Press Briefing

July 22, 2013 | 54:33 | Public Domain

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

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/22/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:16 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Welcome to the White House.  Happy Monday.  Hope you had a great weekend.  I trust that you all saw the email that we sent out regarding the President’s travels this week.  He very much looks forward to returning to Knox College, where he will deliver an address about the economy, where we are, where we've been and where we need to go -- where he will lay out as part of a series of speeches that he’s given over his political career as a national figure about the need to expand the middle class, provide ladders of opportunity to those who aspire to the middle class, and to invest in our economy in a way that ensures that it will grow into the future.

So, with that, I take your questions.  Please, Associated Press -- Darlene.

Q    Thank you.  A little bit more on the speech that the President is doing this week.  Can you sort of talk about why now?  Why late July?  And more importantly, who does he think will be listening?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the first point, the President believes that it is an appropriate time to address the very issues that concern most Americans.  There is no question that here in Washington, at least, if not out in the country, there have been a great many distractions from the central preoccupations of the American people, which have to do with the economy and the need to ensure that individuals have good jobs, that they have the ability to take care of their parents in retirement, and they have the ability to pay for college for their sons and daughters; that they have affordable health care, and that they are able to save some money of their own for their retirement; that they’re able to own a house or a home and that that house or home is not underwater.

And what is absolutely true is that we have come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession.  We've created over 7.2 million private sector jobs, 40 straight months of economic growth.  But we have more work to do.  And what the President hopes to do is talk about how we can do that together, how we can do it in a way that ensures not just that jobs are created in the near term, but that we are investing in our future. 

And July seems like an excellent time to do it, given that in the coming months we'll see a return to a focus here in Washington on economic issues, and he hopes and believes it’s essential that we set our sights high and that we look more broadly at the state of the economy and where we need to go as a nation as we engage in the discussions that we'll be having in the next several months.

As far as who’s listening, we certainly hope that many Americans will take the opportunity to hear the President’s speech and to hear what he has to say both in Galesburg and Warrensburg, and then beyond, as he gives a series of addresses about the economy and about the middle class.  And he certainly hopes that you in the media will also hear him out and look at what he has to say, analyze what he has to say, and appreciate that the issues he'll be talking about are the issues that the American people care most deeply -- the ones that go to the heart of their experience, the heart of whether or not they can confidently envision an America that will allow for their children to live at least as well as they have, and thus fulfill the American Dream.

So the President is looking forward to this and looking forward to the speeches in the future.

Q    He was doing a series of visits to cities, the Middle-class Jobs and Opportunity Tour -- I think that's what it was called.  By going to speeches, is that some sort of admission or acknowledgement or something that those tours didn't work and now you all have to do something different to get his economic message out?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  And I think that -- your point I think reinforces that the President has always been focused on these issues.  It, as you heard if you looked at the video that we put out, was the focus of his attention back in 2005, right when he became a U.S. senator.  It was the focus of his campaign in 2008, the focus of his first term and the focus of his reelection campaign.  It has been the focus of all of his domestic policy.

And that doesn't mean that we don't need to continue to remind people that improving the economic situation in America is the principal reason that our fellow citizens elect and send people to Washington, and that we ought to be about the business of coming together to take action to do just that.  So there will be events, there will be speeches -- there have been speeches, there have been events.  There will be initiatives launched and hopefully action taken both here in the executive branch and in Congress. 

But this is a broader proposition.  This is not what can Congress do in the next few weeks or few months; not what can Washington do even in the next three years.  It’s about a longer view of this country’s future economically and how we need to ensure that we’re making the right decisions and taking the right action that allows for the kind of growth, the kind of security for the middle class that will ensure the health of this country’s economy in the future.

Q    On a different topic, is there any reaction from the White House to the EU’s decision to put the military wing of Hezbollah on its terrorist list?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, I do have something on that.  We applaud the decision by the European Union, the important step that it has taken today in deciding to designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.  The EU’s decision sends a strong message to Hezbollah that it cannot operate with impunity and that there are consequences for its involvement in last year’s attack in Bulgaria that killed six innocent civilians, and for its activities in Cyprus.

This designation will have a significant impact on Hezbollah’s ability to operate freely in Europe by enabling European law enforcement agencies to crack down on Hezbollah’s fundraising, logistical activity and terrorist plotting on European soil.

Hezbollah’s dangerous and destabilizing activities, from attacking tourists in foreign countries, to leader Hassan’s Nasrallah’s active support of Bashar al-Assad’s violent campaign against the Syrian people threaten the safety and security of nations and citizens around the world.  The EU’s decision today sends a clear message that Europe stands firmly against Hezbollah’s terrorist activities.  The United States is proud to stand with the European Union on this front.

While we continue to work with our partners to counter Hezbollah’s terrorist activities, the United States remains committed to Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and independence, and we continue to support Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict.


Q    Back to the speeches on the economy.  You yourself alluded to inflection points coming up at the end of September and later in the fall.  How much is this an attempt by the President to get out of ahead of the debate over the debt ceiling or a potential government shutdown?

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no question that we have some very important matters to resolve in the coming months here in Washington.  What we’re confident of is that the American people will not look kindly upon action taken here in Washington to shut down the government or default on our obligations in order to achieve political aims or to appease wings of political parties. We’re confident that we can work together here in Washington to ensure that we take the right action to fund the government appropriately, to avoid the horrific problems to our economy that would be created with even the flirtation with default -- a flirtation that in the summer of 2011 created a real setback to our recovery. 

The glee with which some members of the Republican Party approached default was disturbing I think to a lot of people out in the country, and the consequences of even that flirtation with default were profound.  The fact of the matter is Republican leaders have said they will not allow the country to default, and we assume that is the case and we take them at their word.  And we look forward to working with Congress to resolve these challenges.

The speech the President will give on Wednesday and the follow-on speeches he will give intend to look beyond those immediate challenges towards the need to invest in our country for the long term and our people for the long term, and in the middle class so that it can expand and feel more secure in the long term -- because our economic vision is not focused solely on the skirmishes that occur on Capitol Hill, but on the need to take a broader look at our economy, where it's going, where it's been, and how we make sure that the middle class is doing better in the future than it's done in the past.

Q    Republicans have their own vision for how to strengthen the economy and improves the fortunes of the middle class. 

MR. CARNEY:  Is that right?  Do you know what it is?

Q    Well, they say they want to make smaller government and get rid of regulations that get in the way of growth, that sort of thing.  But my question to you is, without the cooperation of Republicans, what can the President hope to achieve to accomplish his objectives in the way he wants to accomplish them?

MR. CARNEY:  Here's what I can tell you, is that the challenge of divided government has confronted us for a number of years now.  And in spite of those obstacles and challenges, we have managed to reduce our deficit at a record pace -- a record since demobilization after World War II.  We've managed to invest in our economy and in the middle class in a way that has allowed for continued economic growth, continued private sector job creation.  We've managed to do significant things that I think political observers said, in the environment that we live in, especially with the gridlock that we face, would never happen -- like reaching an agreement at the end of the year, at the first of this year to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, that saw Republicans doing something that they vowed they would never do, which was vote to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and to do that in a significant way, the first time Republicans had done that in 20 years.

And we have seen significant progress on immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform.  A bipartisan effort in the Senate produced a significant bipartisan margin in support of that bill, and we now are working with Congress and the House to try to see that measure become a bill that the President can sign into law that meets his principles and that will provide to the country and the economy significant benefits, including deficit reduction, including stronger economic growth and productivity.

So there's no question that the kind of political gridlock that we see in Washington that frustrates Americans so much has been an obstacle.  But this President is committed to doing everything he can with Congress, and when Congress will not allow for reasonable compromise, will not meet him on common ground, to using every power that he has to advance the economy and help the middle class through his executive authority and through working with others to make that happen.  And that’s the approach he's taken for a long time now.  It's the approach he'll take moving forward.

Q    Just a quick question on the Middle East.  I don’t know if you've commented on Secretary Kerry's announcement that he hopes to get talks started in the Middle East -- if you can comment on that.  And also, why is that area an important priority for the President to focus his foreign policy on at the moment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, last Friday, Secretary Kerry did announce an important first step in the process of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back together for direct talks.  And we are working on a date for the parties to come to Washington in the coming weeks to move that process along.  And we commend Secretary Kerry and all the parties involved in making the progress that has been made.

And this is an enormous challenge and has been an enormous challenge for Israelis and Palestinians, and for successive administrations here in Washington.  But the fact that it has been such a difficult challenge does not mean it should not constantly be addressed.  And the President thinks it’s an essential thing to do, to continue to try to bring the parties together in direct negotiations, to try to resolve what divides them, so that we can have a two-state solution that allows for Israel to be safe and secure, and for the Palestinians to have a state, and thereby bring about benefits for both peoples.  And that is what we have supported all along and what Secretary Kerry is engaged in right now.

Q    Is that the subject of Secretary Kerry’s visit to the White House this afternoon?

MR. CARNEY:  His meeting here today is his regular weekly meeting with the President.  I have no doubt that this will be a topic of conversation.

Q    Following on that, there is some confusion about whether Palestinians have agreed to sit down with the Israelis over disagreement about the 1967 borders.  So in saying that you’re looking for a date for them to come to Washington, are you telling us that talks are moving forward, that there is an agreement for all parties to sit down?

MR. CARNEY:  I am pointing you to what Secretary Kerry said when he made this announcement.  He said that he hoped that -- or he was working towards a situation where representatives from both would be here.  And we don’t have a date certain on that yet, but for more details on where that process stands, I’d refer you to the Department of State.

Q    So how confident is the President that these talks will actually happen?  And does he believe that the 1967 borders should be an agreement that precedes these talks?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you’re shorthanding there and missing a few words in terms of what the general position is in terms of borders and swaps.  The President has spoken about that at length, Secretary Kerry has, about our position.  The issue here is the only way to resolve these issues is if the two parties sit down in direct face-to-face negotiations.  And that’s what we’re working towards.  It is for them to resolve final status issues.

And as for our level of optimism, it is very cautious optimism because this is such a hard challenge, as I mentioned in answer to Mark.  This is an issue that has been a very difficult one for years and years and years.  But the imperative for trying to resolve it remains as powerful today as it has for the last many years, as successive leaders of the Palestinians and the Israelis, and successive administrations here in the United States, as well as our partners and allies around the world and region have engaged in the effort to try to bring about negotiations that produce a lasting agreement.

There’s no question it’s hard, and you won’t hear from me anything but an acknowledgement of that.  But we are obligated to engage in this effort, and that is why Secretary Kerry has been engaging in this effort.

Q    Any sense how long a timeframe the President has laid out for this?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any more details about what that would look like.  I'd leave that to Secretary Kerry, and I don't think that any of us would get ahead of that.  In order to give these negotiations the best chance to succeed, we're not going to discuss the details of the conversations that have led up to them, led up to the point to where we are, or as they continue, because we think that that provides the best opportunity for success.

Q    Quickly, on a happier note -- or on a lighter note, I should say -- can you give us any information on what the President and Mrs. Obama plan to give the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the occasion of the birth of their first child?  And do they have a message for them?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I have no insight into the first part of that question.  I would tell you that, like so many Americans, the President and First Lady and the entire First Family wait with anticipation for the birth of the Duke and Duchess's child, and wish the family and all of Great Britain well on this pending momentous occasion. 

Q    He will get them something?

MR. CARNEY:  We'll see. 


Q    So, Jay, in terms of this speech on Wednesday will there be any new policy in the speech?

MR. CARNEY:  You will hear the President enunciate -- provide a vision of where we have been, where we are and where we need to go.  I think it's fair to say that there are important things we could do as a nation that we all know we could and should do as a nation, including investing in our infrastructure, including investing in education.  I'm not going to get ahead of the President in terms of the specifics of the speech he'll give on Wednesday or the follow-on speeches that he'll give. 

Over the course of that period of time you will hear new policy initiatives from the President.  But part of what he is trying to do in Galesburg at Knox College is to refocus our attention on what he believes are the central issues that we face as a country here, at least domestically.  And that is the need to continue to grow the middle class, to invest in the economy in a way that helps members of the middle class feel more stable, and provides opportunities for those who aspire to the middle class to reach the middle class -- in other words, for us to grow from the middle out instead of the top down or the bottom up.

So you'll hear I think from the President a vision on Wednesday.  And then, you will hear in the coming days and weeks more specifics as he addresses different areas of the economy.

Q    So I've looked back and this seems to be like the ninth, 10th, maybe 11th time the President has made this turn to focus on the economy and the middle class.  What is it that has driven him off that message?  Why the need to continue to kind of get back?  And is there some frustration?

MR. CARNEY:  I think there's a blending in the questions here that I think reflects the way a lot of us sometimes view Washington, and that is that message is a substitute for policy or vice versa.  And the fact is the President has repeatedly -- you say 10 or 11 -- I would say even more than that -- focused on the economy in major speeches, events across the country, small gatherings, roundtables, throughout his presidency and prior to his presidency.  And he will continue to do that because it is the number one most important issue in his mind.

What is also true is that in any presidency there are a variety of other challenges that we must tackle or that we must respond to, and that has been true in his presidency.  When he came in, obviously the economic and financial crises were the overriding concern that he confronted.  And he took bold action, working with Congress, to pass the Recovery Act, to ensure that our American automobile industry did not disappear, to pass the Affordable Care Act to allow for millions of Americans to have access to insurance, to make sure that we put in place through Wall Street reform rules of the road for our financial industry that would protect the American and global economy and the little guy through the Consumer Finance Protection Board -- or Bureau.  These were dramatic actions. 

But even throughout that, he came into office, with two active wars and tens and tens of thousands of American troops in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a pledge to end the war in Iraq and to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  He has been addressing those challenges as we continue to take the fight to al Qaeda around the world.  He has continued to address those challenges.

And then we could list, you and I, all of the other things that we as a nation have had to confront over these past four and a half years and no doubt we can anticipate some significant challenges that don’t have to do with our economy in coming months and years. 

But the central preoccupation of his presidency has been the need to restore the basic bargain that is at the heart of the American experience, and at the heart of our explosive economic growth as a nation that made us the most powerful nation on Earth, and that he believes had frayed, and that the data demonstrates had frayed long before even the great recession made it worse.  And that’s been the focus of his presidency, and it will continue to be the focus of his presidency.

Q    And can I just get you to respond to what Speaker Boehner said over the weekend about judge the Republican Congress not by the bills they have passed but by the bills they have repealed?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, either way you judge, the results haven't been particularly stellar. 

I would simply say that the President believes that the American people sent their representatives to Washington to take action to help the American economy grow, to help the middle class feel more secure, and to behave responsibly when it came to drafting and legislating economic policy.  And by responsibly, I also mean taking action to responsibly reduce our deficits. 

That’s what this President has done.  The numbers make that clear.  The situation he inherited was one of global economic chaos, a potential world-wide depression, the potential for 20 to 25 percent unemployment in this country -- we had not seen anything like that since the Great Depression -- an exploding deficit, the largest deficits that had ever been passed from one President to another.  And all of those trends had been reversed and put on a positive path. 

And we have more work to do.  There are too many Americans still without work, too many Americans who are looking for a job and can't find one.  Economic growth has been steady but it has not been strong enough, as far as the President is concerned.  And one of the reasons for that has been the failure of Washington to come together to make sensible decisions about our economic policy and reach sensible agreements, to find that common ground that the President is so interested in finding and which the policies he's put forward so clearly demonstrate he's interested in finding.

So there's more work to be done, but this has been his central preoccupation.


Q    Is the President going to refocus our attention by challenging Congress on things like the debt limit, the government shutdown, the sequester, CR, laying down guidelines for what he wants from them?

MR. CARNEY:  I would, without getting ahead of the President, steer you away from an expectation that this speech or that these series of speeches will focus on specific struggles with Congress over these issues that you mentioned.  Obviously, we are aware of the deadlines that are approaching with regards to some of these issues, and we have been engaging with lawmakers of both parties since the beginning of the year in an effort to try to find common ground so that we can resolve them in a way that is good for the economy and specifically avoids the kind of confrontation that is so bad for the economy and bad for the middle class.

So we’re still about that business, and we’re still hopeful that we can reach an agreement with Republicans in Congress that prevents that kind of problem that we saw again in the summer of 2011 that represented the worst kind of self-inflicted wound by Washington on the American economy.

Q    Right, but if the purpose of this is to get everybody’s attention back to the economy, isn’t he going to ask Congress to do certain things?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President in the specifics of his speech.  I want everyone to hear it with fresh ears, if you will, when the President delivers his address.  So I would just discourage you from expecting that this would be a speech focused narrowly on the debt ceiling or the CR or things like that.  Rather it’s a speech that will address some of the broader issues that we face as a nation economically.

Q    By asking them to do one thing?

MR. CARNEY:  Stay tuned.

Q    Do this for me.  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  Stay tuned.  Lord knows that that wouldn't work.

Q    Jay, there’s a study out from the National Association for Business Economics that basically says that hiring has picked up in the last few months, better than it’s been in a long time, which sounds like optimism in the economy.  And yet, you're saying today repeatedly more work to be done, steady but not strong enough.  Isn’t that what we’ve heard for four and a half years?  Doesn’t it sound like we’re running in place if the President is going to give more speeches that say, it’s good, but it’s still not good enough, we’ve got more work?  He’s been saying that over and over.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think what he’s been saying recently has been that we have stabilized and we’ve continued to grow and we’ve continued to create jobs, but that more work needs to be done.  I would say that his speeches going back to 2009 when we were in the throes of a calamitous economic collapse globally, we’re tonally quite different from what you’ve heard from him in the last recent months or last year or so because we’ve made progress. 

But he absolutely accepts the charge that we need to do more, and that the unemployment level we have is still unacceptably high even though it’s come down as much as it has, that the economic growth that we have seen is not robust enough, even though it has been consistently positive and steady for some time. 

And that’s why he won’t rest until we have put in place the kinds of policies that ensure the middle class can continue to grow, and that we can reverse the sort of trend that preexisted, that predated the recession itself, but was made so much worse by the recession, where for years, really, the middle class saw its income stagnate while the top earners in this country, the most affluent in this country, saw their earnings increase exponentially, and families across the countries just felt more and more squeeze.  And we have to continue to address that challenge, and the President will speak to that very clearly on Wednesday.

Q    And two other quick things.  You mentioned a moment ago saving the auto industry, and yet obviously we all know Detroit has now filed for bankruptcy and the Mayor over the weekend seemed to be leaving the door open that they may need a federal bailout.  I wonder, would you close the door on that, or it is possible the federal government may have to --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think what I’ve said and that we’ve made clear is that the issue of their insolvency is something that Detroit and its creditors need to resolve -- Detroit and the state of Michigan and the creditors need to resolve.  We will, of course, as we do with every city, work with them to find ways to assist them in their effort as Detroit tries to get back on its feet and continue to make progress.  But the issue of insolvency is something that Detroit and its creditors need to resolve.

Just in the nature of the question that you asked, clearly the automobile industry, the American automobile industry has rebounded has been growing significantly, has been creating jobs. They have been shortening their assembly line schedules in a way that demonstrates the demand for American cars continues to grow. And those are all very positive signs.  The issues that afflict Detroit obviously have to do with more than just the automobile industry and what it’s been through.

Q    Final thing.  Obviously, the White House was pleased when Republicans in the Senate approved a slew of nominations that have included the EPA Chief, Gina McCarthy.  Today, House Republicans are saying they may issue a subpoena to get records. They believe that there are some records that will show that the administration has overstepped its bounds on regulations and whatnot.  The question is, is the honeymoon over already?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not aware of this latest development. I would simply say that the President is very pleased with the actions taken by the Senate to ensure that his highly qualified nominees were considered and confirmed, and hopes that that progress continues. 

Because we have bigger issues to deal with.  We have issues that the American people actually want us to deal with, and that goes to how do we make college more affordable so that families in this country can send their kids to college, and by doing that, give their children the tools they need to make a good life and solid life for themselves in the future.  How do we insure that families across the country are able to refinance their homes and take advantage of interest rates that continue to be historically low, and by doing so, put more money in their pockets and assist economic growth in this country.

These are the issues that we need to address.  And what we have seen over recent months is a certain amount of intense sometimes fevered focus on controversies that turned out not to be scandals, and a desire by Republicans in particular in Congress to focus their attention on those issues rather than the ones the American people care most about.

Q    Jay, considering Dan Pfeiffer's line in his email about Washington hasn't been focused enough on this, is this an acknowledgement that the White House and the President feels like you guys haven't done enough in framing the economic problems of the country right now?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that we would say that, absolutely, it is important for the President to constantly return to these issues, to use the powers of his office to try to draw attention to those issues, and to help mobilize Washington and the rest of the country towards finding solutions to the challenges we face economically.  And it is -- you didn’t ask this specifically -- but it is absolutely the case that there were some challenges that we took on, in particular in the wake of Newtown with the proposals the President put forward to reduce gun violence, which did not deal directly with the economic challenges we face, but they were absolutely the right thing to do. 

And some have said that comprehensive immigration reform takes us off of those central issues that have to do with the economy.  Of course, we believe very strongly and with great conviction that comprehensive immigration reform is an economic issue; is one that, if passed and signed into law, will create great economic benefit for the country including the middle class.

But we have to keep focused on these issues, even as we all are buffeted about by the variety of things that confront us, because they're unexpected -- either a natural disaster or an event overseas, or fake scandals or things like that.  We have to keep focused on the North Star here, the issues that the American people want us to be focused on.

Q    If on Wednesday we played the Osawatomie speech instead of this one, would anybody tell the difference?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.

Q    I mean, what makes this speech different from December 2011?

MR. CARNEY:  We are in a different place.  We are in a situation where the economy has continued to grow, has continued to create jobs, and where we have a different set of opportunities here to move the country forward again.

On the other hand, we plead guilty to the charge that there is a thematic continuity that exists between the speech the President will give in Galesburg at Knox College on Wednesday and his speech in Osawatomie and his speech back at Knox College in 2005, as well as his State of the Union addresses and his inaugural addresses.  That’s because the themes that you hear and the focus that you hear from the President are the very things that animate him and inspired him to run for the presidency to begin with.

Q    So is this speech about building popular political support to pressure Republicans in Congress, that ultimately this is what this about?  It's a different type of campaign but it's a campaign --

MR. CARNEY:  I think it's designed to mobilize focus and attention not just so that people will pressure Congress -- because, as I said earlier, this is not about congressional action alone at all -- it’s about the vision we need to embrace in order to move forward and that there are ways to move forward that obviously include necessary congressional action, but there are other ways to move forward as well.  And you’ll hear from the President about that.

Q    Just one question on Syria.  Secretary Kerry spent all this time trying to announce that there’s going to be talks about talks in the Middle East peace process at a period of relatively uneasy calm between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and yet there is not this same sense or urgency involved with what to do about Syria.  Are we missing something?  Or is there -- is there the same type of constant badgering that's taking place of Russia or others to try to get a --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say, one, obviously, many members of the President’s national security team are focused on many challenges, including Syria.  Secretary Kerry has been.  Secretary Hagel is and has been.  Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, and others.  And that will continue to be the case, including, of course, the engagement of the President. 

But what we can't do is focus on one foreign policy challenge to the exclusion of all else.  And while a great deal of attention and resources have been devoted to the Syria challenge and will continue to be, we need to continue to address other challenges.  And that includes our efforts to rebalance towards Asia; and our efforts that you saw the President engage in on his trip to Africa to assist one of the fastest-growing regions of the world, to continue to develop in a positive way; and our efforts to address this longstanding challenge in the Middle East, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Q    Where are we on arming the rebels?

MR. CARNEY:  I can't catalogue all the specific forms of assistance that we're providing to the Syrian opposition.  But we are providing stepped-up assistance to them, to the Syrian opposition, to the Syrian military council.  And we'll continue to do that, and we'll work with Congress as we do.


Q    Jay, can you tell us why the unusually big buildup for Wednesday's speech?  We've heard from the President scores of times on the economy and it seems to me like this is the biggest buildup you've ever given an economic speech. 

MR. CARNEY:  Mara is not sure she agrees.  (Laughter.)

Q    Top five.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, top five, says Karl.  We think it's important.  And we think that we're at a crossroads in many ways in terms of where we've been and where we've arrived and where we can go economically.  As I said at the top, we were in severe dire straits economically in this country and globally when the President took office.  And he took -- working with partners in Congress as well as other stakeholders -- decisive action to stem the bleeding, to prevent a Great Depression, to put us back on track towards economic growth, and to give the middle class some tools so that it could feel more secure as we emerged from the recession.

He has taken further action to make our tax code more fair, to further invest in our economy and education and innovation.  And we have seen steady economic growth and steady job creation and more positive signs about the fact that the economy continues to heal and is poised for further growth and job creation.  And we can make a choice now about which direction we're going to go. How do we continue that growth?  How do we expand on it?  How do we take action to address the real challenge, which is the squeeze that the middle class feels and has felt for a long time in a way that positions us to grow and to allow our children and grandchildren to fulfill the American Dream in the 21st century as they did in the 20th?

And that's why the President feels that it's important to give a big speech at this time, as he has felt periodically over the course of his public career about these very same issues.

Q    Will he preview the speech in his Organizing for Action address tonight? 

MR. CARNEY:  I think they will be different remarks.  So there's no question that, broadly speaking, the challenges that our country faces and the centrality of the need for further economic growth and strengthening of the middle class is part of almost everything he talks about.  But I would certainly encourage you to look at them as very distinct speeches.

Roger, then Mara.

Q    Thank you.  Back to the Mideast, Jay, you used the phrase "very cautious optimism" to describe sort of where we are right now with the Kerry announcement.  Does that explain why we have not seen a statement issued by the President on this?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we're -- as has been noted by others -- at a stage here that represents some positive progress, but is not representative of a conclusion of anything.  And we hope that that progress continues.  And I'm not going to engage in a lot of speculation about where it goes from here or the conversations that have taken place or will take place, except to say that, in answer to some other questions, this remains an important challenge for this country and for our allies and partners in the region and around the world. 

Q    It is a significant development, isn't it?  Does he view it that way?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it is an important development, but I don't want to overstate it or understate it.  I think that we commend those who have agreed to take this next step and the work that went into getting us there, getting them there.  And then, we'll look forward to, hopefully, more progress.


Q    You said you don't want to focus on the skirmishes with Congress, although in a couple months, they’re going to be more than skirmishes.  And can you just give us an update?  You said you’ve been engaging with both parties since the beginning of the year to avoid the kind of confrontations that we’ve had in the past.  Can you just tell us when is the last time Denis met with Republicans?  And what, if anything, about this engagement leads you to believe that there won’t the same kind of confrontations this fall that we’ve had in the past?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the question of engagement, I think that if anything has kind of sunk in of late, it’s that we are fully engaged with Congress at multiple levels, including the Chief of Staff, including various representatives of the White House, including the President and the Vice President.  And that will continue.

And our approach, beginning with the President, has been to find out, when it comes to our conversations with Republican lawmakers, whether or not there is a desire on their side to find the common ground that we believe is necessary to move forward.  And that includes on the fiscal issues -- the financial and economic and budget issues -- a willingness to accept that you won’t get 100 percent of what you want, that you have to make choices that are hard for your side, in the way that the President has consistently, including with the agreement he presented to Speaker Boehner at the end of the year and that was included in his budget proposal.

What we haven’t seen yet from Republicans, after the conversations that we’ve had -- and they’ve been good -- is any kind of specific counterproposal.  And when you look at the budget issues, we were told month after month and year after year by the Republicans that what was absolutely needed was a return to regular order; that the big failure was by Democrats not engaging in the process of regular order -- so-called regular order on Capitol Hill.  So what did we do?  Democrats passed the budget in the House -- I mean, in the Senate.  Republicans passed one in the House.  Regular order demands that conferees be appointed so that a conference can attempt to find reconciliation there, can attempt to produce a conference report.  What we have seen from Republican leaders who called for regular order is a refusal thus far to move forward with naming of conferees and a meeting of conferees.

So we're going to keep trying.  We believe that there is common ground here, and that there is a way to address our challenges when it comes to the specific deadlines that you're talking about that will be good for our economy and which will represent compromise by all sides.  But we need to have that kind of willingness on the other side, not just in theory but in specificity. 

Q    Well, you say you have to find out whether or not there is a desire to find common ground on fiscal issues.  So, so far, the answer to that question is no.

MR. CARNEY:  I think we've seen -- we've had good conversations and there has been good discussion about the desire.  What we haven't seen is any specificity that mirrors what the President has put forward.  We haven't seen any specific proposals at all from the Republicans that would constitute a counterproposal to what the President put forward in his budget.

Q    But do you think Republicans have a desire to find common ground?

MR. CARNEY:  I think some Republicans do.  Some Republicans actually don’t think default would be a good thing -- I think actually a majority of Republicans, maybe even a supermajority of Republicans.  But there is obviously a group of Republicans who believe that default -- or at least there was, and maybe that group has shrunk -- would be fine because it would achieve a political victory, even as it did untold damage to our economy and to the middle class.  And that’s the kind of thinking that the President rejects.

Scott, did you have one?

Q    I did.  Thanks, Jay.  Since the President's trip to Israel and the West Bank in April, he's left the issue largely to Secretary Kerry.  And I'm wondering now, given the precarious nature of whether there will be this talk or not, does the President intend to get more directly involved in bringing the parties together?  Is now a time to bring him in to sort of close the deal?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any engagements to announce. I would simply say that the President did travel to the region, did travel to Israel; met with Palestinian leaders on Palestinian territory; and did ask and encourage Secretary Kerry to engage in the effort that he's engaged in.  And he is regularly involved in that internally.  He also, I think just a few days ago, spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about a range of issues, but clearly this is always a topic of conversation.

So the President is engaged.  But Secretary Kerry is engaged also -- or is involved in a very specific task here that has reached this point, and we’ll see where it goes from here.

Q    Question on Egypt.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me just finish with Scott.

Q    Following a bit on Chuck’s question, you’ve heard the criticism a bit of why the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue right now when Egypt and Syria seem to be more pressing issues in that region.  And I’m wondering if the administration subscribes to the kind of school of thought that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue will have beneficial effects on the rest of -- on the sort of dysfunctional politics in the rest of the region. Or does that linkage no longer exist?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that we believe that if that were to be achieved, that that would have positive effects beyond the conflict itself and on the wider region.  But we also don’t think that resolving this conflict would resolve all conflicts in the region. 

And responding to that criticism, I would simply say that it would -- you would be hard-pressed to total up the time and resources spent by this administration, and also this administration engaging with Congress on the various challenges that you name -- Syria, Egypt and the Middle East peace process  -- and come to the conclusion that Egypt and Syria had been shortchanged.  That’s simply not the case.

Q    Yes, Egypt.  President Morsi’s family held a news conference today and said, look, it’s been three weeks since he was abducted, we haven’t heard from him, we haven’t seen him, he hasn’t been given access to lawyers or anything like that.  You, in the past, have called for the military to refrain from arbitrary arrests.  When pressed, you said that, well, yes it includes Mohammed Morsi.  Do you want to see him released?  Is the United States doing anything to try to obtain his release?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that we call for an end to all politicized arrests and detentions, and believe that all parties should be free to participate in Egypt’s political future.  And, yes, I have said that that includes President Morsi.  And we believe that his situation needs to be resolved in a way that is consistent with the rule of law and due process, and allows for his personal security.  And we have made that clear in our conversations with the transitional Egyptian government authorities, and we are having those conversations daily.

Q    Is the United States making any specific suggestions as to how it would like to see --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to get into the details of the conversations.  We are focused broadly on the need to refrain from making political arrests and detentions.  We broadly call on the transitional government to ensure that they take every step necessary to bring about the return of a democratically elected civilian government, and that the necessary path to doing that is to allow for an inclusive process, one that represents reconciliation instead of polarization.  And one aspect of doing that is to make sure that rule of law and due process is followed, and that you don’t have an arbitrary situation when it comes to detentions and arrests.

Q    It sounds like you’re lumping him in with all the other arrests.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I’m not doing is suggesting that resolving his situation would mean that the whole problem is resolved.  And I think that we absolutely include President Morsi in that, but that we have seen this is an issue that goes beyond one individual.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  April, last one; and then Isaac.

Q    Jay, I want to go back to Friday.  Since Friday, the President coming out to the briefing room, there have been massive numbers of conversations via TV, in homes, everywhere people are talking -- black, white, all races, all creeds, what have you.  And then you also have members of Congress talking.  You have states talking about their “stand your ground” law and racial profiling.  The CBC is looking at trying to put federal profiling law in place.  And now you even have other celebrities beyond Stevie Wonder, like Kanye West, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige and Trey Songz, who are talking about not playing in Florida because of the “stand your ground” law.

Does the President feel that his message, the expectations of his message -- did he meet those expectations, or did he exceed those expectations, because of all that's been going on in these last couple of days since Friday?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't think the President gets to set those expectations.  What you heard from the President on Friday was I think a very personal reflection of ideas that he had been considering in the wake of the verdict.  And he very much appreciated the opportunity to express those ideas to you from this podium.

But he was very clear that this was not about one conversation, but about many conversations.  And I think that your question reflects that those many conversations are taking place, and that is a good thing.  And I think he would view that as a positive development.  And I don't think he would take credit for it.  I think we saw that prior to the President’s coming out on Friday.  And I think that what the President said on Friday, again, was very personal, and I think he tried to explain a broader feeling within the African American community, one that he could relate to and understand personally and directly, so that there was -- to help foster greater understanding in general.

And that conversation has to continue, but not in a mandated way from the top down, but in an organic way at the state and local level, in community centers and churches and around kitchen tables and on television, and through all the variety of means that you mentioned.

Q    But that organically seems to be bearing fruit and moving forward.  You have members of the Congressional Black Caucus, again, talking about coming together to do something on racial profiling on the federal level, as well as working with states on it, and also “stand your ground” law.  Will the President be talking -- if they want to come together, and even if the Congressional Hispanic Caucus would like to come together, would he sit and talk with them about possibly crafting legislation on that?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had the conversation with him.  I think you heard his general view about ways to move forward, but beyond that I haven’t spoken with him about it.

Yes, last one.

Q    So you said some Republicans are ready to go to default, some are not; some are willing to work with you guys, some are not.  Where's the President's current view of where John Boehner stands on that spectrum?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the Speaker of the House has said that he doesn’t believe that we should allow the nation to default, and the President agrees with him.  And what we hope for is a resolution with Congress that ensures that default doesn’t happen.

We've made clear we're not going to negotiate with Congress over Congress's responsibility to pay the bills that it's already racked up.  We're just not.  And it is an irresponsible thing to even flirt with, because the flirtation itself does harm to our economy.  And hopefully that won't happen, because we saw what happened when that flirtation took place in the summer of 2011.

Q    But does the President think that John Boehner's going into the fall negotiating in good faith?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that the President believes that Republican leaders, in general, and Republicans, in general, do not want to see the nation go down that path again.  But it requires leadership to ensure that minorities of minorities, or minorities of majorities don’t bring about an unforeseen result. 
But this is up to Congress to resolve.  Again, it is not something that should be negotiated, that is the responsibility of Congress to pay the bills that it's already racked up.


2:11 P.M. EDT

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