Press Briefing

October 23, 2013 | 1:10:23 | 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, 10/23/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:14 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I appreciate your patience.  Busy day, as almost every day is here at the White House.

Before I get to your questions, I had a couple of things I wanted to say to you.  And the first is that in front of you and to my left here is Peggy Suntum, who 30 years ago got a phone call.  “She was set to begin a new job the following day as a White House stenographer, meticulously transcribing the President’s every public utterance.”  I’m reading from a Zeke Miller story, published today on Time Magazine’s website.  “The caller informed her that the Marine Barracks in Beirut had been attacked, and that she was needed immediately.”  Since then, Peggy, who is a master stenographer, and a wonderful person, and a friend of many of you, has been recording the words of five different Presidents and, unfortunately for her, on occasion, Press Secretaries.  But I just wanted to congratulate her on her 30 years and thank her for her service.  (Applause.)

I also have an announcement that on Wednesday, November 20th, President Barack Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The Medal of Freedom is our nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  Additional details about the event, including media logistics, will be released at a later date. 

As you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the first ceremony bestowing the honor on an inaugural class of 31 recipients.  Since that time, more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And with that, we’ll take a few questions. 

Q    Who --

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s out there, who the recipients are.  There are -- I have to say, it was a distinct pleasure for me to speak with Ben Bradlee about the fact that he’ll be receiving one this year.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  On health care, Secretary Sebelius on CNN yesterday said that the President was not aware of any of the problems with the website before it launched.  And we’ve come to find out since then that there were a bunch of red flags that had popped up before launch.  And so I’m wondering whether the President feels now that he should have been made aware of that.  Should somebody be held accountable for giving him that information?  And if there was somebody giving him information, was he in fact misinformed about the status of the launch?

MR. CARNEY:  Jim, thank you for that question.  Secretary Sebelius was referring to what I have said and what the President himself has said, which is that while we knew that there would be some glitches, and actually said publicly that we expected some problems, we did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch that they would be as significant as they have turned out to be. 

So there was testing and there were some problems anticipated, but we did not expect -- and by we, I mean broadly, the administration, did not expect the scale of problems that we have seen -- which is why, at the President’s direction and the Secretary’s direction, we have launched this all-out effort, 24/7, with a tech surge of experts -- new eyes and ears coming in to assist the existing team -- to identify and isolate each problem that exists with the functionality of the website; assess what the best solutions are to creating a remedy for that specific problem; and then applying it, whether it’s increasing server capacity or writing new code to work around a situation, providing greater accessibility for improvements in the user interface. 

These are all things that the teams currently operating and working on making improvements to the system are focusing on.  And they’re tackling the problems one by one, they’re prioritizing them, and they’re addressing them.  These are technical, logistical problems that require the kind of expertise that’s being brought to bear to fix them.

But there is no question that we did not anticipate the scale of the problems with the website.  What is also important to remember is that the website is not the Affordable Care Act.  What has been in place since October 1st, and what will be in place for the millions of consumers who want the product, is the vast array of affordable health plans out there because of the marketplaces set up by the Affordable Care Act.  And every day, more and more Americans are submitting applications, they’re enrolling, they’re shopping, and they’re finding out that they have access to affordable health insurance.  And if they’re among the 15 to 20 percent of the American people who did not have insurance in the past, they’re discovering that they have options available to them that make it affordable and that will provide them, come January 1st, security that they’ve lacked in the past. 

And while the struggles that individuals have had with the website are extremely unfortunate and we take responsibility for them, and we are working around the clock to fix the website, to make that experience easier, those struggles, as I said yesterday, pale in comparison to the uncertainty that a single mom, who’s a breast cancer survivor, has felt every day that she’s lacked insurance because she can’t afford it, she’s been priced out of it, or insurers simply won’t give it to her because she has a preexisting condition.  And that is why we have to keep focused on the end goal here, which is making this insurance available to millions of Americans who need it.

Q    These struggles, as you say, Jay, are also, however, having a political impact.  And today the administration briefed a bunch of Democrats in the House, and as they came out you could clearly sense the frustration that they were having:  They were calling for accountability, they were demanding action, they were demanding more answers.  And I’m wondering -- these are your allies, these are people who you are asking to be out there supporting the health care plan -- what is the price that they might have to be pay?  And what is it that you can do to satisfy their demands for accountability, for answers?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’re working every day around the clock -- the team, specifically the tech teams -- on the website problems, to ensure that the experience is better so that those questions are answered and that the constituents of those lawmakers are given the services that they deserve and that they have earned through the Affordable Care Act. 

So the frustration that lawmakers who supported the Affordable Care Act feel over the fact that a portion of it is not functioning at the level we want it to function is frustration shared, first and foremost, by the President and by all of us.  And that’s why we’re crashing on these problems and applying a high level of expertise and experience to fixing them. 

The politics of this, I promise you, are not the focus of the White House or the administration, and I don’t think they’re the focus of those on Capitol Hill who have long supported providing access to affordable health insurance to millions of Americans who didn’t have it in the past.  Their focus is on making that goal come true.

And we’re working with them and we’re going to brief them, we’re going to keep everybody updated.  We’re going to provide as much information as we can on the work that’s being done.  I can tell you that beginning tomorrow, at the direction of Secretary Sebelius, there will be daily briefings at CMS to update individuals, reporters who are interested in the progress that’s being made and the efforts that are being undertaken both to address the technical problems and to make the whole experience for American consumers better, and that includes making Americans aware of the fact that there are four ways to enroll in the exchanges, and that includes not just online but by phone or at in-person centers in hospital or local health centers, or by mail. 

And we're going to work every day to make this experience better, to make sure that it's providing the benefits that the Affordable Care Act promises and will deliver, and to make sure that we can inform you as best as we can about the process that we're undertaking.

Q    One last question I wanted to ask about a personnel matter involving the NSC today.  I wondered, does the White House investigate all anonymous Twitter accounts that are critical of the administration?

MR. CARNEY:  I do not have any information on personnel matters.  I can tell you that the individual does not work here anymore.  He was an employee of the State Department on temporary duty here [detailed to the National Security Staff for two years, after which time he was briefly put on the National Security Staff payroll].  But I would refer you to him.  I just don’t have anything on it for you.  I mean, there are obviously codes of conduct in general, but this -- on specific instances or even a broad question like that, I just -- I don’t have anything for you.


Q    Jay, on the Affordable Care Act rollout, Senator Shaheen, a Democrat, has said that many of her constituents are frustrated in enrolling, and has asked the President to consider a delay in the sign-up period.  Is that something the President would consider or is considering?

MR. CARNEY:  Mark, what I can tell you is that today Americans have access to affordable coverage -- today.  And that was true on October 1st.  They can enroll in four ways, as I just mentioned to Jim.  And we are working on the problems that are real and significant and unacceptable that exist in one of those avenues to enrolling on the website.

We are still in the early stages of the open enrollment period.  We are in -- we are at, what, three weeks and two days into this process.  So we remain focused on making improvements to one of the avenues through which you can enroll, individuals can enroll, and in making Americans aware of the other access points available to them, and making those more effective by increasing staff at the call centers, for example, in peak times, or making the changes to the homepage of the site clearer so that those who visit it know that those other avenues are available to them; that they can compare plans and get some estimates about what insurance might be available to them at what rough cost, but then, if they want to get more information and specifically to enroll they can -- and don’t want to do it through the website or are having trouble through the website, they have these other avenues available to them.

And we're going to tackle this problem every day.  We're going to run this play, and we're going to get three yards, and we're going to keep running it and we're going to keep making progress.  And the important thing is that the insurance that is the core of this program is made available at affordable prices to millions of Americans who didn’t have it.  And I think -- we're not making excuses for the serious problems that consumers have encountered on the website, but an element of this is the enormous demand that’s out there. 

And we had high expectations for interest levels, but we did not expect what we saw and what we have seen.  And that’s a challenge to us, to make this law work for those people who want it to work for them.  And that has nothing to do with politics, that has to do with the security of families across the country.

There are a lot of stories -- and I think you've seen them in the press -- of people who have gotten through, have enrolled, or have shopped and simply made themselves aware of the fact that their lives are going to change fundamentally for the better on January 1st, because they're going to have affordable health insurance that they did not have before, or because they had a preexisting condition that priced them out of the insurance market entirely.

And it’s hard to measure the importance of that in the lives of individuals across the country.

Q    If I can jump to an international question?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    You addressed yesterday questions about a possible rift with Saudi Arabia over that country’s concerns about U.S. policies towards Iran and Syria.  I’m just wondering whether you have learned about those concerns through anything other than press reports, whether the government there has expressed those to you directly, and if so, what they said.

MR. CARNEY:  I think I said yesterday that Secretary Kerry had been meeting with, in Paris, his Saudi counterpart.  And we obviously have a very close working relationship with Saudi Arabia, have had for a long time.  We have an enormous amount of important business that we do on a bilateral basis with Saudi Arabia, and that is a relationship of both friendship and respect.

Obviously, we have disagreements on some issues, and we work those out in a candid and forthright way as we maintain the basic foundation of a very important relationship.  And Secretary Kerry addressed this I think at length when he took some questions in the aftermath of those meetings, and so we’re going to keep working with our Saudi partners because that relationship is very important economically and in national security ways.

Q    And then, lastly, on the Twitter issue, without asking you to address any specific personnel matters, does the White House as a result of this take any additional procedures to ensure the security or the integrity of tweets put out by employees of the executive branch?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, on that point I think it’s important to know that unless you have an authorized official Twitter account or social media account, as some of us do, White House employees are not able to access social media sites like that at all -- obviously for personal use.

So I have @PressSec.  Josh and others, Jamie have official Twitter accounts.  But you can't go on Twitter and sign up for an account unless it’s authorized.


Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Through White House equipment. 

Q    We talked to some computer experts, because you suggested that we should.  One, Dave Kennedy, who is the CEO of a leading information security company, estimates that about 20 percent of needs to be rewritten, estimating that to be about 100 million lines of code, and suggesting that fixing the site could take six months to a year.  Does that sort of -- is that what you are hearing?

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for question.  I can tell you that the way we’re --

Q    Is that right?  Is that wrong?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I would refrain from doing is making estimates based on what you're reading in the press, and focus instead, as our tech experts are, on these specific identified problems that they've found and the fixes that they're working on applying. 

Our approach is to look head on at the problems and try to fix them every day, knowing that this is going to be a constant effort and that each day we're going to make some progress and each day they'll be an improvement to the user experience on  And each day we will work through a variety of means to provide information to Americans about the other avenues they can use to get information and enroll in an insurance plan.

Q    But we're not getting specific information from your techs about what the problems are.  You told us to talk to computer experts, so that's what we're doing. 

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  No, look, I think that's a smart thing to do.

Q    Is that unrealistic?  Because if you're talking six months to a year, obviously that's going to affect the mandate, I would imagine.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, from day one, people have been able to enroll -- from day one -- and that includes on  As we surged resources and brainpower towards fixing the problems that -- can I just finish -- that arose, the experience on has incrementally improved.  And I think that has been acknowledged.  So from day one, people have been able to use the site.  The experience has been unacceptably problematic.  We are making changes every day and improvements every day to improve that experience so that more and more people can use it effectively. 

We're also making it clear that there are other ways to enroll, because the Affordable Care Act is not a website.  It is not like -- creating perfection on a website would not deliver what the Affordable Care Act promises.  What the Affordable Care Act promises is a marketplace for insurance products that provide that insurance affordably to millions of Americans across the country who cannot get it otherwise.

Q    I mean, it's obviously an issue, as you've acknowledged, that the website isn't up.  I'm just wondering, because I look at this, six months to a year, that's a really long time.  Is that out of the realm of possibility?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, what an outside computer expert might guestimate about what the end of a process would look like is obviously based on a lot of assumptions.  And I'm not judging it beyond saying that what we're doing is focusing on specific problems, isolating problems, for example, with signing up -- isolating problems that have been identified with the transmission of information from the website to individual insurers that has to do with getting the accurate information to those insurers so that they can provide the coverage that individuals have signed up for.  And that's -- these specific, identifiable problems are the things that the tech teams are working on and fixing through writing code, adding capacity
through additional servers, and through a variety of other means. 

The work of constantly improving a website will continue I think day by day.  So it’s not -- what I can tell you is that a week from now, it’s going to be better than it is today.  And a week after that, it’s going to be much better than it is today, and that’s going to continue and continue.

So I don’t know what endpoint an outside computer expert might be imagining.  What we know is that today and every day individuals are able to get important information from the website, they’re able to enroll.  Often individuals experience frustration and delays and that’s unacceptable, we’re working to fix that, but others are succeeding and enrolling through the website.  Others are going through the different avenues that are available to them, and we’re just going to keep breaking rocks on this until we are satisfied that Americans are able to use that website at a level of functionality that meets our expectations.

Q    Can I lastly ask about -- so a lot of computer experts told us that just because of how much code they estimate that to be -- and again, that’s what we have to go on because we don’t have specifics -- they actually say it would be easier to start from scratch, to scrap the whole thing and start over.  Is that under consideration?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think it’s important to note that -- two things.  One, we have tech teams working on specific fixes to the existing system, so our belief is that we are making fixes to the existing system.  We’re dealing with the volume on the web track by -- on the website, rather, the traffic, by increasing our bandwidth and improving site architecture.  We’re substituting in hardware to make changes that make it more optimized, and we’re improving database queries. 

There were tests done; there are going to be more tests done now that we know what we’re dealing with in terms of volume.  We’re listening to consumer feedback and making changes that respond to what the consumers are saying they want so that existing features, for example, like the tax calculator or the ability to just search for general information about available plans is more prominently featured so that the consumer experience is improved.  And we’re just going to tackle this day by day.

And we have some extremely talented people working on this and working with the existing team.  And at the direction of Secretary Sebelius and the President of the United States, they’re going to work tirelessly until the consumer experience on the website matches the President’s expectations.


Q    As tempting as it is to ask you another question about health care, I’d like to change the subject for a moment.

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, okay, I was going to say you can keep at it.

Q    On immigration, what has the President done specifically or the administration done specifically to restart after the shutdown and now after this Obamacare issue -- restart in the House an immigration -- comprehensive immigration reform bill?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, noting, of course, that the shutdown ended about five minutes ago, in Washington -- in the way it feels, really -- but only a few days ago, and that we averted economic shutdown globally only a few days ago, the fact of the matter is, is that the minute that totally manufactured crisis was resolved, the President made clear in the remarks that he delivered that he firmly believes we can get comprehensive immigration reform through Congress and on his desk by the end of the year.

So the answer to your question is we’re talking with members and staff members in Congress about how to move forward.  I note that the Speaker of the House today said that he believes it’s an important issue that can be and should be addressed.  And there are a variety of ways to do this.

And obviously the leaders of the House have to decide how they want to proceed.  The Senate has passed a comprehensive bipartisan bill, a very significant achievement.  And it doesn't match word-for-word what the President necessarily would have written, but it meets the criteria that he set, and he would sign it if the House were to pass essentially the identical version.  The way that it, as I understand it, needs to work is the House still has to produce its own bill or bills, and that that would have to be conferenced.

So we’ll work with the House.  We’ll work with every interested party of both parties, or no party, to try to move this forward.  Because the point the President was making when he identified immigration reform and a budget deal and the farm bill as things that could get done at the end of the year, he was isolating them because bipartisan work has been done already on those areas.  And of course, when it comes to the budget, there is a conference coming together, which is something that we had hoped and called for all year.

He did not, although it was suggested in some places -- and I’m looking at you, Peter -- somehow lower his ambitions.  I mean, if anybody had said at the beginning of the year that if we had identified completion of comprehensive immigration reform as a goal to achieve at the end of the year, that that was somehow small potatoes, you would have been laughed at.  That's a big deal, and we think we can get it done.

So obviously, it depends on the House acting.  And we’re going --

Q    Following up on that --

MR. CARNEY:  Sure, go ahead.

Q    On that part, there have been in the last couple of days proposals made from the Republican side which seem to include even a pathway to citizenship -- perhaps a more difficult pathway.  Has the White House reached out to those people across the aisle and begun to talk to them about that?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know about specific conversations related to specific proposals.  The President is interested in constructive proposals that would move us forward and lead us to achieve a comprehensive solution that meet his criteria, and a pathway to citizenship is one of them.  The one that he envisioned and the one that the Senate passed is a serious piece of business.  It requires getting in the back of the line, paying fines and past taxes.  It’s a very responsible approach to meeting that challenge, and it increases significantly resources for border security.

It addresses the issue -- the profound issue that especially technology companies, but other companies have identified, American companies, and that is the need to retain highly capable talent here in the United States, immigrant talent -- people who come here to study at the best universities in the world and haven’t always been able to stay to start businesses or to go work with American businesses because of our immigration laws. 

So there is a lot of important work that was achieved in that comprehensive bill that passed the Senate that meets the President’s criteria, and he believes that there’s a bipartisan majority in the House, and probably a significant one, that would support that similar comprehensive approach.

So we're going to work in every way we can to get that done.  We believe it's in the interest of the country, it's in the interest of the economy.  I mean, when we talk about ways that we can grow the economy and add jobs, it's pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Q    But I guess --

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    -- I'm trying to get a little more pointed on this, is that there -- because of what happened with the shutdown and the fact that nobody trusts anybody anymore across the aisle, is the President going to do anything to try to bridge that trust again by talking to those on the Republican side?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  Here's where I think it's important to remember:  The experience we all enjoyed -- and I use that sarcastically -- in the shutdown wasn't brought about by Republicans.  In other words, it wasn't brought about by all Republicans.  It wasn't supported by all Republicans.  It was caused by a faction of the Republican Party in one house, with some prominent help by supporters in the other house.

There are plenty of Republican lawmakers who want to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform, and we've had a lot of conversations and consultations with them at the presidential level.  I mean, Senators McCain and Graham have played enormously constructive roles in this process and will continue to do so.  And there are members of the House Republican conference who support that kind of bipartisan comprehensive approach. 

So this is not about mistrust between Democrats on the one side and Republicans on the other.  I mean, a lot of these challenges have to do with allowing the natural bipartisan coalitions that can be formed to form, and for those bipartisan coalitions to vote on bipartisan solutions.  If that happens, we can get comprehensive immigration reform, we can get a farm bill, we can get even a budget deal.  So those are lofty goals, but they're achievable.


Q    One bit of housekeeping -- there are several health care CEOs here today to meet with White House officials.  Will the President also meet with them?  And can you tell us who they're meeting with, and will you provide a list of all of those who are attending?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me do that right now -- I appreciate it.  As you mentioned, senior administration officials are in fact meeting today with health insurance industry CEOs at 2:00 p.m.  -- 15 minutes or so -- at the White House.  The officials include Denis McDonough, Valerie Jarrett, Secretary Sebelius, and Chris Jennings. 

The purpose of the meeting is to continue to discuss open enrollment and ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  The CEOs bring an important on-the-ground perspective as we work to implement the law.  And the group is expected to also discuss the ongoing efforts to fix the technical issues with, and continue to improve the consumer experience.

I have a list of attendees -- we can provide it to you -- but they include the CEOs of Aetna, Humana, CareFirst, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, Health Net, Inc., Tufts Health Plan, BlueCross BlueShield --

Q    Can you --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm sorry?

Q    Slow --

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, no, no -- you want me to read them all? 

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna.  Bruce Broussard, the CEO of Humana.  Chet Burrell, CEO of CareFirst.  Patrick Geraghty, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Florida.  Jay Gellert, president and CEO of Health Net, Inc.  Patricia Hemingway Hall, president and CEO of Health Care Services Corporation.  Daniel J. Hilferty, president and CEO, Independence BlueCross.  Karen Ignagni -- I hope I pronounced that right, probably not -- president and CEO, America's Health Insurance Plans.  Michael Neidorff, chairman and CEO of Centene Corp.  James Roosevelt, president and CEO, Tufts Health Plan.  Scott Serota, president and CEO, BlueCross BlueShield Association.  Joseph Swedish, CEO, Wellpoint.  And Bernard Tyson, CEO, Kaiser Permanente.

And as I said at the top, the discussion will focus on implementation and enrollment.  It will focus on the efforts to fix the technical issues that have been identified with  And one of those issues has to do with making sure that insurers are getting accurate information from the virtual marketplace, from individuals, so that they can then provide them with the coverage that individuals are signing up to get. 

So obviously, these are very important players in this process.  And Denis and others look forward to the meeting.

Q    Do you anticipate the President in this?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have him as a participant in this, so I don't anticipate that.  But it's a small building. 

Q    I want to pick up on something that was discussed here yesterday and maybe get a little more specific.  On the new feature that has been added to the website where if you put in your ZIP code, you get an estimate of your costs -- as we understand it, if you are 50 and older, you get an estimate for someone who is 50 years old, and if you're 49 and younger -- those are the two categories broadly on the federal website -- you get an estimate for someone who is 27 years old.  If you go deeper in the process, you can often find from that estimate a much larger actual premium cost, because you could be older and older people require higher premiums.  Is that something that you're going to keep?  Do you find that there's anything that's deceptive or less than clear or candid in that consumer experience that you're trying to provide?

MR. CARNEY:  A great question.  And let me make clear two things.  One, these are estimates and we're just trying to provide basic information in an easily acceptable way.  The idea that we're trying to mislead people about costs is belied entirely by the irrefutable fact that premiums were published and provided to the public prior to October 1st.  And those premiums for these plans were published without subsidies attached to them.  So in other words, they seemed much more expensive for most individuals than the cost would actually be. 

But in terms of making improvements to the website, moving this feature into a place so that it was more accessible for average users so they could window shop was a change they'd make.  And, specifically, I don't know what all the changes they may make, but I'm sure they're going to continue to try to make the user experience better.

One thing that’s important to note is that in terms of the volume we’ve seen, the volume -- because there have been some assertions that making this feature available has affected or had something to do with the technological problems that have existed -- the volume we’ve seen that began on October 1st was roughly 30 percent browsers and 70 percent potential enrollees or applicants.  Since this feature was added, that percentage breakdown has not changed -- has not changed.

Q    The reason I ask you is some of the statewide exchanges don’t have a ZIP code at the front end, they have an age at the front end, so you get a much more direct and more rapid explanation on their websites of the premiums that you’re actually going to pay as opposed to an estimate.  And so I’m just saying that’s a practical comparison application that you could on the federal website look at and incorporate. 

MR CARNEY:  Well, look, again, I think that you’re going to an issue that’s important and that’s about consumer feedback and what’s useful.  But the underlying assumption here is that we’d be hiding the ball when, in fact, the premiums were published and have been public and they have been available information forever, A.  And, B, if you want specific --

Q    But you have acknowledged that the average consumer is not necessarily going to be familiar with that database or access it and that this is one of their first experiences with trying to figure out the cost.

MR. CARNEY:  Right.  And what’s been true from day one is that you could go on the site, enter in specific information about your age, where you live, and that sort of stuff, and get much more specific estimates about what your premiums would be.  So that has always been available.  Our interest is in providing as much information as possible to consumers about their choices.

And the bottom line, as was evident prior to October 1st and is true today, and will be true throughout the enrollment period, is that -- what is it -- six out of ten individuals who purchase insurance through the marketplaces are going to pay on average under $100 a month in premiums.  So our interest is in making people aware of what’s available to them and giving them as much information about the options available to them as possible.  And as we find ways to improve the consumer experience, we’re going to make those improvements.

Q    This is related to what Brianna asked about, and with your indulgence let me just read something that was in the New Yorker yesterday, because it quotes a guy named Fred Brooks, who has written a very well-received book about software project management, and he has something that’s called the Brooks law, which goes as follows:  ”Adding manpower to a software project late makes it late.”  And he goes on to say, “This is taken as gospel by programmers because it’s usually true.  It takes so much time for new coders to comprehend the system that they’re supposed to be fixing that typically it would have been faster not to include them at all.”  “In this case, though,” the writer says, “there may be some chance that a tech surge will work.  The project is already made of discrete parts that could be improved by many teams working in parallel.” 

I’m wondering if, based on what you know and what you’ve been briefed on internally, do you think this latter scenario is possible?  And if so, if you could explain why it’s possible --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s possible and it’s actually an excellent shorthand description of what’s happening, which is that there are many areas of the website that can be addressed in a focused way by teams that look at the problems that have arisen and been exposed by the launch and the volume that occurred after the launch.  And they’ve isolated those problems and they’re isolating those problems, and they address them when it has to do with capacity by adding capacity, when it has to do with code by writing new code; optimizing the interface for users where that helps; and consulting technology specialists operating state-based exchanges, which as many of you have noted, have been working, at least in many cases, effectively, obviously on a smaller scale, but to share best practices and incorporate them.

It’s important to note that what we’ve done here is bring in some fresh eyes and brains and had them -- attach them to existing teams.  We’re not starting fresh and asking people to suddenly learn the system, having lost the expertise that existed as the system was built.  These are new eyes and tech experts who are being brought in to add capacity, bring capacity and a fresh look as we address these problems.

Q    And the specifics you mentioned there, will they be a part of the briefings that will commence tomorrow at CMS?  Because obviously you know all of us here are very hungry for assessments, specific interventions you’re doing, things you’re seeing, how you’re rewriting the code or how you’re dealing with capacity.  Will we finally get to the point tomorrow at these briefings where we can actually hear and see and tangibly report on these developments?

MR. CARNEY:  The answer is that’s the idea.  We’re setting up a process where there will be regular briefings, at Secretary Sebelius’s instigation, that would try to answer your questions and provide as much information as possible about this ongoing work.  And it’s very technical.  It’s very process-oriented.  And I think it’s important that it’s housed over there because that’s closer to the ground.  That’s where this is happening.  CMS obviously oversees this process and the affordable -- and the Department of Health and Human Services oversees CMS. 

So that’s the idea, that we’re going to try to provide as much information as we can.  I can promise you that every question that you have won’t be -- we won’t be able to answer, or they won’t be able to answer right away, they may have to go back and get more information.  But there’s going to be an effort here to give you a sense of what’s happening and how we’re addressing these challenges.


Q    I want to talk health care, but a couple of foreign policy issues first.  There were reports out of Germany this morning that the German government believes that as part of the NSA surveillance, the U.S. government was monitoring Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone.  Can you confirm or deny that?

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you that today, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel spoke by telephone regarding the allegations that you mention, that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted the communications of the German Chancellor.  And I can tell you that the President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the Chancellor.

The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.  As the President has said, the U.S. is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.  Both leaders agreed to intensify further the cooperation between our intelligence services, with the goal of protecting the security of both countries and of our partners, as well as protecting the privacy of our citizens.

Q    Thank you.  And when you say -- pardon me -- “not monitoring,” does that leave the door open to the possibility the NSA, as part of a broader sweep, picked up some of her communications but was not “monitoring”?

MR. CARNEY:  All I can tell you is what the President told the chancellor.  The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.  As we’ve said in the past, we gather foreign intelligence just like agencies  -- similar agencies of other countries.  But we are working to, as the President has said, to review the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly balance both the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that everyone shares.

Q    The President this afternoon meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister -- obviously, a lot on the agenda.  One issue, though, that has come up in the last couple of years is this Pakistani doctor who was put in prison because he helped the U.S. government find bin Laden, which obviously the U.S. government felt was very valuable.  Is that something the President is still pushing on?  Is that something he would raise?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  And I can tell you that our position on Dr. Afridi has long been clear, and I’m sure we will again make it clear during this visit.  We believe his treatment is both unjust and unwarranted.  He should be released.  Bringing Osama bin Laden to justice was clearly in Pakistan’s interests, and the prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends exactly the wrong message about the importance of this shared interest.  So this is something that we have in a sustained way made clear to Pakistan, and will continue to include during this visit.

Q    A couple quick ones on health care.  When Jim asked you at the beginning about what Secretary Sebelius told CNN about the President not being told before October 1st, you seemed to confirm that timeline.  I wonder, why wasn’t the President told, though?  This is his signature achievement.  Was he being insulated from the potential damage?  Why wasn’t he told?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  It’s very similar to Jim’s question.  What the President made clear, and he’s on the record saying this I think well ahead of the launch, is that we expected hiccups and glitches, as you would expect from the launch of any major complex website.  That’s what we expected.  That’s what I think the teams expected.  And we did not expect or anticipate the scale of the problems that has occurred.  And that’s on us.  And there’s no question that testing was done and testing should have been more thorough, and therefore we would have been more prepared for this kind of challenge.

Q    But why wasn’t that stress test that The Washington Post reported on yesterday, where hundreds were simultaneously getting on the site and that it crashed, was that not passed on to the President?  And if not, why not?

MR. CARNEY:  Ed, I think that what we’ve said is that there were tests done, and that while there was an expectation that there would be problems and glitches, that they would not be of the significance and scale that we’ve seen, and that they would be ones that could be dealt with; and while the site was operating and operating relatively smoothly, again, with the understanding that the launch of any website of this complexity would have some initial problems.

So the answer is -- I think the fundamental answer to these questions is, it’s absolutely correct that the website from October 1st has not and did not operate as smoothly or even close to as smoothly as we anticipated, based on the information that we had, and that includes the people working on the site itself.

And we’re responsible for that, and that's why the President and the Secretary have directed this significant around-the-clock effort to systematically make changes and adjustments and fixes to the website to improve the user experience.

What is true is that every day, including the first day, Americans from across the country in the states that utilize the federal exchanges have been getting information they need, signing up, and enrolling.  And our goal is to just make that process easier every day, and to make it easier on the website and to make it easier by making sure that Americans know that there are three other avenues through which they can achieve the same goal.

Q    Very last one.  The President has said in many public forums that he would be willing to make reasonable changes to his health care law if Republicans present them.  Republican Marco Rubio has presented a bill that would basically say delay any IRS penalties until people can fully enroll, until we know the website is fully operational.  Meanwhile, a Democrat, Jean Shaheen, wrote a letter, as I understand it, to the President yesterday saying she’d like to see the enrollment deadline in March extended further so that people have more time.  Are these reasonable approaches that the President is going to look at and might even support?

MR. CARNEY:  They address slightly different issues.  The fact is we’re on the third week and second day of a six-month process.  And from day one, people have been able to get information and enroll.  The process through the website has been unacceptably complicated and difficult, and we’re working to fix that every day.  But meanwhile, people are getting the information they need, and they are shopping, and they are signing up, and they are enrolling. 

Two, when it comes to the individual mandate, I think -- I'll say two things about proposals from Republicans who have said it is their mission to eliminate, decimate, sabotage Obamacare from the beginning, who were willing with great glee to shut the government down because of their opposition to Obamacare.  We have to take their proposals with a grain of salt.  I don’t think they're filled with sincerity about -- a sincere desire to improve the system.  They have made clear that their goal is eliminate the system, and thereby eliminate the possibility for millions of Americans with preexisting conditions or millions of American who don’t have insurance, the possibility of getting it.  So that’s one.

Two, when it comes to -- and we talked about this when they were shutting down the government over the President's refusal to pay a ransom -- an Obamacare ransom in exchange for keeping the government open or in exchange for raising the debt ceiling -- we talked about delaying the so-called individual mandate.  Well, what does that mean concretely?  That means that if you're that single mom who's a breast cancer survivor who has been anticipating the day that she would be able to get affordable health insurance which would give her the security of knowing that she would have the care she needed to stay alive for her family, you're telling them, wait another year -- and wait another year because the people behind the proposal actually want to make you wait forever.  That’s not acceptable.  It's not going to happen.


Q    Very simply, can you tell us how many people have enrolled for private insurance through the health care law? 

MR. CARNEY:  As I said, Peter, I think on numerous occasions, we will be providing that information monthly, as is the case with similar systems.

Q    Do you know how many people have enrolled?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would tell you that we will provide that information monthly.  You're talking about -- again, when it's --

Q    It’s important because Kathleen Sebelius yesterday said that the number is in the thousands.  The President said the number is in the thousands.  I guess I'm trying to confirm that you guys actually know what the number is and have just actively chosen not to communicate it to the American public.

MR. CARNEY:  The number is in the thousands.  I think the point is, and I think that the Secretary said this, is that we're gathering -- we want to make sure the information is correct, we want to do it on a regularized basis.  We're talking about people who are signing up through state exchanges, who are signing up in person, who are signing up by mail, who are signing up over the phone and signing up on

So it makes all the sense in the world to regularize the release of that information in the way that has been done with previous similar programs.  So that’s what we're going to do.

Q    We've talked about this tech surge.  How much --

MR. CARNEY:  Can I just say that, on that point, we have made clear from the beginning, including before we encountered the problems that we've seen on the website, that it has been our expectation, because this has been the case in Massachusetts and it's been the case with other programs, that when there is an open enrollment period, people tend to -- the disproportionate number of people who demonstrate an interest in the product shop and don't buy en masse until the end.  That was the case in Massachusetts.  That was the case with a variety of other programs, including federal programs.  So that's always been our expectation that the majority of people would be enrolling closer to the deadline.

One of the reasons why we had this six-month period is to provide a lot of time for people to shop and look at their options because this is a new -- it’s a new deal for people, and it’s a special and important deal for people.

Q    A couple of questions quickly, if I can.  First of all, how much money is this tech surge costing us, or should we anticipate the tech surge will cost us?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is that some members of the so-called tech surge are presidential innovation fellows that are paid already, and they're simply -- they’ve been assigned specifically to this task.  There are others who are already government employees who are being assigned to the task.  And then there are those who are coming from the private sector, and they're being hired by contractors under existing contracts.

Q    Then I want to finally, if I can quickly -- we’ve spoken to a number of health care providers; I’m sure it’s like the visitors that are going to be here at the White House today.  They're reporting a number like 10 to 20 insurance enrollments a day.  One of them told us that there was a 50 percent error rate, which means the data they're receiving -- not the registration process -- the data they're receiving is wrong half the time, and that that information doesn't just come through the website, it comes through the computer system in general.  So when you call in, or you do it in person, that same transmission system provides the language, refers to what’s called an 834, but a data transmission sheet with information that is wrong.

So given that, is it unfair to tell Americans right now to keep trying if so much of the information that's being provided to the insurance companies is presently wrong?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the percentage error rate is -- I don't know.  But I can tell you, and I mentioned this at the top, that one of the problems that has been identified and that is being worked on is that stage towards the end when information is provided to insurers, an 834 I believe is what -- how it’s identified.  And that's something that I expect will be discussed with the CEOs of insurers today.  And we are -- the tech team is working specifically on this challenge. 

Now, it’s a fair question.  Should Americans who know that there are errors in the transmission of this information be frustrated?  Yes.  Should they therefore decide not to buy insurance?  I think the answer is no. 

Because the people who -- remember 80 to 85 percent of us already have insurance through our employer or through Medicare or Medicaid.  It’s those other millions of Americans for whom these marketplaces have been built and for whom the security of having affordable health insurance is something extremely valuable.  And our goal is to make purchasing that insurance as easy as possible.  And we are enormously frustrated that we haven’t succeeded thus far in making it as easy as possible through the website.  And we’re going to work every day to make it as easy as possible.  But the point is to provide the insurance that the Americans who have shown interest in it want so desperately, and that's what we’re going to focus on.

So the answer is, yes, for those people who are frustrated, to tell them we’re working on the challenges here with the website, but what we’re doing is not just fixing a website.  We’re making sure that they have insurance.

Q    Jay, can I follow up?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, I just want to say, guys, for everybody in the back, I think we did about 45 minutes on the front row, which is why I mix it up sometimes.  But I just want to get --

Q    Yeah, but you need to come back here, too.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m doing it, April.  I’m here. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Jay, following up on what you said earlier about a code of conduct for people with White House approved --

MR. CARNEY:  I just mean generally.  Again, I’m not going to talk about this specific case.  I don't know -- I have no details about it.  The individual doesn't work here, and I would refer you to him.

Q    Should we assume that tweets by people with approved accounts amount to statements on behalf of the White House and the administration?

MR. CARNEY:  There’s language attached to those accounts that says whatever it says in legalese, and I think those are archived just like every email that's sent.

Q    For example, would it be proper for someone with an approved White House account to re-tweet an item from a satirical publication that makes fun of the President’s opponents?  I mean, that's like speaking on behalf of the President.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think it depends on the context.  I can -- if you want to show me an example of it.  I can tell you that as a spokesman, as somebody who is out on the record every day, there are things that I say I wish I could have back.  I’m sure that’s true when I speak officially of almost everybody -- there are things I say, speaking officially, that sometimes I wish I could have them back.  They’re not said eloquently or grammatically or maybe the tone isn’t right, and I think every spokesperson around the administration and on Capitol Hill would probably agree with me on that.

But that’s different.  When you’re speaking as an official, obviously you have responsibilities.

Q    Well, your counterpart at the State Department said it is not correct that this person worked for the State Department.

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take the question then.

Q    She says at one point he had been a State Department employee detailed at the White House but at some point this summer he was made a National Security Staff employee and that’s why they’re handling the questions about the personnel matter there.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay, Peter, I think I’ve said I don’t know a lot about this.  I’ll get what information we can provide.  In general, we don’t discuss personnel matters

Q    Could you post a clarification if --

MR. CARNEY:  I will find out what information I can.  I’m glad this is of such intense interest.


Q    Thanks.  I have a health care coverage, but if there’s time maybe you could come back to me or I’ll follow-up by email, I’d like to yield my question to one of the visiting Pakistani journalists.

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  Please go ahead, sir, and identify yourself.

Q    My name is Naveed Hussain -- Daily Business Recorder in Islamabad.  My first question is, the peace accords in Afghanistan and Pakistan depend on opening talks with the Taliban of both countries, facilitated by the United States, yet no such talks have begun and there is no sign that they will be.  What happens after 2014 if no such talks have succeeded?

MR. CARNEY:  You’re talking about reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban?

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we absolutely believe that ultimate peace and security in Afghanistan depends on reconciliation, and we have played a roll in trying to facilitate that process.  But it is a process that involves the two parties directly, and we’re going to continue to work on that with our partners in Kabul.  It’s an important challenge because ultimately this needs to be resolved in that way.

So I think the separate issue when you talk about 2014 has to do with our ongoing consultations with the Afghan government about the bilateral security agreement.  There was significant progress made recently in those talks when Secretary Kerry was there, and I’m sure we’ll have more information for you on that as well as our decisions about continued support for Afghanistan in the aftermath of 2014.

Q    Is the United States prepared to provide civil nuclear technology to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis along the same lines as the U.S. in civil nuclear --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take the question.  I don’t have an answer to that.

Yes, Margaret.

Q    Thank you.  I just wanted to clarify -- with the CEOs, is what the President is trying to do thro    ugh Denis and Valerie, if he doesn’t pop in himself, to assure them that this isn’t going to fall apart and that the financing of the expansion will make sense?  Or is he soliciting help from them in trying to figure out how to improve the website?  Basically -- I know they're going to talk about the problems and try to move forward, but, kind of, how?  What's the focus?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, the technological work --the technical work is being done by the teams who are working on the website.  I think the insurance companies themselves -- and I would obviously point you to what they've said and what their positions are -- have a great interest in the Affordable Care Act working effectively and by working effectively, therefore increasing the number of insured Americans in the private insurance market.

So it's obviously an issue of great interest to them, and one that we have consulted with them regularly on since the Affordable Care Act was being drafted.  So this is a part of that process.  And I think, again, this is -- I identified the senior officials who are in the meeting.  The President is not scheduled to attend, but certainly the Chief of Staff, the Secretary is, and it's something we view as an important part of this process.


Q    Question on immigration, just to follow up on Jim's question.  You mentioned Senators McCain and Graham, but since the action on immigration -- or the inaction -- is in the House, does he have plans or has he talked to House Republicans about this, or is this the kind of issue that his direct involvement at this point would be counterproductive?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that last question is always an interesting one and probably best addressed to Republicans who sometimes feel that anything associated with him is not something they could support, but it gets at a bigger problem. 

Having said that, the wisdom and the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform we believe supersede these kinds of partisan differences.  Even in crass political terms, I think it's fair to say that it is in the interest of the Republican Party to address this problem.  They said so themselves.  Key members of the party, key leaders and spokesmen, the Speaker of the House today said it's an important issue and we should address it.  I think Chairman Ryan has said that and others in the House.  But their politics is something, obviously, they have to take care of and make judgments about themselves. 

What we know is that there is just an overwhelming abundance of information that argues in favor of passing comprehensive immigration reform -- in other words, that if you were a Republican who wanted to argue why you're going to vote yes for something like this, there's just a lot there for you when it comes to economic growth and job creation; when it comes to fairness for middle-class Americans and accountability for all American business; when it comes to dramatically increased resources for border security, to build on the substantial improvements in border security that we've already seen in the last five years.  So we believe that there are conservative reasons to do this and that there has been broad bipartisan support and will continue to be.  And we hope the House takes action.

Q    But has the President talked to -- had private, direct talks with House Republicans or does he have plans to do so?

MR. CARNEY:  Mara, I get that everything is always reduced to whether or not the President of the United States is on the phone with or speaking with the Speaker of the House.

Q    Not necessarily the Speaker --

MR. CARNEY:  Or the chairman or whoever.  I think that's a narrow view about how this can come about.  The answer is he will, he has, and he is having conversations with Republicans about comprehensive immigration reform.  But if that's all it took, we would have gotten there already, because we've had many conversations with supporters of it, many conversations with those who are on the fence about it.  Ultimately, obviously, the House has to act and we hope they will.


Q    Just to follow up on that, in terms of the President talking to Republicans and the efficacy of that, can you roll out what -- there was a -- the number-two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, said on his Facebook page that someone in recent exchange with the President said he can't even stand -- this member of Congress said he can't even stand to look at the President.  Can you say whether that happened? 

MR. CARNEY:  I looked into this and spoke with somebody who was in that meeting, and it did not happen.

Q    Did anyone speak -- from the White House speak to Senator Durbin about it? 

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know.  My understanding is that, again, from a participant in the meeting, that that didn't happen.

Q    Did anything like it happen that would have led to --

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I'm aware of, Jackie.

Q    And you said you don't want to talk about personnel matters when it comes to @NatSecWonk and the firing.  But most of the tweets that have been reported are really not very substantive.  They're rather sophomoric and take shots at people on really personal levels about their appearance and such, a lot of that.  Are there emails that the White House saw that were substantive that divulged or gave out information?  I mean, this is a person who got fired, after all.

MR. CARNEY:  Jackie, I understand.  I would address your questions to the individual.  He doesn't work here anymore, and I just don’t have any more information for you on that personnel matter.

Q    But you can’t rule out whether there was anything of a certain national security secret --

MR. CARNEY:  I just don't have any information on that to provide.

Carrie, and then April.

Q    In the upcoming budget talks, is the White House still adhering to the principle that any -- just in terms of the sequester and any attempt to buy down the sequester over the next few years, that there are attempts to buy it down that equally divide it between cuts and revenue?  Is that a principle the White House is adhering to in those talks?

MR. CARNEY:  Our approach has always been that when it comes to a broader budget deal we need to apply balance; that reducing the deficit further, building on the progress that’s been made that's allowed us to cut the deficit in half since the President took office requires a balanced approach. 

And there has always been for a number of years now talk of a grand bargain, of 10-year deals, smaller deals, and so it’s hard for me to negotiate from here speculatively about what a smaller deal would look like.  But balance is a fundamental principle that this President has not only espoused but put on paper in detailed proposals.

So we believe it has long been in the interest of both parties to deal with the arbitrary cuts that the sequester represents.  It has done harm.  As Jason Furman mentioned yesterday, according to CBO, an average of 60,000 jobs that have not been created because of -- per month -- because of the sequester -- certainly something we’re interested in addressing.  The President’s budget eliminated the sequester and then reduced the deficit beyond what the sequester reduces it, so by addressing our budget challenges in a very focused way -- making an increase in investments in key areas while eliminating or reducing programs that aren’t working affectively or don’t work at all, and approaching the issue of deficit reduction in a balanced way. 

So, I mean, that’s a broad way of saying that’s the principle and the approach that we take into it.  We’re hopeful that the conference makes progress as they try to reconcile the Senate and House budgets, and we’re interested in, as the President made clear, a budget deal that moves this country forward, that helps it create jobs, helps it grow faster.  Those are the priorities we’re focused on.  We have been focused on deficit reduction and we’ve made a lot of progress in deficit reduction.  There’s more to do, but we have to do it in a balanced way.

Q    And revenues?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think when you talk about a broad deal, the nature of which that --

Q    I’m not talking about --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, but I’m not going to negotiate like hypothetical smaller deals.  What I can tell you is that a broad larger budget agreement, the kind envisioned by the President in his budget, would have to be balanced.

Yes, April.

Q    Jay, three questions. 

MR. CARNEY:  And then the Voice of America, and then Tommy.

Q    Okay, three questions, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Three questions.  Go.

Q    On Peter’s question, is there --

MR. CARNEY:  I have to fly out of here in a few minutes -- I’ve got a parent-teacher conference.  But go ahead.  Go.  I’m not going to -- you get your questions, April.

Q    Yes, today.  (Laughter.)  Anyway, moving on.  On the Affordable Care Act, on the tracking issue, is there an integrated approach at all on tracking with states and insurance companies right now to track how many people have enrolled at this point? 

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think that -- we’re gathering information.  We’re going to release specific information about enrollment figures on a monthly basis, beginning in November, and it will look back to October.  And I don’t have specific information to provide to you about that.  We’re going to do this in the way that it has been traditionally done with similar programs.

What I can tell you, as I mentioned to Peter, is that we have always, even predating the problems with the website, anticipated that, in keeping with what we’ve seen in other programs of similar nature, and even in keeping with open enrollment periods that you see in insurance plans that you guys probably sign up for every year, a lot of people do a lot of their enrolling at the very end while they shop earlier.  So that’s the kind of thing we expect to see, but we will be providing information monthly.

Q    On the secret Twitter handle scandal, has the White House in any way changed guidelines for staffers, for administration officials in how it relates with social media?  Because many people have their own social media on their own privately, and then they have the government one.

MR. CARNEY:  I have not seen anything new on that.

Q    Is there going to be a revamping of gun control from the President any time soon, since the shutdown is over and things are coming back? 

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  Look, this is an issue that the President believes we can and should make progress on in a bipartisan way that achieves some comprehensive -- or not comprehensive -- some common-sense steps towards reducing gun violence that do not in any way infringe upon our Second Amendment rights, which the President supports.  So he’s always looking at ways, either through Congress or through his executive authority, to chip away at this program.  So I don’t have anything to announce, but it certainly is something that he’s focused on.

April, was that your third? 

Q    I’m done.  I’m done. 

MR. CARNEY:  Tommy, and then VOA, and then I’ve got to run.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  I just have two.  My first question is, about a week and a half ago, there was a protest out in front of the White House here at which a confederate flag was flown.  And then in the last couple of days, Congressman Alan Grayson sent out a fundraiser where he -- there was a photo of a burning cross, and he compared the tea party with the Klan.  I’m wondering if the President is aware of either of these incidents and if he had a reaction.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken to the President about them and I don’t have a reaction.

Q    My second question:  This morning on CNN, Carol Costello said that during -- while she was reporting on the presidential race, her comment was, “President Obama’s people can be quite nasty.  They don’t like you to say anything bad about their boss and they’re not afraid to use whatever means they have at hand to stop you from doing that, including threatening your job.”  To your knowledge --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry, I don’t even know -- who said that?

Q    Carol Costello from CNN.

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, yes.

Q    Anyone here threaten her job or --

MR. CARNEY:  (Laughter.)  Not that I’m aware of or have ever heard of. 

Yes, sir.

Q    I don’t think you’re going to be able to do this justice in a few minutes but, on Iran, there seems to be still a huge space between what the Secretary of State said today about an undeniably clear guarantee from Iran about peaceful purposes and what Netanyahu is saying about the need to remove centrifuges, to get rid of plutonium capability, and to remove what Israel calls -- he calls the military nuclear program.  Can you talk a little bit about what the hopes are for bridging that kind of a difference between --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we work very closely with our Israeli counterparts in assessing the Iranian program and in judging where they are and what steps need to be made to assure the international community that they have given up their nuclear weapons ambitions. 

And I think it’s -- two things are indisputable.  One is we are where we are, with the potential for progress in this area through diplomacy, because of the comprehensive set of sanctions that was engineered by the United States and our partners that has put enormous pressure on Iran.  What is also true is that we will not provide relief from sanctions until we see concrete, transparent steps by Iran towards reaching that point where they can verifiably demonstrate to the world that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  So I think it is our -- it is the President’s stated policy that we will not accept Iran with a nuclear weapon.  That’s a position obviously we share with many countries.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks.

2:25 P.M. EDT

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