Press Briefing

January 22, 2013 | 46:28 | 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, 1/22/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:40 A.M. EST

Q    It’s cold.

MR. CARNEY:  It is.  It’s winter out there.  It was winter last night.  It was a dramatic change in the weather at that late hour.  Then I went home.  So, given that -- (laughter) -- we're going to move very quickly through this briefing today. 

But I want to welcome you to the first full day of the President’s second term.  It’s a tremendous honor and privilege to be here working for this President and for the country.  And I know, because I remember being where you are, what an honor and privilege it is to be where you are covering a White House.  So, with that, I just want to say thanks, and I'll take your questions.


Q    Thank you.  I know last week you said that you were encouraged by the House Republicans’ decision to move forward on a debt ceiling package, but I'm wondering if you support the specific proposal that they’re going to vote on tomorrow, this three-month extension.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me say a couple of things about that.  First, the President has always been clear that it is not good for the economy to raise the debt ceiling in increments or short- term periods, that what we support is a long-term raising of the debt ceiling so that we don't have any doubt or uncertainty for businesses or the global economy about the simple proposition that the United States always pays its bills.

Having said that, what we saw happen last week was significant, in our view.  The House Republicans made a decision to back away from the kind of brinksmanship that was very concerning to the markets, very concerning to business, very concerning to the American people -- the simple proposition that they would insist on cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, in return for doing their job, paying their bills.  That was obviously something the President could not and would not support.  That’s why he made clear he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling.  So the fact that the House Republicans have made this decision is certainly something that we welcome.

Q    But do you support the idea that they're going to vote on something that would only continue this for three months?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we support the idea that the debt ceiling ought not to be a political football; that by becoming that does damage to our economy.  So we would clearly -- we want to see the debt ceiling sort of removed from the process of the very important debates that we have over what we pay for, how much revenue we bring in, how we get our fiscal house in order in a way that helps the economy grow, protects vulnerable citizens, seniors and middle-class families and moves the country forward.

So we'll see what the Congress produces, what emerges.  There are obviously concerns I think both in the House and the Senate about some aspects of this, and once it does we'll take -- we'll evaluate it.  But I just want to make it clear that what happened, as I think most of you reported, was a very significant development in terms of deescalating the sense of conflict over this and reducing fear about a process that always had the potential of spinning out of control -- as it did in the summer of 2011, which caused such great harm to our economy; created the month, in August of 2011, that was the lowest month in terms of job creation during this entire recovery; certainly did harm to the markets and overall economic growth.  So we welcome that development.

Q    So this is basically better than nothing, but still --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we don’t expect -- we take heart from the numerous statements by Republicans leading up to this decision, statements in which Republicans made clear that it was not the right thing to do to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States; it was not the right thing to do to try to extract demands from the President of the Democratic Party in exchange for doing the responsible thing, which is paying the bills that you've already incurred.  And we believe, when Senator Cornyn or others say we will not default, period, we will not let that happen. That we believe that’s true.  And hopefully that will inform decisions made by Republicans in Congress going forward.

In the end, it's in the long-term interest of the United States economy that we remove the debt ceiling from this process that creates uncertainty, harms economic growth, does damage to the middle class, puts a stranglehold on markets.  I mean, none of the outcomes here are good. 

We can, as the President made clear, negotiate in good faith towards further fiscal -- further deficit reduction, towards putting our fiscal house in order.  We need to do that, and the President is eager to do that -- more deficit reduction in a balanced way.  We have already achieved nearly $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, but there is more work to do.  But we have to do it in a way that’s fair and balanced.

Q    And then just quickly on climate change.  The President was pretty extensive in his remarks on climate change in his inaugural address yesterday.  What was he trying to signal about where climate change would fall on his priority list in a second term, and is there any upcoming action that you can point to that he's going to take on that topic?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has been clear since he took office that tackling climate change and enhancing energy security was and will be among his top priorities -- will be among his top priorities in a second term.  And yesterday he reiterated that commitment, as you said, in his inaugural address.

Let's take a step back and look at what the President was able to achieve in a first term.  He took historic action -- his administration did -- to confront climate change, including proposing the first national standard for harmful carbon pollution for new power plants, as well as establishing unprecedented standards for cars and trucks that will slash emissions of carbon pollution while, at the same time, saving consumers billions of dollars. 

And it's often forgotten because this is an executive action that he did in concert with major automobile companies, but taken by itself this single action did more to reduce carbon pollution than any other action that has been taken, in our view.  And we need to continue to build on that.  And the President intends to continue to build on that progress in the second term. 

This is not only an issue of helping our climate and the environment, but it's one of our national security.  So when we pursue energy independence, when we continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by increasing domestic production of fossil fuel energy but other forms of energy, we enhance our security and protect America's future in that way.  And we also contribute to the effort to deal with climate change and all the impacts of climate change.


Q    He also talked about immigration yesterday, Jay.  How soon -- will he submit a plan, an immigration overhaul plan, and how quickly will he do that?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has spoken to this in the last several weeks and he made clear his intention to act on this very important issue early in his second term, and he will keep that commitment.  I don't have a programmatic timetable for you today, but you can expect that he will move forward with that. 

And I will remind people that comprehensive immigration reform, like so many of the issues that he talked about yesterday, is something that we can unite behind, that we can come together to act on.  It has been an issue in the past.  It has enjoyed bipartisan support from very prominent Republicans as well as Democrats.  It's the right thing to do.  It's the right thing to do for our economy. 

As the President said, we shouldn't be giving foreign students degrees in computer science and engineering, and then expelling them from the country if they want to stay here and build businesses and help our economy grow.  So this is something that he hopes and believes will enjoy bipartisan support when he addresses it, and he will address it early in his second term.

Q    Separately, the Nebraska Governor has approved the route for the Keystone Pipeline.  How is this going to impact -- I mean, can he now go forward?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there are stages in this process.  As you know, the State Department is conducting its assessment, as appropriate and as has been standard over the years, on behalf of the federal government, and I don't want to get ahead of that process.  When the State Department has something to move forward on, we'll obviously address that issue when it does. 

But it's interesting you mentioned the Nebraska Governor -- this whole process, as you remember, got sort of derailed because of insistence on sort of politicizing something that was not political.  It was a process that followed the format that had been used in the past in terms of the State Department's role in including these kinds of pipelines when they cross international boundaries.  One of the things that delayed or postponed this process had to do with the opposition of the Nebraska Governor and others in that state to the route that Keystone was proposed to take, the pipeline was proposed to take. 

So I think it's just an instructive reminder about how this ended up where it is now.  But for now, the State Department has the reins.

Q    Just to clarify on that, the next and final stages for the State Department to give final approval to the route and that's --

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to State on where they are on that process and what happens.  I would have to refresh my memory on how that process then works from there.  But right now, I don't want to get ahead of it, because the State Department has it.  That was -- as you know, and we all discussed this issue a lot last year, that is the stage that was necessary and --

Q    But you're in receipt of a letter from the Governor of Nebraska?  They said --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know personally if we are, but I don't dispute that we are.

Q    The President laid out a number of priorities for his second term, not just immigration and climate change but also talked about tax reform, deficit reduction, as well as expansion of rights.  Is there one among them that is his top priority?  Let me stop there. 

MR. CARNEY:  His top priority is what it has been since he began running for this office in 2007, which is to restore the middle class and a sense of security that the middle class had been losing in the decade prior to him taking office. 
So all of these agenda items that you mention are in service of the bigger goal here, which is to help the economy grow; help it provide more security to middle-class Americans; help it provide more ladders of opportunity to those who would move into the middle class.  So that is the animation behind everything he does when it comes to -- especially to domestic policy.  And it is the sort of motivating factor behind what he talked about yesterday.

Q    Does he feel that moving on deficit reduction this year is imperative to expanding the opportunities for the middle class?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  He wants to build on the significant deficit reduction that he has already achieved with Congress, close to $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction.  There is an opportunity here that we saw in the negotiations with the Speaker late last year that, if we move forward on it, could allow us to achieve additional significant deficit reduction that, taken as a whole, will mean that we will have hit the target of $4 trillion over 10 years, which will allow us to reduce our deficits and debt as a share of GDP in a way that will enhance economic growth and job creation.

So that is absolutely something he’s committed to.  We’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple years on this issue.  And he hopes that as we move -- now that the Republicans have appeared to set aside flirtation with default as a means to move forward in these negotiations, that maybe we can make some additional progress.

Q    And then, finally, is the President personally aware of the criticism the speech has received from some conservatives who feel it didn’t do enough to reach out to them, that it didn’t include enough olive branches to Republicans?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken with him about that.  I would simply say that, broadly, the speech seemed to have been well received and that it’s -- what you heard the President talk about yesterday is completely in keeping with the major speeches he has given throughout his national political career, going back to the Convention address in 2004 in Boston where he talked about the fact that -- as he did yesterday -- we are not Republicans or Democrats first; we are Americans first. 

And he made clear at the end of his speech yesterday that the oath he took -- both yesterday and the day before -- is very similar to the oath that members of Congress take, very similar to the oath that men and women in our armed forces take, and similar to the pledge that we make to our flag, every American makes.  And the fundamental fact there is that we make these pledges and we give these oaths not to a party but to our country.  And even though we have our differences, we need to act together to achieve things for the common good. 

And that has been our history as a country and that is what the President believes will be our future in the next four years and beyond, because some of these fights that we've had, these disputes over the role of government, will obviously continue.  They won't be resolved, and we can't wait for them to be resolved before we act.  And I think despite all of our differences in the last two and four years, we have achieved significant things together.  And the President looks forward to doing just that.

Some of the items that he talked about -- I mean, it's hardly -- like we were just talking about comprehensive immigration reform.  That's not a -- some of the leaders of that effort are major figures in the Republican Party -- George W. Bush and John McCain.  And that could be and should be the way it will be in the future, and the President hopes that's the case.


Q    Clarify for me the three-month extension on the debt ceiling.  Does the President encourage members of the House to vote for that bill?  And will he sign it?  Would he veto it?  What's the position on the bill?

MR. CARNEY:  As I said, the bill still has to overcome some concerns expressed by members of the House and the Senate before it can pass both chambers and reach the President's desk.  If it does and it reaches the President's desk, he would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law. 

Broadly speaking, I would point you to what I said at the top, which is that the President's position is we have to remove these damaging fights over fulfilling our obligations to pay our bills from the process -- well, we have to remove them entirely because they're so unhelpful to economic growth; they're so unhelpful to the middle class; they create terrible uncertainty for our businesses. 

We can continue to engage, and we will, with members of Congress over the need to further reduce our deficit in a balanced way.  The President has put forward plans, as you know, that demonstrate the fact that he’s willing to compromise, that he is willing to meet Republicans halfway on these issues, and he will continue to do that.  But the debt needs to not be a part of that, because it's terrible for the economy and it seems also to be bad politics. 

Q    And on climate change, can you help me understand specifically what the President wants to pursue in the second term on this?  Is this something that -- does he have legislation he would like to see Congress pass?  Are we back to cap and trade?  What specifically does he want to do that he didn't in the first term?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President has long supported congressional action on climate change.  And while it's clear that bipartisan opposition to legislative action is still a reality, the President's position remains the same as it was in the first term. 

He looks forward to building on the achievements made in the first term.  And he looks at this in a broad way, because this isn't -- deficit reduction, for example, is not a goal unto itself.  We pursue it in a way that helps our economy grow and helps it create jobs.  Otherwise, it's not worth the effort, in his mind.

Climate change is not -- you don't pursue action that helps deal with that problem just because of the problem itself, but because there are huge opportunities there in alternative energy. Whether anyone in Washington or elsewhere likes it or not, clean energy technology is going to be a huge part of a 21st century global economy.  We can make choices now that ensure that those industries are domestic, that we dominate those fields of endeavor and we create the jobs associated with those industries here in America -- or we can substitute our dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on imports of clean energy technology.  So the President believes that would be shortsighted. 

So he looks at this in a more holistic way, and he will move forward in implementing some of the actions that he took in the first term, and building on the progress that was made in the first term.

Q    But he dedicated more of that speech to climate change than any other specific policy area. 

MR. CARNEY:  I would encourage everyone who looks at the speech not to break it apart, because we view the inaugural address -- the President views the inaugural address, and the speech he will give to Congress on February 12th, the State of the Union address, as part of a package -- as two parts of a package. 

And as has been tradition, and a tradition the President is keeping, inaugural addresses tend to be about the President's vision -- that certainly was the case yesterday -- about how we move forward together as a country.  Policy specifics and -- I think for those who do this in Washington, like number of words dedicated to each issue and which position they achieve in the address -- I'll probably discourage you from doing that after he gives the State of the Union, but it's more appropriate for an address like that. 

Q    But why did it get such a prominent focus in this speech and such a relatively narrow focus, if at all, in the campaign?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I contest that assertion, because, in fact, he raised the challenge of climate change frequently in the campaign.  He talked about it in press conferences, at recent press conference, as well as when asked about it, he addressed fully his commitment to dealing with this challenge and the impact it has on our economy and our people.

So it's an important issue.  It's a priority.  But it is not a singular priority, it is one of a host of priorities that he believes we can act on if we work together.

Q    Did he run a single ad during the entire campaign that invoked climate change?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the ad-makers.  I decided early on in that process not to view every ad that was broadcast, because who would have the time?  So I can't remember, but it was certainly an issue that he talked about frequently on the campaign trail, and it's one that he believes is a priority.


Q    So to follow up on Jonathan, cap and trade, that legislation that died in the Senate in 2010 -- is that the beginning point for the President?  

MR. CARNEY:  I think I said that the President has long supported congressional action, but he recognizes that --

Q    But a lot has happened --

MR. CARNEY:  -- there is bipartisan opposition to legislative action, as there was in the first term.

Q    -- something new needs to be drafted?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to speculate for you about future actions.  The President made clear that he believes it's a priority.  He has a record already of historic accomplishments in this area, but more needs to be done.  And he looks forward to building on the progress that was achieved.

Q    But I'm just trying to figure out how his prioritization translates into new legislative action.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have any announcements to make about next steps on that issue.  But you can be sure, as he made clear yesterday, that it is an important priority that we need to work on together for the sake of the economy.  And he looks forward to doing that.

Q    You said the President would not stand in the way if a piece of legislation similar to what is being voted on in the House tomorrow passes.  That means he would sign it?

MR. CARNEY:  It means he wouldn’t stand in the way.   Clearly, we support extension of the debt ceiling without drama or delay.  That has been his position forever -- as President and since we've had these rather novel debates about whether or not we should engage in games of chicken over the full faith and credit of the United States.

He believes that we ought to do this for longer periods of time.  He believes that if it's too onerous for Congress -- Republicans in Congress to deal with this responsibility that they can turn it over to him.  He'll take the heat for making sure that we pay our bills, because it's the responsible and right thing to do.  So if that were what transpires after this next round if Congress produces something, he would welcome that.

But again, we cannot forget -- and I think -- I'm sure you talked about, if not wrote about it -- the major step that seems to have been taken by Republicans in acknowledging that using the debt ceiling for leverage did no one any good.  The President wasn't going to negotiate over this.  The threat of default alone was already causing harm to the economy and concern to business. And we certainly welcome what appears to be a decision by many Republicans to not pursue that strategy.

Q    Is the President comfortable with what appears to be a coincidental convergence of the sequester and the continuing resolution, and if this is passed and signed, a debt ceiling conversation all coming together roughly later on this spring?

MR. CARNEY:  The President will not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has already incurred.  That is true today.  It will be true in three months. It will be true for as long as he is President. 

He has always indicated his interest in and desire to work with, engage with, and negotiate with Congress over how we continue to reduce our deficit in a responsible balanced way, and he will do that. 

But I take, and the President takes some of the statements by Republican leaders and important and prominent Republicans about the absolute folly of pursuing a strategy that ties raising the debt ceiling to demands on spending cuts, the fact that it is folly -- we take heart in that because we believe it's good for the economy to cease that practice.  We're not going to engage in it any more in three months than we were going to engage in it now.  But we will work with Congress on moving forward with balanced deficit reduction because it's important.

Q    Following up on the other questions -- do you reject some of the characterizations of the speech as different in tone, different in substance from what the President has said before?  There are those who are describing it as a "more forceful and more confident embrace of the President's underlying liberal approaches to politics."  Many described his speech that way.  You would reject that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that it was forceful.  I would say that it was confident.  And it was confident not in the sense of self-confidence, but confident about the potential that America has at this moment if we seize the moment and work together.

I would reject the idea that this was an "ism" speech.  This was in fact the opposite of that.  And that’s why it is tied I think very clearly to the speech that the President, then Senate candidate, gave in 2004 in Boston, and is linked to so many other major addresses that he’s given, which is he focuses on the fact that we are Americans first. 

And I hardly think that pursuit of equal rights, pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform, pursuit of sensible policies that deal with climate change and enhance our energy independence are ideological.  The only “ism” that was a part of that speech was his rejection of absolutism.  But you can be sure it was confident and it was forceful because he believes we have to act. We have to come together and act.  We have responsibilities that we need to act on.

Q    Not on behalf of liberalism or progressivism?

MR. CARNEY:  Of course not.  It’s on behalf of ideas that represent who we are as Americans.  I mean, if you’re suggesting that it’s -- I would reject the idea that pursuit of equal rights is a Democratic-only pursuit.  Or pursuit of energy legislation that enhances our independence, increases our production of domestic forms of energy and addresses climate change is only a province of liberalism or the Democratic Party.  I think -- I would hope -- I know that Republicans would reject that, too. 

So this is his vision for how we can move together forward. And one of the things he made clear is we can’t expect to resolve all our differences before we act because those differences that we’ve had for generations about the role of government and the balance between what we do to assist our citizens -- senior citizens and others, versus what we collect in revenue -- those debates will continue and we can have them, but we should not allow them to become an excuse for inaction.

Q    Jay, when you told John, don’t break up the speech into pieces, the White House itself was breaking it up into pieces.  Yesterday afternoon I got an e-mail about gay rights -- here’s what the President said on that issue, here’s a link to it, he’s moving forward on this.  You did that with specific issues.  So my question is you broke up the speech into pieces, told your supporters, hey, he’s pushing on these things, but now it sounds like today you’re saying on climate change you don’t have anything specific.

MR. CARNEY:  Wait, Ed, first of all --

Q    What are you going to do?

MR. CARNEY:  The President will build on, when it comes to climate change, the progress that was achieved in his first term. And he looks forward to doing that on behalf of the economy, on behalf of the environment.  He will build on the progress that was made in achieving equality for LGBT Americans.  And, again, that is not a proposition that should be -- that he believes will be embraced only by one political party or faction of the country, because there is a link here between the March on Washington and Seneca Falls and Stonewall.  I mean, these are -- the pursuit of equal rights is one that Democrats and Republicans have worked on together.

Q    But Major said cap and trade, and you said, well, he wants legislation.  You didn’t say -- so he does still support cap and trade, or no?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  But we -- he put forward and worked on legislation that did not succeed in Congress because of the opposition that exists there.  And we are mindful of the fact that opposition exists there.  But that doesn't mean -- going back to the sort of overall premise of his speech -- that we can't or shouldn't continue to make progress to deal with what is an important issue and a priority of his. 

Q    And when you said the speech is confident, he wants action -- so then, why when he talked about entitlements did he only say essentially we need to protect these programs and make sure they're there?  Where was the call for sacrifice?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the call for sacrifice has been evident in the proposals the President has put forward on how we achieve deficit reduction in a balanced way, in a way that represents real compromise.  And he made clear it is important to continue to reduce our deficit.  And I think anybody who has been in this room for the past couple of years knows that this is an issue that has enjoyed the focus of the President's attention quite a bit and will continue to. 

But it is not the only priority that he has.  We need to, we must, because of the challenges we face, act on a series of priorities.  And he will continue to work with Congress to achieve balanced deficit reduction in a way that ensures that we don't ask seniors and families with disabled children, or families struggling to send their kids to college to bear all the burden, but that we do this together. 

And that's been the approach he's taken.  That was the approach that he insisted on that led to significant achievement at the end of the year -- or the beginning of this year with the fiscal cliff deal that ensured that millionaires and billionaires will be again paying income tax rates at the level that they paid under Bill Clinton.  And we need to move forward and continue to do this in a balanced way. 

Q    Last thing -- a counterterrorism playbook.  I think The Washington Post reported over the weekend the administration is working on rules for counterterrorism moving forward in the days ahead.  I understand obviously pieces of that may be of a classified nature that you can't talk about.  But generally speaking, can you give us an update on where's the administration on kind of rewriting this playbook?  And specifically, there's an allegation out there that you're going to give drone strikes a pass.  Can you comment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'm not going to comment.  I will point you to statements that John Brennan and others have made about this.  And the President's overall approach is that we need to do everything we can to keep Americans and America safe, as well as our allies, and we need to do it in ways that are consistent with our values and our laws.  And that is certainly the approach that he has taken and will continue to take. 

Q    Is this coming out soon, in days, weeks?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not aware there’s a playbook that we're going to publish.  But I would have to point you again to statements by John Brennan and others. 

Q    Jay, also yesterday during his inaugural address, the President said "our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law." In the past, the President has said that same-sex marriage is an issue that should be worked out at the state level.  Does this suggest that he now believes it's something that should be worked out at the federal level?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President's position on this has been clear in terms of his personal views.  And he believes that individuals who love each other should not be barred from marriage.  And he talks about this in a -- not about religious sacraments, but civil marriage.  And that continues to inform his beliefs.

We have taken positions on various efforts to restrict the rights of Americans, which he generally thinks is a bad idea.  And you know his position on Section 3 of DOMA.  But the overall principle that we should not discriminate or treat differently LGBT Americans is one he believes in deeply. 

Q    But is it something that should be litigated at the federal level?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, one of the reasons why we believe that DOMA, the Section 3 of DOMA is not constitutional is because we should not be addressing it in that way.

Q    And what about Proposition 8?  Will he now begin to actively oppose Proposition 8, which the Supreme Court is set to --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, the administration is not party to that case.  And I have nothing more for you on it.  We have, as you know, through the Department of Justice taken an active role in DOMA cases, which is why I can tell you the things I've told you about that.  But on the Section 8 case, we're not involved.

Q    And, Jay, just on Algeria -- the Britons and other nations have criticized Algeria's response, calling it "harsh," "hasty."  Does the President share that view?  Does he believe that lives could have been saved if this was handled differently?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first, I'd like to say that the President extends his deepest condolences to the families of Victor Lovelady, Gordon Rowan, and Frederick Buttaccio, and all of those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria. 

The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out.  And the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms.  This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa.  We will remain vigilant against that threat, and we'll continue to work closely with all of our partners in the region to combat it.  We will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place, so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future. 

But let's be clear in terms of the specific question that you had.  The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns those actions in the strongest possible terms.

The Algerians have said, as you know, that these attackers intended to kill all of the hostages and blow up the facility.  Now, obviously, that outcome would have made the situation even more tragic.  But we are in touch with, as we have been -- we'll continue to be in touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller picture of what happened.  But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the blame for this lies with the terrorists. 

Q    Jay, the President talked yesterday about the drought and fires and severe storms.  And I wondered, does he think that's changing the political climate in a way that creates an opening for legislative action maybe now that wasn't there a few years ago?  Or is he really just putting his eggs in the administrative action basket?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to go -- I appreciate the interest in this issue, one that the President shares.  But I'm not going to preview or speculate about actions beyond what I've said already.  The President made clear that climate change is real.  That is certainly a conviction held by most Americans, and certainly backed up by the vast majority of the science. 

No specific storm or weather event can be tied to climate change, but the fact is we have seen more severe storms.  We have seen more severe weather events, droughts, and fires.  And as we are experiencing -- or certainly, the people of New Jersey and New York especially are experiencing -- the impacts of those storms are devastating.  The impacts of those events can be devastating.  And it's all the more reason for us to act together.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  I'm having a hard time thinking about the counterterrorism strategy, particularly with drone strikes and the President's comments yesterday about, "We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war."  At a time when troops are coming home from Afghanistan, drone strike are intensifying, which feels like that is leading -- is there an end to that, in other words, or is that -- does he not see a drone strike as an act of war?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President will continue to pursue a strategy that protects the country, protects the American people, protects our men and women overseas, and do so in a way that is consistent with our values.  There is no question that after more than a decade of war, we are entering a new phase, we are entering a new time in our effort to combat al Qaeda and its affiliates and like-minded extremists who threaten the United States, threaten our allies. 

But the President is very clear-eyed and understanding of the fact that that threat remains.  Even as we have done great damage to al Qaeda central, to the core al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are dealing with al Qaeda affiliates in different parts of the region and the world, and we will continue to have to deal with them, working with our partners to make sure that those threats are contained and that we continue the President's overarching goal, when it comes to al Qaeda, which is its disruption, dismantlement, and ultimate defeat. 

He's made great progress, the administration has made great progress, thanks to the remarkable work of our armed services, the remarkable work of our intelligence services.  But that effort is not done, and we cannot be anything but vigilant in pursuit of that effort.

Q    One other.  Israelis vote today, and it looks like the government that will emerge -- some of the key components of the coalition will be opposed to any talks with Palestinians, any talks -- the idea of the two-state solution.  What's the administration's strategy to engage a government like that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, we don't want to get ahead of election results.  Israel is a vibrant democracy, and we look forward to learning the results of that election when they are available.  And we have to wait and see the make-up of the next Israeli government, and how it approaches long-standing critical issues, including the one that you talked about. 

The United States remains committed, as it has been for a long time, to working with the parties to press for the goal of a two-state solution.  That has not changed and it will not change. We will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis address all the permanent status issues that need to be addressed, and achieve the peace that they both deserve:  two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.

We also continue to believe that unilateral action by either side does not help the cause of reaching a peace agreement.  And we have made that clear to both sides, whether it's settlement activity or unilateral actions at the United Nations.  We make our view very clear.

Q    In long-term planning on this issue, which the President has cared about in the first term, do you think about the possibility that in this term, that framework that began in the early '90s may collapse, and how to manage it?

MR. CARNEY:  This is a challenge and always has been for U.S. Presidents and administrations, and for everyone in the world, each country that has been engaged in this process in trying to help bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

If it were easy, obviously it would have been achieved.  And this President is committed to continuing to work with both parties, continuing to encourage both parties to engage in direct negotiations, to help bring about resolution of the permanent status issues that can allow for the outcome that I just described. 

But there is no question that it's hard work, and for that reason alone I would refrain from predicting success over the next four years.  I think we will simply continue to work on it.


Q    Jay, yesterday, how was the President -- how and when was the President briefed on the Algerian hostage situation? 

MR. CARNEY:  He was updated on it throughout the last several days.  I don’t have a specific mode of how he was updated on it by his national security team, but he has been very on top of it.

Q    But during the inauguration ceremonies or if anything, was he ever pulled aside?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have anything specific on that for you.  As you know, wherever he goes he travels with a national security official.  He's obviously in constant communication with his national security team on matters like this and other matters.  And he was regularly updated on the situation.

Q    So there wasn't any particular moment yesterday where he was told Americans had died?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, not that I have -- I don’t have that level of specificity for you.  But you can be sure that he was updated regularly on the events, as he has been and had been over the previous several days going into late last week, and updated on both what we knew and on various reports that were conflicting.  And this was a process that played out over a number of days and obviously ended in a tragic result, and he was updated all along.

Q    Jay, related to the other question about Israel, I know you're not going to read out any travel plans at this point, but can you talk about the priorities for the President in terms of international travel as he begins his second term?  For example, would a visit to Israel and Palestinian territories be in that list?  A visit to Moscow for talks with Putin, et cetera?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any scheduling plans to announce or priorities to put forward.  The President will continue to travel, as he did during his first term, continuing to pursue the development and deepening of our important multilateral and bilateral relationships around the world.  He will participate in various summits and conferences as he has in his first term, but I don’t have any specific travel announcements to make.

I think Reid, yes.

Q    Following up on Kristen's question earlier, does the President believe that gay marriage should be a state issue or a federal issue?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I addressed that.  The President believes that it's an issue that should be addressed by the states.  As you know, and I can make it clear, that the President's personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry from doing so.  The values that the President cares most deeply about are how we treat one another and respect one another. 

For him, it just boils down to treating others the way that we would want to be treated ourselves.  And the President has made it absolutely clear that his views are about civil marriage, as I said, not religious sacraments. 

Victoria, and then -- well, Victoria, and then we'll see.  Maybe Cheryl.

Q    Jay, how confident are you that U.S. intelligence isn't lagging behind events on the ground in Algeria with the recent siege and in Mali with the coup by U.S.-trained junior officers -- and in other countries in that region?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that we have confidence in our intelligence community.  I would note that the siege in Algeria was of a private British petroleum facility.  It was not a government facility, a U.S. facility.  And we are working with France and support their effort in Mali, and believe that the goal of preventing terrorists a safe haven is an important one as we’ve talked about.

Yes, in the back, in the purple shirt.  Identify yourself.

Q    Jeffrey Cunningham, Saudi Press.

MR. CARNEY:  Nice to see you.

Q    Nice to see you, too.  Thank you.  In the second term, does the President plan on addressing his first campaign promise to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, the President remains committed to that.  He agrees with military leaders as well as his immediate predecessor that we ought to do that.  There are obviously obstacles in Congress to that, but we will continue to work towards that goal because he believes it’s in the best interests of our national security.   

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  I did say Cheryl. 

Q    Thanks.  Jay, on Friday on your debt limit statement, you urged Congress to pass a clean debt limit increase.  Did you have a specific concern that you used that language?  And also, do you think that the Senate should be required to pass a budget?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe the Senate leaders -- Democratic leaders have addressed this question and have said that they intend to move forward with a budget.  Having said that, I would note, as I have in the past, that anyone who believes that the stalemates and confrontations we’ve had over fiscal and budget policy over the last couple of years have been because of the Senate action on the budget I think misunderstand the situation. 
The President has been very clear about his budget priorities.  He has put forward specific and detailed budgets.  He has engaged with Republican leaders to try to achieve bipartisan compromise resolutions that reduce our deficit in a balanced and fair way, and he will continue to do that.  So I would point you to what the Senate said -- Senate leaders have said about their intentions.

In terms of clean, we simply -- I think that reiterates the point that we’ve been making all along that we won’t negotiate -- we won’t allow the American economy, the American people be held hostage over whether or not the Congress is going to -- in this case, the Republicans are going to allow the debt ceiling to be raised because it’s incredibly damaging.

And you can't -- again, I think we’ve hopefully crossed this bridge, at least for now, which is a welcomed thing, and I think welcomed by the business community; welcomed by middle-class Americans, regular folks; welcomed by the global economy and the markets.  And that can only be to the good.

Thanks, all.

12:27 P.M. EST

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