Press Briefing

May 01, 2013 | 9:13 | Public Domain

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

Download mp4 (501MB) | mp3 (121MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/1/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:01 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  Sorry I am late.  I apologize.  I will go straight to your questions.  Julie.

Q    Thank you.  Is there anything you can say at this point about these three other people that have been arrested in Boston, who they are or what they’re going to be charged with?

MR. CARNEY:  I have seen reports about arrests, but I don't have any information for you at this time from here, so I have to refer you to the FBI and to local law enforcement.

Q    Has the President been briefed about these latest arrests? 

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know that he has, although I expect that if -- again, I'm just seeing reports, we've just seen reports and I can't confirm anything or get into charges that are written about in these reports.  I can simply say that the President is regularly updated on developments in the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings.  But I haven't had a specific conversation about these reports with him.

Q    I also wanted to ask about the FDA decision yesterday on the Plan B pill.  Is this something that the President sees as a compromise decision?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, two things.  First of all, this is a decision that the FDA made and that is appropriate because it’s an independent agency.  The President, the White House did not weigh in on this decision and I have not had a discussion with the President about that issue.  What I can say is, as you saw in the past when there was a decision that was more sweeping, Secretary Sebelius made a decision to modify that or change it based on her views about the inadequacy of the data available for younger girls and teens of reproductive age that the President supported.  But this is a different decision and I haven't got any presidential input for you on it.

Q    So you can't say whether he supports this decision or not?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think when you heard the President address Secretary Sebelius’s decision in the past, he was echoing her concern about the lack of data available that examined the appropriateness and effect of this medication on younger girls and teens.  And this decision, as I understand it, is about -- in reaction to an amended application from the manufacturer is in response to that application and makes available or would make available this medication for teens 15 and older.

Q    But that's still a young girl, a young teenager, is it not?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s a 15-year-old and older.  I think that -- again, I would refer you to Secretary Sebelius for the rationale behind the decision she made in the past that the President supported.  But I think when you heard the President speak about this, and Secretary Sebelius, they were speaking about younger girls.

Q    And just quickly, when is the President going to sign the FAA bill?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not sure, I believe it may be here or on its way, and he’ll sign it soon.  As with all bill signings, we'll put out a statement when he has signed it.

Yes, Mark.

Q    On Guantanamo, the President said yesterday he was thinking about revisiting that issue.  What options are you considering?  What plans does he have to move that issue forward? It sounded like you’ve been thinking about it.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it is an issue that he feels strong about, as he made clear yesterday at this podium.  He’s determined and this administration is determined to see the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility closed.  Keeping it open is not efficient, effective, or in the interest of our national security.  It is a recruitment tool for extremists.  It is something that hurts our ability to cooperate with other nations and their agencies of government.  It is extremely expensive.  It is just not the way we need to go about handling these kinds of individuals.  And as he said yesterday, our system of justice has proven itself fully capable of dealing with terrorists. 

Unfortunately, Congress has thrown up obstacles to the achievement of that goal, as you know.  And that has made it, to date, impossible to close that facility.  We have made progress in moving detainees to third countries.  And we are continuing to evaluate detainees and look at ways to continue that process going forward.

So there are things that the President can do administratively, but this will also require congressional agreement.  And we will work with Congress to try to persuade them of the overriding national security interests as well as economic interests in closing Guantanamo Bay.

Don’t forget, this is something that is supported by the last two -- well, actually not the last two, but the 2008 nominee for President of the Republican Party, John McCain; the last Republican President, George W. Bush; senior military leaders.  And the President agrees with all of them that this is something we should do.

Q    I wanted to ask you, on Mexico, the President was asked yesterday as well about the statements by Mexican officials sort of restricting access to their agencies on stemming drug trafficking.  Is there a concern that the new government will be less open to U.S. help and that that will be a less positive direction to go in?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have an important relationship -- security relationship with Mexico, and we will continue to work with the Mexican government on that relationship.  Our relationship with Mexico is broader than that.  We have deep economic, cultural, and familial ties with Mexico as well as other countries in the region.  And that will also be part of the trip.  So dealing with trafficking, narcotics, and those security issues is one piece of the relationship with Mexico, but it is not by any means the only piece, and we are looking to make progress on all fronts, including our trade relationship, economic relationship, cultural relationship and other areas.

So the President looks forward to his meetings.  We'll have a briefing for you before the President leaves on the trip that will lay out in more detail what to expect and what topics of discussion the leaders will engage in.  But, again, I just want to make the point that this is one piece of a broad relationship.

Q    Finally, the President, talking about fiscal issues yesterday, said he hoped to create a permission structure to get cooperation from congressional Republicans.  What does he mean by that?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has for a long time now demonstrated his willingness to compromise in order to achieve a so-called grand bargain, in order to achieve a bigger deficit reduction deal, and he's proven his willingness to make some tough choices as long as there is a commensurate willingness by Republicans to do the same -- to, in the current situation, go along with the idea that there should be balance in our deficit reduction plan; that we should not ask seniors and middle-class families to be the only ones who shoulder the burden; that we should produce savings from reforming our entitlement programs as well as savings by reforming our tax system by closing loopholes and capping deductions for the wealthy and well-connected, and combine that in a way that reduces our deficit and helps strengthen our economy.

And what he is exploring in his conversations with Republican senators is whether or not that space exists.  And we have had -- he has had and others have had good discussions with Republican lawmakers, some of whom have been explicit in suggesting that they are willing to explore common ground.  The next step is finding out what that means concretely in terms of policy, because thus far, it's the President who is out there with a highly detailed, specific proposal that demonstrates his willingness to compromise.  It's his budget, and within that budget, his deficit reduction, the offer he made to Speaker Boehner at the end of last year.

So we are continuing to explore whether or not there is a way for Republicans to join us in this balanced approach to deficit reduction.  And we certainly hope there should be, because that's what the public wants.  And ultimately on all of these issues, as the President said, it’s not just that he can urge them to do the right thing, in this case, to reach a compromise, it’s that the public, the constituents that lawmakers represent can and should urge their senators and congressmen to compromise and achieve objectives that help the economy grow and help create jobs, reduce our deficit in a balanced way.

We had a lot of conflict over this issue in the last few years, and yet, the President has signed into law over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction.  And because of the fiscal cliff deal, that has included balanced deficit reduction.  And that has resulted in a situation where our deficits are coming down at a faster pace than at any time since demobilization after World War II.  So that's no small feat.  But the work is not done, and the President is exploring whether or not there is a willingness to get that work done, to achieve balance.

Yes, Jim.

Q    Yesterday, the President suggested that the Tsarnaev brothers were self-radicalized.  Given these new arrests today, is he confident that there was not a wider network responsible for what happened in Boston?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to address the reports about the arrests that Julie mentioned.  There’s obviously been a lot of information provided thus far in some of the reporting that's been done.  As the President said on Saturday night -- some of the excellent reporting that has been done -- but this is an ongoing investigation, and part of the responsibility of investigators is to explore all possible associations or connections even if we posit that it may seem at this point based on the information that's been gathered and produced and reported on that it looks as though these might have been self-radicalized individuals. 

That's a supposition that has to be proven through investigation.  And investigations need to follow all paths.  And I know that the President expects that’s what the FBI, which is the lead agency in this investigation, is making sure is what’s happening in this investigation.  So I don't want to make any characterizations about the developments today at this stage or say conclusively one way or the other beyond sort of the basis of what we know so far.

Q    Jay?


Q    Yesterday, Kelly Ayotte had a confrontation at a town hall meeting with a relative of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre.  Jeff Flake, Senator from Arizona, posted on his Facebook page because of his gun control vote that his popularity is roughly the same level as that of pond scum.  Do these statements give the White House any confidence that you may be able to go back and pass some kind of gun control legislation in the coming days, weeks, months?

MR. CARNEY:  I think what we have seen is that Americans out there who engage on an issue, who feel passionately about an issue and feel like it’s the right, common-sense thing to do don’t appreciate it when their representatives disagree with them.  And when I say “them,” I mean 85 percent of the American people, and vast majorities of the constituents of Arizona or New Hampshire -- virtually every state in the country. 

What the President made clear in the Rose Garden after the background checks vote went down is that Americans who are disappointed by that action, by that failure of the Senate to listen to the people they represent, need to speak up -- because in the end, change comes from the bottom up.  Congress acts when the people they represent insist on it.  And when there are entrenched interests that oppose action, it’s all the more important that average citizens make their voices heard, that they speak up, that they hold their leaders accountable.

And I wouldn’t want to predict at this point whether that means we’ll get this done sooner rather than later, but we will get it done, because it is the right and sensible and common-sense thing to do, and the American people overwhelmingly support it.

Q    This administration will get it done?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that is absolutely what we’re going to try to do.  This President made clear that we are in round one, and we are going to push -- and we’re pushing now to get it done. Somebody asked me the other day, well, won’t you wait until after the next elections?  And the answer is no.  We’re going to keep pushing.  And it will get done because the American people demand that it get done.  But it requires the voices and the participation and the engagement of average Americans, especially in a situation on an issue like this where we’re dealing with entrenched interests that don’t represent the majority but have powerful sway in Congress.


Q    Jay, as I understand it, the administration is now considering providing arms to the rebels in Syria.  I’m wondering what has changed in the President’s view since he rejected this idea last year.  What has changed to make him open to this idea now?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Jon, we have been stepping up our assistance to the opposition significantly, and we are constantly reviewing our assistance programs and what kinds of assistance we will provide.  It is our policy that we have not and are not providing weapons to the Syrian opposition.  But we are continuing to review our options.  And in this period that we have stepped up our assistance, including direct assistance for the first time to the Syrian Military Council, we have also been engaged with our allies and partners in an effort to prop up the opposition -- to help stand it up, rather, and to get to know it better and understand the elements of it, and to associate ourselves with and provide aid to those elements that we have confidence in and confidence in their support for a more democratic Syria, and confidence that they do not oppose United States interests, U.S. interests.  And that is a process that’s ongoing.

So we have learned more about the opposition.  We have worked more closely with the opposition.  We have stepped up our aid and assistance to the opposition, and these evaluations are ongoing.  But I have no announcement to make of any new developments on the assistance front.  As of now, we have provided various forms of assistance, but no weapons.

Q    So as I understand it, one of the President’s concerns at that earlier time was that weapons to the opposition could fall into the wrong hands.  There are extremist elements in the opposition groups.  Does he feel more comfortable now that assistance given to the rebel fighters will not get into the hands of extremists?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, these are evaluations that we have been making all along as we engage with the opposition, and that is what I was trying to explain in my other answer about in our dealings with the opposition, making evaluations about what their intentions are for Syria, what their interests are when it comes to the United States and our allies.  And for example, the Supreme Military Council that we deal with -- the leaders of that council have made very clear statements about their positions that reflect positions that we can support.

So we are engaging with the opposition.  We are getting to know the opposition better and we’re evaluating just the very questions that you ask.

Q    And the aid here, and all of this aid, the aid that’s happening now and the aid that may come later is to bring the downfall of the Assad regime?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the aim has always been to bring about a transition in Syria that results in the departure from power of Bashar al Assad.  There’s no question Syria’s future cannot include Assad.  His hands are bathed in blood, the blood of his own people, and his actions have continually reinforced the fact that he has no place in Syria’s future and no support from the Syrian people.  So the transition that we seek and that so many seek, including the Syrian people themselves, is a transition from Assad to a better future for Syria.


Q    Is it correct to say then that you are preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian people?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s the phrasing from a story that I think later on, a few paragraphs later said no final decision had been made.  So I think the language here is important.  We’re evaluating all decisions -- I mean all options.  The President made clear just yesterday that all options are on the table when it comes to his policy actions with regard to Syria.  But I have no policy change to announce today with regards to our assistance programs.

Q    But when you say that you’re continuing to review all the options --

MR. CARNEY:  Something I have said for weeks if not months now.

Q    -- that you are making evaluations, are you backing the door open, suggesting that down the road this could happen, that there could be arms?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ve said all along -- I’ve never ruled it out and I’ve said all along that all options remain on the table, and that is an option, obviously.  It has been our position that we do not provide arms.  But we have -- if you set arms aside here, we have stepped up significantly our assistance to the opposition, including to the Supreme Military Council.

Q    Stipulated.  It’s the arms that we’re all caring about.  I mean, are you opening the door to sending arms?

MR. CARNEY:  Bill, my position on this and what I’m saying about it is no different now than it was before.  So if the answer to that question is the door remains open, it has remained open in the sense that those options have always been available to the President.  And we are reviewing those options today just as we have been reviewing them in recent weeks and months.

Our position is what it is, but we are constantly evaluating our posture and our assistance programs.  We have stepped them up over time.  So our assistance program is bigger and greater and more comprehensive, including direct aid to the Military Council, which is qualitatively different from what it was three or four weeks ago, or two months ago.  And we will see what developments there are and what decisions are made in the future.  What I can tell you as of now is what our program is and what it isn’t.  But I can also tell you that we are evaluating different options.

Q    Sure, but I mean you’re laying this out as a continuing escalation, and it would be logical then to assume, wouldn’t it, that at some point that could include arms?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not ruling that out.  I’m just not ruling it in either.  I’m not here to announce a change in policy, I’m saying that these options are always under -- have been under review and continue to be under review.

Q    Is it closer than it was?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just not in a position to make that assessment from here.  I’m simply saying that we have obviously escalated our assistance and broadened the type of assistance that we’ve been providing.  And I think that represents a deeper engagement with the opposition, including the military opposition.  And I won’t foreshadow what decisions or actions may be taken in the coming days and weeks and months except to say that we will evaluate all possible options.  We’ve been very clear that we haven’t ruled out any option even as we’ve chosen to exercise the ones that we’ve exercised.

Q    Are you aware of a letter from General Idriss yesterday asking -- pleading, really, for help countering chemical weapons?

MR. CARNEY:  I am aware of that letter.  And as you heard the President say yesterday and make clear again, the clear use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross the red line. And that is why we are so assiduously engaged in the process of gathering evidence to build on this --

Q    Are we going to send him help?  He's asking for help.

MR. CARNEY:  We are sending him help.

Q    To specifically counter chemical weapons.

MR. CARNEY:  We are providing assistance to the opposition. The different types of assistance that don’t have to do with weapons I think you can get details on from the State Department and Defense Department.  But we will continue to evaluate the kinds of assistance we provide, working very closely with General Idriss and others in the opposition.

Q    On Guantanamo, you said a moment ago that there are things the President can do administratively.  What are they and is he doing them, or is he going to do them?

MR. CARNEY:  The answer is there are a number of things that we can do.  One of the options available to us that we're examining is reappointing a senior official at the State Department to renew our focus again on repatriating or transferring detainees that we determine can be returned to their home countries or third countries.  And we will also work to fully implement the periodic review board process, which has not moved forward quickly enough, and we're going to continue to work to get that implemented so that it is up and standing. 

And those are some of the things that we can do.  We have obstacles that were thrown up by Congress that prevent us from -- well, they refuse to provide the funding that would allow us to transfer detainees to incarceration facilities here in the United States.  And they have circumscribed our ability to take action on this front in other ways.  So we have to work with Congress and try to convince members of Congress that the overriding interest here in terms of our national security as well as our budget is to close Guantanamo Bay.

Q    But will he be talking to Congress about this specifically?


Q    When?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any conversations to preview with you, but I think you heard from the President yesterday that he feels very strongly about this.

Q    Jay, can I follow on the morning-after pill questions from Julie?  Because I was just curious -- when the previous decision you were talking about was made I believe in December of 2011, the President was in this room and spoke pretty emotionally -- I think he mentioned his own daughters -- and he said that a 10-year old or an 11-year old should not be able to go to a grocery store and buy this alongside “bubblegum or batteries."  So are you saying the President is comfortable now with a 15-year old buying this pill next to bubblegum or batteries?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I mentioned earlier, I haven’t spoken about this with the President, and this is not a decision that the White House or the President --

Q    Why not?  I mean, he was pretty direct about it --

MR. CARNEY:  It was just announced.  So I think --

Q    Oh, we’ve known about it all -- it was announced late yesterday.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I didn’t talk about this particular issue with him.  But let’s be clear.  When the President was asked about this and made the statement that you quoted, he was speaking in support of a decision by Secretary Sebelius with regards to the proposition that this medication could be made available over the counter to anyone, of any age.  And the President supported Secretary Sebelius’s decision and her view that not enough data was available to make her comfortable with the decision that younger girls of reproductive age could use this medicine in an appropriate and safe and effective manner. 

The FDA has made a decision based on an amended application by a manufacturer that stipulates that it would be made available to teens 15 and older.  And as you cited, the President referred to younger girls, and I believe so did Secretary Sebelius.  But in terms of the assessments made about this decision, I think you could go to HHS to get the Secretary’s views, because, again, the President was speaking in support of a decision that Secretary Sebelius had made at the time.

Q    I want to ask you about two other personnel moves the President is going to announce this afternoon.  I think it’s pretty widely known -- FCC and the Housing Finance job.  My question is -- I’ll give you a chance to talk about their attributes and whatnot.  But in 2008, during the campaign, the President specifically said lobbyists are not going to be part of my team.  He said that -- John McCain -- you can’t just take the same people who have been in Washington a long time and move them to different chairs and expect different results, as I recall him saying.  And now you’ve got a congressman who’s been around some 20 years -- good record, but around a long time -- and a cable industry lobbyist taking a job.  How does that square with the talk about change?

Q    Well, I appreciate the question.  I would say two things.  First of all, with regards to Tom Wheeler, the nominee for the chair of the FCC, he’s an experienced telecommunications leader who shares the President’s commitment to protecting consumers, promoting innovation, enhancing competition and encouraging investment. 

Now, with regards to his past career, he has not worked for the wireless industry in a decade -- nearly a decade, and his representation for the cable industry is nearly three decades old.  So he has extensive experience in business, extensive experience in the field.  He is a promoter of consumers and innovation and competition.  And when he worked for the -- it’s important to know that when he worked for the wireless industry  -- and this is how much the world has changed -- he represented smaller companies that thrived on innovation and competition. 

So the President thinks that Mr. Wheeler is an excellent candidate for this position, that he brings broad experience and has already, as I think you’ve seen, received positive reviews from a number of quarters.

With regards to Congressman Watt, he has spent 20 years on the House Financial Services and Judiciary Committees, and he’s got a proven track record of fighting to rein in deceptive mortgage lenders, protect consumers from abusive financial practices, and expand affordable housing.  And he has been an advocate essentially for the little guy in that position.  And I think that you would find in him, as representing the FHFA, somebody with vast experience, great knowledge from his time on these committees of the financial marketplace and of the mortgage lending business, and that he would bring his experience to bear in a positive way representing this organization.

Q    So experience in Washington is not such a bad thing anymore?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President looks for people who are experienced in a broad variety of ways.  I think that there are a number of ways to look at a nominee, for example, like Congressman Watt.  I mean, he comes from his experience on these committees and his efforts to, again, fight against deceptive mortgage lending practices and to protect consumers.  And those are the kinds of -- that’s the kind of experience the President wants in this position.

Q    Last thing, on Benghazi.  Since the President spoke yesterday briefly about that, the Defense Department and the State Department both have written letters, as I understand it, to Republican Darrell Issa, saying that they’re not aware of anyone coming to them asking for security clearances for their counsel or anything to come forward.  First, is that your understanding?  And second, if someone were to come forward, if they just haven’t technically told their superior or something, if they were to come forward, is the White House willing to let them testify?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I mean, that’s a hypothetical.  But let’s be clear.  Benghazi happened a long time ago.  We are unaware of any agency blocking an employee who would like to appear before Congress to provide information related to Benghazi.  The Accountability Review Board which investigated this matter -- and I think in no one’s estimation sugarcoated what happened there or pulled any punches when it came to holding accountable individuals that they felt had not successfully executed their responsibilities -- heard from everyone and invited everyone.  So there was a clear indication there that everyone who had something to say was welcome to provide information to the Accountability Review Board.

But again, with regards to these stories, to our knowledge, we’re not aware of any agency that has blocked an employee who would like to appear before Congress.  And as you noted, both the State Department and Department of Defense have made clear that they are not aware of any requests for a security clearance for a private attorney having been made in connection with the Benghazi investigation.  So what you have is an attorney saying she represents somebody, claiming that she’s not getting this security clearance, and yet the agencies involved have no information about that at all, which falls into the broader 
story here, which this is these allegations are part of an unfortunate pattern of spreading misinformation and politicizing this issue. 

Just last week, Republicans accused Secretary Clinton of authoring a cable that went out under her automatic signature, pursuant to standard protocol that State has followed across administrations of both parties.  Secretary Clinton -- and this, of course, was left out of the Republican charge -- had previously testified under oath that she had never seen the cable.  It was simply put out under automatic signature as thousands and thousands of emails are, according to protocol.  So the politicization of this issue is unfortunate, and it continues unabated. 

We have had numerous hearings, numerous -- I mean vast numbers of documents, vast numbers of individuals who have testified before Congress, and anybody who wants to be heard by Congress is welcome to be heard by Congress, in our view.  And that has been our approach, our cooperative approach to this matter and to this investigation from the beginning.

Q    Jay, I want to go back to the idea of the permission structure.  I know you defined it, but how specifically does the President plan to create a permission structure?  What does that look like?  What steps is he going to take?

MR. CARNEY:  What the President is seeking in his conversations with Republican lawmakers is common ground, basically a willingness by Republicans to agree to the principle that some of them supported explicitly not that long ago that we could both achieve savings through entitlement reforms and achieve savings through tax reform by closing loopholes and capping deductions. 

And the permission structure, if you will, is basically a broad proposal that allows Republicans, like Democrats, to go along with some things that they do not love, would not be top of their list in terms of legislation, in order to achieve the broader objective here, which is broad, deep deficit reduction that would bring us past the $4 trillion mark over 10 years.

Q    Permission from voters?  Permission from their constituents?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that this is a phrase that is in common usage here.  I think he’s basically looking for a way to find enough Republicans who are comfortable with a proposal that would achieve some of their long-stated goals, including significant deficit reduction, including entitlement reform and savings from entitlement reform, and including tax reform.

The President’s proposition is that we should use some of the savings from tax reform produced by closing loopholes and capping deductions for the wealthy and well-connected, and apply them to deficit reduction, not as existing Republican proposals would do, apply them to tax cuts for the wealthy, which makes no sense as far as this President is concerned.  One of the significant achievements of the last six months was his ability to, against great resistance -- despite great resistance -- to achieve a stated goal, which was to make permanent tax cuts for the middle class and to raise rates on the wealthiest Americans back to where they were under Bill Clinton, when this economy thrived quite handsomely

Q    Jay, on immigration, Marco Rubio said in a radio interview, “The bill, the immigration bill that's in place right now probably can't pass the House.”  Does the President agree with that assessment?  Is he concerned that that message is moving forward?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t heard that assessment.  I think that as the President and others have made clear, we are still in our early stages here.  We have a comprehensive immigration reform bill that was authored by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate that has significant bipartisan support, but that process is still moving forward.

And it is clearly something that everyone in Washington who supports broad, comprehensive immigration reform is going to have to work on because there are a few steps in the process here.  We need to move that bill through committee.  We need to see it voted on by the full Senate.  We need broad, bipartisan support. That is something the President has always believed is necessary.
And then obviously there’s activity in the House that we have to monitor and we have to see what the House will support. 

So like everything that's significant and big when it comes to progress and change, this is not necessarily easy.  But there has been significant progress, as the President said yesterday.  And we remain optimistic that this is going to get done.

Q    Does this type of language set the process back at all?

MR. CARNEY:  No, no.  I think that language like that, comments like that acknowledge the fact that, as I was just saying, this is not going to be easy.  I think it’s -- we have sometimes a phenomenon here in Washington that everybody sometimes participates in or gets caught up in where signs of progress are immediately deduced to mean success -- final success.  And there’s a lot of work to be done between today and final passage of comprehensive immigration reform. 


Q    Follow-up?

MR. CARNEY:  Peter.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  General Dempsey was on Capitol Hill last month and talked a bit about what he called the confusing situation on the ground in Syria.  He said it’s difficult to identify rebels who could be entrusted with arms -- quote here that “It’s actually more confusing on the opposition side today than it was six months ago.”  Given that, why would arming the rebels be on the table?  Why would the administration consider it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have made clear in the past that this has been an issue that we have evaluated consistently.  As I was saying earlier to Jon, we have spent a lot of time working with the opposition, becoming more familiar with the opposition, evaluating the various groups within the opposition.  And that has given us the confidence that has allowed us to step up the assistance that we have already provided or agreed to provide.  And we'll continue to evaluate this situation and our options. But the General's comments are certainly correct that this is one of the reasons why we need to make very careful evaluations about the opposition.

Let me -- Donovan, yes.  And then Zach.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Quick question on Guantanamo.  The ACLU says there's two things the President can do today without Congress.  One of them is appointing a senior person and taking over the closure policy from the Pentagon, and the other thing is ordering the Secretary of Defense to begin certifying detainees for transfer.  And I was wondering, will he do these things?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I mentioned a couple of things that we are looking at doing and could do administratively.  I'm sure other suggestions -- one of these sounds somewhat similar to what I was talking about.  We are certainly going to look at other possibilities.  And as the President made clear yesterday from here, he will look at every potential use of his authority to move towards the eventual closure of Guantanamo Bay.  But unfortunately, achieving that ultimate goal requires cooperation from Congress. 

Q    Right, but these are moves that he could take -- so are you saying --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, somebody is saying that we could take them -- I'm sure that we would have to evaluate those suggestions and see whether they make sense in terms of policy and whether, in fact, they are things that we can do.

Q    Okay.  And then just one other quick one, on the nominee for the FHFA.  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking the President to remove Mr. DeMarco immediately because he is against principal write-downs for struggling homeowners.  A couple of questions.  Is the President open to that?  And separately, does the President believe that Congressman Watt will back principal write-downs and does that factor into his selection of him?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll say a couple of things.  First of all, the President has nominated someone for this job and hopes that Congress will act swiftly to confirm him, and that’s our focus at the moment. 

When it comes to the policies the President supports and that he thinks ought to be acted on, he has clearly selected nominees for this area and others -- for this position and others that have, as a general principle, shared visions of how we can move forward.  So on specific actions that the potential director of an agency might take, I’m not going to predict.  But the President believes strongly that Congressman Watt would be an excellent director and would take action to protect consumers and rein in deceptive mortgage lenders and to do the kinds of things that he would hope the FHFA would do.

Peter, did you have a question?

Q    No, it was asked.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, and then Zach.

Q    Me?  Okay.  A quick question.  I understand the furlough notices at the White House are supposed to go out today. How many people were furloughed and what impact will it have on White House operations?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe that process is already underway and has been.  So we can get you the numbers.  But it affects -- I’m not sure if I have this information today, but I can get it to you.  As I’ve said in the past, it affects everyone in the White House Office.  And non-commissioned officers have to take a furlough day and non-commissioned officers have a reduction in pay in the pay period that there are furlough days for non-commissioned officers.

Q    A more general follow-up question to Ed and my colleague’s question -- with these appointments today of Watt and Wheeler, what’s the message that the President wants to send to these industries?

MR. CARNEY:  That we need strong and effective oversight, and that we need strong and effective heads of these agencies that are very important to sections of our economy and that have a huge impact on people’s lives, especially in the case of FHFA. So he’s looking for strength and wisdom.


Q    I also have a few questions about the FHFA and Congressman Watt.  So if he’s confirmed, it will be the first time the President’s choice will be in that job.  It’s been Bush administration and career officers left over.  Does the President see this as an -- and unlike the FDC, FHFA, mainly oversees Fannie and Freddie, which are taxpayer owned and federally run, et cetera.  Does the President see this as a moment where he’s saying it’s time we should take a look at the ownership of those companies and begin to reform them -- the leftovers from the financial crisis?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that you’re attaching -- the President’s views on what we need to do in terms of housing and Fannie and Freddie have not changed and are well-known.  He is certainly looking for someone in his nominee to head up that agency to be an effective advocate and an effective administrator and director.

Again, I’m not going to predict or schedule in advance actions that might be taken once this nominee is confirmed, as we hope he is.  But the President, as you know, has throughout his time in office put in place policies to address our housing crisis, to address the drag that it has produced on growth and the effect it’s had on homeowners. 

And he continues to urge Congress to take action to allow responsible homeowners to take advantage of historically low rates to refinance their homes.  That would be both good for those families and the bottom lines that these families have, and their budgets.  It would also be enormously helpful to our economy because it would inject, in each case, cash directly into our economy.  The money saved by refinancing would allow -- would put money in the pockets of all these families.  And like most middle-class families, a lot of that money is going to be spent and injected back into the economy, and that would be a very helpful thing when it comes to growth and job creation.

Q    Just one other question on that.  Senator Corker is out with a very critical statement, saying he’s disappointed in the choice, saying that Mr. Watt sort of represented the point of view that protected housing policies that led to the original crisis, and it’s really a danger putting someone like that in charge of the biggest housing companies in the country.  Do you have a response to --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I am not aware of that particular statement.  I would simply say that Congressman Watt has worked tirelessly to expand economic opportunity for the middle class and those striving to get into the middle class.  And he’s brought together consumer advocates and industry leaders to enact common-sense reforms that promote economic growth and protect consumers from fraud.  Most recently -- and I think this goes to the question about whose interests are being advocated for -- Congressman Watt played a critical role in passing the Wall Street reform bill, the Dodd-Frank Act, and spearheaded legislation to eliminate predatory lending practices in the real estate market.

So, again, this President fought hard for Wall Street reform, and he fought hard with advocates like Congressman Watt on his side.  And he fought hard against, in large measure, the Wall Street bankers and their lobbyists here and those who endorse the interests of those bankers and their lobbyists.  And he continues to fight rearguard actions by Republicans on Capitol Hill to water down Dodd-Frank, to empower banks at the expense of consumers.  There’s still an effort to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which is doing enormously beneficial work on behalf of consumers. 

So this is a big accomplishment of the President’s and Congress -- Wall Street reform -- and we need to continue to implement it in a way that does right by America’s consumers and ensures that we have the regulations in place and the laws in place to prevent the kind of unraveling in our financial industry that we saw in 2007, 2008.

Q    Jay, quickly on Benghazi, because in the last hour or so, a colleague in New York passes on that the FBI there is out today with three new surveillance photos of men who they say were on the grounds of the compound when it was attacked.  Do you have any more insight you can share from the podium?  And is the President any more hopeful today that the perpetrators will be caught and prosecuted?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any information with regards to that specific report.  What I can say is that it has been the focus of the President and of his team to both investigate through the Accountability Review Board what happened in Benghazi and why, and to take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and to investigate the act itself and to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi.  And that work is not done.  And he is very focused on ensuring that it is accomplished.

Q    Quickly, just a follow-up on last week, because I’m not sure that you were asked this directly or whether there’s anything you’d like to add on the public safety exception.  Is the President satisfied that the FBI got all it needed to know out of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev before he was read his rights? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’re not going to comment on the specific case.  What we will say, as the President and others have said, is that our system has proven effective when it comes to detaining, incarcerating, and prosecuting and bringing to justice terrorists.  There has been a great deal -- there is now a great deal of precedent to successful interrogations of terrorists arrested and brought through the American system of justice, cooperation from those who have been arrested that has provided substantial information.  I think the President addressed that to some degree yesterday.

So the President feels that the FBI has handled this case from the moment of the bombings through the successful capture of the individuals believed responsible and through today, very well.  But I’m not going to comment on specific actions taken.  It is important to note that there is the public safety exception to Miranda, and that is in place precisely because it allows investigators to gather information that could prevent an imminent attack and could help them find potential collaborators in an attack.  And that exemption is very important, but I’m not going to get into the specifics of this case.

Stephen Collinson.

Q    Thanks.  What’s the reason that the administration has not sought to use the national security waiver in the Defense Authorization Act that would allow it to get around some of the restrictions that Congress has placed on transferring Guantanamo detainees?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a specific response to that question.  I can tell you that Congress has repeatedly, through the NDAA, thrown up obstacles to the policy goal that the President has made clear he supports and that others, including President George W. Bush and Senator McCain and others, support. And he’s going to work with Congress to try to eliminate those obstacles, and he made that clear yesterday.

Q    Will the review include a look at whether the administration will change its position that right now it's not feasible to return Yemeni detainees who have been cleared for at least Yemen because of the security situation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have a moratorium on the transfer of Yemeni detainees to Yemen -- 50 percent, roughly, I think, of those detainees still at Guantanamo are Yemeni, so that is a significant bloc and it is one reason why there are the number of detainees at Guantanamo who remain there.  But that moratorium is in place because, as you know, there was a transfer of detainees that resulted in their release, and it was the judgment that we made that it was no longer the right thing to do to transfer detainees when we had agreements from the host government to keep them incarcerated.

So we're obviously evaluating this and other aspects of the situation in Guantanamo, but that is our policy.  The moratorium remains in place.

Thanks, all.

1:55 P.M. EDT

Close Transcript