Press Briefing

November 22, 2013 | 55:51 | 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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Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 11/22/13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 
12:13 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here.  I appreciate you going easy on my colleague, Josh, yesterday.  I had to be a chaperone at a 3rd-grade field trip.  It was pretty great -- Claude Moore Colonial Farm, if you haven't been, in Virginia -- very special place.
I have no announcements except for that at the top.  So I'll go to the Associated Press.
Q    Thanks, Jay.  So there’s a spokesman for the Afghan President who said today that the only deadline that matters with regard to the security agreement is the one that Karzai wants, which is he wants to get it signed next year when his successor is in office.  The U.S. position is that it needs to be signed by the end of the year.  So --
MR. CARNEY:  Let me say a couple things.  One, we have long made clear that we need to get a bilateral security agreement done this year.  We've made clear that it’s imperative that we do it as soon as possible, and further delay is not practical, nor tenable.  The United States needs adequate time to plan a potential military mission with our NATO allies, and the Afghans have an election coming up and have said that they want certainty about whether the U.S. will be there to support them post-2014, both financially and with respect to training their security forces.
So this process has been undertaken now for some time, and the bottom line is that we need to conclude the agreement with signature between our two governments as quickly as possible, and certainly by the end of this year.  Failure to conclude the BSA by that point would make it impossible for the United States and our allies to plan for a presence post-2014.  
And what we would say to the loya jirga is that we have negotiated in good faith, we've provided the assurances that President Karzai has sought, and we believe the text before the loya jirga represents a strong agreement for both parties.  We have submitted our final offer on the text and we hope the jirga will not be left to think that we are open to rewriting it.  It is time to get this done.
Q    Does the rift or the disagreement over when it should be signed, does that not sort of increase the prospects of a complete U.S. withdrawal of U.S. troops after 2014?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear that the BSA -- the bilateral security agreement -- does not specify troop presence or duration of any presence beyond 2014 of U.S. or NATO troops.  The President will be making that decision.  But we have said that a BSA must be in place because we can't possibly have a further U.S. military presence there without an agreement in place.  
So I think that it’s important to note that this has been a prolonged and fully consultative process with the Afghan government, and we look forward to an agreement that can be signed by both sides.  We need it done by the end of the year because we can't push it into next year and be expected to plan for a post-2014 military presence.
Q    And on another issue, do you have any information on this 85-year-old American who is said to be detained in North Korea?
MR. CARNEY:  I do not believe I have that.  I'll have to take that question and get back to you.
Q    Jay, the negotiators are in Geneva talking to Iran.  What is holding up the interim bill that most seem to -- that you agree on?
MR. CARNEY:  The P5-plus-1 is unified on the offer that has been made to the Iranians and there is a process that continues as we speak in Geneva as these issues are worked on.  We hope that an agreement can be reached.  The Iranians decided they were not able to come to an agreement in the previous round, but we remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement with all of our P5-plus-1 allies and the Iranians in Geneva.
The fact is we're not reading out hour by hour or day by day the meetings in Geneva, but we believe that the first round provided progress that indicated that it is at least possible to reach an agreement on this first phase, and an agreement that allows for a verifiable decision by Iran to halt any progress on its nuclear program and to roll back key aspects of it as we’ve discussed.  And on the parameters of that agreement, we have all in the P5-plus-1 been in consensus and continue to be.
Q    On health care, we’re seeing reports that the administration has decided to delay the 2015 enrollment period.  Is that true, and what would be the reason for that?
MR. CARNEY:  HHS has indicated its intent to shift the 2015 -- if you mean the -- well, there are a couple of things here.  One is the schedule for the health insurance marketplace by one month.  This is when the insurers would have to decide on their premiums for 2015 -- if that’s what you’re talking about.  You’re not talking about December -- this December, right?  So HHS has indicated its intent to shift the 2015 schedule for the health insurance marketplace by one month so that the health plan application deadline would be in May, and open enrollment would begin on November 15, 2015, and be extended to January 15 -- 2014, rather, and be extended to January 15, 2015.  
The idea of pushing back the 2015 schedule by one month has to do with one thing -- several things.  It’s good for insurers who take into account enrollment through March when setting their 2015 rates.  The previous deadline was for the end of April 2014 for applications.  In other words, if you have an open enrollment period that ends on March 31, 2014, and we expect -- in part because of the problems that we’ve had with the website -- that there will be substantial numbers of people still enrolling right up into that deadline, this gives them more time to assess the pool of people who are getting insurance through the marketplaces and make decisions about what rates will look like in the coming year.
Q    And was this discussed with the insurance companies when they were here last week?
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know.  I don’t have a more specific readout on that meeting.
Q    Thanks, Jay.  CNN obtained documents that contradict Henry Chao’s testimony last week that a key window-shopping tool for was shelved because it “failed miserably.”  Experts say that the tool is necessary for an online e-retail experience that Americans have come to expect.  Does the White House stand by Chao’s testimony?
MR. CARNEY:  As Henry Chao said in sworn testimony, there were numerous defects in the anonymous shopper tool and that was the reason the function was not put into production.  And as CMS has said, they believe that the “yes” that is written on the document in question is likely an error because the same document also lists a number of ongoing defects and problems with the tool.  Additional defects were communicated and discussed in other settings.  This document reflects one point in time, and that was part of a series of ongoing updates and monitoring.  
We’ve discussed a lot the issue with the anonymous shopper tool.  The fact is data about what the universe of premiums would look like were already available to potential consumers on the marketplaces prior to October 1st, which I think pretty clearly undercuts the assertion that we were trying to -- 
Q    Not in a way like the President promised like Kayak or Amazon.  And also, industry sources say that actually that “yes” is correct, that this did test successfully, and that any defects were minor -- I’ve been through them -- that they were minor enough to be fixed in time for launch day for a tool and that experts say is essential to this experience, more so than Plan Preview or Plan Compare.
MR. CARNEY:  What you’re saying is, again, making a breaking-news assertion that the website did not function effectively in October, which I think we've taken on and fully acknowledged and conceded.  
Q    I'm not, I'm talking about part of the website being shelved almost two weeks before launch even though it was working.
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would point you to what CMS --
Q    Working pretty well --
MR. CARNEY:  That's your anonymous sources saying something; Henry Chao has made clear that wasn’t the case.  And there were numerous defects with the site, which I think we've cited.  And again, it’s sort of funny to assert that we were trying to hide an effective part of when it turned out so much of performed so far below optimum standards in October, which is a problem I think we've talked a lot about here, for better or worse.
Q    Do you stand by his testimony?
MR. CARNEY:  We do, yes, absolutely.
Q    Do you believe that it failed miserably?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, it had multiple defects, and Henry Chao testified --
Q    That's different than failing miserably.
MR. CARNEY:  We stand by his testimony.
Q    I mean not being really worked on the website.
MR. CARNEY:  Brianna, we stand by his testimony.  What you’ve discovered here is, again, that the website had problems and in anticipation of some of the problems --
Q    This is actually a part that didn’t have that many problems.  
MR. CARNEY:  I get that, but in -- that's your claim, not backed up --
Q    Backed up by documents.
MR. CARNEY:  Backed up by a document with one word on it that is in error and is contradicted by --
Q    In an email, an internal email from Henry Chao.
MR. CARNEY:  And is contradicted by -- right, him asserting the facts -- and it’s contradicted by everything else in that document and everything else that we know about the anonymous shopping tool.
Q    So the tool is really the key to President Obama’s sort of vision that he laid out for the website.  He said on launch day, just visit, and there you can compare insurance plans side-by-side, the same way you’d shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.  That, of course, does not require establishing an account.  Is the President concerned that to this day really the function that really backs up what he wants the website to do is still not functioning, it’s still shelved; contractors are not working on it?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is a way to now shop.  And the tool, itself, is different from what was originally shelved --
Q    Well, it’s rudimentary and it has two age bands and it’s very inexact.
MR. CARNEY:  But, Brianna, you know there’s a way to shop.  And again, you're getting at the fundamental challenge that we've been dealing with here, which has been not pleasant for any of us and not been pleasing to anybody here, beginning with the President, which is that the website performed --
Q    Why are contractors to this day not working on the tool that will tell people who want to sign up if the medications they use are in the formulary of a certain insurance plan, or if the doctor that they see is in network?
MR. CARNEY:  The fact is they can get that information, Brianna.  What they are --
Q    Without enrolling --
MR. CARNEY:  They can register, they can apply --
Q    They can't without going through the registration and enrollment process.
MR. CARNEY:  Correct.  Well, no, they can apply and get the information that they need.  The fact is, you're absolutely right that there are problems with the website, and we have been working 24/7 to improve the website.  And I think that any fair assessment of the functionality of the website today is that --
Q    No one is working on this --
MR. CARNEY:  Brianna, may I answer your question?
Q    No one is.  It’s shelved.
MR. CARNEY:  I get that working on the priorities that ensure that more Americans who are interested in reviewing their options and purchasing insurance on can use that site without --
Q    -- are functioning well --
MR. CARNEY:  May I?  Without --
Q    -- are using this tool.  And the federal exchange is not even trying to get it up and running --
MR. CARNEY:  Again, anybody who uses to register, apply, and then enroll in insurance gets every bit of information that they need to do that.  And every day, more and more people are able to apply and enroll online through the federal website.  
And our goal is to make that site function more effectively every day so that we can achieve our broader goal here, which is to make sure that the benefits of the Affordable Care Act are available for the millions of Americans who so clearly are interested in having those benefits.  That's the work we're about every day.  It’s not about the optimum website; it’s not about anything except for getting affordable, quality health insurance to the millions of Americans who have so clearly demonstrated that they want it.
Q    Now that the barrier of not being able to replace political appointees has been removed -- that is, the filibuster having been changed in the Senate -- should we expect the President to remove any of his political appointees that were part of putting this health care website together?
MR. CARNEY:  John, we've addressed that issue in so many different ways.  The President wants his team focused on implementing the Affordable Care Act, fixing, making sure that there are all the other pathways that exist available to as many Americans as possible so that they can get the information they need, make the -- shop for health care and then enroll if they so desire.  That's what he’s focused on.
And the action taken by Leader Reid in the Senate is unrelated to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  It is related to the historic obstructionism that Senate Republicans have engaged in, by any metric -- any metric you put forward, including the rather remarkable one that of the 23 D.C. District Court nominees that have been filibustered -- of the 23 in history, 20 of them have been Obama nominees.
So this is a problem that has broad implications for the capacity of any President to fulfill his or her constitutional duty to nominate highly qualified candidates for the judiciary and for the executive branch.  The fact that Senator Reid took this action -- the President supported him in doing that -- only ensures that the President can continue to make choices about highly qualified nominees and that they can now fulfill their responsibilities on the independent judiciary or in the executive branch.
Q    So it’s the President’s position, then, that the most confident people to do the jobs are on his team, whether they be in this building or at other agencies?
MR. CARNEY:  John, I mean, I have no personnel announcements to make.  There are obviously a lot of positions that any President fills.  And the fact of the matter is the President’s team, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, is focused on fixing the problems that exist with the website, making sure that the other avenues by which Americans can get the information they need and enroll if they desire are working properly and expand it, and making sure that, ultimately, the Affordable Care Act delivers on its promise.
And all of the criticisms, all of the documents that get leaked and different news organizations claim they have an exclusive on, they go to the fundamental point about not working properly and our efforts to fix it -- A, B.  What they always neglect -- including the so-called playbook that I think was discovered yesterday among Republicans -- is that the Republicans who criticize it day after day after day have exactly no alternatives, no replacements for the Affordable Care Act and no idea how they would tell the American people if they were to succeed in repealing it what would happen to them if they get health insurance on their parents’ policies, what would happen to them if they’re expecting to get health insurance even though they have a preexisting condition and Republicans got what they wanted.  They would be out of luck because they have, to this day, never supplied an alternative.  Their goal is the status quo.  And anybody who thinks the status quo is satisfactory to the American people are just highly mistaken.  So that’s what we’re focused on doing, John.
Q    So that’s a yes, that the most competent people are in place right now?
MR. CARNEY:  John, look, the President makes personnel announcements when he is ready to make them.  He’s focused and he believes his team -- he believes in his team and he is making sure that team is focused on delivering for the American people on health care, on the economy, on jobs, on important matters of foreign policy, as is taking place now in Geneva.  That’s what he’s focused on.
Q    This White House has dealt with the twists and turns in Afghan politics many, many times.  They are not unusual.  They’re sometimes built into the difficulties of negotiating whatever the United States tries to accomplish with its Afghan partners.  That being said, is this particular dispute now something that the White House believes is manageable, or that it actually does jeopardize the bilateral security agreement and this whole thing could blow up if this isn’t done and signed by the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY:  Major, what I would say is that the negotiations over the bilateral security agreement took place over a long period of time.  Many, many issues were discussed and negotiated and resolved with President Karzai and other Afghan leaders.  And the text that we have now agreed upon and which is being presented to the loya jirga, we believe it represents a good faith negotiated agreement and it is our final offer.
It is our belief that Afghanistan needs to act before the end of the year because it is just untenable, impossible, really, to ask the United States and our allies to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence absent a BSA.
Q    Is there any way you can finesse this, meaning loya jirga approves but it’s not signed, and that signage is something that’s assumed -- or do both those things have to happen?
MR. CARNEY:  The point is this has to be agreed to and done essentially by the end of the year.  If you’re asking me if it’s approved and it’s going to be signed in the first week of January, that’s not the issue here.  What cannot happen is -- 
Q    Springtime?
MR. CARNEY:  Right, you have elections in the spring and it is simply untenable to accept the possibility that this would not be agreed upon by then or signed by then because it would prohibit us and our allies from planning anything except for the drawdown -- the 2014 drawdown.
Q    Yesterday the Majority Leader announced on the Senate floor that the Senate would be taking up additional sanctions against Iran in December and that he would be supportive of that effort.  This indicates to me and others following the story that the administration is now, because things have bogged down in Geneva, eager to send Iran a signal that this may be the best deal you’re going to get and the Senate is going to come back here in early December and ramp these sanctions up.  It seems to be a somewhat coordinated strategy now.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, we’ve made -- obviously the effort that has gotten us to this point includes the building by this administration of the most comprehensive and punitive sets of sanctions that have ever existed.  So this administration has clearly been very supportive of effective and comprehensive sanctions.
It is because of that effort and the consensus the President built internationally that we have successfully changed Tehran’s calculus, at least apparently so.
Q    No, I understand, but the emphasis has been on hold off, but others agree -- a signal that the Majority Leader is in concert with this White House. 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that I think we need to see what happens in the negotiations with the P5-plus-1, first of all.  And we are appreciative of the fact that the Senate has decided against taking any actions on sanctions while those negotiations are underway.  It is our belief that Leader Reid -- or our hope that Leader Reid will continue to give the President and our P5-plus-1 negotiating partners the space they need to pursue these negotiations in the future if necessary.  As I’ve said in the past -- 
Q    But you're not alarmed by the signal that would inevitably be sent by the Senate saying it’s going to ramp up sanctions in December in the context of what’s being negotiated right now in Geneva?
MR. CARNEY:  I believe that the Senate has not acted while these negotiations are taking place and we will see what happens coming out of Geneva, first of all, and we appreciate that for all the reasons that we’ve discussed -- that we believe Congress ought to basically save for the most effective moment implementation or passage of new sanctions if they’re necessary to try to change or affect Iranian behavior.
Right now, the sanctions that have been put in place over all these years have had the impact they were designed to have, which is to persuade Tehran to rethink their approach to their international obligations and to at least suggest that they’re interested for the first time in reaching an agreement with the international community that would allow for the verifiable decision by Tehran to give up any ambitions for a nuclear weapon. 
It is the President’s policy that Iran must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, and it is his view, strongly held, that, as Commander-in-Chief, he has to pursue the possibility that we can resolve that diplomatically.  Because obviously the use of force, while never taken off the table, is a very serious proposition, A; B, because the best way to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon is if Iran itself decides to give up that pursuit, and decides in a way that ensures to the satisfaction of the international community that it can be verified through all the means that we have discussed when it comes to inspections and the like.
So that's what’s at stake here.  That's what we’re pursuing. If there comes a time when new sanctions would be effective, as we’ve said in the past, we would welcome that.  We would think that would be helpful, as it has in the past.  Congress has been a very important partner over these past several years in building up this sanctions regime to the point where it has been as effective as it has been.
Q    The Vice President stopped by the Fast For Families on the National Mall today to offer his support for those who are fasting on behalf of immigration reform.  I’m curious, does the President have any intention to do that?  And does he have any thoughts about this particular from of political activism in the context of immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that the Vice President is reflecting the views of this White House and the President by visiting, as have other members of the administration.  It is our strongly held belief that now is the time to act on comprehensive immigration reform.  There is a broad bipartisan consensus in support of comprehensive immigration reform along the lines that the President outlined in his principles several years ago now; along the lines that has already been passed by a substantial majority of the U.S. Senate -- a bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate; along the lines that would pass today if John Boehner allowed legislation similar to the Senate bill onto the floor of the House.  We know it would pass with Democrats and Republicans. All he has to do is bring a vote.
Now, the Speaker has said that immigration reform is not dead.  That is a good thing.  It is a good thing for the country. It is a good thing for the economy.  And political analysts say that would be a good thing for the Republican Party.  But they have to act.  And it’s entirely appropriate for those who belief strongly, as we do, that this is an absolute priority to express their views and to make it known to members of Congress who are blocking this necessary reform that would be so helpful to our economy and helpful to our security and helpful to our future competitiveness that it’s time to get it done for the country, for their constituents, for the economy. 
Q    Any plans for the President to do that?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no scheduling announcements at this time.
Q    With the Senate rule changes yesterday, obviously this enables the President’s nominees that have already been put forward -- there are more than 200 of them -- to at some point get some votes.  What is the White House strategy to take advantage of that?  What could we see happen over the next few weeks and months?  Are there -- is there going to be a push for even more nominations to be put forward in the Senate?  I mean, what are you guys planning to do here?
MR. CARNEY:  The President has simply been fulfilling his responsibility by selecting qualified candidates for a variety of positions in the executive and on the bench, and that will continue to be his approach.  What Senator Reid did, and the Senate did yesterday was in reaction to historic obstructionism by Senate Republicans.  It was the reaction to the fact that obstructionism and filibustering and using cloture had become routine for every nominee, no matter how qualified, no matter how little substantive opposition to that nominee.  
And the President obviously welcomes that decision, but it’s not going to change what he does.  His whole focus is on making sure that there are qualified nominees on the bench getting the work done that needs to be done in our judiciary, and making sure that there are qualified individuals filling senior positions in the executive branch; making sure that, for example, at FHFA -- that should Mr. Watt be confirmed, that that important agency can begin to deliver for the American people when it comes to protecting consumers and responsible homeowners, when it comes to continuing the work of GSE reform.
There’s a lot of bottled-up and pent-up necessary work on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the American economy, that can be done if the Senate is not obstructing nominees to senior positions in the executive branch.  And that's what we want to see.  It’s what the President has always hoped to see.  Unfortunately, he’s been confronted with historic levels of partisan and ideological obstructionism. 
All right?  Jim.
Q    Just to follow up on the immigration reform, to get some clarity on the President’s remarks earlier in the week.  Did he throw comprehensive immigration reform under the bus by saying that if the House wants to send up five bills to him, it would be okay?  Will he sign them one at a time?
MR. CARNEY:  What the President said reflected -- this week is almost word-for-word what he said to Telemundo on September 17th, when he said, “In fact, if Speaker Boehner thinks that procedurally he has to jump through a series of hoops, I’m happy to let the House work its will, as long as the bill that ends up on my desk speaks to the central issues that have to be resolved.”
That is what he was saying again earlier this week when he talked about, procedurally, the path in the House might be for them to pass a series of bills that can later be worked into a broader bill that would reflect the comprehensive nature of the work that's been done in the Senate and that the President has outlined in his principles.
Q    But that's just --
MR. CARNEY:  There is no -- well, no, nothing has changed in our belief that this has to be comprehensive.  In the end, this has to be comprehensive.  And that's not -- what he said was entirely consistent with what he and I and others have said about our recognition of how the House may want to approach this.  Even what he said this week was that all five of those elements have to get done and have to be part of comprehensive immigration reform. 
Q    I understand that.  But what is key here is you're saying now -- making it clear that those five bills would have to be, even if they're passed singly in the House, would have to be bundled before they got to the President’s desk for him to sign.
MR. CARNEY:  Look, how it works mechanically is up to the Congress, to the Senate and the House.  What the President will not sign is piecemeal legislation that only addresses visas for  -- that help improve our legal immigration system and allow people to come and stay and work for high-tech companies, for example.  He won’t only sign a bill that improves our border security as the comprehensive bill does.  This work has to be done comprehensively because that's the way you get all of these issues solved, and it’s the way you get the bang for our economy that comprehensive immigration reform promises.
Q    So here we are days before Thanksgiving, near the end of the year -- what does the White House believe is still doable before the end of this year?  Is immigration reform, comprehensive, dead this year?
MR. CARNEY:  It’s up to the Speaker of the House.  As I just said, it would pass tomorrow.  It would pass this afternoon if the Speaker were to decide to put such a bill on the floor of the House.  So it can certainly be done this year.  And a lot of effort and work has gone into getting us to this point.  So this is not a case of trying to rush something, right?  I don’t think anybody would argue that immigration reform is being rushed here. It’s been an item that members of both parties have sought to accomplish for a long time now because of all the benefits we’ve talked about.
I mean, the President really looks at this as part of an overall focus on broader economic issues -- on growing our economy faster and having it create better and better-paying jobs for the middle class under an overall goal of middle-class security.  So, as I’ve talked about in the past, if Republicans who are concerned about the politics of immigration reform look at its conservative benefits when it comes to making sure employers are accountable, making sure that undocumented workers are given a pathway to citizenship that makes them pay back taxes and get to the back of the line, if they’re interested in enhanced border security, building on the work that has been done already in this administration, they have that opportunity to argue this on those merits -- including the broad economic benefits that American business leaders have spoken about so passionately, and we agree with them on that.
So there is an opportunity here, and it’s an opportunity to show Americans who are, understandably, frustrated with the seeming inability of Washington to get things done that represent common-sense consensus.  It’s an opportunity to show the American people that it can happen, that something like this can be done that will help the economy and help build a stronger foundation for further growth in the future.  
So we remain optimistic that this is going to happen, and we look to the Speaker of the House to deliver on what he has said, at least occasionally, when it comes to the need to get immigration reform done.
Roger, then Ed.
Q    Thanks.  Back to the Senate’s action yesterday.  Does the White House have a package of priorities for those nominees that are already up there and awaiting confirmation -- for example, judiciary versus some of the other executive branch appointments?
MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think we work with the Senate all the time on moving our nominees forward, so I would -- I don’t think anything has changed in that.  And I would point you to the Senate Majority Leader’s office in terms of how he’ll schedule action on nominees.
Q    Has the White House give them a to-do list?
MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of.  I think the President is very careful in nominating what he believes are highly qualified individuals for these positions.  And one of the pieces of the story that’s being told here is that so many of these nominees who have been held up, including Patricia Millett, who now has been confirmed, have unquestionable credentials for their positions, who are unopposed by anybody on substantive policy grounds or substantive judicial grounds.
So the President will continue to look for the kinds of nominees that he’s put forward in the past.  
Q    Okay.  But no priority list, though?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that the President obviously looks forward to having some key positions filled because they’re so important.  Jeh Johnson needs to get confirmed so that we have --
Q    Who?
MR. CARNEY:  Jeh Johnson at DHS; Mel Watt at FHFA, and others, for example.  There are many vacancies in the judiciary and those seats need to be filled.
Q    And one other thing -- does this action -- does it help the White House accelerate its nomination process and does it make it easier to find those qualified candidates?
MR. CARNEY:  The second question is one you could only speculate about.  There’s no -- I think there’s no doubt that the kind of historic levels of obstructionism that we’ve seen in the Senate when it comes to the confirmation process has probably been discouraging for a lot of people, highly qualified individuals who want to serve.
Q    But that’s sort of wiped away --
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s certainly a welcome development that highly qualified individuals won’t be held hostage to that kind of partisan and ideological obstructionism again.  But the President’s focus is on, again, finding qualified nominees who want to serve their country in different posts.
Q    Jay, back on health care.  If it’s okay to extend the deadline for 2015 enrollment this far in advance, why not extend enrollment for 2014, given the website issues that even some Senate Democrats have said they want to see, that it should go beyond March?
MR. CARNEY:  The time period that we’re talking about here when it comes to enrollment in the next year is much shorter than the six-month enrollment period that was allotted for the initial year.  As you know, it extends from October 1st to March 31st. And we are working 24/7 to make improvements to the website, to expand the channels that are available -- alternate channels for consumers to find information and purchase health insurance so that everybody who is interested in buying insurance on the marketplaces is able to in time for those enrollment deadlines.  And we believe we can meet that.
Q    But despite that six-month timeframe, there are Democrats like Mark Pryor and others who have said, just as you are saying on nominees, the President said yesterday, they’ve got majority support, they should get a vote.  You just said on immigration, there’s common-sense consensus -- as you said on something -- there’s common-sense consensus on extending the enrollment deadline for 2014.  There are Democrats --
MR. CARNEY:  You’re saying that the Republicans who want to do that, they really just want to fix ACA?
Q    Mark Pryor and the Democrats, do you think they want to destroy the --
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t think that --
Q    Do you think the Democrats want to destroy the law?
MR. CARNEY:  That’s not obviously what we’re talking about.
Q    Mark Pryor and about a dozen Democrats.
MR. CARNEY:  You’re talking about one Democrat where --
Q    No, there’s about a dozen of them.
MR. CARNEY:  Some Democrats.  What we’re saying is, as Democrats who support the ACA would agree, we need to make sure that the law is being implemented and that the enrollment is being improved so that we can deliver on the Affordable Care Act’s promise.  We believe that there is time, because of the extensive open enrollment period that is allowed here, to make that happen by March 31st.
Q    Two other quick ones.  On the 2015 date, Republican Chuck Grassley said today -- he charged that you’re extending -- the open enrollment was supposed to start for 2015 in October of 2014, as I recall.  It’s now going to start in mid-November 2014. He says you’re doing that so that it starts after the midterm elections -- politics.
MR. CARNEY:  The fact is we’re doing this because it makes sense for insurers to have as clear a sense of the pool of consumers they gain in the market this year before setting rates for next year.  And because of the problems in the implementation of the website on that we’ve experienced that has slowed enrollment in the early stages here, we expect that what was already going to be a back-loaded process is going to be more back-loaded.  And that would then leave insurers with a lot of data to try to sort through in a very short time.  
And so because the website has had troubles, we expect more people to enroll later in the first enrollment window, as we’ve talked about, which ends March 31st.  And the insurers will need additional time.  April doesn’t really give them enough time to do that so we’re extending it a month.
Q    Last one.  The Wall Street Journal has a story today about insurers now further cutting doctors’ fees.  That’s been happening before the ACA, but it’s accelerating.  And the story talks about fears that this means some health plans will draw fewer doctors.  And I wonder what impact do you think that will have on the President’s promise to the American people that if you like your doctor, you’ll keep your doctor, period -- that’s what he said.
MR. CARNEY:  I think you noted in your question, and I appreciate it, that doctors and insurers make the decisions about who’s in networks.  That was true before the ACA and it’s true after the ACA, because the ACA builds on the existing private insurance system.  It has been the case for decades that insurance companies make decisions about the doctors and provider networks and, under the health care law, that continues.  
Insurers have made that decision -- the whole concept of creating networks was an effort by insurers to control costs.  So, again, it’s hard to -- I know Republicans will or other critics will -- but it’s hard -- it’s really hard in this case to lay a trend that’s been happening for decades on a bill, a law that -- 
Q    Right, acknowledging that trend, but the President made a promise to the American people -- I know Jon Karl asked you this the other day and you mentioned all these caveats, but the President made a firm promise.  He said -- just like the last promise -- 
MR. CARNEY:  Ed, nothing in the Affordable Care Act prevents you from keeping the doctor that you like.  If you’re in -- but what we don’t do, what the Affordable Care Act, contrary to a lot of the messaging out there -- 
Q    Well, if it changes your plan and the doctor is no longer in that plan -- 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear about what we’re talking about.  Contrary to a lot of the rhetoric around this, this is not a government takeover of the health insurance industry.  It’s quite the opposite.  It is an expansion of the private insurance industry.  And in that industry, insurers create networks; they offer levels of plans.  And if you are, again -- and it’s important to say who we’re talking about here -- we’re not talking about the 80 percent who already get their insurance like most of us through our employers or through Medicare or Medicaid or the VA.  We’re not talking about the 15 percent of the uninsured who, by the way, don’t get to choose their doctors because they don’t have doctors.
Q    Actually, it can affect employer plans if they’re changing under the ACA now.
MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no -- they’re changing -- those plans have changed -- I’ve been long enough and been in enough networks to know that this has been a phenomenon when you have employer-based health care that has been going on for years and years and years.  
What is true for everybody -- again, we’re back to the 5 percent shopping for insurance in the individual market, on the health care marketplaces that they’ll now have protections they didn’t have in the past.  They’ll have choices they didn’t have in the past, including a range of options when it comes to levels of coverage.  And it stands to reason that the higher-level plans will have more expansive choices.
So the decision -- going back to the beginning -- about which doctor is in which plan is not a decision dictated by the Affordable Care Act.  It is, as it has always been, one that is reached between doctors and the insurance companies.
Q    Jay, going back to questions about issues that have been on the President’s agenda, what are the prospects for meaningful gun legislation?
MR. CARNEY:  We continue to work to do everything we can through administrative action in keeping with the non-legislative portions of the common-sense proposal the President laid out with the Vice President in the beginning of the year to do things that reduce gun violence in America.  
We were very disappointed -- the President was very disappointed in the action taken by the Senate, against the overwhelming support in states across the country, including very red states, of expanding background checks so that the system was coherent and effective.  
That remains our position.  And the President is continuing to do everything he can, and the Vice President is continuing to do everything he can to try to move the ball forward on this issue.  Because as we discussed so often earlier in the year, nothing that the President is proposing infringes in any way on the Second Amendment rights that he supports.  And that remains the case.  And we hope that Congress will reconsider, the Senate will reconsider, and act on this very common-sense proposal.
In the meantime, we’re focused on doing what we can, in keeping with the administrative actions announced -- I think there were 23 of them -- as part of the broader plan that the Vice President and President laid out in the beginning of the year.
Q    Can the people in Newtown, Colorado, Wisconsin, these other places, expect the President to take another active go at this? 
MR. CARNEY:  I think you have not seen the President shy away from his support for this.
Q    We haven't heard him talk about it lately.
MR. CARNEY:  The fact is the President strongly supports common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.  He strongly supports, as overwhelming majorities of the American people do, expansion of the background checks system so that there aren’t giant loopholes in it.  That’s the kind of action that we ought to be able to take, and the President will continue to push for Congress to take.
In the meantime, because of the setback he and so many millions of Americans experienced in that effort earlier this year, we’re continuing to work in ways that we can to curb gun violence through other means.
Q    When will the next administrative action be?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no policy or scheduling announcements to make.
Q    Jay, the President ran on a platform certainly in 2008 of trying to bridge the partisan divide.  A lot of people are looking at the nuclear action from yesterday and saying that that’s only going to increase partisan fighting and bickering.  Doesn’t what happened yesterday only undercut what President Obama said he was going to aim to do back in 2008?
MR. CARNEY:  I think any fair evaluation of what we have seen this year can lead to only one conclusion, which is that we have seen historic obstruction from Republicans.  And the idea that we haven’t seen already the height of partisan obstructionism is I think belied by the facts.
Q    I'm not taking issue with the numbers --
MR. CARNEY:  No, what the American people expect Washington to -- 
Q    -- try to block the President’s --
MR. CARNEY:  Well, this is -- I think it’s fair that you ask this because the irony of the moral outrage over this that you sometimes hear from Republicans and the sadness they feel is followed up by a promise that they’ll do it even worse if and when they have the opportunity.  So the sanctity of tradition is clearly not one they take all that seriously unless it’s effective for a brief sound bite.  
The tradition was never envisioned that judges that went on to get confirmed 99 to nothing be held up for 100, or 200, or 500 days.  That’s not the way the system was supposed to work.  And I think every member of the Senate knows that of both parties.  So what the American people are telling us day after day, in your surveys and other surveys, is that they want Washington to work. They want an end to the sort of blind partisan bickering and obstructionism, and that is manifested -- 
Q    This hasn’t necessarily made Washington work.
MR. CARNEY:  It makes it work when we can get qualified individuals serving in courts that have empty seats.  It works when we can get somebody like Mel Watt confirmed to an agency that has an important role to play when it comes to empowering and helping responsible homeowners, and reforming the GSEs.  It helps to get somebody confirmed to the incredibly posts at Homeland Security, both the number-one and number-two posts in that agency.  
A lot of work needs to get done and the American people are just tired of -- look at their reasoning for filibustering highly qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court.  The same court for which they voted yes on nominees when it had a lower workload than it has today, they’re now claiming that it doesn’t have enough workload.  It’s just -- the hypocrisy is obvious for anyone paying attention.
Q    Trent Lott, who pursued a similar course, said that he ultimately regretted that action.  It’s clearly too soon to regret anything, but to what extent is the President concerned that this could come back to bite him, to bite Democrats?
MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that the American people want Washington to work and to stop these excursions into partisan gamesmanship that prevent Congress and Washington from getting pretty straightforward things done.  And to the extent that this decision by Senator Reid improves that situation, the President thinks it’s a good thing.
Q    I want to ask you about Iran and the P5-plus-1 talks.  You said the P5-plus-1 is unified, and I’m curious because after the last round of negotiations France came out and said the deal is not good enough, it’s not strong enough.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, I think you’re conflating reports of things versus what actually happened.  The fact is that the offer -- 
Q    Something changed so that France was not onboard with the deal that was coming together at the end of the last round of negotiations.
MR. CARNEY:  That’s incorrect.  The deal that Iran rejected was supported 100 percent by every member of the P5-plus-1.  That’s a fact.  And it is the deal that we’re negotiating today in Geneva.
Q    They came out and voiced criticism to it, though.
MR. CARNEY:  Again, Kristin, the deal that Iran decided it could not support at that time was one that every member of the P5-plus-1 was unified on and supported, and that’s the deal that we’re negotiating in Geneva today.
Q    Okay.  One more about State Senator Creigh Deeds.  He was released from the hospital.  Does President Obama have any plans to reach out to him?  Has he yet?  Does he have anything to say in the wake of, obviously, the tragedy?
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything on communication like that.  I would simply say that the President’s thoughts and prayers, and everybody’s thoughts and prayers in this family -- I mean, in this White House are with the Deeds’ family in the wake of that terrible tragedy.
Q    Jay, can I just follow up on your answer to John’s question?  Are you saying that Secretary Sebelius -- the President expects her to be on the job at least through the end of the March 31 enrollment period?  Is that what you were suggesting?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no personnel announcements to make.  You could ask that about every individual that the President appoints in the administration.  What I can tell you is the President has confidence in Secretary Sebelius and he wants his team -- of which she is an important part -- that’s focusing on implementation of the ACA to focus on implementation of the ACA. That’s what she’s doing.  That’s what all of us who were involved in that effort are doing.
Q    Does he have any reason to believe that she won’t be on the job through the end of the enrollment period in March?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no insight into the personnel decisions that he may or may not make in the future or the individuals who have been serving in this administration may or may not make.  The fundamental question you’re asking in a variety of ways is does he have confidence in her, and the answer today is the same as it’s been every day:  yes.
Q    One other question related to this -- usually a President, at the end of the year, going into the New Year, works with the Chief of Staff to think through the team that he has both at the White House and in the Cabinet and do a kind of inventory of that -- who wants to leave, who is leaving.  Can you describe the process that the President has with the Chief of Staff underway now?
MR. CARNEY:  Has any press secretary of any administration ever described that process?  
Q    Yes.
MR. CARNEY:  No.  I do not get into personnel decisions.
Q    Actually, they have.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, maybe after the fact, Alexis.  I certainly haven’t.  The fact is, the President, the Chief of Staff, other senior members of his team review and look at personnel decisions all the time.  And obviously there’s, as is the case in any administration, times when people decide they need to leave for a variety of reasons.  And when that happens, the President and his team evaluate their options when it comes to successors.  That’s no different at the end of the year than it is midway through the year or at the beginning of the year.  And that’s where we are now.  But there’s nothing unique about the process today compared to earlier this year or last year or any other year that he’s been President.
Q    Thanks, Jay.  Over the last three days, Senator Baucus has been rolling out a variety of tax reform proposals.  Has the White House been involved in those proposals, and do you support them?
MR. CARNEY:  We are very supportive of Senator Baucus’s agreement with us and his efforts when it comes to reforming our tax code and the corporate tax system.  That’s something that we put forward ourselves here earlier and continue to hope that Congress would act on.  There is an opportunity here to reform our corporate tax code in a way that lowers rates, closes loopholes, makes us more competitive, and provides the opportunity to invest in areas like infrastructure that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support and that would do enormous good for our future economic growth.  
That kind of investment would create jobs right away in important sectors of our economy and would have compounding benefits over the years, because when you rebuild airports and bridges and highways and ports, you are investing in our economic future.  
The Vice President has been traveling, as you know, to ports around the country, as well as the Panama Canal, to focus attention on the need to make the necessary investments in our ports so that we can be competitive in the 21st century.  This is something that we’re focused very much on.  And there has been, as we’ve discussed, a justifiable amount of focus and attention here in Washington on the problems with the website and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that is something that we are obviously very engaged in fixing.  But broadly speaking, this administration is focused on the things we can do to grow our economy, the things we can do to make the middle class more secure, and that includes a deal that is out there, if Congress were to take it, to reform our corporate tax system and make it more fair, close loopholes and invest in infrastructure, invest potentially in universal pre-K or pre-K for all, because of the positive long-term benefits that that would give our country and our economy.
So these are the issues that the President is primarily focused on.  And so we obviously commend Chairman Baucus on moving these issues forward.
Q    Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY:  I’ll take one more.  Voice of America.
Q    Wow, two days in row.  I don’t want to -- 
MR. CARNEY:  Did Josh call on you?  (Laughter.)  Okay, I didn’t know that.  I’ll call on somebody else.  No, go ahead.  (Laughter.)
Q    Will we be hearing statements from the President and the King of Morocco at this event this afternoon?
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know that there are any statements planned.  There’s a photojournalists spray, I believe, that involves photographers and video.
Q    So can I just follow up on that?
Q    Will the President be raising human rights issues directly with the King, including issues involving Western Sahara and the broadening of the U.N. mandate to include human rights monitors?
MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you about that is that the President looks forward to discussing a range of issues of mutual interest with King Mohammed VI, including support for Morocco’s democratic and economic reforms.  This visit is also an opportunity to increase our cooperation on addressing regional challenges, including countering violent extremism, supporting democratic transitions and promoting economic development in the Middle East and Africa.  
On the issue of the Western Sahara, our position has remained consistent for many years.  The U.S. has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.  
I don’t have any more of a preview on their meeting than that.
Q    Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY:  Oh, yes.  Let’s see.  Yes.  I think last week was the first time I ever went to the week ahead of my own volition.  
On Sunday, the President will travel to Seattle, Washington to participate in DNC and DCCC events.  The President will remain overnight in Seattle.  On Monday, the President will travel to San Francisco for an event on immigration as well as an event for the DNC.  In the afternoon, the President will travel to Los Angeles, California, where he will take part in two DCCC/DSCC events.  The President will remain overnight in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, the President will attend an event for the DNC, followed by an event on the economy at DreamWorks Animation.  The President will return to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night.  
On Wednesday -- and mark this in pen -- the President will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House and the First Family will participate in a service event in the Washington, D.C. area.
Q    Do you have times for those?
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t.  We’ll get them to you when we have them.  
On Thursday, the President will celebrate Thanksgiving at the White House.  No public events scheduled that day.  And also, on Friday the President has no public events scheduled.
Thank you all very much.
1:06 P.M. EST

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