Press Briefing

March 05, 2013 | 48:22 | Public Domain

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 03/04/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here.  I just want to note the President has a Cabinet meeting at 1:00 p.m., so we're going to need to move through this quickly.  I will try to be precise and concise in my answers and move around as quickly as I can.  And for that reason, I have no topper.

Associated Press.

Q    Thank you.  Now that the sequester cuts have begun to take effect I'm wondering what we should be expecting from the White House.  Are officials going to be trying to point out negative impacts of the sequester?  Is there any effort that's going to be underway to try to build some type of public reaction to pressure Washington to avert these cuts?

MR. CARNEY:  We made clear that the imposition of the sequester will have serious consequences for middle-class Americans across the country.  The sequester will have serious consequences for Defense Department contractors, civilian workers, and for our defense readiness.  It will have serious consequences for families whose child will lose a Head Start slot, for workers on the border -- border security agents, for air traffic controllers who will have their hours cut. 

And I'm sure you will be hearing about these impacts from Americans themselves who will wonder why Republicans made this choice, why they wouldn't go along with what they did two months ago, why they wouldn't go along with balanced deficit reduction, why they chose protecting tax loopholes for the few rather than protecting the jobs of the many or protecting our economy.

There have been and there will be specific effects that we'll see, and there will be the overall effect, which I don't think anybody argues with -- CBO, Macroeconomics Advisers, Moody’s, others have estimated that we will lose up to three-quarters of a million jobs because of sequester, if it stays in place, and our economy will grow by a full half a percentage point more slowly than it would have otherwise -- or more.

We'll continue to talk about this because it’s bad for the country.  It’s unnecessary.  It’s a self-inflicted wound on the economy.  But we'll also continue to work on those things that the American people expect us to work on -- on creating jobs, growing the economy, making sure that we get comprehensive immigration reform, making sure that we move forward towards getting a comprehensive set of initiatives in place to reduce gun violence, and other things.

Q    What was the President asking from lawmakers he talked to on Saturday?  And can we also get a list of the lawmakers that he called?

MR. CARNEY:  The President had conversations with Republicans and Democrats over the weekend about the sequester specifically, and the broader issue of balanced deficit reduction.  And he spoke here the other day about believing that there is a caucus of common sense out there, lawmakers in both parties who understand that we need to do tough things to achieve entitlement reforms because that's the right thing for our economy, and we need to do tough things on tax reform -- tough things for Republicans -- go along with tax reform in a way that generate revenues to pay down our deficit. 

And that's the kind of discussion he’s having with lawmakers and he'll continue to have, because he believes that there are Republicans who -- both those who have spoken publicly about it and others who have not -- who support the general premise of balance, who support the idea that we should reform our tax code in a way that eliminates these special breaks for the few and the wealthy and the well-connected, and to use that revenue for reducing our deficit so that we don’t put the burden solely on senior citizens or families with children who have disabilities and the like. 

So he’ll continue those conversations.  I don’t have a list for you.  We’re trying to be clear that the President is having these conversations.  It’s not necessarily helpful for individual senators to have those conversations specifically read out.  But, of course, you’re welcome to contact senators yourself.


Q    Is the President open to having talks, or perhaps having talks already, with lawmakers specifically on finding ways to reduce the impacts of the sequester?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we’ve been very clear about the way the law is written and the fact that flexibility does not help the overall problem, because, as the Chairman of the Fed has said and many others have said, $85 billion withdrawn from our defense and nondefense discretionary budgets will have a negative impact.  That’s what the CBO has said.  That’s what outside economists have said. 

And certainly we’re seeing some of those impacts already on regular folks out there who are trying to make ends meet but are finding out through warn notices or other advisories that they may lose their jobs, or they’re going to lose some of their pay, or they’re going to be furloughed. 

So we’re working with and we’ll continue to work with Congress towards achieving a compromise that eliminates that sequester, that achieves balanced deficit reduction, that does it in a way that allows our economy to grow and to help the middle class grow.  Because the President firmly believes that our economy is at its strongest and its best when it grows from the middle out and not the top down.  That’s been proven by our history.  So that’s the effort that we’re undertaking.

Q    You talk about moving forward with gun control, immigration reform, but how do you do that when we’re mired in this discussion about the budget?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you do it because you have to do it, because these issues matter and they’re important.  And there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who believe that those issues are important and should be acted on, and we’re working with members, both Republicans and Democrats, on those issues.  And they’re very key to the President’s second term agenda.  He thinks they’re the right thing for the country, the right thing for our families, the right thing for our economy.  So he’ll continue to work on those issues just as he will continue to work on enhancing our national security and continue to work on measures to, in spite of the impacts of the sequester, to improve job creation and economic growth, and help the middle class.

It is unfortunate -- again, this is a wholly unnecessary decision that was made by Republicans to allow this to happen.  If you step back, what is somewhat remarkable about it, because you see Republicans calling it a victory -- a victory for the tea party or a victory because they stood up to the President on spending -- but remember what Republican goals are supposed to be.  Republicans budgets call for an increase in defense spending, not the dramatic cut we’re seeing with the imposition of the sequester.  Republicans generally talk about increasing our border security presence, consistent with the way it’s increased over the years, doubled since 2004.  Obviously, sequester does the opposite.  Republicans say they’re the party of deficit reduction, long-term deficit reduction; the sequester doesn’t achieve that.  The Republicans say that they want entitlement reforms; there’s nothing in the sequester that achieves entitlement reform.  They say they want tax reform; there’s nothing here that meets that objective.

The President has put forward a proposal that does meet those objectives -- that achieves entitlement reform, that achieves tax reform in a balanced and fair way, that allows for the necessary level of funding for our national security interests, that allows for the continued strengthening of our border security. 

And he hopes that having achieved this empty victory, at least as they see it, the Republicans will understand that their goals are being unmet here, so not only are Americans suffering from this -- regular folks -- but their objectives are being unmet.  And there’s an opportunity to change that dynamic, to do something that's good for the country, that's good for the economy, and that's to come together around a plan that would reduce our deficit in a balanced way, that would embrace both entitlement reform and tax reform towards deficit reduction.

One of the things that's striking to me when you talk about the differences between these two parties is we’re only asking that the Republicans do what the Speaker said he wanted to do just two months ago -- enact tax reform, achieve revenue by closing loopholes for the well-off and the well-connected, and use that money towards deficit reduction, a very conservative goal. 

The President has put forward entitlement reforms -- some tough entitlement reforms that achieve savings.  And he, as part of a balanced approach, would commit to doing those, as his plan calls for, if Republicans would commit to what they said they wanted to do just a few months ago, which is tax reform in the name of deficit reduction.  It is the conservative thing to do to use that money to reduce the deficit, not to funnel it into tax cuts for wealthy folks.  That seems counterproductive, to say the least.  So the President hopes the common-sense caucus expands in support of those ideas.


Q    Jay, isn’t the sequester really here to stay?  Because I think what you saw over the weekend is that you heard the two Republican leaders -- Mitch McConnell and John Boehner -- start talking about how we need to work through a continuing resolution.  They were confident that that would happen.  What makes you think that you can go back and do away with these cuts in the sequester?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, for all the reasons I just mentioned, and that is that the sequester doesn’t achieve any of the stated objectives of the Republican Party, of Republican leaders.  It creates all the harm that Republican leaders said it would create when they were decrying the sequester just a few months ago.

Q    They said they’re not going to come back and do anything in terms of revenues.  There’s not one Republican, Mitch McConnell said, who is in favor of increasing revenues.  So it seems like you're at an impasse.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that's false on its face since there are a number of Republicans who said they support tax reform that creates revenues, and they’ve said so publicly, including very prominent Republicans.  So there’s that.

But the issue here is on the continuing resolution and funding the government.  We certainly support the idea that, as the President said from here, that we should not create another crisis on top of this one, another manufactured showdown; that Congress ought to pass a CR without drama, as it has a half dozen times since April of 2011 -- you probably didn't know it was that many times because there was no drama around it -- and to do that in a way that's practical and nonpolitical and consistent with the levels of the Budget Control Act. 

We’ll see what Congress does.  We’ll see what the Republicans do.  But the President, as you heard him say, would support that approach so that we don't add crisis upon crisis here.

But to the broader question about dealing with the sequester, we need to do that, but we can do it if we follow the path that the public says it wants Republicans and Democrats to follow that the President has embraced, that bipartisan commissions have said is the right way to go, and we hope that we can achieve that.  Because if we do, we can really unleash some of the potential, the bottled up potential in our economy that exists -- as many economists have said that 2013 could be a very strong year economically if Washington would stop doing harm to the economy and start doing things that would help the economy.

Q    And as a follow-up -- well, not really a follow-up, but maybe on a separate front.

MR. CARNEY:  I won’t hold you to it.

Q    Earlier this morning, Secretary Napolitano said that lines at some of the biggest airports over the weekend were 150 to 200 percent longer.  We’re asking Homeland Security for some kind of metrics to back that up.  But given the fact that there was sort of this back-and-forth over teacher layoffs with Secretary Duncan, and even the President talked about janitors that might be impacted at the Capitol -- that may not be the case -- what is the administration doing to make sure that these numbers are not hyped?  Because might that undercut your message?

MR. CARNEY:  Here’s the thing.  If you disagree with the CBO and with outside economic analysts who say that up to three-quarters of a million jobs will be lost, well, you should make that case.  Those are real people.  And of course many, many more will see their wages cut or their days on the job reduced.  That’s just a fact.  And the impact on the overall economy, that is an established, predicted fact by outside economists as well as the CBO.

There’s no way to do what the sequester calls for and not create these negative effects.  There are just numerous examples already of what’s going to happen.  The Department of Defense has informed Congress it will have to furlough 750,000 workers, and the Navy has told Virginia it will have to cancel maintenance on 11 ships.  The Army has begun curtailing training for all units except those deploying to Afghanistan.  The Department of Justice transmitted approximately 115,000 furlough notices to all DOJ employees.  General Dynamics NASSCO, a major ship design, construction and repair company, mailed warn letters to about 1,040 employees in San Diego, Norfolk and Mayport, informing them that they could be indefinitely laid off in April -- at the end of April through the summer, due to the possible cancellation or delay of maintenance and repair work and uncertainty created by sequestration.

These are the examples.  And I would refer you to the different agencies about how they’ll be felt and who -- which individuals will be harmed by them.  On the issue of the janitors, it is -- if you work for an hourly wage, and you earn overtime, and you depend on that overtime to make ends meet, it is simply a fact that a reduction in overtime is a reduction in your pay.  Now, obviously there are some folks who -- for whom working hourly is a distant memory if it’s a memory at all, but that’s a fact, and it’s a fact for many families.

Q    Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Major.

Q    One question on the flexibility issue that’s arising as House Republicans draft their continuing resolution -- to what degree is the administration interested in negotiating over flexibility for the defense side of this, which appears to be House Republicans’ central focus as they craft this amendment onto a rather standard continuing resolution?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would like to wait to see what Congress produces.  As Gene Sperling said over the weekend, we want to see something that is practical and nonpolitical and consistent with the levels established in the Budget Control Act that both parties agreed to overwhelmingly.  I’m not going to analyze hypothetical actions that they may take.  We’ll have to see what they produce.

Q    All right.  On Iran, is there any thought being given here at the White House of cancelling the President’s trip to Israel because there is not a government formed yet under Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. CARNEY:  We have no scheduling changes to announce.  The President is looking forward to, very much, his trip to Israel and the region, and we’re on course planning that trip.

Q:  There were developments over the weekend -- announcements from Iran about 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz, the IAEA report saying that they can no longer say categorically that all of the research and development is for peaceful uses.  And Prime Minister Netanyahu just told AIPAC a few moments ago Iran is getting closer, sanctions haven’t worked, and the red line time is getting -- drawing near.  I’d like to get your evaluation of all those developments on this front over the weekend.

MR. CARNEY:  There is no question, as we’ve said many times, that the window of opportunity for Iran will not remain open indefinitely.  There is opportunity here for Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, to get right with the international community and thereby rejoin the international community and end its isolation from the world because of its behavior.  But that period of opportunity, as the President has said and as others have said, will not last forever.  And our policy is founded upon the goal that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon, and the President is very serious about that.

Q    Would you characterize Iran’s reaction to the softened negotiating offer that the P5-plus-1 just made -- rebuffed it entirely -- this new -- Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point -- even when there is an effort to delay or soften the conditions set before, Iran responds with nothing.  And his point is technologically they’re getting closer.  I know this is a sort of catchphrase -- the window is not going to remain open indefinitely -- but the point seems to be, is it closing and are we getting to a point where this issue has to be resolved one way or the other, either through military means or some other means?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we take no option off the table, including the military option.  That’s a point the President has made repeatedly, A.  B, there is no question that the window, the door, the period of opportunity here will not last forever and that the more that Iran flouts --

Q    It can't last forever, that’s obvious.  What I’m trying to get at is, is it getting -- are we getting to a point where decisions have to be made very soon?

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no question -- well, I won’t characterize a timeframe here, but there is no question that as Iran continues to flout its responsibilities, as it continues to take seriously the insistence of the international community and fails to produce tangible progress in P5-plus-1 talks, that its opportunities to get right with the international community diminish, as does the timeframe in which they can do that.  But I’m not going to put a date certain -- an end date certain.  Obviously, there's a lot upon which that depends. 


Q    Jay, one of the President's top nominees, John Brennan, for the CIA, faces a committee vote tomorrow, I believe.  As you know, there have been lawmakers pushing for copies of these memos that show the legal underpinnings for the use of drone strikes.  Is the administration willing to share those memos with lawmakers?

MR. CARNEY:  We have, as you know, taken action to share advice from OLC to the relevant committee members.  We are working with the committee to provide information that is consistent with their requests, but obviously mindful of all the national security issues that are at stake in a situation like this.  And we look forward to John Brennan being confirmed -- passed out of committee and then confirmed by the Senate to be the next CIA director.  He is extraordinarily qualified for the position and he needs to get on the job.

Q    I understand that you've shared, as you say, the Office of Legal Counsel advice on it.  But do you think the nomination can get through without the actual memos being shown to lawmakers?

MR. CARNEY:  Ed, I can't get into a lot of detail about these issues.  We're working with the committee.  We have taken extraordinary measures in a unique situation to be forthcoming with information.  And we are continuing to work with the committee to meet their concerns.

Q    Two other quick things.  More than a week has passed since the initial reports suggesting that some of the President's outside advisors were offering access to him for a $500,000 contribution to Organizing for Action, this outside group that is at least connected with the President and his former campaign aides like Jim Messina.  My question is groups like Common Cause, which are usually not very friendly to the President's opposition, shall we say, has said that this group should be shut down altogether.  Can you give us any idea whether the President thinks that's a good idea?  Is he concerned about the perception out there?  Are you trying to push back on the idea that they will get access for $500,000?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I pushed back on it and I'll push back on it again.  Any notion that there is a set price for a meeting with the President of the United States is just wrong.  As you know, Organizing for Action was set up to promote the President's public policy agenda.  Therefore, as anyone would expect, the President would likely meet with their representatives to discuss his agenda.  But again, any notion that there's a price for meeting with the President is simply wrong.

I would send specific questions about how they do their fundraising to the organization.  But it is worth knowing that they are going beyond what is required by disclosing donors and not accepting any funds from lobbyists.  The bottom line here is that this is a separate organization, as we've noted, the existence of which is perfectly appropriate.  And the White House will engage with it consistent with the way we engage with a whole host of other outside constituencies. 

Q    But basically, people could still give money to this outside group as long as it's not directly attached to access. You've got nothing to do with the money that's going in there. 

MR. CARNEY:  The White House sets the President's schedule. And there is no price to meet with the President.  Organizations have fundraising.  They raise money and this one has committed to disclosing its fundraising activities.  But I would refer you to them for more on that.

Q    The last thing, on sequester.  At the top of this you said something to the effect of Republicans made a choice here to let these sequester cuts go through, the context of it.  The President has made choices as well, obviously, including the fact that his own staff came up with the idea for sequester.  I understand Republicans ended up voting for it and they bear some responsibility here as well it needs to be said.  However, does anyone here at the White House regret the fact that people inside this White House came up with this idea in the first place?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Senator Gramm and Rudman came up with the idea back in the 1980s. 

Q    They've been out of power a long time.

MR. CARNEY:  And let's be clear -- and those who were on the inside and those of you who covered it closely will remember that Republicans were pushing for a trigger, a hard trigger as part of the negotiations to avert a default.  The White House proposed numerous triggers that included revenues.  Republicans absolutely, adamantly, categorically refused to include revenues in the triggers, a position that may sound familiar.  They insisted on a spending-cut-only trigger.  That is what sequester is.  It is a spending-cut-only trigger.  The fact that it’s called that was because that's what it was called back in the 1980s under the deficit reduction package known as Gramm-Rudman-Hollings that President Reagan signed when they had a trigger, a spending-cuts-only trigger that was evenly divided between defense spending and nondefense spending.

And it’s true that that was put on the table as part of the demand for a spending-cuts-only trigger that “let’s do it the way they did it back under President Reagan,” our team said to Republicans, thinking that might be appealing.  And it was so appealing that John Boehner said he got 98 percent of what he wanted.  Every House Republican leader voted for it enthusiastically, and Speaker Boehner said he was pretty pleased with the outcome. 

So this is all pretty irrelevant.  What is relevant is that it was never supposed to be policy, and Republicans themselves on so many occasions that I’m sure we’ve all lost count said that we had to do everything we can to avert sequester, that it would be enormously damaging.  Speaker Boehner just a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal said it would do harm to our national defense and would cost thousands of jobs.  And he’s right. 

So it was a choice to allow sequester to take effect rather than embrace the idea that the American people strongly embrace, that a majority of Republicans strongly embrace out in the country, which is that we can close a few loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected, cap a few deductions, and achieve balanced deficit reduction in a way that would eliminate the sequester entirely.  Let’s just do that.  Let’s do that and Republicans can say that they achieved some very important goals that are elemental to Republican and conservative philosophy, which is we need deficit reduction, we need entitlement reform -- and the President says, I’ll meet you halfway towards that -- and we need tax reform and we’ll do that.  So let’s do it in a bipartisan, balanced way.

Jon, then Peter.

Q    Jay, how big a priority -- how high a priority is it for the President to win back the House of Representatives with the Democrats?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he’s obviously interested in the success of Democrats.  But I noted the story that probably prompted your question, and I think it goes without saying that the President wants those in his party to do well, but it is not a focus of his particularly at this point.  He is focused on trying to get a bipartisan consensus around some very important policy objectives:  balanced deficit reduction that helps our economy grow and create jobs; comprehensive immigration reform that helps our economy and the middle class; common-sense measures that reduce gun violence in this country; investments in clean energy technology that help build industries here in this country and help deal with climate change for the future.  So that’s what he’s focused on right now.

Q    Does he agree with the head of the Democratic House Campaign Committee who said, the President understands -- and he said this was based on a conversation with the President -- the President understands that to get anything done we need to get a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President certainly believes that, as other Presidents before him have believed, that it is easier sometimes to enact your agenda when you have more members of your party in Congress.  But it is also the President’s belief, and it is established in fact in recent history, that you can achieve important policy objectives with divided government, with, in his case, Republican leadership in the House and Republican semi-control in the Senate through the filibuster.  And that’s what he’s done, and he hopes to continue to do that.

I mean, we’re talking here about opportunities on immigration reform and other issues, including balanced deficit reduction, that require bipartisan support.  And based on what we know in terms of the progress the Gang of Eight is making, or the progress that’s being made in moving forward on reducing gun violence, and the progress that is represented by the voices of those Republicans who say they embrace what the majority of the country embraces, and they embrace what the majority of Republicans embrace when it comes to deficit reduction, that we can do these things.  And the President -- that’s what his focus is.

Q    To the Republicans who say that the President is -- they’re worried the President going into any one of those issues you just mentioned, going into this not necessarily to get anything done but to position himself to have a better run at the mid-term elections, I mean, just to quote Steve Israel again, “to have a legacy in 2016 he will need a House majority in 2014 and it has to start now.”

MR. CARNEY:  Look, it is just not accurate that the President doesn’t want these accomplishments.  He is expending great political capital and energy on the proposition that he wants immigration reform done in a bipartisan way and done early. That’s why he has pushed so hard for the Senate to move forward in its efforts.  That’s why he has pushed on gun violence measures and put forward a comprehensive package so early in his -- the first year of his second term.  And that’s why he continues to have on the table the offer that he made to Speaker Boehner when it comes to completing the $4-trillion job here of deficit reduction over 10 years that would help achieve that fiscally sustainable path that we want for our economy over the next decade.  These are things he believes we can do very soon if bipartisanship and a spirit of compromise on behalf of the American people is realized on Capitol Hill.

Q    So on that offer, I mean, you’re absolutely right that some prominent Republicans have come out in recent days and said that they could live with a plan that increased tax revenue -- not to replace the sequester, but as part of kind of a renewed effort at the grand bargain.  So are we going to see an effort --

MR. CARNEY:  But that would eliminate the sequester, which the whole -- the whole idea behind the --

Q    But it would be bigger than just eliminate.  You’re exactly right.  But it would be bigger.  So will there be an effort to jumpstart a grand bargain-type series of talks with Republicans in the coming weeks or months to achieve just that?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d hesitate to place labels on things.  I would simply say that the President is interested in moving forward on deficit reduction that pairs the twin objectives of entitlement reform and tax reform in the way that his proposal does, in a way that is consistent with Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin and others who have put forward ideas and proposals in a bipartisan way.  And it presents an opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats to achieve some important objectives -- objectives that are important to their parties, as well as to the country, and to move forward.

Q    So that's what the weekend calls were about?  The grand bargain, not --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the weekend calls were about trying to find common ground on the way to deal with the sequester and balanced deficit reduction.

Q    The big deal.

MR. CARNEY:  But they're linked.  First of all, the big deal has been partly accomplished.  So when the grand bargain negotiations began with Speaker Boehner, the goal was $4 trillion.  Now we’re $2.5 trillion along that road.  So it may be the petite bargain -- I guess if you go all French.  (Laughter.)

Q    I'll leave that entirely to you, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  But seriously, $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, the President’s proposal would achieve $1.8 trillion in further deficit reduction in a balanced way.

Q    Bowles-Simpson want $2.4 trillion now at this point.  They’ve moved the goalpost a little bit to --

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no question that more work going forward will need to be done as we deal with our fiscal challenges.  But the $4 trillion in deficit reduction set as a goal by Speaker Boehner and President Obama and by many economists on the inside and outside of government can be achieved, and then some, if Republicans would embrace the President’s compromise proposal that would do some tough things on entitlements, as well as spending and on tax reform.

Q    But you understand the difference.  He’s trying to create a Republican groundswell for grand bargain talks.

MR. CARNEY:  He’s just trying to find some common ground around the basic common-sense notion that we can do this in a balanced way because he knows that there are significant -- there’s a significant amount of support for that approach around the country.

April.  Sorry.  Peter, then April.

Q    April, that was kind of, thank you.

Q    You’re welcome.

Q    I’m curious since our time --

MR. CARNEY:  Stand up, April.  (Laughter.)

Q    -- since our time with you is limited right now, if the President had any reaction or had a chance to watch some of the conversations with Dennis Rodman who just returned from North Korea, and if the President believes that this in some way undermines the government’s efforts in trying to deal with that country.

MR. CARNEY:  Peter, the United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK.  And instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people who have been starved, imprisoned, and denied their human rights.

We have urged the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.  North Korea’s actions, however, directly violate United Nations Security Council resolutions and threaten international peace and security.

Q    Dennis Rodman carried a message from Kim Jong-un.  He said to call.  So does the President have any intention --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we have --

Q    What did he make of -- what did he make of Dennis Rodman being the ambassador to North Korea?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a readout specific to the President to give to you.  I think that what I just said makes clear that North Korea ought to be focusing on its own citizens and opportunities to improve their lives.  And the United States has channels of communications directly with the DPRK and those are the channels we choose to employ.


Q    Jay, I want to go back to sequestration and then to something with Mitt Romney.  You said sequestration will have serious consequences.  With that, what is the estimated number of Americans who will fall out of the middle-class status because of sequestration?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't have that breakdown.  You may look at what -- some of the analysis that has been done by outside economic organizations like Moody’s and Macroeconomics Advisers.  But I’m not sure if they break it down that way.  Certainly, if 750,000 Americans lose their jobs, that could have an effect on the size of the middle class.  And that would be highly counterproductive to the stated objectives of both parties in Washington. 

Shaving half a percentage point off our GDP growth would be hugely harmful and would have ripple effects.  There are jobs that we will know are specifically affected by the sequester in our defense industries and other areas that are directly linked to federal funding.  But then, there will be the jobs that are lost or not created because the sequester goes into effect -- around businesses that close -- small businesses that close or cut back, support services around them whether they're restaurants or barbershops and the like, that are affected and don't hire a new worker because there are fewer patronizing their businesses.

And that's the shame of all of this, is that there will be so many regular Americans who will be negatively affected by this wholly unnecessary imposition of the sequester. 

Q    And the next question really fast -- what do you say about Mitt Romney's revelation that was televised last night that he did not win the state of Ohio because he failed to attract the black and Hispanic vote with his "47 percent" comment?

MR. CARNEY:  I actually confess that I didn't see that.  I would simply say that Mitt Romney didn't win Ohio.  (Laughter.)  

Q    George Will said, "I will do many things for my country and my profession.  I will not take seriously Mr. Carney." 

MR. CARNEY:  It's funny.  I did see that.  It's funny you raised that.  (Laughter.)  I love the structure of the sentence. It's very George Will-ian.  But I have a lot of respect for George Will.  I've been on the panel on "This Week" with him many times in my previous life.  I think he is a very smart guy.  And despite the fact that a few days before the election I think he predicted a Romney landslide very confidently on television -- 321-217 over the President -- built on a victory in Minnesota, which the President ended up winning by more than 7 percent, I will continue to take George Will seriously.  (Laughter.) 

12:57 P.M. EST

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