he goes out and talks with voters. Why won't he talk about it?
MR. CARNEY: Actually, Ed, I believe he has spoken on a number of occasions about this, both in interviews and when he went to Andrews to receive, with Secretary of State Clinton and the families of the four fallen Americans, those caskets from Libya.
And he spoke very clearly and poignantly about the sacrifice that they made, the risks that they took on behalf of the American people, and the interests that we have abroad in places like Libya, and of his absolute commitment to ensure that those who were responsible be brought to justice; his absolute commitment that we do whatever we can to ensure that what happened in Benghazi does not happen again.
So I do not agree with your assessment that he hasn't been talking about this. It is also the case that there is a campaign going on and he is out there just like his opponent talking about a variety of issues that are of interest to the American people. But he has spoken about the events in Benghazi on a number of occasions and you can be sure he'll be speaking about them in the future.
Q: Okay, the last thing on it. He also mentions out there that al Qaeda is on -- some version of al Qaeda is on the road to defeat, and yet al Qaeda may have been involved in this terror attack. We still don't know for sure. And the Associated Press and others have noted that in Iraq, al Qaeda has now doubled the number of fighters they have on the ground -- from 1,000 to about 2,500. How does the President back up the idea that al Qaeda is on the road to defeat if they're expanding in some places?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we have said all along, what the President has said all along is that while progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region -- and I think that is a statement that even the President's strongest critics could not contest -- that al Qaeda remains our number-one foe, not Russia, and that al Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy of the United States and the American people, as well as people around the world, including in the Muslim world, and that we are committed every day to taking the fight to al Qaeda.
I think that fact is evidenced by actions we take around the world against al Qaeda and its affiliates because it is such a pernicious and dangerous enemy of the American people and our allies.
Q: Jay, earlier you said the people who claim they know all the facts aren't being straight. Why, then, were we told repeatedly by administration officials that this was a result of a spontaneous attack?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I think you'll find, as I've said several times now, is that when we provided the assessments that we had, based on the information that the intelligence community had assessed, we made clear that they were preliminary assessments -- preliminary assessments -- and that facts, as they became available, would be made known to you.
That has been the case from day one, and we have I think been pretty transparent about acknowledging when new information has come to light that has changed the assessment of the intelligence community, which provides these assessments to Congress, to the branches of government, to the White House and through us to the American people.
Q: Right, but where is the threshold by which these preliminary assessments are made public? They were obviously wrong. They were wrong leading up to the attack, they were wrong in the initial aftermath of the attack. How is it determined when to use these assessments, preliminary or not, even though they turn out to be wrong? Isn't there some concern --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we live in a society that values transparency, and this is an administration that values transparency.
Q: So we were told these things for our benefit, even though they turned out to be wrong?
MR. CARNEY: I think that's an editorial judgment that you're making. What we are saying is that when asked what happened, we gave our assessments based on the information that we had at the time. And we made clear, in giving those assessments, that what we knew at the time might change as more facts were found in the investigations that were underway. We have made that clear every step of the way. Ambassador Rice made that clear on Sunday, September 16th.
And it is our sole interest, the President's sole interest to find out what exactly happened, why it happened, what steps should have been taken to prevent it, what steps must be taken going forward to ensure that what happened in Benghazi does not happen again. That's his focus. Others are focused on other things.
His focus is on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel who are bravely serving this country overseas, finding those who killed four Americans and bringing them to justice, and taking steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
Q: And one other question, on a different subject, and that is Turkey. Sixth straight day of cross-border hostilities, firing artillery between Syria and Turkey, clearly that the civil war to some extent is spilling over into Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO. Has there been a concern expressed by Turkey to NATO, as far as you know, about activating any part of the treaty? And basically, what generally do you have to say about that?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information about communications between Turkey and NATO. I would refer you to Turkey and NATO. We stand with our Turkish ally and are continuing to consult closely on the path forward. The onus is on the Syrian regime to stop their provocative actions along the border and to respect Turkey's sovereignty.
Bashar Assad has lost all legitimacy -- long lost all legitimacy to lead the Syrian people, and his regime is struggling to retain control of Syria. The government has lost control of large areas of the country, including cities where there is no fighting at all -- where there was no fighting at all several months ago. Defections are continuing, and the economy is under unprecedented pressure.
We have made clear, as the North Atlantic Council has made clear, that the assault on Turkish sovereignty by the Syrian military is unacceptable. We stand by our Turkish allies.
Q: Jay, the IRS Commissioner announced that he is stepping down November 9th. And I know that this is happening quickly, but is that the sort of position, considering the looming fiscal crisis, that the President would try and fill -- fill that position quickly?
MR. CARNEY: I have no personnel announcements to make today.
Q: None today?
MR. CARNEY: None today.
Yes. First identify yourself.
Q: Yes -- Tim Homan from Bloomberg News.
MR. CARNEY: Very nice to see you, Tim.
Q: Thank you. At the hearing today about Benghazi, Chairman Issa said that the request from within Libya for more security were rejected by the State Department in hopes of creating a sort of normalization of atmosphere. Was the White House in any way involved with the discussions or with the determination to create that sense of normalization?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to get into specifics that are under review by the Accountability Review Board. I would point you to testimony being delivered by officials who are very close to the facts about our diplomatic security posture as we speak on Capitol Hill in the very hearing that you reference.
The President's position has always been that we need to ensure the safety and security of our diplomatic facilities and our brave diplomatic personnel.
It is unquestionable that our civilian personnel overseas in dangerous places take risks on behalf of you and me every day. Chris Stevens and the other three Americans are heroes. Chris Stevens, as you know, went into Benghazi when there was still a civil war going on, when Qaddafi was still waging war against his own people. His heroism and bravery must be noted.
It is part of the risk that comes with these kinds of postings, and it is part of what makes this country great, that there are individuals out there who are willing to do those jobs because they believe that America needs to engage in the world, that our values are still a beacon for the world.
As for the specifics about the security posture at Benghazi and elsewhere, I would have to point you to comments by State Department officials as well as the Accountability Review Board.
Let me move around here. Yes, Ken.
Q: Jay, what was the President's reaction to the shooting of the 14-year-old girl in Pakistan? And has the administration or anybody from the U.S. government been in touch with the family?
MR. CARNEY: I know that the President found the news reprehensible and disgusting and tragic. We strongly condemn the shooting of Malala Yousafzai -- if I pronounced that correctly.
Directing violence at children is barbaric, it's cowardly. And our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded, as well as their families.
The United States has offered any necessary assistance to Malala. As part of this offer, the U.S. military has agreed to provide air ambulance and medical treatment at a facility suitable for her condition if it becomes necessary.
Q: Jay, I want to change to something else. I'm going back to the debates. This morning we heard President Obama on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and he said of his debate performance last week, he was too polite and there will be more activity at this debate. What does he mean by "activity"?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you the President looks forward to the opportunity, as he does on every occasion, to go before the American people and present his ideas for how to continue to move the country forward. He believes that we need to continue to invest in education, in innovation, in research and development, in our roads and bridges and schools. He believes that we have to make sure the middle class is not in a situation where its taxes are going up, where average Americans see their tax burden go up so that we have to pay for a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires. He thinks that's the wrong policy.
And I'm sure you can expect that he will, as he has been all along, talk about that distinction between his vision for moving forward and what he believes is a vision to move back to the very policies that we tried and did not work.
We've heard about how huge tax -- I covered it. We heard about these massive tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy are going to move our economy forward and help everybody. We were all here from 2001 to 2008, and we know what happened when those policies were implemented: A record surplus was turned into a record deficit. The middle class saw its income stagnate or decline. We put two wars on a credit card. We put tax cuts on a credit card, or we simply didn't pay for them. And the result was the worst economic crisis that any of us have ever known in our lifetimes -- with the possible exception of Lester.
Q: So going back to my question, when -- and I'm not trying to funny -- but when the President was asked about his performance, when Tom Joyner asked him about his performance, on the Tom Joyner Morning Show this morning, he said he was too polite and there will be "more activity." Does that mean he will engage, he will retort back or come back -- not necessarily with quips -- will he come back with -- because many think he had a chance to throw -- somebody being a Monday morning quarterback -- half the nation, to include his supporters, he had opportunity after opportunity and did nothing except clinch his teeth in many instances.
MR. CARNEY: April, the President looks forward to next Tuesday. He sees it as an opportunity to make clear what we need to do to move the country forward.
These are chances for the American people to see a very clear contrast between an agenda and a vision that moves the country forward, and one that embraces policies that aren't theoretical but are empirical. We know what happens when we go down that road. We saw it. We all lived it.
The President looks forward to making that case, making clear the difference, making clear the choice. And look, I think he believes that facts matter. He believes that the American people want to hear from their leaders what it is they would do if they were given the opportunity to serve in this office, in the Oval Office. He has been consistent from the day he started running for the presidency up to this moment about what his vision is, who he's fighting for, what his policies are, their specifics, and he will continue to be that way.
Q: And last question on this. Prior to the debate, Ben LaBolt said that they cut back on the President's debate prep because he had to be presidential -- he's the President, he had things to do. I remember during one debate or when he was in a conversation with John McCain, he said he could walk and chew gum at the same time. So will he this time? Is he stepping up his debate prep again? Is he putting more into it? Is he doing that today?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to get into the President's campaign schedule, his debate prep. I can simply tell you that I know that he looks forward to the opportunity; that he believes the stakes are tremendously high. Because it's really about -- it's not about him, it's not about his opponent, it's not about one party or the other -- it's about what would you do -- what will you do when you get into office? Will you ensure that middle-class Americans don't have their taxes go up? Will you push a plan that turns Medicare into a voucher? Will you roll back regulations on Wall Street -- regulations that were put in place to prevent the financial crisis that we had -- to prevent the kind of financial crisis that sent us into the worst recession in our lifetimes?
Those are issues that matter, and he looks very much forward to discussing them on Tuesday.
All the way in the back.
Q: Thanks, Jay. Several surveys of small business owners have been conducted over the past two weeks by different groups and have found that a vast majority of small businesses say they aren't hiring new workers because of averting some federal regulations. I wonder what feedback the President has received recently from small business owners, and if he has any concern that any of his federal regulations are stifling economic growth among small businesses.
MR. CARNEY: This President is committed to helping small business, as evidenced by the fact that he has signed into law -- proposed and signed into law 18 small business tax cuts. He understands clearly that small businesses are the engine of economic growth in this country. And he firmly believes that we need to be fighting for those businesses rather than giving tax breaks, for example, to companies for moving jobs overseas; rather than subsidizing oil and gas companies to the tune of $4 billion a year when those very same companies are making record profits. It's a debate he's looking forward to having on this issue and many others, and it's a debate that's been continuing for weeks and months.
The President is out there making the case that his policies are designed to fight for middle-class Americans, and that includes small business owners, the vast majority of whom are not affected by the policy prescriptions, when you hear critics say that we need to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires because those tax cuts, in addition to helping Warren Buffett and other billionaires, will help small businesses. What they don't tell you is that their definition of small business includes hedge fund managers. Go to most Main Streets in America and ask them if a billionaire hedge fund manager qualifies, in their eyes, as a small business -- I think the answer would be, well, not so much.
So the President has been very clear about who he's fighting for, and the choices we have to make, and the priorities that are reflected in his budget proposals, and he'll continue to be so.
Mark, last one.
Q: Jay, when the President says he was too polite in the debate, does that mean that at the next one it will be no more Mr. Nice Guy, he's going to be impolite, he's going to be blunt, he's going to come out with his -- (laughter) -- with his arms swinging? What can we construe from the "too polite" statement? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward --
Q: We know he's looking forward. We're all looking forward. (Laughter.) But what does it mean?
MR. CARNEY: The President will make a case for the kind of America where we grow the economy from the middle out, for the kind of America where consumers are protected from insurance companies who want to deny them benefits right at the moment when they need them, or credit card companies that fill their application forms with all sorts of unintelligible detail that ends up creating hardship for the very consumers that they bring in.
That's why he put in place the Consumer Financial Protection Board [sic]. That's why he put in place health care reform. It's why he has called on Congress to pass middle-class tax cuts -- tax cuts that go to 98 percent of the American people, but Republicans have said no because they want taxes to go up on 98 percent of the American people unless millionaires and billionaires get tax cuts, too. That's just bad policy, and it doesn't reflect the values that this President believes are so much a part of the debate that we're having today.
So I think you'll hear the President make a very strong case on Tuesday and going forward.
END 2:54 P.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/303222