Press Briefing

February 01, 2013 | 45:03 | 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, 2/1/13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:51 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Happy Friday.  I have no questions -- I mean, I have no announcements, so I’ll go straight to questions.

Oh, wait, I do have -- you probably have in your inbox a statement from the President on Secretary Steven Chu’s departure.  As you know, the President, if you’ve read it, thanks Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people. 

As a Nobel Prize winning physicist or scientist, “Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our country [economy].” 

This, again, is the President speaking -- “During his time as Secretary, Steve helped my administration move America towards real energy independence.  Over the past four years we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs.”

You can read the full statement at your leisure.  With that, I’ll go to questions.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Does the President consider the attack on our embassy in Turkey to be a terrorist attack?  And does he have any information about who may have perpetrated it?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s an excellent question.  A suicide bombing on the perimeter of an embassy is by definition an act of terror.  It is a terrorist attack.  However, we do not know at this point who is responsible or the motivations behind the attack.  The attack itself is clearly an act of terror.

Q    And on another topic, the birth control opt-out -- is this a recognition that the initial rules that were put forward were an overreach?

MR. CARNEY:  No, not at all.  For details about the rulemaking process, on which there is news today from HHS, I refer you to HHS.  I would remind you, however, of the policy that the President outlined last year, and in outlining it he said two important criteria:  One, we had to ensure that women have access to preventative services, like contraception, and that the policy also respects religious beliefs.  Those guidelines, those criteria have been followed by the department in promulgating this rule, this proposed rule.  And as part of that process there is more comment that will be taken on it.  But for details I’d refer you to HHS.

Q    Senator Hagel came under hard criticism from Republicans at his hearing yesterday.  His performance was also panned as being lethargic and defensive.  Does the White House have concerns that his chances for nomination -- confirmation may be slipping?  Are you willing to wage a protracted battle to ensure that his nomination goes through?  And can you say how he prepared for that hearing?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll say a couple of things.  First of all, we expect the Senate to confirm Senator Hagel to the position of Secretary of Defense.  By my estimates and reading of press reports, there has been a net increase in the number of confirmed “yes” votes for Senator Hagel’s confirmation since the hearing ended. 

In terms of the hearing itself, what struck me was the stridency of some of the questioning from Republican critics, his former colleagues and the focus on a war that this President ended over which we can all agree there is disagreement.  The President fully supports Senator Hagel’s views on this.  They were the President’s views.  They were the views the President expressed when he ran for office in 2008 and won.  They were the views that he expressed in a campaign against Senator McCain who spent most of his time asking about Senator Hagel’s views on Iraq.

The President promised to end that war, and he did.  At the time, in 2008, as I recall, Senator McCain suggested we might have troops in Iraq for 100 years.  That’s certainly not a position that President Obama or then-Senator Obama subscribed to; it's obviously not a position that Senator Hagel believes was the right one.  And the fact that there is a disagreement over that I think we can all posit. 

What I can tell you is that the President believes that Senator Hagel will make an excellent Secretary of Defense and that he will be confirmed.  And he looks forward to working with Senator Hagel in that position as we continue to advance our national security priorities. 

Q    I'd like to return to a topic that came up yesterday.  Today's jobs data showed the unemployment rate rising to 7.9 percent.  It's kind of hovered in that range for a number of months.  To be sure, the economy created jobs but it's at a relatively modest pace.  We had a report recently of contraction in the nation's output in the fourth quarter of last year. 

Increasingly, you have people like Laura Tyson writing columns calling for the need for a plan for faster growth, not deficit reduction.  What does the President tell -- I know you've talked about how all the President's plans envision job creation.  But what does the President tell his advisors when he sees these signs of a sluggish recovery?  What is he asking in the way of things to speed recovery, create jobs, and stimulate growth?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll go to the narrow question first.  Every time the President meets with his economic advisors to discuss policy proposals and refinements to existing policies, the focus is on job creation and economic growth, and that includes when we have discussions about deficit reduction.  As I've said many times, and as the President has made clear, deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself; it is a means to, if done right, the desired goal, which is greater growth and greater job creation as part of an overall economic policy. 

I would note that today's jobs figures and the revisions that we saw in previous months' jobs figures mean that over 35 months, we have created 6.1 million private sector jobs.  We created, in 2012 -- and I revise from my remarks the other day when I said 2 million -- we created 2.2 million, now, with the revisions, jobs in 2012.  That means that we have been moving in the right direction when it comes to job creation.

What is also true is that when this President took office in January of 2009, we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.  We were in economic free fall.  We were losing, we were hemorrhaging jobs at something like three- quarters of a million jobs per month.  And the hole dug by that recession in jobs terms was more than 8.5 million. 

We still have work to do.  And we need to make sure, to your first point and the first part of your question, that when we devise economic policies and we negotiate with Congress on how to move forward, that we cannot neglect the essential responsibility to ensure that the policies we put in place promote job creation, promote economic growth. 

And that is why in every proposal the President has put forward -- every budget, every submission to the super committee, every document he has placed before Speaker Boehner in their negotiations -- he has included within his overall deficit reduction plans specific measures to invest in our economy to ensure that it continues to grow, to ensure that it creates jobs. 

Specific members that addressed some of the weaknesses in our economy -- the need to grow jobs within the infrastructure, within the construction business -- if the Congress had passed the American Jobs Act, those components that they refused to pass -- thousands, tens of thousands of people would be -- more people would be at work in the construction industry.  And that’s an industry that has been rebounding of late, very importantly.

If Republicans hadn’t refused to go along with it, the substantial job loss we’ve seen in state and local employment, especially among teachers, would have been addressed through the American Jobs Act.  These are ideas that the President continues to insist be part of any proposal moving forward when it comes to overall economic policy.

Yes, Jon.

Q    John Kerry is quoted in the Boston Globe saying that the President offered him the job of Secretary of State a full week before Susan Rice pulled out.  Is that timeline accurate?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have conversations to read out to you.  What I can tell you is that -- two things.  One, the President is very confident that now Secretary Kerry will be an excellent member of his Cabinet and will serve auspiciously in that position.  He also believes that Ambassador Rice has done and will continue to do an excellent job on the President’s national security team as our representative to the United Nations, and that she could do any job in that field very ably, and that’s what he said at the time. 

Ambassador Rice made the decision to withdraw from that process.  At the time -- and we discussed it often back before you were in this chair, Jon, but I know you covered it from elsewhere -- the really absurd obsession for political purposes by critics on Capitol Hill on the talking points provided for appearances on a Sunday show with regards to the attack in Benghazi, that remains I think an unfortunate episode, one that will not reflect well on the Senate in the long run or on those who continue to press it.

The President is very glad that Ambassador Rice is continuing to serve in his Cabinet and on his team as our Ambassador to the United Nations.

Q    The reason why I ask is he apparently -- Senator Kerry is -- soon-to-be Secretary Kerry is --

MR. CARNEY:  Moments away, I guess, yes.

Q    -- is reading this out.  I mean, he said the President called him a week before and he said -- this is Kerry, quoted, “He called me and said ‘You’re my choice.  I want you to do this.’  He asked me to keep it quiet.  I did, I sat on it.”

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to --

Q    Now, the reason why I ask is because you from that podium told us just two days before Rice pulled out that the decision had not been made, so I’m just trying to see who is right here, you or Kerry.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that I’m not going to read out specific conversations.  I speak for the President, and the President, when he makes a decision, announces it.  And that was the case.

Q    Any concern that Kerry is kind of reading out a private conversation with the President?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  The President is enormously gratified that Senator Kerry was confirmed by such a substantial margin by his former colleagues and looks forward to what he expects to be excellent service as the head of the State Department.

Q    And just one other quick one.  There’s a report that an exact replica of the Oval Office is being built in the Eisenhower building while the renovations are going on.  Is that accurate?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer to GSA for construction and renovation information.

Q    Given the President would be in there, that's going to be tough --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would refer to the GSA.  I have no moving plans to announce.

Q    Okay.  What’s the balance that the administration is trying to strike with the proposed rules on contraception?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s reflected in the criteria I just repeated for you, the criteria that he made clear were important to him as these rules were put in place, which is that we need to provide preventative services -- access to preventative services for all women, and that includes contraception.  And we also needed to respect religious beliefs, and that is the balance the President made clear he wanted to be kept in mind as these rules were proposed and developed.

For details on them, I honestly just don't have details on them.  I would refer you to HHS.  I believe they're briefing on them this afternoon.

Q    Now, a couple of days ago you described what you think are changes in Republican positions on the sequester as nakedly political.  So I just want to refer you --

MR. CARNEY:  I stand by that.

Q    Okay, I thought you might.  In November of 2011, the President said, “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.  There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that's a quote taken wholly out of context.  That's in reference to attempts to eliminate part of the sequester and not the other, which would suggest that when the Republicans and Democrats worked together to forge the Budget Control Act and to reach that compromise that some members were crossing their fingers when they signed on the dotted line.

The fact is the sequester was designed -- defense cuts, nondefense cuts, half and half; both of them onerous, both of them bad policy -- specifically to compel Congress to avoid the implementation of the sequester by doing the responsible thing and coming up with $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction in a balanced and appropriate way.  That's what the President was talking about.  There were discussions underway about, oh, well, let’s just remove part of the sequester, the part we don't like, even though that was never the agreement, and it was wholly disingenuous to suggest that that was an appropriate course to take.

The entire sequester is bad policy.  It was designed to be bad policy, both on the defense across-the-board cuts and the nondefense across-the-board cuts. 

The negative consequences of implementation would be bad across the board.  That’s the point.  So Congress needs to do its job.  The President has put forward compromise proposals that would eliminate the sequester entirely, achieve the $1.2 trillion and then some in additional deficit reduction, in a balanced way.  He looks forward to working with Congress to do that.  And that’s how it was designed, and that’s how that quote was understood at the time.

Q    So the veto is a dead issue?  You want the sequester removed or realigned?

MR. CARNEY:  We want the sequester -- we do not believe the sequester should be -- we think, unlike Republicans who are now saying it’s a good political card to have in your back pocket, that it wouldn’t be so bad if it were implemented, which contradicts scores of things they said last year when it was potentially going to come to pass -- the President continues to believe, consistent with his previous position, that the sequester is bad policy and we should avoid it by implementing further responsible deficit reduction in a balanced way.

So I’m not -- the point is, I’m not sure what you’re asking.  Does the President oppose implementation of the sequester?  Absolutely, consistent with his position all along.  Have some Republicans now contradicted themselves and said the sequester would be fine?  Yes.

Q    To follow up on Jonathan’s point, a question:  So you do not, from the podium, wish to in any way correct Senator Kerry’s quote?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to get into private conversations between the President and a Senator or a Cabinet member.  What I can tell you is that the President made an announcement.  He had made a decision, he made an announcement.

Q    Jay, was the HHS announcement today prompted by legal suits that challenge the contraception?  And would you expect it to resolve those legal suits?

MR. CARNEY:  These are details that I would have to refer you to HHS to answer.  What I can tell you is that there’s a process in place, there’s a preliminary process and then a stage and a process of rulemaking that is entirely consistent with the way these things work.  And the rules themselves, or the proposed rules, are in keeping with the criteria the President laid out when we had this discussion last year.

Q    On the jobs numbers, there are indications from the conference, from what I believe, that more people are delaying their retirement, and that’s having an impact on youth employment.  Does that trouble you?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t seen those reports, and I would refer you for detailed analysis of the jobs report to Alan Krueger’s writings on this, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. 

What I can tell you is in 2012, with the revisions, the average monthly job creation was -- the average of each month at the time was 142,000 per month.  It’s now been revised up to 181,000 per month.  Again, that means that we had job creation in 2012 of more than 2 million jobs -- 2.2 million jobs.  We had an additional hundred -- these are private sector jobs -- additional, I believe, 166,000 private sector jobs added by businesses in January.  That continues a now 35-month trend -- I want to make that clear.  I think the other day I said 54 -- a 35-month trend of positive job growth in the private sector. 

And the President believes we need to continue the work towards recovery from the terrible recession and towards further economic growth and job creation beyond that.  We need to pass laws that enhance the recovery, enhance job creation, enhance middle-class security, and position this country for the kind of economic performance in the 21st century that the United States enjoyed in the 20th.

Q    Jay, thanks.  I want to travel more on HHS.  Under the announcement, it said that the new opt-out would not expand “the universe of employer plans that would qualify for the exemptions beyond what was intended in the 2012 final rules.”  How can the administration guarantee that?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Kristen, I appreciate it.  I just -- I do not have details on these rules.  They’re briefing on them.  I just am not in a position to answer questions about the specifics of the rulemaking process since HHS has done that.  When I’m back on Monday, I may have more -- or I think we’re traveling Monday, but when I gaggle.  But at this point, they have all the information.

Q    And on the sequester, can you update us on any discussions that have been going on between the White House and congressional leaders to avert the sequester?  I mean, has any progress been made given that we’re getting closer to the deadline?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that our position, which is, I believe, shared by many in Congress, is that we need to approach this in a balanced way.  There are ways to do this that would eliminate the sequester, would do it in a balanced way, would allow us to continue to invest in our economy and help it grow and create jobs.  And we will work with Congress to help bring that about. 

I don’t have specific progress to report to you, but the President does believe that progress needs to be made; that it is not -- it may be viewed by some on Capitol Hill as sound political strategy to flirt with or allow sequester to take place.  The President believes that’s bad policy.  We saw a 40-year record drop in defense spending in the fourth quarter that had to do in part with anticipation of the implementation of the sequester, and that obviously had negative consequences for GDP. 

So we ought to get about the business of reaching an agreement on balanced deficit reduction that makes the sequester what it was always meant to be, which was eliminated by better policy.

Q    Given that we’re getting so close to the deadline, has the President been in touch with congressional leaders in recent weeks?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any conversations to read out of the President’s, but we are engaged with Congress on this issue.  We look forward to proposals from congressional leaders on how to address this in a responsible and balanced way, and we fully intend to make our views clear and our positions clear in the coming days.

Q    And more broadly, Jay, obviously the President has been talking a lot about immigration, gun policies.  Is he concerned that he’ll lose momentum on those issues as we get closer to the sequester and then obviously the other fiscal issues that are looming?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, these are all important issues.  The number-one priority that this President has is what he has always had, which is restoring economic growth and job creation in this country to a place where we, as America, are positioned for the 21st century for the kind of economic performance that we enjoyed in the 20th.  And that means recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.  It means investing in the right areas of our economy to help it grow, to help it create and develop industries that provide well-paying jobs to Americans here; that allow us to address energy issues for the 21st century in ways that produce economic benefits for this country; that allow us to ensure that our kids are getting properly educated for the 21st-century economy.  And that means making investments in education.  It means trying to address a situation where even as we have now for 35 straight months seen private sector job creation, we have for much of that time seen job loss in state and local governments, a vast portion of it in education, i.e. school teachers.  That’s why the President has put forward proposals to Congress to try to address that problem.  And he’ll continue to push forward.  This is his highest priority. 

It’s important to look at things like immigration reform, as businesses have very vocally and publicly, as an economic necessity.  The economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform are manifold and very important, and that’s one of the reasons -- a principal reason why the President believes we need to come together in a bipartisan way and get this done. 

There is no reason to delay.  There is every reason, both economic and otherwise, to continue the progress that’s been made that we’ve seen and get it done, get a bill passed that represents the consensus here that’s building, that reflects the principles the President has put forward and that are shared by the bipartisan group in the Senate and make it law, make it fact.


Q    Are there any changes in the way the White House may proceed tactically to ensure Hagel is confirmed?  For example, changes in the way it does outreach to the Hill, or asking members to come forward perhaps and endorse Mr. Hagel?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Peter, all I can see is what I said initially, which is that by my read of news reports, the number of senators who have said positively that they will vote to confirm Senator Hagel as Secretary of Defense has increased since the hearing yesterday.  And we anticipate and hope that the Senate will act quickly to confirm him and put him in place at the Pentagon.

Q    Those same news reports also panned his performance in terms of the way he answered various senators’ questions.  I know you took issue with the tough questioning by Republican senators.  Is the White House pleased with the way Senator Hagel answered questions?

MR. CARNEY:  I think Senator Hagel answered the questions appropriately and did a fine job.  Part of the -- I mean, if you look, if you take all the news clips -- not the whole performance, but the news clips that have dominated television reporting on this -- they have focused on a series of exchanges that I think by any estimation largely represent badgering by questioners over issues like what was -- why did you disagree with me over Iraq.  And we are prepared to say that then-Senator Obama had a view on Iraq.  It was one of the reasons why he ran for President and ran on that position and won in 2008 against Senator McCain.  He vowed to end the war in Iraq in a responsible way that protected our national security interests; he has done that.  And he is now focused on winding down the war in Afghanistan.

Now, somewhat bizarrely, given that we have 66,000 Americans in uniform in Afghanistan, senators yesterday, in a hearing for the nomination of a Secretary of Defense, asked very few questions about that active war; instead, they wanted to re-litigate the past.  And that argument will continue, no doubt, and will be discussed by participants and then historians.  We feel very comfortable about where President Obama has been and is on that, and where Senator Hagel has been and is on that, with regards to the argument and discussion and debate about Iraq. 

What he's focused on, the President and Senator Hagel, is on the challenges that we have today around the world, our national security challenges.  And they include Afghanistan, a subject which got relatively short shrift yesterday among the senators who were concerned about re-litigating the past. 

We believe he will be confirmed.  As I said before, he has -- I think there has been an increase in the number of senators who have come out in support of him, not a decrease, since the hearing.  And while the process is important and it's a vital function of our democracy -- the confirmation process -- I would be stunned if, in the end, Republican senators chose to try to block the nomination of a decorated war veteran who was once among their colleagues in the Senate as a Republican. 

Q    You seem very unprepared for --

Q    Were Hagel's answers on Iran appropriately --

MR. CARNEY:  I think the -- it depends on what --

Q    Elected, legitimate leadership?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I addressed that yesterday.  I think Senator Hagel addressed some of the questions about his answers on Iran. 

Ultimately, as I said yesterday, we judge the regime in Tehran by its behavior, by its flagrant violation of its international obligations.  That behavior is certainly illegitimate.  Ultimately, it's for the Iranian people to judge and decide the legitimacy of their government.  We deal with the government we have to deal with.  And in our dealings with that government with our international partners, we have been relentless in pursuit of a policy that insists that Iran give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, get right with its international obligations.  And their refusal to do that thus far has resulted in the greatest isolation that it's ever experienced, and the most punitive sanctions regime in history.

Q    But Hagel's answers were appropriate and fine on Iran?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, are you -- you want to play a gotcha-game -- I know you want to write that down.  I'm saying that if you want to ask me a specific question about Iran, or a specific answer he gave, I can certainly answer that.

The Senator answered questions for something like, I don't know, hours yesterday -- Seven hours, five and a half hours?

Q    Eight hours.

MR. CARNEY:  Eight hours, thank you.  And I think conducted himself appropriately and well, and the President looks forward to his confirmation as Secretary of Defense.

Q    Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, and then Roger.

Q    Jay, on the regarding case of attack in Ankara, a Turkish high-level official, Minister of the Interior, said the suicide bomber was likely connected to a domestic militant group, and the Prime Minister also said the attack demonstrated a need for international cooperation against terrorism.  So first question, what would be your message to Turkey for its long-term terrorism problem?  Second, what new steps do you think U.S. administration might be willing to take to help to Turkey?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think this is an incident that has just occurred.  I don't want to get ahead of it.  It’s being investigated.  We strongly condemn what was a suicide attack against our embassy in Ankara, and which took place at the embassy’s outer security perimeter.  And as I said earlier, details are still emerging about what exactly happened, who was responsible.  It was clearly an act of terror and it cost the life of at least one individual, a Turkish security guard, as you know.

We’ll work closely and are working closely with Turkish authorities to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those killed and injured, and we greatly appreciate the support we have received from our Turkish friends in responding to this terrible tragedy.

Turkey remains one of our strongest partners in the region, a NATO ally.  We have worked shoulder to shoulder with the Turks to counter terror threats -- this goes to your question -- and this will only strengthen our resolve.  Turkey has been a very important ally, broadly speaking, and in the effort to counter terrorism.

I think I had promised Roger, then -- I’m sorry -- and then Brianna.

Q    Thanks.  The President is speaking to the Democratic Senate Retreat next week in Annapolis.  Do you have any sketch of the main message there?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any scheduling announcements to make or remarks to preview.

Q    All right.  And is a statement on Ed Koch coming?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, I’m sure it is.  Yes.

Q    And what’s the President’s plans for Super Bowl?

MR. CARNEY:  He will watch it.  (Laughter.)  With interest.

Q    Friends over?  Members of Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know who will join him in watching the game.  I know although his Bears are not in it, he looks forward to the game, some interesting dynamics there -- brother versus brother.  I think we all expect it to be highly entertaining.

Q    Who does he think is going to win?

MR. CARNEY:  I actually have not asked him.  I meant to ask him yesterday and I forgot.  I don't know who he favors, in fact, in this particular matchup.  I think, again, absent his beloved Chicago Bears he probably just has an interest in a close and good football game.

Q    Is this an opportunity to mix with members of Congress?  Or is it just going to be something --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any announcements to make about who is going to be there.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  The initial accommodation that was announced last winter on the HHS mandate, it appeared to thread a needle to appease progressive Catholics that the administration had inadvertently upset during what was arguably a very politically charged time of an election year.  Why not spell out the details of the accommodation that we’re seeing today back on February 10th of last year when the President came out and said we weren’t going to spend a year doing this, we’re going to spend a week or two doing this?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, because there’s a process that is required to take place, and entirely appropriately.  What was announced last year was an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking -- that’s the kind of phrase you could only find in Washington, right, but that’s how it works -- an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, which is then followed by a notice of proposed rulemaking, which is what we have today.  And in between there, there is work on the rule.  And that’s what’s happened as a result, in part, of input that’s brought it as part of the process.

But, again, for details about how this builds on and clarifies what we had last year, I would refer you to HHS.  I just don’t have the details for you.

Q    Are you expecting to have support from religiously affiliated employers?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, the President has been clear about his views on this.  He’s been very clear about what he believes are two compelling interests, which is the necessity of and the appropriateness of providing preventive services to women across the country, including contraception, and of making sure that we are mindful of religious liberty.  And he has instructed those who work for him on this issue to be cognizant of those criteria as they develop the rules.

Q    I mean, he came out here and made a statement.  If it was such a priority for him, why couldn’t this have happened a year ago?

MR. CARNEY:  Brianna, you’re talking about a process, a rulemaking process that is common in agencies that develop rules based on laws all the time.  I would refer you --

Q    That he got involved in to indicate that there would be an acceleration.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he answered questions about his views on it and they were very clear, those views.  And those views informed the rulemaking process.  In terms of how that has unfolded, I think the pace and direction is entirely within the norm, and I refer you to HHS for more details.

Q    And then if employers don’t pay for the coverage and employees aren’t paying for the contraceptive coverage but insurers are paying for it, then isn’t the cost of it being absorbed by other insured folks or maybe even taxpayers?

MR. CARNEY:  You’re asking me details about how this process works that HHS can answer for you.  I will do a little research over the weekend and promise, if you want me to answer those questions, even though they could be answered today down the street, I will have answers for you.  The details about the rulemaking process are available as we speak at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Q    I mean, this is a very controversial part of this whole thing.

MR. CARNEY:  Brianna, I --

Q    I just -- I don’t understand why the White House -- obviously they’re involved; they know.

MR. CARNEY:  But I suggest -- you probably even have a cell phone, you could go out and call HHS now and get more details.  I don’t have them at this time for you.

Q    Jay, can you respond to criticism that’s just come in about HHS?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Is this the Daily Show?


Q    Thanks, Jay.  When is the President going to sign the debt limit bill?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to get back to you.  I'm sure he will --

Q    Next week, the House is saying it’s going to vote on a bill to force the President to submit a balanced budget.  What do you think about that?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has put forward repeatedly budget proposals that address our fiscal challenges, that bring our -- a very important deficit-and-debt-to-GDP ratios to a level that puts us on a sustainable fiscal path for a significant period of time.  His proposals reflect the need for balance; the need to ensure that even as we bring our deficits down that we do not ask seniors, or families with children who have disabilities, or families who are struggling to send their kids to college to bear the burden so that we can allow hedge fund managers to keep a loophole in the tax code that results in them paying a vastly lower tax rate than most of us in this room, and most every average American out there. 

That’s a balanced approach that is broadly supported by the American people and it’s the responsible way to reduce our deficit.  It’s a an approach that was endorsed by several bipartisan commissions who have addressed with their own proposals the fiscal challenges we face, and it’s the approach that the President absolutely intends to put forward as he continues negotiations with Congress.  It is an approach, by the way, that was the primary subject of debate in last year’s election and the American people were pretty clear about which approach they preferred.


Q    Richard Cordray -- 43 Republican senators have signed a letter to the President today saying they will block any nominee for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless you change the law.  It’s the same stance they had in the last Congress.  I’m wondering if you have any reaction to that.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not aware of the letter.  It is most unfortunate that a minority of the U.S. Senate continues to oppose implementation of Wall Street reform that was designed entirely to protect the American taxpayer from the kind of crisis that we saw engendered by the collapse of our financial sector in 2007 and 2008. 

It was designed to protect -- the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was to make sure that average Americans who do business with and have dealings with financial institutions have somebody in Washington looking out for their interests -- because financial institutions, as you know, have plenty of people here in Washington looking out for theirs. 

So it is unfortunate that Republicans, I guess, as you cited, have continued their efforts to oppose this bureau, oppose the implementation of a key component of the Wall Street reform law.  And it’s a tough one to explain to the American people whose memories are not short about what this country went through and what the taxpayers had to do to prevent the total collapse of the financial sector as we dealt with institutions that were too big to fail, and both the Bush administration and the Obama administration had to make decisions that were unpopular but were necessary to save total collapse.

Fortunately, the money that was invested -- the taxpayer money that was invested by this administration has been paid back.  But the Wall Street reform was designed to ensure that never again would an institution that had to be unwound have to be funded in that process by the American taxpayer. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an important element of Wall Street reform.  The President urges the Senate to confirm Richard Cordray to the head of that bureau.  As the letter you cited demonstrates, he has substantially more than a majority of support within the U.S. Senate.  That should surely be enough for confirmation.


Q    Jay, I know you don’t want to address directly personnel or Cabinet appointments, but let me ask you a separate question.  The President is going to be giving his State of the Union address on the 12th, and many folks in the federal departments are looking to the leadership that they're going to have to try to implement the President's agenda or whatever.  And he's had quite a number, even in the economic departments -- the USTR or Commerce or Labor -- vacancies.  So does the President hope to be able to point his federal workers towards the leadership that they're going to have by the State of the Union address?  Can we see or expect that --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it's a good question, but I do not have a timetable to provide to you for further personnel announcements. 

What I can say is that when it comes to Cabinet service, the President's Cabinet in the first term had remarkably low turnover, historically.  And it is true now, after four years, that there have been a number of departures and, therefore, spots to fill.  But the President is doing that in a very deliberate way, and will continue to make announcements of key appointments as he’s ready to make them.  But he’ll do that expeditiously.  And then he will hope -- going back to questions about Senator Hagel -- that then the Senate -- and Richard Cordray -- will move quickly to consider the nominations and confirm them as appropriate.

Q    Jay, I was wondering if you have any reaction to the Human Rights Watch report that came out yesterday.  It was very critical of the U.S. on several points -- immigration policy, the fact that the U.S. is the country that has the most people in jails in the world, and also the policies -- “abusive practices” in Guantanamo -- on one note.  And the other question is, Senator Menendez is a key point person leading the effort for immigration reform.  Is the White House concerned about the Senate Ethics Committee reviewing allegations that he's involved in some sort of scandal?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I have nothing to say about that.  I would refer you to the Senate. 

On the broader issue, I'm not aware of the report.  I think the President, when it comes to immigration, has put forward, again, comprehensive immigration reform that he believes is absolutely essential for the health of our economy and the protection of our middle class.  And he looks forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and the House to get that confirmed.  He's made the fact that that’s a priority of his very clear.

I'm not familiar with the report you cite, so I can't really respond.


Q    Jay, following the confirmation hearing yesterday, the LGBT military group, OutServe-SLDN, issued a statement saying Senator Hagel as Defense Secretary must use his authority to ban discrimination and guarantee equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the military.  That non-discrimination issue, like the benefits issue, has sort of forgone unaddressed during the confirmation process.  Does the White House expect Senator Hagel to make this policy happen if he is confirmed as Defense Secretary?

MR. CARNEY:  I would just point you to the numerous answers the Senator gave in response to questions about his support for the President's positions on issues regarding LGBT rights, including with regard to service in our military.  I don’t have anything more for you, but the President’s positions on these issues are clear and he continues to intend to make progress on them, as he made clear in his inaugural.

Q    Senator Hagel did express, in responses to questions, that he’d move expeditiously on the benefits issue, and he said the issue has the President’s attention.  When will these benefits be enacted?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think expeditiously is when they will get the attention, as Senator Hagel rightly answered, and hopefully with him at the Pentagon as soon as possible.


Q    Jay, has the White House been coordinating the timing of the departures of Cabinet members?

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of.  I think Cabinet members have made the decisions that they’ve made and had conversations with the President about what their plans are.

Q    It seems as if they’re neatly stretched out.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, how do you square the two questions?  One says that we’re way behind in filling these positions; another says that we’re --

Q    Not that you're behind.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we need to get them all done really quickly.  So the President is obviously having -- has had and will continue to have conversations with the leading members of his team, including Cabinet secretaries.

Q    Are all of these departures voluntary?  Nobody is being pushed?

MR. CARNEY:  I know of none that aren’t voluntary.  And I would simply say that the President, as you’ve seen in the statements that he’s made after some of his Cabinet secretaries have announced their departures, he’s been enormously grateful for their service and their contribution to a series of policies that have helped pull this country out of the worst economy we’ve known, most of us, in our lifetimes, and have pointed us in a far better direction.  And he looks forward to those who are -- working with those who remain and working with those who will join the team after being confirmed by the Senate.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks, you all.

Q    Week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, yes, week ahead.  Hold on.  On Monday, the President will travel to the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he will deliver remarks and discuss with local leaders and law enforcement officials his comprehensive set of common-sense ideas to reduce gun violence. 

Minneapolis is a city that has taken important steps to reduce gun violence and foster a conversation in the community about what further action is needed.  The President will visit with members of the community about their experiences and discuss additional steps that can be taken at the federal level to reduce gun violence.  The President will return to Washington, D.C. in the evening.

On Tuesday, the President will be here at the White House attending meetings.

On Wednesday, the President will attend the Democratic Senate Caucus Retreat in Annapolis, Maryland.  A preview of the remarks I do not have.

On Thursday, the President will deliver remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast here, and then in the afternoon he will travel to Leesburg, Virginia, to deliver remarks at the House Democratic Issues Conference. 

On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

Thanks very much.  Happy Friday, have a good weekend.

Q    Happy Super Bowl.

MR. CARNEY:  And happy Super Bowl.  Go, team.

12:36 P.M. EST

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