Press Briefing

March 06, 2014 | 53:31 | Public Domain

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

Download mp4 (259MB) | mp3 (51MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/6/2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you all for being here.  And having heard the President’s statement, I have no other announcements -- we have no other announcements, but I'll go straight to questions.


Q    Jay, thank you.  Just to follow up on what the President said.  This move toward an independent Crimea, or this referendum, does the White House see that as being pushed by President Putin?  And are there steps that the U.S. can take against the pro-Russian leaders in the Crimea peninsula to stop this -- what you are calling an unconstitutional move by within the region?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, when it comes to the framework announced today and the President just discussed, we have not -- we're not naming individuals in the framework itself.  The EO, the executive order creates a framework for action and sanctions -- that would include Ukrainians and Russians, and then, obviously, that would include Ukrainians and Russians in any part of Ukraine, including Crimea.  But I don't have a -- and we are not identifying individuals as part of either the visa ban or the executive order.

As for Russia’s involvement in what’s happening in Ukraine, I think it's self-evident that Russia has, in contravention of international law, intervened militarily in Crimea.  Russian forces are responsible for blocking roads and blockading military installations and bases.  And Russia needs to, instead of pursuing that path, work with the OSCE and the United Nations and the Ukrainian government towards addressing the concerns that Russia claims were the motivation for the action that it has taken, which is concern about the protection of the rights of ethnic Russians in parts of Ukraine, in particular in Crimea.

The way to do that is to allow monitors in and to allow fact-finders in who can assess whether or not the rights of any Ukrainian citizens are being violated.  That is certainly the far more appropriate course of action that they should take.

Q    Does the White House believe that President Putin is -- his goal here is outright annexation of the region, of the Crimean peninsula?  Or is it more to gain leverage against the West in this continuing struggle?

MR. CARNEY:  Rather than assess motives, we can assess facts, which are as follows:  Russia violated international law and treaties and conventions and obligations that it, itself, has signed by violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, the sovereign state of Ukraine -- violated an agreement with Ukraine and other partners made in Budapest in 1994.

The fact that Russia has interests in Ukraine and has specifically interests in Crimea is one that we have recognized. They have a military base there, a lawfully established military base, as part of an agreement with the sovereign state of Ukraine.  And our whole point has been, together with our many allies and partners, that Russia ought to pursue its concerns and interests in a lawful manner, consistent with the U.N. Charter, consistent with the Budapest Memorandum.  And that is what we are pressing Russia to do.

Q    There have been calls in Congress for the administration to ease export -- natural gas export restrictions to at least help supply Ukraine if their supply of natural gas from Russia gets cut off, but also perhaps even Europeans.  What’s the administration‘s position on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Jim, the administration is taking immediate steps to assist the government of Ukraine, including in the area of energy security, energy efficiency, and energy sector reform. Our support for energy-related reforms will help the government of Ukraine to take the steps needed to restore economic stability and growth, and reduce Ukrainian dependence on Russian gas -- imported Russian gas. 

The Department of Energy has regulatory authority over liquefied natural gas exports -- LNG exports -- and DOE will continue to make public interest determinations on a case-by-case basis, considering economic, energy security, environmental and geopolitical impacts, among other factors.

So we are moving forward to assist Ukraine in many ways, including in the area of energy security.  On the matter of the regulatory authority for LNG exports, that’s something that DOE handles on a case-by-case basis.

Q    So the assistance basically is giving them access to suppliers elsewhere in the world, other international suppliers other than Russia, is that basically what that assistance --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that’s one form of it.  The State Department would have more details about the whole package.

Q    Jay, why is President Putin not being targeted himself under these sanctions you announced today, since he presumably is the one who ordered the Crimean operation?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, Steve, just to be clear, the executive order established a framework for sanctions.  It does not specify individuals.  It establishes a broad authority that can be used as appropriate, given the situation on the ground.

So the Secretary of Treasury is now, under this executive order, allowed, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to impose sanctions for the conduct described in the order.  Entities and individuals sanctioned under this executive order will be placed on the Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals List.  Their property under U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked and U.S. persons will be prohibited from doing business with them.  In addition, the border -- the order, rather, suspends entry into the United States of any alien designated pursuant to the order.

So this creates an authority that is broad and that can be used, executed by the Secretary of the Treasury as appropriate pursuant to the situation on the ground. 

Q    And how large a universe of people are we talking about?  Dozens, hundreds?  How many fall under this category?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not aware of a limit on the number. 

Q    And just one last thing.  You’ve been warning about a move in Eastern Ukraine would be destabilizing.  Are you getting any indications that that is, in fact, happening?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly don’t have any intelligence assessments to provide to you.  I think that, as Russian officials noted a couple of days ago, the exercises that were announced had supposedly ended in Western Russia near the Ukrainian border and those units were returned to bases.  But that’s something we obviously monitor closely.

There are other activities happening on the ground in Eastern Ukraine that, of course, are of concern and that we monitor closely, and about which we have conversations with the Ukrainian government and others.

Q    Jay, to follow up specifically on -- Steve asked you about Putin.  I didn’t hear an answer.  Is Putin --

MR. CARNEY:  No Russian individuals or entities are blocked pursuant to the executive order.  It provides a flexible tool that in the coming days and weeks can be used to sanction persons responsible for -- and I could go through the list but -- in other words, the EO -- nobody has been sanctioned under this EO. The authority has been granted, broad authority has been granted to issue those sanctions as appropriate.

Q    Are you saying you don’t rule out that Vladimir Putin could be one of the people sanctioned under this order?  A travel ban on Putin --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not discussing any individual.  The parameters are laid out in the executive order as to whom it would apply and those judgments will be made as we evaluate the situation on the ground.

Q    Well, you just said people responsible.  This is Vladimir Putin’s policy.  It’s not like there’s rogue operators in Russia that are doing this.  This is Putin’s policy, a policy he has defended.  So it sounds to me like you’re describing actions that would be taken against President Putin.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I am, in fact, saying, as opposed to what it might sound like I’m saying, is that the executive order does not name individuals or entities, does not identify individuals or entities; it establishes a framework that creates the authority to identify individuals.  That has not happened as of yet.

Q    Okay, let me try this a different way.  Do you think Vladimir Putin is responsible for what is going on in Crimea right now, for Russian activity in Crimea?

MR. CARNEY:  We have made clear that we strongly disagree with the Russian approach; that Russia is obviously responsible for its military forces that, contrary to some of the myths that have been put forward by Russian officials, it is clear through strong evidence that members of Russian security forces are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea. And while these units wear uniforms without insignia, they drive vehicles with Russian military license plates and freely identify themselves as Russian security forces when asked by the Ukrainian military, and when asked by your colleagues who are there reporting on the story.  Moreover, these individuals are armed with weapons that are not generally available to civilians.  So, absolutely.  But that --

Q    Absolutely.  So just to be crystal clear -- Vladimir Putin is the one --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we hold Russia accountable for the actions that Russia is taking in this regard.  And we call on Russia -- we call on President Putin -- to avail itself of the opportunity to address its concerns about ethnic Russians and the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine through the allowance of OSCE or U.N. monitors into Ukraine so that they can make assessments about those concerns. 

Q    And this last thing.  When you say there’s no limit on who can be -- come under this order --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m certainly not aware of a numeric limit.  What it does is establish a framework so that entities and individuals who are identified to fall under the categories that the executive order outlines can be targeted with sanctions. But again, there is no list of individuals.  This is an establishment of authority to act.

Q    But can you give us any idea of a range?  There’s obviously going to be a first round of this.  Are we talking about dozens of people?  Are we talking about thousands of people?  I’m just trying to get any kind of an indication of how widespread this is.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have a -- the point of the EO is to provide a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea.  And it does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate. 

And as the President just made clear, the steps that Russia has taken violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and are a breach of international law.  And that is not just our view; it is the view of countries and leaders across the region and the world.


Q    The President just said a few moments ago that he wants to deescalate this crisis, but don’t these actions, by definition, escalate the pressure, escalate what you hope to accomplish?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  The facts are that Russia has intervened militarily in Crimea.  That is undeniable.  The authority that the executive order provides is a flexible tool that allows for the imposition of sanctions on individuals and entities, and it’s entirely appropriate at this stage to have that authority available for exercise by the Secretary of Treasury in consultation with the Secretary of State.  We note that our European partners and allies have also taken action.

In the meantime, we are aggressively pursuing with our partners and allies in Europe a diplomatic solution to this.  We are making clear to the Russians that there is a far better way to address the concerns that they say have motivated the action they’ve taken.  And we are also not just pursuing that avenue diplomatically; we are also, with our partners and allies, providing assistance to the legitimate government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people at a very difficult time economically, not to mention politically, because of the situation caused by the intervention in Crimea.

Q    And the Russians have threatened to retaliate with sanctions of their own.  Has the administration sort of done a cost-benefit analysis and basically said this is a risk that you’re willing to take?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ve seen reports that Russia is considering its own sanctions, but we have no details.  And our focus right now is to see what we, together with our international partners, can do to convince Russia to remove its military forces, to return them to their bases in Crimea, and to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  So that's what we’re focused on.

Q    And what about -- getting back to Vladimir Putin, do you have any sense whatsoever that he is getting your message?

MR. CARNEY:  He certainly is.  I think that we have made it very clear to Russian leaders, including President Putin, including Foreign Minister Lavrov.  Secretary Kerry has had numerous meetings and conversations with the Foreign Minister.  The President spoke with President Putin.  Those consultations are ongoing, so I don't have any doubt that he, President Putin, is very clear about our position -- not just our position, again, but the position held by our European and international partners.

Q    And it sounds like -- just lastly, judging by what the President said, this White House is not giving up Crimea in this crisis.

MR. CARNEY:  Crimea is a part of Ukraine, the sovereign state of Ukraine.  Ukraine’s territorial integrity is recognized and validated under the United Nations Charter.  It is recognized and validated through an agreement to which Russia is directly a signatory, the Budapest Memorandum.  The vote in the Crimean legislative body, the proposed referendum, are not legitimate under the Ukrainian constitution and would not be legitimate if the referendum were to take place.  Any decisions about the status of a region or province within Ukraine have to be made in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution.  And I think that's, again, not just our view but a view held broadly across the world.

Q    Jay, is the best way to view the framework is that they are a deterrent to dissuade Russia from moving out of Crimea? Since they're not in effect now, so they're not penalizing individuals or businesses for what’s already happened, but they may be invoked if something worse happens?  Is that the proper way to interpret them?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll leave the interpretation to you.  I think that the executive order makes clear what the President said, which is there are costs to this action.  And this is a piece of the cost.

The State Department is imposing visa restrictions on a number of officials and individuals, reflecting a policy decision to deny visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And that is separate and apart from the executive order that --

Q    Right, that's happening, but the sanctions are not.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, the sanctions require the executive order that the President has signed.  And we’ve now created the framework --

Q    Right, but if I understood you earlier, you said clearly that they have not been implemented.

MR. CARNEY:  At this time they have not -- there is not -- there are not individuals and entities targeted yet through sanctions.

Q    Okay.  Following down the course of the interpretation, if you were in this chair or any of these chairs, you might read the executive order and ask yourself who better fits the definition of the words in the executive order of responsibility than Vladimir Putin.  Would that be an unfair interpretation?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll leave the interpretation to you.  I can simply say that it does not --

Q    Do you disagree with that?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Major, we’ve made clear our view, shared broadly across Europe and the world, that Russia in its actions has violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity, that Russia has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, that Russia has taken action that is inconsistent with the obligations it has under the U.N. Charter and through the Budapest Memorandum that it signed with Ukraine and other partners.  So our view on who is responsible for the actions that have taken place is very clear.

The EO establishes a framework through which sanctions can be imposed on individuals and entities, but it does not at this stage name individuals or entities.  So I’m not going to jump ahead and speculate about who might be named, or what entities might be included.

Q    Let me ask you one question about the Rada.  I know in general the administration has been supportive of the process by which it dealt with Yanukovych abdicating.  But some analysts here have said there are other actions that the Rada took after that, singling out Russian language and other aspects of those Russian speakers within Ukraine that might have been viewed legitimately as provocative by the Russians -- not justifying their action but viewed as somewhat troublesome or worrisome.  Is there anything the administration has to say about those actions undertaken by the Rada that might have complicated this situation unnecessarily?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we certainly believe that the Rada, the parliament, has conducted itself very well and in keeping with its authority under the Ukrainian constitution.  One of the myths that has been put out there by President Putin and others is that somehow President Yanukovych is still the President, that he was forced to flee, but, in fact, he signed an agreement that explicitly called for the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, to pass a bill that would return to power the 2004 constitution, make that the governing document.  Fulfilling its obligation, the Rada did that very quickly.  And before signing it, Yanukovych fled the country -- packed up his belongings and fled the country, and left in his wake a cornucopia of evidence suggesting widespread corruption and abuse of his power and authority and legitimacy.  So again --

Q    I’m talking about the moves the Rada made after.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I understand, but I’m not -- what I think is very clear is that the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian parliament have conducted themselves professionally and responsibly in an extremely difficult situation.  And we have every step of the way made clear that it is very important for Ukrainian authorities to protect and guarantee the rights of ethnic Russians and all other ethnic minorities in Ukraine.  And the tension we’ve seen in Crimea has been brought about by the actions taken by Russian military forces and those allied with them.

Q    Jay, it was five years ago today that Secretary -- then Secretary Clinton hit the button on the Russian reset.  Does the President have any regrets about that approach?  Did he misjudge the Russians’ ambitions and intentions here?

MR. CARNEY:  What the President set out to do when he took office was to establish a bilateral relationship with Russia that ensured that the United States was very clear-eyed and not either romantic or dismissive about the capacity to advance our interests in that relationship.  That approach has led to cooperation between the United States and Russia, and Russia and other international partners, when it comes to Iran.  It has led to cooperation between the United States and Russia when it comes to resupplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  And it has led to other areas of cooperation, including in the area of the START II treaty.

What it has also meant is that that approach has allowed us to be extremely blunt when we have powerful disagreements with the Russians.  And we have been blunt all along, and that includes in the area of missile defense.  It includes, obviously, most notably, with regard to Syria, and here, as well as in other areas.  So --

Q    He still went into Ukraine.

MR. CARNEY:  What we --

Q    He still went in.  Here you’re trying to -- you have to mobilize --

MR. CARNEY:  I know that there is an argument out there, factless, founded on no substantiated basis, that suggests that the President of Russia has taken the action that he’s taken because of actions the United States has taken.  I think that any historian, anybody knowledgeable about Russia or the former Soviet Union, would be as dismissive of that suggestion as I am trying to be now.

Q    Well, you were -- the President was dismissive when Mitt Romney, in the last campaign, said Russia was our number-one geopolitical foe.  Any regrets about that?

MR. CARNEY:  No, because, again -- you have a situation where Russia is violating international law because a country that Moscow -- a government that Moscow supported was rejected by the vast majority of the Ukrainian people and because they wanted to determine their own future; because they wanted to be able to make the decision as to their integration with Europe; they didn't want to be dictated to by an outside state or an outside authority.  I think it’s hardly a demonstration of -- it’s not a positive thing for Russia that Ukraine has been moving in this direction.

Our whole point is it doesn't have to be a negative thing.  It is a mistake certainly in the long run for Russia not to accept the fact that Ukraine can, and the Ukrainian people should be able to decide for themselves in a democratic manner how they will integrate with Europe, and that doing so does not mean they cannot maintain their long, historical and cultural ties and economic ties to Russia.  They can and should be able to do both, and it should not be a threat to Russia to do so.

So I think on this matter I think it's very important to note that when it comes to these kinds of situations on the international scene, partisan politics are fine -- we engage in them every day here -- “here” I mean Washington -- but in a case like this, why -- instead of being a partisan Republican and attacking the President, be a partisan American in identifying the outrageous actions in violation of international law that have taken place.

Q    Do you think John McCain and Lindsey Graham and some of those critics have been --

MR. CARNEY:  I think that partisanship, as others have identified, in this circumstance is unwarranted, because in fact the President and others -- the administration has been taking concrete action in response to the violation of international law that has taken place.  We are working in concert with our partners to do so.  And it is in the United States’ interest and the interest of our allies and partners and in the interest of the Ukrainian people to support Ukraine and to work to persuade Russia to reverse course.

Q    I want to quickly get to another subject you haven’t been asked about yet -- health care.  So late yesterday another delay on the President’s law, this allowing people to keep the individual plans that became such a big controversy.  When that controversy popped up about if you like your plan you can keep your plan, you repeatedly said from this podium that these were substandard plans, people should get better plans.  Why then are you allowing people to keep these substandard plans for a couple more years?  To get it passed the midterm election?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  The fact of the matter is, is that we are working to implement the Affordable Care Act so that millions of Americans can have the benefits of quality, affordable health insurance.  And that process is well underway and millions of Americans have signed up for quality and affordable health insurance through the marketplaces.  What we also said is that when it became clear that the grandfather clause within the Affordable Care Act that was part of the law when it was passed was not sufficient to the task to ensure that folks who had these individual plans were not adversely affected in the transition, we have been taking steps to smooth that transition.

So we're about the business of enrolling people in affordable, quality health insurance and smoothing the transition that takes place as we adapt to the marketplaces and as the American people avail themselves of this option. 

By contrast, we have the House of Representatives, Republicans in the House of Representatives voting for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act without an alternative.  So every vote to repeal is a vote to go back to a world where insurance companies could throw you off your policy, to decide not to cover the condition from which you suffer, could put lifetime caps on your coverage, annual caps on your coverage, could charge your sister double what they charge you just because she’s a woman.  All those young Americans who are now able to be on their parents’ policies up to the age of 26 would be out of luck.  That's the consequence if they were to succeed with repeal.  So we're --

Q    How is it every time Republicans want a change to the law you say it's sabotage, and then the President changes it a couple dozen times and you're smoothing the transition? 

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Ed, I think any rational, reasonable analysis of the efforts undertaken by Republicans who say that it is their number-one priority to repeal Obamacare -- I think I heard a leading Republican say today that every word ought to be repealed.  Imagine if they took a vote to repeal each word one at a time.  Maybe they will.  But it wouldn't be any less productive than they’ve been on this issue.

So that's their focus.  To suggest otherwise is to be totally disingenuous.  You know they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  They don't want to fix it.  They don't want a smooth implementation.

Q    You know Orrin Hatch and Richard Burr and others have a plan on the table.  Would you at least acknowledge that?  You may not like the plan.  It may be a horrible plan --

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't seen Republicans rally around it or anybody vote on it.  So --


Q    Regarding the health care event today, I talked to a number of people who are strongly in favor of the health care law and are concerned that this was maybe a little bit too late, too little, too late -- that there have been a lot of flaws in the outreach to the Latino community.  And I guess the question is should the administration have done more, sooner on this?  Or are there reasons that the President hasn’t been as publicly reaching out to Latinos on this until now -- whether it's the website or -- I guess I'm just trying to figure out --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, obviously I don't want to contradict whoever is telling you that.  I would simply say that we are aggressively reaching out to all communities across the country who stand to benefit from the options available to them under the Affordable Care Act.  And I think that's demonstrated. 

Did we hamper that effort?  Did we cause the effort that we were engaged in a lot of unnecessary harm when the website got off to such a terrible start?  Absolutely.  But what we have seen since began working and functioning effectively for the vast majority of users is that that demand for quality, affordable health insurance has remained incredibly strong -- in spite of all the obstacles that were thrown up in front of Americans in that first month especially who were trying to sign up.

And that's on us.  We have taken complete responsibility for that.  That's why the all-out effort was engaged to fix the problems with the website and make sure it was working effectively for the American people.  And again, I think as the numbers that we've seen bear out, we've seen a steady and strong demand for the product on offer here.  And our goal -- going back to my answer on Ed’s question -- has been to effectively implement the Affordable Care Act, to make it easier by making the website work more effectively, and taking all the other steps related to outreach to communities like Hispanic Americans so that everyone can get the information they need, make the choices and the decisions that they need to make, and get the insurance that's available to them.

Q    If there confidence that the message has been received in the Latino community?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, this is an ongoing effort.  So nobody would -- nobody involved in this effort would say that the job is done with any community.  We have an open enrollment period that doesn’t end until March 31st and the team effort here is 24/7.  So the answer is no.  But I think the answer is no for, again, every community.

Roger.  And then Peter.

Q    Thank you.  When the President was out here he mentioned elections in Ukraine.  Is he also going to recognize -- or what does he think about the Crimea referendum?  Is he going to not recognize that?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we've said, and I'll repeat, that the referendum that has been scheduled to take place does not comport with the Ukrainian constitution.  It is certainly, again -- as established in the Ukrainian constitution, a decision on the status of a region of Ukraine in relation to the nation of Ukraine, or in relation to the rest of Ukraine has to be done in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution and in keeping with the will of the Ukrainian people.

So, no, that's not a legitimate step.  And I think nobody outside of Moscow and some parts of Crimea have suggested it is. 
Q    And one other question.  You mentioned DOE and the rules on liquefied natural gas.  Does the President want the department to accelerate those rules?  What does he want to do?  I'm not clear.

MR. CARNEY:  There’s a process that establishes a case-by-case evaluation.  And how that works is something that the Department of Energy can explain.  I don't have anything more on that from the White House.


Q    Jay, when do you plan to designate individuals?  I know the visa bans, those have already taken place.  But authority exists for implementation; it hasn’t taken place in terms of sanctions, so when do you plan to designate individuals?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a specified timing for you.  What the action taken today does is provide the tools necessary and the flexible set of tools to sanction individuals and entities.  But we'll obviously make you aware of any action that's taken, but I don't have a timetable for you.

Q    I guess what I'm asking is, is the referendum sort of the next deadline?  In other words, if they were to park themselves, the Russian troops that are in Crimea right now -- if they were to continue to park themselves, but the referendum doesn’t take place, then is that a status quo that doesn’t require any further actions?  You said there would be costs or consequences for what’s already taken place, but you're not actually implementing the costs as they relate to sanctions.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think you're missing the fact that we've already taken action including suspending bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, suspending --

Q    I mean, new action.  Understood. 

MR. CARNEY:  That's already old hat?  That probably doesn’t feel that way to Russia.  But suspending -- including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences, and our agreement with G7 nations to suspend for the time being our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 summit in Sochi, Russia, in June.

Depending on how the situation develops, the United States is prepared to consider additional steps and sanctions as necessary.  So I'm not going to attach the issuance of specific sanctions to any action or inaction, anticipated or otherwise, except to say the EO allows for the Secretary of Treasury to take this action in consultation with the Secretary of State.  And, in the meantime, the visa bans have been put in place, and all these other actions have happened.  Our European allies have announced their own set of actions.  Canada has taken action.
So I think if you look at the mosaic, if you will, there is a broad international consensus here that recognizes that what Russia has done here is in clear violation of international law.
Q    You brought up international monitors.  It’s been discussed by the administration for the last several days.  I want to get a sense from you how you can have international monitors given the situation that took place yesterday, where U.N. Special Envoy Serry was basically forced by “armed thugs,” as described by some administration members out of that region.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s totally unacceptable that the U.N. Special Envoy was accosted at gunpoint and threatened yesterday during his visit to Crimea.  The United Nations has sought to deescalate the situation, and the inviolability of its envoys is enshrined in international law. 
This sets a dangerous precedent, and we call on Russia to allow international monitors to verify that the rights of all Ukrainians are being respected throughout all of Ukraine, including in Crimea.  But there’s no question this is unacceptable, and it makes more urgent the need for Russia to pursue a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to this -- one that does not have Russia continuing to violate international law.  Russian security forces need to return to their bases.  Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity needs to be protected.  And any concerns that Russia has about its interests in Ukraine, in the Crimea, its interests in the rights of ethnic Russians, can and should be addressed in accordance with international law, through the United Nations, through the OSCE.
And we are absolutely willing to support that effort.  Blocking the ability of the U.N. Special Envoy to enter Ukraine, or to have an effective visit in Ukraine, only reinforces to the world the lawlessness of the action that’s taken place thus far.
Q    Just last question.  Hillary Clinton yesterday made some remarks -- she clarified some remarks where she basically compared the situation taking place in Ukraine and Russia to lessons that were learned in 1930s Germany in terms of the effort of Russia to go in claiming that they were protecting ethnic minorities, ethnic Russians, in this case.  Is that a fair comparison that Hillary Clinton was making?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to former Secretary Clinton.  I think that, as I think she said later, she was talking about tactics.  But I think that we are dealing with a problem in 2014 that we can address in ways that we’re addressing now, very aggressively, with our international partners. 
Q    Thanks, Jay.  In drawing up this executive order and thinking about the implications of it, did the President express whether or not he thought Putin would be subject to it?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, Scott, I’m just not going to discuss individuals or entities because none are identified in the executive order, and no individual or entity has been identified under the executive order.  And I’m not going characterize conversations with the President about it.
I think it’s very clear what the executive order sets out to do and the authority that it establishes.  And judgments about individuals and entities that will be targeted with sanctions will be made along the way, but I’m not going to speculate about who or what entity might be included in that list.
Q    Who makes the assessment?  Will it be the National Security Council or will it be the State Department?  Who decides who’s on the list and who’s off the list?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, the authority -- the EO establishes the framework that allows the Secretary of Treasury, Jack Lew, in consultation with Secretary of State Kerry, to impose sanctions for the conduct described in the order.  So the execution of that authority rests with the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the Secretary of State, obviously all of this at the direction of the President.
Q    Last question.  In 2011, the President put sanctions directly on Bashar al-Assad, and I’m wondering what the difference would be in forcefully sanctioning a head of state in that situation and not doing so in this situation.
MR. CARNEY:  You’re presupposing something that is not consistent with what we’ve announced today.

Q    It doesn’t sound like you’re going to -- Putin could be on this list. 

MR. CARNEY:  Again, what we have done today establishes the framework, establishes the authority to take action against individuals and entities.  We’re not putting people on the list, we’re not taking people off the list right now.  We’re simply -- we’ve established the framework for that authority.

Q    Okay.  Just to be clear -- if there’s a possibility he will be on this list.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just not going to engage in hypotheticals about individuals.  What we have clearly said is that --

Q    But you’re trying to have it both ways here.  You’re saying I can’t assume he’s not, but you won’t rule it out.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not ruling anything in or out.

Q    Okay.

Q    On immigration, this morning the President responded to some criticisms that he’s not the “Deporter in Chief,” he’s the “Champion in Chief.”  And I was wondering if you could just --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, that was -- it wasn’t a criticism that he’s the “Champion in Chief.”  He is the “Champion in Chief”  when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform.

Q    He’s been called the “Deporter in Chief.”  That is the -- we can agree on that.  So would you say that the President is saying that he’s done everything he can within his executive power to slow the pace of deportations?  Is that the White House position?

MR. CARNEY:  We have made clear through our efforts that the way to resolve all the many problems associated with our broken immigration system is to comprehensively reform our immigration system.  And in that effort, the President has taken a lead.  But it’s not something that a President can do alone; he has to do it with Congress, he or she has to do it with Congress. 

And the Senate boldly, bravely, rightly, in keeping with broad consensus across the country, passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that reflects the principles that the President set forth.  We need to see the House do the same -- again, consistent with the support of a broad coalition of Americans, labor and business and law enforcement and faith-based groups.

So we have also taken action to ensure that, through prosecutorial discretion, that when it comes to enforcement the focus is on criminals.  There has been action taken through DHS to protect so-called DREAMers, kids who were brought here through no fault of their own and have grown up American in every way except for the absence of papers.

But the broader problems here can only be addressed through comprehensive immigration reform.  And the President has been a tireless supporter of that effort and led that effort.  And I think that it’s fair to say -- given the election we had in 2012 where the President was a fierce proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, his opponent took the stand that self-deportation was the appropriate approach to the immigration problem -- that the only reason why we’re having this discussion right now is because he was reelected.

Q    Can I just follow up?  How does he feel, then, about folks that were his allies in this push for immigration reform that you said he led have turned on him so quickly, it seems?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that the President is enormously aware of and sympathetic to the hardship and challenges that the broken immigration system creates for people across the country.  And the problems are many, and that’s why we need a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed -- because you have employers out there who play by the rules, you have employers who don’t.  We need to make sure that every employer plays by the same rules.  We need to make sure that incredibly talented and smart men and women who come here from abroad and study in the best universities in the world stay here to create businesses here and not elsewhere, they don’t create businesses in countries that are our competitors economically, because they should be here. 

And then the economic benefits are broad and acknowledged by economists across the country.  There really is a strong conservative argument for getting this done, and we hope that self-identified conservatives take it up and get it done.


Q    Jay, could you talk to me about the White House’s feelings about this recent interaction between Darrell Issa and Congressman Elijah Cummings?  It seems to be a very big brouhaha on the Hill.  And what is the concern or the feeling of the White House as it relates to removing Darrell Issa?  The CBC is calling for Darrell Issa to be removed.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, congressional procedure actions like that are up to the houses of Congress -- in this case, the House of Representatives.  I don’t express a view on that.  What I would say is that we have seen -- Congressman Cummings, in my view and in our view, is always the smartest guy in the room, and when he wants to speak he should be allowed to speak.

Q    But wait a minute -- but there was a level of disrespect, many people are saying.  Do you feel that he was disrespected by Darrell Issa?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s inappropriate to -- we think it’s inappropriate certainly to not allow the ranking member of a committee to speak.

Q    But as a leader, as a Republican leader, you’re saying --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to get into the business of the House when it comes to actions taken against individual members -- are considered.  But I have said that we obviously think ranking members, just like the chairman, ought to be able to speak in their committees.


Q    Two clarifications on Ukraine.  I just want to go back to the question about whether the President’s EO is issuing a warning or it is imposing costs -- because senior administration officials were clear earlier today that this is designed -- the President’s order is designed to respond to violations of international law that have already occurred.  So can I just go back to the question, if President Putin and the Russian Federation pursues the diplomatic way out that the President outlined, would this executive order be null and void?  In other words, would they be avoiding the punishment if they follow the President’s --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, when you say “the punishment,” the executive order establishes an authority that is very broad and very flexible for the Secretary of Treasury to exercise.  So the actions -- it’s sort of like an accordion; the number of individuals and entities that can be named, as well as the kind and level of sanctions that can be imposed are very broad.  So it’s sort of impossible to answer that question, except to say that I don’t think people who focus on these things and understand how these authorities work would view it any other way than that is a concrete action that makes clear our position and our readiness to impose sanctions.  And this is the step you need to take in order to do that.

And I’m not going to then speculate about if Russia does this or if the Crimean parliament does that, what then will we do.  We’ve made clear that we have set forward the authority that is very flexible to take action appropriately -- 

Q    But I guess I’m still confused. 

MR. CARNEY:  -- building on the action we’ve already taken.

Q    I guess I’m just -- I’m still confused about whether this is a fait accompli.  In other words, names will go on this list; there will be a bite to this because of the violations that have already occurred?  But you’re using language that says, “can be imposed,” “might be” -- names might be added to this.  So do you understand the confusion that we’re having?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I suppose I understand the question.  But I don’t want to get ahead of actions that would be taken under the authority established in this executive order.  And the authority is real and it is broad.

Q    One other follow-up on this.  Can you offer an example of how the economic bite would actually hit those entities or individuals who were directly or indirectly involved in violations that have already occurred, based on the property and holdings in the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Department of Treasury.  I mean, I think that if you look at discussions of this in the press and actions taken, for example, by the Europeans, there’s a way to answer that question.


Q    On Tuesday, some administration officials said that some remarks from President Putin had indicated a pause in the escalation of the crisis.  And the President said that he seemed to be taking a moment to reflect.  Is that still the case?  When did we pass that moment?  Are these actions today an indication that that pause is no longer correct?

MR. CARNEY:  No -- the President and others were referring specifically to the announcement, apparently fulfilled, of the decision to move military units in the West of Russia back to their barracks after the completion of the announced exercises.  But I think in some ways -- this is an answer to Alexis’s question -- the action we’re taking today has to do with the clear and continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that is happening today and has been happening now for several days.

So we’re closely monitoring events in Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, in all of Ukraine, and are urging the Russians to move towards a diplomatic resolution, towards a direct dialogue with the Ukrainian government about steps that can be taken with ample precedent using international monitors to ensure that the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine are protected and respected, and that the interest that Russia has in Ukraine, in particular its military facilities in Crimea, are protected and are protected in keeping with the agreement that the Ukrainian government and the Russian government have together.  But the only violation of that agreement thus far has been through the actions of the Russian government. 

Let me go to Jessica. 

Q    A question about how the White House views the Chinese role in this Ukrainian crisis.  I know yesterday, Ambassador Rice spoke with Foreign Minister [sic] Yang.  And according to the readout, they agreed on a solution that would uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  President Xi has had a phone call with President Putin in which he characterized it as “accidental” and “had the elements of the inevitable.”  I’m just wondering where the White House sees them, as particularly since those could be construed as conflicting messages?
MR. CARNEY:  I would simply say that we are working with all our partners on the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere in together recognizing that the actions that Russia has taken are a violation of -- are in violation of international law.  I don’t think those actions were an accident, and I don’t think anybody believes they were an accident.  Thank you all very much.

2:03 P.M. EST

Close Transcript