Press Briefing

March 19, 2012 | 48:33 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/19/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:57 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Wow.  Good crowd.  How is everybody?  Good afternoon.  Thanks for being here.  I hope you all had a great weekend and that some of you still have a decent bracket underway after all those upsets. 

Before I take your questions, I wanted to start with a statement by the President:  "Last week, the Senate passed a bipartisan transportation bill that will keep construction workers on the job and keep our economy growing.  Now the House of Representatives needs to take bipartisan action so I can sign this into law. An economy built to last depends on a world-class infrastructure system that allows us to transport our people and goods as quickly and effectively as possible.  That's why we need to continue to make investments that will create jobs by rebuilding and modernizing our roads, bridges and railways.  And that's why my administration will continue to fight for the long-term investments needed to ensure that America continues to compete and succeed in a global economy."

Q    Is that to announce support for the bill?

MR. CARNEY:  He is calling on -- we commended the Senate last --

Q    Commending -- are you supporting?

MR. CARNEY:  We are calling on the House to follow the Senate's lead and pass bipartisan transportation legislation.  The items and minutiae in the bill we'll let Congress figure out. We commended the Senate for acting in a bipartisan way on this important --

Q    But you still haven't said whether you support that bill or not.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we commended the Senate for passing the bill.  I'm not telling the House -- I'm not going to write the legislation for them.  What we are saying is the House, like the Senate, should act in a bipartisan way and pass a bill.

Q    -- suggest that if it gets passed it will get signed with a statement?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President looks forward to signing into law a bipartisan transportation bill because of the absolute necessity that we continue to build and maintain world-class infrastructure.

Q    It is fair that we're drawing a distinction here.  You are not -- the administration is not necessarily putting out a statement of support of this bill?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, whatever distinctions --

Q    Because you have done that before.

MR. CARNEY:  No, I hear you.  Look, you can draw whatever distinctions you want.  We strongly urge the House to pass bipartisan transportation legislation, as the Senate has.  And the President looks forward to signing into law a bill that is bipartisan in nature.

Q    But you're not necessarily supporting the Senate bill?

MR. CARNEY:  We commended them for passing it.  I don't want to get caught in the semantics here.  I just want to make clear that --

Q    -- you're introducing the semantics.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  We want to see action by Congress on a piece of bipartisan legislation on this important topic.

Q    You kind of like it?


Q    Thanks, Jay.  A couple topics.  On Afghanistan, the nation has learned a lot over the past couple days about Sergeant Bales, the suspect in the mass shooting in Afghanistan, and it's raised questions about his personal history and about the strains of war, multiple tours of duty.  Is the President closely following the case -- not just the judicial side of it but the personal story of Sergeant Bales?

MR. CARNEY:  Ben, I haven't spoken to the President about the coverage of that nature that you mention.  The President is obviously very aware of the incident.  He’s spoken about it.

And for details about the investigation and the individual that you reference, you need to put those questions to the Defense Department because there is an active investigation.

Q    But you haven’t heard him reflecting on Sergeant Bale’s story and the strains of war, any of the personal side of it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would just say that the President is focused on two things:  One, as he made clear last week, the incident, the killing of these innocent Afghan civilians was a tragic and terrible event, and it did not represent what our military stands for, what the American people stand for.  He made that clear.

There is an investigation that's taking place, and we’re not going to wade into that from here.  And then, there is the overall mission that our men and women in uniform are implementing in Afghanistan, which he is, of course, very focused on.  I’m not -- the conversations the President may or may not have had about this specific case I think I’ll keep private.

Q    Staying on that broader topic, when the President apologized to President Karzai about the burning of the Korean, he later explained that he did so in large part in the interest of the United States and its troops and in keeping them safe.  I’m sorry if you’ve been asked this and I missed it, but can you explain why that incident would necessitate an apology but a massacre of Afghan civilians, which presumably could put troops in harm’s way, fear of reprisals, why that wouldn’t require --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think we made very clear both the President’s feelings and our feelings, from the military and as a nation, about the terrible incident that occurred in Afghanistan. There is an investigation, an active investigation ongoing, and I would refer questions about that and ask you to appreciate how we would respond to questions about it from here.

The fact is that the vast majority of -- everything that we do there in Afghanistan is focused on our goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda; of stabilizing Afghanistan sufficiently so that we can train up and transfer authority to Afghan security forces and withdraw our troops as we do that.  The bravery and courage of our men and women in uniform has been astounding throughout, and they continue to focus on that mission in very difficult circumstances.  So the President is focused on that.

Q    One quick domestic question.  Friday, I believe, is the anniversary of the health care law, and I’m wondering if we should expect to hear from the President on that milestone, which, of course, comes right before the Supreme Court arguments. Or would he just as soon not make a public statement about the health care law and let outside groups -- the campaign and others -- do the politicking around this moment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say two things about that.  The President is focused on doing everything he can, with Congress and independently, to help our economy grow and create jobs, to build an economy that’s built to last, and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can in Washington to bring that about. The President does speak about health care on occasion and will continue to do that.  But he’s focused on a forward agenda right now, and working with Congress and doing the things he can through executive action to grow the economy and create jobs. 

The administration is very focused on implementing the Affordable Care Act, which, as you know, has resulted already in benefits for millions of Americans, millions of seniors who have benefited and saved tremendous amounts of money because of the prescription drug provision related to the so-called doughnut hole, and the millions of young Americans who have insurance who otherwise would not because of the provision within the Affordable Care Act that allows young folks to stay on their parent’s policy.  So we’re focused on implementing the law and on pursuing an aggressive, forward-leaning agenda with regards to the economy.

Q    So no plans for any statement?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no announcements to make about the President’s schedule in that regards.


Q    Jay, what does the President hope to achieve on his trip Wednesday and Thursday on energy?  And how do you hope or how do you plan to make it -- to avoid making it into a PR move on the President’s energy background?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s just be clear about two things.  One, energy in general, and the price of gas in particular, is on a lot of people’s minds, understandably, right now.  Two, this President is aggressively advocating for and pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy as a matter of policy.  We will be going -- he will be going first to Boulder City, Nevada, where he will visit the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country, with nearly one million solar panels powering 17,000 homes.  Why is that important?  Because of the need to continue to pursue an all-of-the-above energy approach that includes investments in alternative energy so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Next, he’ll be going to oil and gas production fields located on federal lands outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, an area home to more than 70 active drilling rigs.  Why is that important?  Because an all-of-the-above energy approach requires and necessitates that we aggressively expand domestic oil and gas production in a safe and responsible way.  This President has done that.  We have seen oil and gas production at eight-year highs.  Even on federal lands, oil production is up 13 percent over the last three years.  And this President is committed to continuing that.

Then he will travel to the Cushing, Oklahoma area to discuss his administration’s commitment to improving and supporting infrastructure that helps us leverage our domestic resources while also ensuring these projects are developed in a safe and responsible way.

You all, of course, are familiar with the Cushing-to-the-Gulf pipeline, why that is necessary -- because we have actually a glut of oil that's bottled up because of the lack of infrastructure necessary to move the product to the Gulf, to the refineries there.  So he’s focused on that, and this part of an all-of-the-above approach that is the only way we can enhance our energy security.

Drilling alone is not an answer.  If it were, we would have solved the problem -- because as I just said, we have been increasing domestic oil and gas production, increasing the amount of drilling that we’re doing in this country on federal lands and in federal waters, and we will continue to do so, but with a very small portion of the world’s known reserves but a huge demand for oil on the world market, we need to diversify our approach.  And that's an approach that I think a broad majority of the American people would also support.

Q    But he and you and others have been talking about that all-of-the-above strategy for a long time.  Is the point of going on a trip like this where he can be photographed in front of solar panels or pipes an opportunity to try and sell that more?  Is that essentially what you’re doing?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President travels around the country -- whether it’s for the Recovery Act, or for the need to have a Consumer Protection Bureau, or investments in alternative energy, or investments in oil and gas production -- it’s to focus attention on an agenda that requires not just his leadership, but cooperation and leadership by members of Congress, so that we can get more done to advance a comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy policy that is the only policy that will ensure that we have greater independence from the need for foreign sources of energy in the future.

So this is an active agenda, an active policy agenda that he very much looks forward to highlighting.

Q    One more topic, just real quickly.  Tomorrow night -- or tomorrow is the FEC filing deadline.  Obviously, White House officials have started appearing at Priorities USA Action events. Can you tell us how many events they have -- or who, number one, and how many events they’ve attended, and how it’s gone?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have that information.  I’ll have to take the question. 

Let me move around a bit.  Scott.

Q    What is the active agenda he’s going to be calling on Congress to do on energy?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, we need congressional help to continue to pursue the all-of-the-above approach.  And whether that's increasing oil and gas production, increasing investments and sustaining investments in alternative energy, the need to highlight this I think is apparent in this time when we are facing high gas prices at the pump.  And a lot of people, rightfully, want to know what the strategy is to ensure that this doesn't happen again and again, annually or biannually, as it’s been happening in the recent past.  So the President is very focused on this, as I think a lot of Americans would expect him to be.  And the purpose of the trip is to make clear what we can do, what we are doing, and the kinds of approaches that are necessary to enhance our energy security in the future.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  Governor Romney says today that the economy is coming back, something I don't think you’d disagree with.  Does the President think that the economic recovery has now reached a level where it’s kind of inevitable?  It’s on a path where it’s only going to get better?  Does that make it less of an argument during the election year?

MR. CARNEY:  The President absolutely does not believe that recovery is inevitable.  We need to do everything we can here in Washington to ensure that the recovery continues.  It is certainly within the capacity of Washington, as we have seen in the past, most recently last summer, to take action that can harm the recovery.  We can't let that happen.  So, no, the recovery is not so far along now that it can continue without leaders in Washington making the right decisions and taking the right actions to ensure that we can continue to grow.

The transportation bill is a perfect example of that.  Failure to advance a bipartisan transportation bill, the kind of bipartisan transportation bill that -- as you know, Ann, because you’ve covered this -- that has been passed frequently over the years, would result in the halting of numerous construction projects around the country, would result in job loss, instead of job creation.

We can't let that happen.  So, no, Washington needs to continue to focus on doing what it can to help the recovery continue.  As we’ve seen in the last three years, there are choices you make in the face of a recession like the one we encountered in 2009 that can either double down on the policies that got you into the mess to begin with, or chart a course towards recovery.  The President made a lot of hard choices in his first couple of years in office that have led us to where we are today, which is a period of sustained economic growth that needs to continue and needs to expand -- a period of 24 months or 23 months of private sector job creation that needs to continue because, as you know, even though we’ve in these past 24 months seen the creation of nearly 4 million private sector jobs, the hole dug by the great recession was something like 8 million jobs.  There’s more work to be done.

I think I promised Chuck.  Yes.

Q    To follow up on the question of legislation, so there isn’t a piece of legislation he’s -- you’re calling on Congress to do what?  Come up with a piece of legislation on this --

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I don't have a specific agenda to put forward to you for Congress to take action on.  Congress has within its capacity, as the transportation bill points out -- the opportunity to help economic growth continue and the opportunity to, at least potentially, restrain growth or reverse it.

Q    I'm talking about Scott's question --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I understand that.  But, in general.  I don't have a list of items that Congress could act on.  But the fact is we need to -- we've talked about this within the context of the President's We Can't Wait agenda, which is, he will act on all the things he can -- big, medium and small -- that don't require congressional collaboration -- often because we've had a paucity of congressional cooperation and collaboration.  But he  -- but there are things that we need to do with Congress, and he'll continue to do that -- whether it's on energy, or transportation, or the job creation measures of the jobs act that have yet to be passed, or the startup legislation that he put forward.  There's a whole host of areas where we need congressional cooperation.

Q    Given what you're trying to do with this trip, how much of this -- I mean, why shouldn’t we view it as solely a public relations stunt?

MR. CARNEY:  You can view -- you can easily --

Q    -- I mean, not meant to be cynical about this, but to look at -- it seems to be a point-by-point rebuttal of the attacks that you're getting on Capitol Hill regarding -- whether it's Keystone, regarding solar and clean energy.  It seems that it's like this trip is designed to rebut political --

MR. CARNEY:  So the idea that the President's focus on an issue that has a lot of Americans concerned I think is appropriate.  The idea that he has a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach to our energy challenges I think is appropriate to highlight.  There is certainly a longstanding tradition of Presidents traveling around the country to highlight the agenda that they're pursuing, their policy agenda.  And that's what he's going to be doing on this trip. 

Because it is so important, both in the present and for the future, that we pursue this all-of-the-above approach to our energy challenges, because if we don't, we're going to see these kinds of scenarios year after year, where prices go up, politicians say, well, I've got a plan -- especially in an election year -- to lower the prices at the pump.  Often the plan is just to drill more, which there's not a single energy expert out there who would argue that that's a solution.  We need something bigger than that, and broader, and that's what the President is highlighting.

Q    Isn't that what you're actually doing?  Because now gas prices are up, so you're getting attention for it.  It's not like you were out there doing these trips when --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as a veteran of a lot of trips focused on -- as part of this trip is -- on investments that this administration has made in alternative energy, I beg to differ.  Over the course of three years, the President has made those trips, the Vice President has made those trips.  He has also -- they've also made trips focused on other aspects of his energy agenda, not just recently.

Let me move around a little bit.  Victoria.

Q    What is your message to the Pakistani government as they meet tomorrow to talk about their relationship with the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  Our message hasn't changed, which is that we consider that relationship very important, not least because of its importance to our national security interests.  It is a complicated relationship that requires a lot of attention, and we give it that attention.  And we will continue to work with Pakistan on our shared goals of eradicating the threat of terrorism in the region. 

There is no question, as I've mentioned before, that the cooperation that we have had from Pakistan has contributed to some of the successes that we have had in taking the fight to al Qaeda, in eliminating senior al Qaeda leadership from -- removing senior al Qaeda leadership from the battlefield.  And we'll continue to work with Pakistan to pursue that agenda.

Q    The anger about drone attacks is not going away.  Is there anything that you can do about that with Pakistan?  And again, also with night raids with Afghanistan -- what is the situation on that with your negotiations with the Afghan government?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I think I said on Friday with regards to Afghanistan and the President's phone conversation, recent phone conversation early Friday morning with President Karzai, we continue to have conversations with the Afghan government about that issue and are focused very much on implementing a strategy that includes transferring combat lead to Afghan security forces in 2013 with the aim of ultimately transferring all lead authority to Afghan security forces by 2014, in accordance with NATO's agreement in Lisbon.

On Pakistan, again, without addressing the specifics of your question, we understand that there are challenges in the relationship.  We work very closely with our Pakistani counterparts and we are very clear about what our objectives are in terms of American national security interests.


Q    May I just follow on the gas prices?  Because when there was a jobs crisis in the fall, the President decided, look, let's write a bill, pass this bill now.  Now there's a gas price crisis.  Why is there not a bill that he's traveling around the country saying, pass this now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think as he's made clear, there's not a bill that will lower prices at the pump.  There is not a 3-point plan, a 1-point plan or a 5-point plan that would lower gas prices at the pump, because oil is a global commodity; its price fluctuates globally. 

And what we need to do is not pretend that there is some silver bullet solution, but focus on a broad agenda that is aimed at increasing production of fossil fuels in the United States, expanding our investments in alternative energy, taking the kind of administrative action he took, working with major automobile companies to increase our fuel-efficiency standards to the point that American consumers will save $1.7 trillion and 12 billion barrels of oil over the course of that program's implementation.

So that's the kind of approach that we need to take.  And that's the kind of approach that he's going to highlight on this trip.  I think it's important because the American people need to know that there is no easy solution to this challenge, that we need to maintain an across-the-board effort on all these areas of the energy economy, or else we will not get out of this predicament in the long run, which we have to do.

Q    Two other quick things.  On Ben's question about health care -- it's supposed to be the President's signature domestic achievement, so the idea that he may not speak about this on the anniversary seems odd.  And I wonder, with the polling data -- I think ABC News has a poll out today -- when you add it up, 67 percent of the public either wants to throw out the whole bill or just throw out the mandate, not the whole bill.  The White House has been talking for two years about educating the public, talking about the benefits of this.  Doesn't this polling data suggest that people are not buying it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the polling data suggest in part the hundreds of millions of dollars that was spent attacking it.  And what we're focusing on is implementing it so that more and more Americans see the benefits that it brings.  I didn't make any announcement one way or the other about what the President's schedule will hold on this issue, but we are focused on implementing the bill, not on discussing anniversaries, particularly -- although I'm sure others will want to discuss this.

And I think if you look at or talk to Americans and look at some of the data on this, if you ask them, is the alternative as proposed by some folks who oppose the Affordable Care Act -- giving power back to the insurance companies so that they can throw you off your insurance policy if you develop an illness, or prevent you from getting insurance if you have a preexisting condition, or prevent young Americans from staying on their parent's insurance policy -- I think the answer will be, no, we don't want that.  And I think that efforts to -- calls to take that away, to take those positive changes away from average Americans will be met with a great deal of skepticism when people talk about this and focus on it.

So the President is going to continue to focus on the economy, on jobs, on energy policy, and let others have that debate if they want to have it.

Q    Last thing.  The President signed an executive order on Friday about disaster preparedness.  There's been some online commentary suggesting this gives the executive branch power to allocate energy, food, water in either peacetime or wartime.  And there are conservative blogs that are pushing the notion that this suggests the White House is preparing for war with Iran.  Can you explain what this executive order was?  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I cannot explain that reaction to it.  I think it was a fairly standard and routine piece of business.  The President's approach to our dealings with Iran, I think, has been made clear.  He has made it clear, most recently, when he discussed it at length a couple of weeks ago. 

We are aggressively pursuing a policy focused on tightening sanctions against Iran, increasing the pressure on Iran, and increasing the isolation of the Iranian regime, because this President believes we have the time and space to do that, to see if that diplomatic approach and sanctions approach can produce the desired result -- because, as he said from this podium, it's easy to talk about war, but you need to talk about the potential implications and consequences of war. 

He takes no option off the table in dealing with Iran, but he's focused on this diplomatic avenue because not only do we have the time and space to do so, but it is ultimately the approach that has the best chance, if successful, of ensuring that Iran does not ever build a nuclear weapon.  So that's the approach he's taking.


Q    Thanks.  After several weeks, now, of events and speeches and travel focused around the President's energy policies, polls seem to be somewhat inconclusive.  And I'm wondering what evidence you've seen to show that it's swaying public opinion, or what effect it's having with the broader public.

MR. CARNEY:  The point is not -- I'm not sure I get the point of your question.  Energy is an important issue.  It is a huge issue for our economy going forward.  It is a huge issue for our national security going forward.  The President is focused on it for those reasons.  There is no question that Americans are very concerned, and should be, about the prices that they're paying at the pump.  And this President is very focused on that, and he understands the hardship that that causes. 

One of the reasons why he fought so hard both last year and this year to have a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans is so that that extra money could be in the pockets of everyday Americans and enable them to deal with the expense caused by higher gas prices.  That was true at this time last year, and is true, obviously, this year.  So it's a focus of this President's for that reason and those reasons. 

It is also part of a broader argument about where we need to move economically as a country.  And enhancing our energy independence is very much a part of a vision this President has for a stronger, more secure America in the 21st century.  So he's talking about it for those reasons as well.  And that doesn't really have much of an effect, I imagine, on today's polling data, but it does have an effect on our long-term economic viability.

Q    -- he is defending his energy policies in the face of rising gasoline prices, and so, are Americans buying that defense?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I mean, I would just give you the same answer.  It's not -- it is wholly understandable that Americans are concerned about the prices they're paying at their local gas station.  Prices are very high.  And what I think this President has made clear is Americans, I think, by and large, even though they're frustrated, understand that politicians who tell them that if only they were in power they could fix it with a simple proposal -- most Americans understand that that's baloney; that it's not plausible, it's laughable as policy; that "drill, drill, drill" will not get you anywhere, because if it could then the fact that we've increased oil and gas production in this country would have resulted in a decrease in prices at the pump, not an increase.

The fact is there is not a direct correlation there because it's a global commodity and the price of oil globally is affected by a number of factors, including economic growth in China, India, Brazil, and other countries, as well as this one, and by a lack of stability in various regions of the world.  So to reduce the effect that fluctuations have in this country we need to take an all-of-the-above approach to our energy policy, and that's what the President is focused on.

Jon-Christopher, and then Dan.

Q    We've seen the earlier statement by Tommy Vietor regarding the attacks in Toulouse, France, this morning.  Has the President been in contact with President Sarkozy of France to express his thoughts and concerns regarding this?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any calls to read out to foreign leaders today.  Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims and to the French people over this incident.  But beyond the statement we put out, I don't have anything else for you at this time on that.


Q    Thank you.  On Syria, what is the next move for the U.S. there?  The President has frequently talked about how we're keeping up the pressure, that it's just a matter of time before Assad will go, yet the violence continues and Assad remains in power.  So what's the next move?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are continuing to work with a broad international coalition to isolate the Assad regime, put pressure on the Assad regime.  We are also strongly supportive of Kofi Annan’s mission.  We are helping with our partners to ensure that sanctions against the regime are enforced globally, and we are continuing to work with our partners to provide humanitarian assistance. 

It is vital for every country to understand that the kind of brutality perpetrated by the Assad regime against the Syrian people puts Assad on the wrong side of history, and supporting that regime is the wrong way to go, as we’ve made clear.  We’re going to work with the “Friends of Syria” and our international partners on this issue to continue to put pressure on Assad, to continue to call on Assad to cease the violence, and to provide humanitarian assistance.

Q    At what point are all of those things not enough -- putting on the pressure, calling on Assad to cease the violence  -- if the violence continues?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think the President has addressed this issue as have I.  Specifically if you’re asking, for example, about providing arms, we still believe that it is not the right approach to take to contribute to the militarization of the situation in Syria.  We make the point that as we deal with the upheavals and countries across the region, we look at them very specifically.  Each country is different.  The circumstances in each country is different.  The comparison is often made in questions that were asked to the situation in Libya, and the differences I think are often spelled out.

So I don’t want to predict in the future at what point, if certain things happen or don’t happen, additional strategies might be put in place.  I would simply say that the approach we’re taking now is the one we believe is the right one -- working with the “Friends of Syria,” working with the international community -- to further isolate and pressure Assad, helping with our allies to provide humanitarian assistance, and hopefully further uniting the international community against the Assad regime because of its brutality.

Q    And then a quick question on gas prices.  In this election year the President is not concerned that he’s getting the blame for the $4.00-plus per gallon?

MR. CARNEY:  If you want to -- I mean, election questions and campaign questions you should direct to the campaign.

Q    Okay, let's take out "election."  Is he concerned -- is he not concerned that he’s getting the blame from the public or from --

MR. CARNEY:  The President is not concerned about who gets the blame.  The President is concerned about making sure we have the right policies to deal with this challenge for the long term. I think that a number of you and your colleagues have clearly pointed out the hollowness of some of the proposals put forward by those who are critics of the President masquerading as energy policies.  They're not plausible because you simply cannot drill your way out of this problem.

Under this President, oil and gas production in the United States has increased significantly, both on private and on public lands.  Under this President, we have signed a permit to build the first nuclear power plant in 30 years.  Under this President, we have taken a path through investments that will ensure that we double the amount of renewable energy produced in this country.  Under this President, we have put in place historic fuel-efficiency standards that will do more to reduce our consumption of oil and, therefore, our dependence on foreign oil than a whole host of proposals that others have put out there, which they pretend will somehow lower the price at the pump next week.

This is not an easy challenge, and the President is being very honest with the American people about what we need to do to ensure that we deal with this challenge for the long term.  So poll numbers and how people view this I think are one thing.  Getting the policy right is another, and it is a more important thing.


Q    Yes, Jay, the Ryan budget is going to be coming out tomorrow.  Can I ask you in advance of it about two things that are clearly going to be in it?  One is the call to basically reopen negotiations on the spending caps to cut another $19 billion out of discretionary funding.  And of course, the overall question about Medicare, reaping very substantial savings off of that -- what do you think?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ll wait to see what’s in it.  I think that the calls to abrogate -- to violate an agreement that everybody signed onto in August, I think as we’ve talked about before, has to raise questions about keeping your word, about where we are.  This was the result of serious negotiations that ended in significant reductions in discretionary spending, nondefense discretionary spending, as well as defense spending.  And I think a lot of elected officials in Congress of both parties have said we need to keep our word and keep that agreement in place.

There’s another aspect of this that has been discussed about blowing up the sequester, another agreement -- handshake, signature -- that suddenly folks want to undo because they find it inconvenient.  The sequester was designed to be objectionable and onerous -- both the cuts in defense spending and nondefense spending.  No one wants to see them go into place.  They exist in order to force Congress to try to deal with the challenge that is presented before it in the need to get our fiscal house in order, to enact further legislation that would reduce our long-term deficits and debt, and to do that, this President believes, in a balanced way.

That's the approach that needs to be taken here.  What we don't need -- and again, I will have to see the details of it -- what we don't need is another proposal that says we have to preserve and extend tax cuts for the very wealthiest of Americans who have done extremely well in the last decade, we have to preserve tax subsidies and breaks for oil and gas companies that are enjoying record profits, subsidies that have been in place for a century -- that's taxpayers giving money to oil and gas companies making record profits.  I mean that -- think that's a tough sell.  But we’ll see.

And in order to pay for all that and achieve some modicum of deficit reduction, basically ending Medicare as we know it, asking seniors to pay a heck of a lot more -- that's just not an approach this President supports.  We’ll see what the specifics are when it comes out, but if the past is prologue, it’s not very promising.

MR. CARNEY:  Bill.

Q    Jay, there was a lot of attention over the weekend to the killing of a Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch -- the police know who shot him -- and under very troubling circumstances -- the police know who shot him.  No arrest has been made, no charges filed.  Is the President aware of this case of Trayvon Martin, and has he asked the Justice Department to look into it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we here in the White House are aware of the incident, and we understand that the local FBI office has been in contact with the local authorities and is monitoring the situation.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin’s family, but obviously we’re not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.  I would refer you to the Justice Department and to local law enforcement at this point.

Q    Has the President himself expressed any comments about it?  I mean, the case of Professor Gates up in Cambridge pales compared to this, and the President did speak out about that.

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any conversations to report to you.


Q    You’ve been talking about -- on energy -- about the President is trying to be honest and trying to ask the American people to understand there’s no silver bullet, no instant fix.  Can you describe in the President’s policy, his strategy, when would the payoff materialize to smooth out for most Americans those price jumps?  When does he envision the payoff would occur?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s, if you keep at it, it’s a process that improves continually.  We’ve already seen our reliance on foreign imports decline in the last three years.  We’ve already seen an increase in domestic oil production.  We’ve already seen increases in renewable energy production.  We’ve put into place fuel-efficiency standards that will have significant impact in terms of reducing our demand for foreign oil.  So all of these things will have a cumulative effect to reduce the portion of our energy consumption that comes from foreign sources, and by doing that, reduce the impact of fluctuations in the global oil market on average Americans. 

That's the overall goal, for economic reasons and national security reasons.  And it’s a goal that recognizes a simple fact, that in the 21st century there is going to be huge demand for fossil fuels as rising economies continue to grow, and as this economy continues to grow, and there is going to be huge opportunities in -- economically, in industries that take advantage of and exploit the need for alternative energy sources.

The President is committed to those industries growing and thriving in this country, and creating jobs in this country, so that we don't get into a situation where we trade our dependence on other countries for foreign oil for a dependence on other countries for alternative fuels or alternative energy sources.

So it’s obviously going to be -- this is a long-term focus that needs to result in less and less dependence on foreign sources of energy, and that’s what the President is focused on.  And I want to be clear that the President is very concerned about the current dilemma, and he has talked about the measures that he is taking -- asking his Justice Department to reconstitute the unit that looks into potential speculation and fraud, and the other issues that we can address here.  But he is also honest about the fact that there is no magic wand you can wave to suddenly reduce the price of gasoline at your local station.

Kristen.  Alexis, one more.

Q    I thought last week that you said the President was traveling to talk about health care, and today you’re not saying that again.  Is there a reason?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t remember saying that, actually.  I don’t think I did.

Q    You said that the reason that he would be traveling -- when you got questions about health care you said he would be traveling.

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to look at that.  I might have just  --

Q    Slipped?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  There was never a plan that I’m aware of to have him travel.  I’m not sure I said but I’ll check the transcript. 


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying there are two demons in our country right now -- talking about the Taliban and U.S. forces.  And then over the weekend the Afghanistan ambassador said on CNN that "Karzai is simply reflecting what our people are saying."  What’s the White House’s reaction to that?  And what’s the level of concern that President Karzai is saying one thing to the President and something different to the people of Afghanistan?

MR. CARNEY:  We have regular conversations with President Karzai, with the Afghan leadership, and are fully aware of the concerns that he has and has had about some of these issues.  And obviously, the last several weeks have been very challenging, and that has brought these issues to the forefront again.  We are focused on implementing our strategy -- a strategy, which has at its core both the need to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, but the need to transfer security authority -- security lead over to Afghan forces, which in turn will allow us to withdraw U.S. forces.  We’re in the process of drawing down the surge forces. 

And as the President has said, withdrawals of U.S. forces will continue beyond that as we transfer more and more territory and more and more of the security responsibility to Afghan forces who are being built up as part of the implementation of his strategy.  The specifics of the footprint and where the forces will be deployed I’m sure will be worked out.  We’re also engaged with the Afghans in our Strategic Partnership discussions and we’ll continue to do that. 

But we’re very cognizant of the fact that the incidents of late have provided great challenges.  And we’re working through them, but we’re remaining focused on what the mission is, the reason why we’re there to begin with, which is because we were attacked here in the United States as part of a plan that was hashed and conceived and authorized and executed out of Afghanistan by al Qaeda.  That is the reason why we’re there and that is the reason why al Qaeda is the principal focus of our mission.

Q    Does that type of rhetoric complicate the U.S. efforts to implement your strategy and to withdraw forces ultimately by 2014?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think that we’re focused on our strategy.  We work with President Karzai, as I said in reading out the conversation President Obama had with President Karzai early Friday morning.  The two men see eye-to-eye on what the implementation of the strategy is in 2013, in 2014.  There are a number of issues that they’re working through with regards to some of the things that you mentioned.  And we’re just going to continue to be focused on that and the implementation of the strategy.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Back on Syria, both the President and Prime Minister Cameron made a point of emphasizing both the Russia and China aspect of all this.  Can you talk about what kind of pressure is being exerted on both Beijing and Moscow to get past that point of the veto of the previous Security Council?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can’t read out to you conversations or diplomatic negotiations.  I can simply say that we were very disappointed in the veto.  We have made that clear.  And we are working with everyone to focus attention on the heinous behavior of the Assad regime, the futility of siding with Assad, given the fact that his ultimate giving up of power is, we believe, only a matter of time, and the fact that the Syrian people will always remember who was with them in this terrible time and who was not. And so we’re working with everyone to try to unite behind a strategy to pressure Assad, to isolate Assad, and ultimately to get him to stop the violence and to step aside.  Conversations continue with all countries, including those that you mentioned. 

Thanks, all.

1:46 P.M. EDT

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