Press Briefing

February 14, 2014 | 48:23 | 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, 2/14/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:00 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Hello, everyone.  Good afternoon -- or good morning, and happy Valentine’s Day.  Actually, I have no announcements to make so I’ll go straight to your questions.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  I wanted to ask a couple questions about what’s happening in the Syria talks in Geneva.  I get that the U.S. thinks that this is going to be a difficult process, but what should we read into the prospect for anything coming from this when the Russians don’t seem to agree with the U.S. on the actual purpose being there?  They say that this is not just for finding a transitional government in Syria. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, everyone who signed onto the idea of the Geneva Communique understands and understood what the purpose was and is.  And there is no question that the talks thus far have not produced significant breakthroughs, but it is important that everyone recognize that the only resolution to this conflict comes through a negotiated political settlement. 

We are going to continue to pressure not just the Assad regime but also countries like Russia and Iran to recognize that it is in nobody’s interest to see the continuing bloodshed and collapse that’s taking place inside Syria.  Now, the President said last week that this is a difficult process and we are far from achieving the goal we envision here.  But we have to keep at it.  There is no other way to resolve this ongoing crisis that doesn’t involve the two sides sitting across from each other at a table.

Q    But is this process actually backtracking, moving backwards, if you say that everyone came to the table agreeing that this was about finding some kind of transitional body to run Syria and now you have the Russians saying that that’s not the point of the talks?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would say that we recognize that significant progress is not being achieved but it is important that the talks themselves have taken place.  And we are going to continue to press all sides, all parties to this to recognize that there is no other way out of this conflict.  We continue to believe that the main problem is the regime’s unwillingness so far to engage constructively on the implementation of the Geneva Communique, which, as I said earlier, is the foundation of the talks. 

The opposition, by contrast, has shown a seriousness of purpose.  They continue to outline their vision for the future of Syria, and we commend them for that.  They have shown that they are willing to engage constructively for the sake of the Syrian people, and we haven’t seen that kind of engagement from the regime so far. 

Again, we recognize the situation in Syria continues to be terrible for the people of Syria.  Our efforts, including our humanitarian efforts, our efforts at the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution that would make it easier to deliver humanitarian aid, our efforts on behalf of the opposition are all aimed towards bringing about a transition in Syria that will lead to a better future for the country.  There is no other way to get from here to there.

Q    And then just quickly, I think in the President’s remarks just now, he didn’t bring up fast track for the trade agreements in his remarks to Democrats.  Is that something he still believes is realistic this year or whenever these deals are ready to take that plunge?

MR. CARNEY:  The President’s position has not changed.  It has long been the case -- Major and I know, Ann and I know -- I’m going to call out a few veterans -- that this has been an issue that has never been easy for either party, in fact.  There are divisions on these issues in both parties.  But we’re going to press forward, and we’ve laid out why we think it’s important for the American economy and American workers to expand trade in the way that the TPP would do with our Asia partners.  We have to remember that this is the fastest-growing part of the world, and we, the United States, need to be there and taking advantage of that growth on behalf of the American economy, on behalf of American workers.  But these are obviously always issues that require a lot of discussion and consideration.

Q    Going back to Syria for a second, Secretary Kerry apparently told reporters in Beijing that the President has asked for other options on Syria.  What did he mean by that?  What other options could there be?

MR. CARNEY:  Secretary Kerry was reiterating what has always been the case, which is that the President is always looking at options on policy matters like Syria -- that include Syria.  But as a general principle, the President is always asking his team to evaluate where we are and where we could be.  This is not a one-time thing.  It’s not like this is a new review.  We’re constantly -- he is constantly tasking his national security team with the job of evaluating where we are, evaluating what options might be available to him going forward.

He acknowledges, as I just said to Julie, that the situation in Syria is terrible for the people of Syria.  It’s destabilizing for the region.  We are aggressive in our pursuit of providing humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and in supporting the opposition and in pressing for progress through the Geneva process.  But he is always looking at other options -- or always asking for all the options that might be available to him.  But I wouldn’t see this as some new announcement or new consideration.  

Q    It’s not a reflection of the frustrations and difficulties in talks --

MR. CARNEY:   Well, there is certainly frustration.  But I would say, regardless of where we were in the process the President as a starting principle on these issues, always tasks his teams both on foreign policy and domestic to not be complacent about the path forward -- “We’re on this track; is that the track we have to stay on” -- always, he says, consider other options if other better options become available. 

But, again, I want to make it clear this is not a new perspective that the President is bringing to this.  It’s the perspective he has had all along.

Q    On Afghanistan, President Karzai has said the release of the controversial detainees is of no concern to the U.S.  What’s your response to that? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are disappointed.  And I think the U.S. military has made clear that we are disappointed that the Afghan government released detainees that we believe pose a continuing threat to coalition forces and to Afghans.  We urge the Afghan government to make every effort that those released do not commit new acts of violence and terror and to immediately bring to justice any who do so.  And we strongly urge the Afghan government to come to an appropriate resolution for the remaining disputed cases, including more serious consideration by Afghan prosecutors.

Q    I just wanted to ask -- the President praised the Democrats for unity in the face of debt limit talks just now in Cambridge, Maryland.  One issue that the President has advanced that’s caused some heartburn among his allies is this changes to cost of living for Social Security, the so-called chained CPI. In the interest of harmony, is he going to relinquish that request going forward this year?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to get ahead of what we’ve already announced will be the presentation of the President’s budget.  So I know that’s a way of asking what’s going to be in the budget.  What I can tell you is the President has demonstrated in the past and will continue to demonstrate his commitment to achieving additional deficit reduction that addresses our medium- and long-term challenges through a balanced approach.

The budgets he has put forward in the past, the offers he has made in the past reflect that willingness, a willingness to compromise, to give as well as receive, that we haven’t seen demonstrated thus far by Republicans, and I think most people in this room have reported as much.  So that’s a way of describing the point of view that the President brings to these issues.

Q    Getting back to Afghanistan, I know this administration is weighing what force level to contribute to Afghanistan, pending a signature to this bilateral security agreement.  But doesn’t this give you some pause when it comes to committing troops long term or even short term to Afghanistan when dangerous prisoners are being released?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we definitely expressed -- as I just did today, and others have, including military leaders -- our disappointment with the release of detainees that we believe pose a threat to U.S. forces, coalition forces and Afghan forces, as well as Afghan civilians. 

On the matter of the bilateral security agreement, we continue to seek a conclusion to that process promptly.  And then, on the question of troop presence beyond 2014, it is obviously contingent upon -- any presence is contingent upon the signing of the BSA.  And we are still not at a point where a decision has been made or can be made about what a post-2014 troop presence would look like, except to say that it would be much smaller and narrowly focused on two missions, counterterrorism and training in support of Afghan forces.

So those views remain the same.  There’s no question that we are disappointed, as we’ve been clear about.

Q    And getting back to the enrollment numbers yesterday, there have been some reports that a significant number of consumers, enrollees, have not been making their premium payments to activate their coverage.  Might that affect the actual number of enrollees?  When the administration says 3.3 million people so far, if there’s a sizeable portion of those folks who haven’t paid their premiums, might that number actually be lower?

MR. CARNEY:  As I’ve said in this room in the past, including this week, the contract between an individual and an insurance company is a private contract.  That is something that is determined by the insurance company and the enrollee.  Right now, insurance companies, for that reason, have the most up-to-date, comprehensive, and reliable information on the number of people who have paid their premiums.  And I think if you saw in one newspaper several major insurance companies have indicated that a high percentage of people have, in fact, paid for their plans. 

And there are thousands -- going back again and looking at this more broadly -- there are thousands of insurance plans being sold across the country and eventually all of these plans will report to CMS the total number of enrollees who have paid for their premiums.  Right now, the insurers have, the issuers have the most up-to-date, comprehensive information.  When it comes to payments, the roll that CMS plays is the issuance of the payment of tax credits and subsidies for those who qualify for them, so that subsidize the policies that enrollees have signed up for when they qualify for a subsidy. 

And there’s an automated payment system that will be coming online fully in the next several months, which will include in the flow of information more specific, timely data relating to the payment of premiums by enrollees provided by the insurance company, which is just a way of saying we will -- CMS will have concrete and timely data on those who have paid. 

Right now, that information is most reliably provided by issuers who have -- I think citing this -- I think it was a New York Times article reported that a very high percentage have been meeting their premium deadlines.

Q    Of those 3.3 million people that the administration said have enrolled in plans, do you know if all 3.3 million have made their payments?  You don’t know?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, the issuers are the ones who have the most specific information about who has met their payments, and, again, citing a recent report, that figure is 80 percent or above for the major issuers that are cited in that newspaper article.  We are working on an automated payment processing system that will be set up as part of the CMS system and which, when it is online and functional, will result in having -- even though it’s set up so that there’s an automated system for the payment of the subsidies to the issuers -- it will also in the return information provide more data to CMS about who more specifically has met their premiums, what percentage of enrollees have met their premiums.

Overall, I know there is a constant search for less than good news in the arena, but if you look at the data reported, it is overwhelmingly positive, and the predictions of failure and doom and gloom that we saw -- understandably, perhaps, given how rocky the start was in October and November -- have all come to naught.  In fact, there has been a significant increase in enrollees.  The website is working effectively for the vast majority of people who use it to peruse their options and then select a plan. The breakdown demographically that we’ve seen of enrollees continues to meet expectations, and we saw a surge in youth -- our young American, young adult enrollees in January. 

And we expect that, come March 31st, we will have a significant number of Americans who have purchased plans, enrolled in plans, signed up for plans through the marketplaces, through the exchanges, and that the demographic breakdown will be well within what we had hoped to see in order for the marketplaces to function effectively.


Q    Thank you.  Looking forward to California on a couple of issues -- what is the Climate Resilience Fund that the President is going to be proposing?  Will he be mentioning that today?  And is the billion dollars for it something that he could do through administrative executive action, or would that be a request of Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  He will, as I think information provided to you this morning made clear, announce today that his budget will include a new $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund.  And this is part of a broader approach to dealing with the challenge represented by climate change that the President put forward in his Climate Action Plan.  The President’s visit to Fresno will demonstrate his concern about the communities across California that are struggling with the impacts of one of the state’s worst droughts in over a hundred years.  And the President is committed to ensuring that his administration is doing everything it can to help farmers, ranchers, small businesses and communities that are being affected. 

The President will today announce significant new efforts the administration is taking to provide support and relief to those feeling the pain of the drought.  We put out a full list of these new commitments, but among them are speeding up the delivery of up to $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers from the farm bill.  While these livestock programs took over a year to get assistance out the door under the last farm bill, at the President’s direction, USDA has committed to cut that time by more than 80 percent, and begin signup in April.

Also, $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas, and $60 million made available to food banks in the state of California to help families that may be economically affected by the drought. 

Q    He’s into his sixth year as President.  Does he think anything that the administration has been able to accomplish in the first five years has even mitigated the effects of either the California drought or the other climate impact?

MR. CARNEY:  We put in place historic fuel efficiency standards that outside analysts will attest will have a greater positive impact on carbon emissions than almost any other policy that one could imagine.  But the President is not done in addressing this challenge and that was reflected in his Climate Action Plan that he laid out last year and in the steps that we’re going to continue to take.

The Climate Resilience Fund is a piece of that.  And I think it’s important to note that -- because there’s always discussion about severe weather and its relationship to global climate change -- and let’s make clear, no single episode of weather, no storm, no flood, no drought can be said to have been caused by climate change, global climate change, but the science is clear that weather practically everywhere is being influenced by climate change. 

Yes, we’ve always had heat waves, but now the worst ones are longer and they’re hotter.  And we’ve always had droughts, but the worst ones are getting longer and dryer.  We’ve always had severe storms, but instead of hundred-year storms that happen once in a hundred years, we’re having hundred-year storms that happen every other year or every five years.  And the severity of the storms, I think we all note from having experienced them or seen the reporting on them, has been significant.  Sandy is a perfect example.  So it’s a reminder of the steps that we need to take and that this President is committed to taking.

Q    Real quickly on the dinner tonight, is there a reason why he’s meeting with King Abdullah in California since the King has been here this week?

MR. CARNEY:  I was asked this the other day, Ann, as you probably know, and the President looks forward very much to holding a working dinner with King Abdullah of Jordan at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands.  Jordan is an invaluable ally and a close friend of the United States, and Sunnylands offers a private location and less formal setting that will allow the President to have a wide-ranging discussion with the King.  This meeting is a demonstration of the strength of our partnership with Jordan and our friendship with King Abdullah and the people of Jordan. 

The President looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah opportunities to promote peace, prosperity and reform.  He will also discuss opportunities to discuss -- to strengthen, rather, the U.S.-Jordan strategic partnership and how to advance our political, economic and security cooperation.  The two leaders will also continue consultations on regional developments, including Middle East peace and, of course, Syria.

Q    But we don’t expect a specific new initiative or announcement out of their talks tonight?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the President.  I can tell you that the President looks forward to hearing how the King has advanced Jordan’s economic and political stability since their last meeting, and how the U.S. can further support the King’s vision for Jordan’s future. 

The two leaders will also discuss the United States’ commitment to assisting Jordan meet its economic challenges this year.  Among them, on Syria, we are committed to working with Jordan to support the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Jordanian host communities, and we are working together at the U.N., where Jordan is on the Security Council, to press for greater humanitarian access inside Syria.  The U.S. and Jordan both strongly support the Geneva II process and efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict. 

Of course, Jordan is a key stakeholder in the Middle East peace process so you can expect a discussion on those issues and you can expect the President to convey again his deep appreciation for the King’s support for the negotiations. 

So there will be a variety of issues discussed, and I don’t have any announcements to preview.


Q    Is it time for this administration to reevaluate the utility of the Geneva process itself, that it may not actually be what it thought it was going inthat everyone is agreed on a central set of goals and timetables -- that the Syrians are just playing  for time, continuing their humanitarian assault on the civilians, calling everyone in any disputed territory a terrorist -- even an unarmed civilian, who is now starving -- that they’re just playing for time and stringing this out, and the process itself, though we’re invested in it, isn’t a legitimate process?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’ve certainly identified that this is a very difficult situation and that the Geneva process has not provided a solution to the conflict.  What has not been identified in your question or in other assessments of where we are in the process is a better alternative to finding a resolution to the conflict that allows for a transition for Syria.  And because of that, we are committed to this process. 

We recognize that there is no other way to find a political solution -- or rather there is no other resolution to the conflict that does not include a political settlement, and that’s why the Geneva process is important.  As I just said in answer I think to Julie’s question or Mark’s, we are going to continue to pressure not just the Assad regime but also to get countries like Russia and Iran to recognize that it is in nobody’s interest to see the continuing bloodshed and collapse that’s taking place in Syria.

But, absolutely, Major, this continues to be a very difficult issue and the President is committed through our support -- our leading role in providing humanitarian aid and our significant support for the opposition, as well as our leading role in helping bring about a political resolution, to try to make progress on this very difficult problem.

Q    And when we ask about options, I understand the President always is asking for options -- that’s an ongoing process for any President.  But I’m wondering if these things are sort of coming together that what the President -- or has the President asked for a better alternative?  As you just said, there isn’t a better alternative than Geneva currently.  Has he asked his staff, has he asked the people who are devoting a tremendous amount of attention to this to try to find a better alternative?  Have we reached that stage?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I said earlier, we’re always at the stage where the President is asking for his teams to consider where we are and what the options are for getting where we need to be -- in Syria and in other issues around the world, and in domestic policy.  So I was just trying to put into context the question about Secretary Kerry’s remarks, which were wholly accurate, but that is a reflection of where the President always is and has been on Syria.  The President doesn’t take options off the table.  We’ve been very clear about not engaging militarily directly in a civil war in Syria, putting boots on the ground.  Others may disagree with that position, but the President has been clear about it.  But as a general principle, with Syria and other issues like this, he retains all options.

Q    Let me just take three things that have happened since the State of the Union.  One, at the State of the Union, the President says, pass fast track.  The very next day, Harry Reid says, I’m not interested in it, I’m burying it.  This week, the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says, I’m not in favor of the Camp-Baucus bill, the only existing legislative vehicle for fast track.  And the President doesn’t bring it up at his caucus meeting with the House Democrats.  Taken together, can’t we all fairly conclude that this is now on the backburner and whatever push the President hoped to initiate at the State of the Union is, for the moment, completely derailed?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, as I said at the time, the idea that there is some opposition within the Democratic Party historically and traditionally to fast track is not a new discovery.  It wasn’t new last week, it wasn’t new in 1993, and it certainly hasn’t been new any time in the interim --

Q    But as you know, in 1993, President Clinton, when confronting that, amped it up, increased the pressure, demonstrated over time intensity on the issue.  And I’m just saying is the President backing off now?

MR. CARNEY:  Major, what I can tell you is the President made clear in his State of the Union address that he has an agenda driven by the need to expand opportunity and assist the middle class and to reward hard work and responsibility.  And his economic agenda includes that piece of -- does include the piece that we’re talking about, but also includes many others.

Something else has happened since the State of the Union address is that House Republicans abandoned their gamesmanship that had threatened the American economy, threated the American middle class, threatened default for the first time in our history, and passed a clean debt limit, a raising in the clean debt limit.  That’s a significant change in the way that we’ve been doing business here in Washington for the past several years, and it is a welcome change.  It is a good thing for our economy, and I think it represents a positive step forward, a victory for the American people and the American economy.  And we saw the President -- I’m just talking about when you --

Q    What does that --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm just talking about when you --

Q    -- have to do with the top Democratic leaders in both chambers ignoring the President’s --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ve addressed that issue.  I’m saying that you framed it as somehow this has been the only thing that’s happened since the State of the Union address, which, of course, is not the case.

Q    It’s the only thing that’s happened on trade, which is my question.

MR. CARNEY:  Major, our position hasn’t changed, nor has the fact that this is an issue that has been contentious for both parties for decades.

Q    Jay, I’ve got two quick ones, but since we’ve been in the front row, if you promise to come back to me, if you can go take a few from the back, I’ll wait.

MR. CARNEY:  Ed, that is very gentlemanly of you. 

Jared.  Jared one.

Q    Which one is Jared one?

Q    Me.  (Laughter.) 

Q    On the climate change resilience fund, what does the White House think the chances are of Congress supporting that $1 billion fund, considering their aversion to new spending?  And is there anything in particular the President is going to try and do to gain support for that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to get ahead of something that the President is going to announce today and about which there will be greater detail in the coming days, except to lay out simply that the idea of a Climate Resilience Fund is something that should be, and we expect will be supported broadly across the country, because all parts of the country, generally speaking, have had to deal with and will have to deal with the need to mitigate and be resilient in the face of challenges posed by severe weather. 

And we’ve seen that obviously over the course of the five-plus years the President has been in office, and we saw it prior to that.  Unfortunately, the evidence shows that we’ll see it in coming years.  So the need to be prepared, the need to take steps that help our farmers and businesses and communities deal with the consequences from severe weather events is I think evident to everyone across the country -- red states, blue states, purple states, big communities, small communities, big businesses, small businesses, agriculture and the like. 

So we’ll have more information for you on it, but I think this is something that touches the lives of Americans across the country.

Q    But if lawmakers, as you said, it’s already evident that some of these natural disasters we’re seeing are linked to climate change, and they don’t seem to support measures currently, based on the Republican Party, then why would you --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think you’re broadly defining something that’s fairly -- I mean, you’re talking about cap and trade from a few years ago and that sort of thing.  This is obviously something that is meant to deal with -- help the country deal with the impacts of global climate change.  But it is obviously --

Q    More narrow?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s a different -- it’s about resilience, it’s a piece of it.  It’s not similar to past actions necessarily.

Q    Would it be fair to conclude that the administration is basically out of leverage with President Karzai?  I mean, he seems to be intent on spending the last few months in power frustrating everything the U.S. and its allies is trying to work for.

MR. CARNEY:  We have been very clear that we negotiated the bilateral security agreement in good faith.  We participated in a process that saw that agreement negotiated with the Afghan government, presented to the loya jirga, where it was endorsed.  And we are frustrated by the fact that President Karzai has indicated an unwillingness to sign an agreement that has the support of the Afghan people and, obviously, we believe, is the preferable path forward in terms of our national security interests, as well as Afghan national security interests.  I think Director Clapper has spoken to this in open testimony. 

So our position continues to be that the BSA ought to be signed promptly.  It is simply a fact that when you talk about the complexities of drawing down our forces and preparing for a force that would stay on should a BSA be signed, that the longer we go into 2014 the more difficult it becomes to prepare for contingencies, and the more real the contingency of no BSA and zero troops becomes.  And that's a reality.  So that's where we are.

We have to, both the United States and our NATO partners, plan accordingly, and it becomes more difficult to plan the longer we go without a signed BSA. 

Q    On Syria, to follow up -- you said the administration wants to convince nations like Russia and Iran that it was not in their interest for this -- the crumbling in Syria to go on.  Does that mean the administration is thinking about discussing this directly with Iran?  Might that be one of the options that could be developed that the President is looking at?

MR. CARNEY:  I would stick with where I was in terms of seeking to convince nations like Russia and Iran that it is not in their interest.  It’s certainly not something that would be part of the -- as I understand it -- the negotiations around a six-month process that might end in an agreement with the P5-plus-1 on Iran’s nuclear program.

We, obviously, have a host of other issues with Iran and a host of other major disagreements with Iran and we have not changed our views on any of those.  But we communicate our views about Iran’s support for Hezbollah, Iran’s destabilizing role in the region, and Iran’s destabilizing role in Syria very clearly and will continue to do that.


Q    You mentioned the aid that the U.S. is giving Jordan for the refugees and so forth.  When the President meets with won't King tonight, is he, the President, expecting any further requests from Abdullah on the refugee question, or anything else, for that matter?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I wouldn't want to get ahead of the meetings or speak for the King.  This will obviously be a topic the two Presidents -- or the President and the King discuss, the two leaders discuss.  It’s certainly a matter that they discussed the last time they met and is something that is a significant issue for Jordan and puts a lot of pressure on Jordan, and we have assisted Jordan in dealing with it.  

Any specific announcements that may or may not be made, I'll let the President make them.

Q    Is the U.S. satisfied with what it’s currently doing with regard to the refugees?

MR. CARNEY:  With what -- is the U.S. satisfied with what the U.S. is doing?

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not sure I understand the question.  We obviously recognize this is a major issue for Jordan and we discuss with the King and the Jordanian government this issue I think with great regularity and will -- we work with, as others do, with Jordan to try to mitigate the impacts of the refugee problem.

Q    Would the U.S. be willing to do more?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don’t have a new policy announcement to make or changes in the approach we’ve taken to announce, but I would suggest to you that the President is meeting with the King later today and I’ll point you to his remarks on those issues.

Leslie, and then Ed.

Q    Back on the trip to Fresno, has the White House taken any position yet on the House and Senate water bills and do they plan to get involved at all in ironing out any of --

MR. CARNEY:  On the House bill, we have a statement of administration policy out on that bill and you can go online and read it in full.  But the short version is that it would not alleviate the effects of California’s current drought and would disrupt decades of work, work that supports building consensus, solutions and settlements that equitably addressed some of California’s most complex water challenges.

On the Senate bill, the Feinstein-Boxer bill, I can tell you that we’re encouraged by progress in the Senate on efforts to ease the pain caused by drought -- by the drought.  And the Obama administration continues to do everything in its power, in coordination with the state of California, to provide relief and support to those who have been affected.  We look forward to continuing to work with the bill sponsors and other members of Congress as the process moves forward.  And we hope they move forward with this bill.

Q    So that’s a, yes, you would get actively engaged in --

MR. CARNEY:  We are actively engaged, and we support the Feinstein-Boxer effort.

Q    And can I ask one other question?  I was just wondering, halfway through the Olympics, do you guys have any readout on what the President has been watching, what has he been able to catch up with?  Is he disappointed that there wasn’t that many golds in the big stuff for the Americans?

MR. CARNEY:  The President I know is paying attention and cheering on American athletes.  I think in general we all should be very proud of how U.S. athletes have performed thus far and look forward to more stunning performances in the coming days -- and also to more annotated explanations of what those slopeskiers are talking about when they explain their maneuvers.  I don’t know if you caught some of that, but it’s pretty cool -- the “1920 Japan” or something like that.  But anyway, it’s been a lot of fun, I know, for all of us.  I know the President has enjoyed it.  I don’t have a specific readout on what he’s been able to watch. 

I’m particularly paying attention to the women’s hockey team.  I have a second cousin on that team.

Q    Who?

MR. CARNEY:  But I’m hoping very much that they get the gold this year.

Ed, I owe you.

Q    I heard you did some sledding yesterday.  Were you --

MR. CARNEY:  You did hear I did some?  (Laughter.)

Q    I heard.  I had a source on that.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  That’s true.  I was out with my kids sledding yesterday.  It was a lot of fun.

Q    Did you medal?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I most certainly did not medal.

Q    Good.  On substance, I wanted to ask you a follow-up to Jim Acosta’s question about health care.  It seemed like in your answer about the insurance companies, you said the backend payment systems might not be up for several months, I believe I heard you say.  And my question on that would be could that be a problem here?  Because the enrollment obviously goes through the end of March -- if it’s -- I don’t know if it’s several months, a few months.  How do you --

MR. CARNEY:  It’s a good question.  Let me explain.  This is the automated payment processing system.  The payments themselves are happening.

Q    They’re going to insurance companies?


Q    But then, my question then is on the payments that you have to make I believe it’s to the insurance company --

MR. CARNEY:  That’s the ones I’m talking about.

Q    -- right -- for the subsidies.  My question is then there are people who the President has said need health care.  They need these subsidies, they need these tax credits in order to do that.  If that takes a few months, are they getting the money or --

MR. CARNEY:  Let me be clear.  The payments are happening on time.  There is an automated processing system that is not online yet, and once that automated payment processing system is online in a few months, that system will provide CMS with the kind of data that we’ve been asked about and CMS has been asked about, which is the overall picture of how high a percentage of enrollees have made their premium payments.  The system is designed just for the financial role that CMS or the government plays, which is to provide subsidies for those who qualify for them to the issuers.

But the system is -- once we have that automated payment processing system up, we’ll be able to have -- we, CMS, HHS and the federal government -- will have the data in a timely fashion on the percentages of who have actually paid their premiums.  Right now, before that system is up, the most accurate and timely information about the percentage of enrollees who have met their premium payment deadlines comes from the issuers themselves.

Q    Last question.  On executive action -- to the House Democrats, the President said again, a couple of times, to be clear, he will work with Congress when he can, as you say; other times, he will take executive action.  I also know that there have been other Presidents, Republican and Democrat, like Bill Clinton, who have used more executive orders than this President has.  Nonetheless, in the 2008 campaign, this President said again and again that he was going to “reverse” that.  He used that word -- going to reverse George Bush’s executive actions; these are damaging the country.  Why the change of heart on the idea of pulling back on executive action?  Now he seems to be full-steam ahead.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. There is no question that this President has been judicious in his use of executive action, executive orders, and I think those numbers thus far have come in below what President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did.  The matter the President was discussing in his campaign in 2008 wasn’t the number; it was the quality and the type of executive actions that he believed were not appropriate. 

And obviously he won’t be engaging in those kinds of executive actions.  He will be engaging in executive actions, as he pledged in the State of the Union and as he has demonstrated throughout his presidency, that advance an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work and responsibility. 

Q    Isn’t one man’s bad executive action another man’s good?  I mean --


Q    -- George W. Bush would defend those.  Like, what would be an example that went over the top, do you think, whereas --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there are numerous examples in the national security arena, and the President acted very swiftly when he took office on some of those, including torture and the like.  But I think there’s a more nuanced discussion of how there is a difference qualitatively, not necessarily quantitatively, because quantitatively it is true -- and it is funny to hear Republicans get upset about the suggestion that the President might use legally available authorities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work and responsibility, when obviously they supported a President who used executive authorities quite widely.

Jared two.  (Laughter.)  

Q    I’m going to fight that designation.  Jay, a little over two years ago, the President changed his position and supported Priorities USA Action, what most of us considered a pretty public reversal on super PAC fundraising.  In the State of the Union, campaign finance got a couple of lines.  In the readouts and public statements to congressional Democrats in the last couple of weeks, not a lot on campaign finance.  What’s the President’s message on super PAC fundraising, especially given that, based on the January report, seems like Democrats are outraising Republicans when it comes to super PAC money?

MR. CARNEY:  The President’s position hasn’t changed.  The Supreme Court, in a decision he quite publicly opposed or disagreed with, has changed the environment dramatically.  And that’s the reality we live in.  The President’s views on what we should do in terms of a policy approach have not changed, and that remains to this day.  There’s no question that the Supreme Court action has, as we’ve all seen and you have covered, changed this world rather dramatically.

Q    So will he use either his pen or his phone to affect change?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any updates.  We try to spring those on you when he has new executive actions to announce.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Chris and then Dan.

Q    A court yesterday ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.  At least four circuit courts will be considering the issue this spring, which likely means the Supreme Court will be taking up the issue and making a decision next year.  Is the President eager for the Supreme Court to make a nationwide decision on this issue over the course of his presidency?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to speak hypothetically about cases the Supreme Court may or may not take.  What I can tell you is the President supports, as he has made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy, and his views on same-sex marriage were I think very powerfully expressed, and he feels gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue and the change in perspective that I think we’ve seen evolve across the country in a rather remarkable amount of time -- a remarkably short amount of time, which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights tend to play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as they have.

Q    But do you anticipate the administration will participate in these cases as much as --

MR. CARNEY:  I wouldn’t be the right person to guess.  You might look for speculation at the Justice Department.

Daniel, and then we’ll wrap it up.

Q    Just a couple quick on North Korea.  Just looking at Kerry’s quote where he said -- made it very clear that if the North doesn’t comply -- talking about China -- and come to the table, be serious about talks and to stop its own nuclear program, that China is prepared to take additional steps in order to make sure that their policy is implemented.  I guess the question is we’ve heard this a number of times before major talks we’ve had with Secretaries of State with China.  What possible additional steps would China be taking?

MR. CARNEY:  Could China take to put pressure on the North Koreans?

Q    Right.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think China has a unique relationship with North Korea, has unique leverage and influence on North Korea.  So I think there is at least potential for a wide variety of things that Beijing could do to alter North Korean behavior potentially.  But those are discussions we have all the time with the Chinese, and we’ve been quite clear about our hope and expectation that China would, in its own interest as well as the interests of the region and the world, use its unique influence and leverage to help bring about a situation where North Korea comes into compliance with its international obligations and ceases being the isolated state that it’s become because of its failure to comply.

Q    Is there concern about major provocation in advance or perhaps coinciding with the President’s Asia trip in April?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t heard of any.  I mean, these are issues that we monitor very closely.  We make clear our views on actions taken by North Korea and actions that North Korea fails to take to meet its obligations.

Thanks, everybody.

Q    Week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  My colleague, Eric Schultz, will be delivering the week ahead aboard Air Force One.  We’re still putting the final touches on it and I’m sure he will deliver it with accuracy and gusto. 

Thanks very much.

11:49 A.M. EST

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