The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/13/2012

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:00 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for being here.  I have a brief statement to read at the top, which is that today the President was able to continue returning messages of congratulations from his counterparts around the world.  In each call, he thanked his counterpart for their friendship and partnership thus far, and expressed his desire to continue close cooperation moving ahead.  The President spoke with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister, Monti of Italy, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, President Putin of Russia, and President Rajoy of Spain.

With that, I will take your questions.  Ben.

Q    Jay, thanks.  A couple questions about the scandal that many of us are now covering -- one specific and then a bigger-picture one.  General Allen, we're learning more questions about him and the Pentagon’s investigation of his alleged behavior.  Does the President have faith that General Allen can continue to lead the war in Afghanistan in this really critical period of time when he’s under investigation by the Pentagon?

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you that the President thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan.  At the request of the Secretary of Defense, the President has put on hold General Allen’s nomination as Supreme Allied Commander Europe pending the investigation of General Allen’s conduct by the Department of Defense IG.

The President remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who General Allen continues to lead, as he has done so ably for over a year.  Meanwhile, the President has nominated General Dunford to be the next commander of ISAF, and reiterates his belief that the Senate should act swiftly to confirm General Dunford.  His hearings I believe are this week.

Q    So is it accurate to say the President still has full faith in General Allen?

MR. CARNEY:  He has faith in General Allen, believes he’s doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF.  And I would refer you to the Pentagon for the process underway with regards to General Allen.

Q    And finally, just to kind of take a step back, it’s been only a week since Election Day.  As you know, we've seen the CIA Director resign under pressure and disgrace over the scandal. We've now seen the leader in Afghanistan implicated in this.  What’s the President’s reaction to this?  Is he disgusted?  Is he embarrassed?  What should we know here?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President was certainly surprised when he was informed about the situation regarding General Petraeus on Thursday.  He greatly appreciates General Petraeus’s remarkable service to his country, both in uniform and at the CIA.  And as he said in his statement, his thoughts and prayers go out to both General Petraeus and Holly Petraeus at this time. 
He’s focused on his policy agenda.  And he has confidence in the Acting Director at the CIA and he has confidence in the military to carry out the various missions that he has asked them to carry out.

On specific individuals, and matters pertaining to the recent revelations, I would refer you to the Pentagon and the IG on the one hand, and to the FBI with regards to General Petraeus.

Q    But he's not -- I mean, big picture, watching this, he's not shaking his head saying, guys, we need a more credible, confident sense of leadership here?

MR. CARNEY:  He's not going to make grand pronouncements or decisions about things based on two situations, two individual cases.  He's focused on the missions that the military is tasked with carrying out, and the CIA and the general intelligence community is tasked with carrying out, and with enacting his overall agenda, which encompasses not just national security policy, but, obviously, domestic policy.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Reuters.  Jeff.

Q    Jay, has the President spoken to General Allen directly?

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q    Has he spoken to Secretary Panetta?

MR. CARNEY:  I'd have to check that.  Secretary Panetta has been traveling.

Q    As a sort of a follow-up to Ben's question, does the President see this in general as an unwelcome distraction at a time when he just was reelected and has a bunch of priorities in terms of the fiscal cliff and in terms of his Cabinet?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly, I think, wouldn’t call it welcome.  Obviously, as I said to Ben, the information about General Petraeus came to him as a surprise, and he is very appreciative of General Petraeus's remarkable service to his country. 

But the President is focused on the agenda that he believes is important for this country that he has to carry out working with lawmakers here in Washington, and that includes, as you know, his number-one priority, which is jobs and economic growth. And he is engaging in meetings this week on those issues, on the issues of the approach we need to take to ensure that we have the right economic policy, the right fiscal policy to help the economy grow and help it continue to create jobs. 

He is also, of course, continuously focused on his foreign policy and national security agenda.  He has great confidence in the acting CIA Director; he has confidence in his military and the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Department to carry out the missions that he’s assigned to them.  But he has got, obviously, a lot that he wants to get to work on and he’s doing that this week.

Q    Broadly, how does this affect, though, his need to revamp the national security team?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think these are specific questions about specific individuals and posts.  I can say now, even though you haven’t asked, that I have no announcements to make with regards to personnel and no speculation to engage in.  I can tell you that the President has not made decisions on personnel matters, and you will not hear me discuss them until the President has made those decisions and has announced them.

Q    Jay, you're saying these are regarding two specific people so you can't extrapolate.  But these are two of the President’s top military brass either involved in an extramarital affair or seemingly involved in what might be inappropriate behavior.  Is the President as Commander-in-Chief at all worried about a culture -- an inappropriate culture in the military?

MR. CARNEY:  I really would ask you to not extrapolate broadly.  The President has great confidence in the military, great confidence in his commanders, and will continue to have that confidence.

With regards to the specific instances here, I think you need to address your questions to the Justice Department and the FBI or the Defense Department.  The President is focused on doing the work that the American people reelected him to do, and he’s continuing to do that.

Q    Does the White House have reason to believe that national security was ever breached or threatened at any point in either of these instances?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that questions like that, which go to matters under investigation, I would refer you to the investigative bodies. 

The President is focused on the work that he needs to do.  And again, I think there’s been substantial reporting on some of this, and the President spoke with and met with General Petraeus and agreed with his decision that he could not longer lead the CIA and accepted his resignation.  He has great faith in the Acting Director, and the President is focused on the agenda that he wants to carry out.

Q    On another topic -- I know you’re not going to address personnel matters.  Does the President have confidence that -- I know he’s a big fan of Ambassador Susan Rice.  Does he have confidence that she could pass a Senate confirmation for any post in a future Cabinet?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I will not engage in speculation about personnel matters.  I can tell you that the President believes that Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job and is grateful for her service.

Q    Jay, this investigation had been going on for months.  How is it that the White House didn’t have any idea of this until the day after the election and the Congress a few days later?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the FBI.  They have, as I understand it, protocols in place for when they notify the legislative and executive branches of investigations.  And it is simply a fact that the White House was not aware of the situation regarding General Petraeus until Wednesday, and the situation regarding General Allen until Friday.

So the FBI is a place to go in terms of an explanation of the protocols they follow.  But I understand that that is the answer that they will give -- that there are protocols they follow that govern how they inform the various branches of government of these kinds of investigations.

Q    But do you understand how people would think this is utterly bizarre?  I mean, the day after the election, and the anger you’re hearing on Capitol Hill they didn’t know this was going on, it just -- I mean, the timing, at least the appearance?

MR. CARNEY:  All I can tell you is when the White House was informed.  And I would let the relevant members of Congress explain to you how and when they were informed.  My understanding is there are protocols that the FBI follows with regards to these kinds of notifications, and I would refer you to the FBI and the Department of Justice for an explanation of those protocols.

What, again, the President is focused on is the work that we have to do right now to help our economy grow and help our economy create jobs.  And there are obviously a whole host of other issues that are out there and that he and others have to contend with, and he and others are doing that.  But his focus right now is on working with Congress to move the country forward economically.

Q    Now, Senator Collins says that it is imperative that General Petraeus testify in the hearings on Benghazi.  We’ve heard similar statements from Senator Feinstein.  Do you think it is appropriate for the former CIA Director to be testifying about what happened given that he was Director at the time and given that he’s conducted his own review?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say two things -- one, that it is up to Congress to make decisions about who is called to testify. But the President is confident that Acting Director Morell is fully informed and capable of representing the CIA in a hearing about the incidents in Benghazi. 


Q    Jay, I want to go back to something that just was asked about Ambassador Rice.  If she were to go before a Senate confirmation hearing, just hypothetically -- and I do need an answer --

MR. CARNEY:  For you I’ll break that hypothetical rule, April.  (Laughter.)  Nobody else. 

Q    Thank you.  If she were to go before a Senate confirmation hearing, could she answer questions with a simple “yes”?  Are questions answerable?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure what you’re asking, April --

Q    Benghazi.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to speculate about personnel matters and who will or will not be participating in nomination hearings.

I can tell you that the President believes that Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and I believe that -- and I know that he believes that everyone here working for him has been transparent in the way that we've tried to answer questions about what happened in Benghazi and, going back to briefings that we had again and again, that the information that we provided was based on the available assessments at the time.  And as those assessments evolved and became more detailed and clear, we provided additional information. 

And that was certainly true of the questions that I answered and the information that I provided, and it was true, obviously, of Ambassador Rice.

Q    And in the coming weeks, we understand there are a lot of moving pieces on this chessboard.  We also understand that Governor Deval Patrick is maybe one piece that you might be bringing in.  He did have dinner with the President.  Could you give us a readout on that?  And are we expecting his resignation as governor anytime soon?  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  I have nothing to say about hypothetical --

Q    Just say yes. 

MR. CARNEY:  -- personnel moves.  I can tell you, as I think I did the other day, the President considers the Governor of Massachusetts a good friend.  He has broken bread with him on numerous occasions in the past and I'm sure will in the future.  And I was not a participant in this particular meal, but I'm sure that they had a discussion of a broad number of topics and enjoyed each other's company. 

Q    So it's just a friendly meeting, no business, nothing strategic?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I'm not going to read out a personal dinner the President had, but they are friends, so I would say, yes, a friendly dinner.

Q    Jay, is the President satisfied with the explanation he's gotten from the FBI, and has he had a conversation with Director Mullen?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not aware that he's had a conversation with the Director.  I can simply tell you that the process -- when the White House was notified, when the President was notified --

Q    I didn’t say the process -- was he satisfied with how this is going?

MR. CARNEY:  The President was obviously surprised, but he, as I think was made clear by the statement that he put out, is very appreciative of General Petraeus's service, both in uniform and at the CIA, and as well as Holly Petraeus's service, and wanted that to be made clear.  There are protocols in place, as I understand it, and I haven't --

Q    I understand there are protocols.  Is he happy with how this --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have --

Q    It sounds like you don’t have an answer.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it would be --

Q    If he was satisfied --

MR. CARNEY:  I would certainly not suggest that the President is -- given that he was surprised, that he is, as I said before, pleased with the events of this past week, or the past several days.  But the fact of the matter is there are processes in place to handle these kinds of things.  They are playing out appropriately.  And the President is focused on working with members of Congress to enact an agenda that he believes the broad majority of the American people want enacted.

Q    But it sounds like he doesn’t like the fact that he was blindsided?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I didn’t say that.  I'm just saying that he has great admiration and respect for General Petraeus and his service.

Q    I'm talking about the FBI Director Mullen here.

MR. CARNEY:  No, I understand that.  But, again, I would refer, as I said earlier, to processes that are in place, as I understand it, at the FBI for how they deal with notifications of investigations.  And I think that they are the best place to go for an explanation of those processes and procedures and why they're written the way they are and followed the way they are.  All I can tell you is the actions that were taken here and the notifications that happened here and how the President has handled them.

Q    Is the President concerned that Petraeus -- this whole soap opera -- (laughter) -- this whole soap opera slows down the fiscal cliff negotiations, makes it harder, makes it easier?  What’s the --

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t heard him make a judgment or express an opinion on that.  I think that the issues that confront us are important enough and consuming enough with regards to the so-called fiscal cliff and the budget that he expects that those who are engaged in conversations about it and negotiations about it will be as focused as he is and will be in the days and weeks ahead.

So we have very concrete deadlines that are governing some of the actions that we have to take.  And what we know is that on January 1st, everyone’s taxes go up -- everyone -- in this room, everyone around the country -- unless the House passes the bill that the Senate passed, which would extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people and 97 percent of small businesses.

And the beauty of that partial solution to the fiscal cliff is that everyone supports it.  Everyone, Democrat and Republican, supports extending those tax cuts for the middle class, extending them for 98 percent of the American people and 97 percent of the small businesses.

So as you heard the President say on Friday and as I know you’ll hear him say when he meets with you tomorrow, this is a step that Washington can take that would create certainty for almost all Americans, certainty for almost all small businesses, would help alleviate some of the potential damage caused by -- that could be caused by the fiscal cliff, and would enable us then to move forward to address that many other issues that we have that confront us.  It would be an excellent way to demonstrate to the American public that after an election where these issues were central to the debate, that Washington can move forward and that we can compromise.

Q    Last quick question.  Given everything that's going on with Petraeus, Allen, is there -- is the President going to ask the national security team to sort of, hey, guys, I know you want to leave, but give me another month or two?

MR. CARNEY:  I really don't have any announcements or hints to make about personnel matters.  The President --

Q    Does he think he can make these changes in the midst of all this right now?

MR. CARNEY:  What changes you’re talking about I think depends on which broadcasts and newspapers you follow.  But I’m not going to engage in that kind of speculation.  The President has -- knows that he has a very strong team in place and will make personnel decisions when appropriate.  And he’ll announce them when he’s made them.

Q    Maybe tomorrow?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no personnel announcements to preview.


Q    Does the election change the President’s strategy in dealing with Republicans on the deficit reduction plan?  Some of the things he’s offered in the past still on the table?

MR. CARNEY:  I think one of the useful things about this past year and the election is that these matters that the President and Congress will be deciding in the coming days and weeks and months were front and center during the campaign season.  In many ways, they’ve been front and center for the past several years.  And why that's useful is that we all know what the parameters of a compromise look like; we know what a truly balanced approach to our fiscal challenges looks like.

And the President has put forward a very specific plan that will be what he brings to the table when he sits down with congressional leaders, and that's a plan that builds on the $1.1 trillion in spending cuts that he’s already signed into law, and finds other savings both in discretionary spending and in entitlement programs, $340 billion additional savings in our health care entitlement programs, and insists as the essence of balance that revenue be included -- $1.6 trillion in revenue.

And that approach enables us when taken as a whole to reduce our deficits by $4 trillion, begin to really get our fiscal house in order, and allow us to continue to invest in crucial areas of our economy that will help the economy grow in the near term and create jobs in the near term, but also build a foundation for economic growth in the future.

And that's why the President views the issue of deficits and debt not in a vacuum.  He does not believe that reducing deficits and debt are values unto themselves.  He believes that they are part of an approach that is driven by his number-one priority, which is economic growth and job creation. 

And one of the reasons why you need to have balance in the approach you take is to ensure that you can continue to do the things that help the economy grow -- that invest in education, that hire -- that lead to people being hired to work on building our infrastructure, that ensure that we're having investments in innovation and aspects of the economy that will be so important in the 21st century.  Because if you don't you’ve lost sense of your overall purpose here, which is a vibrant American economy that enables Americans to find work, work that enables them to live a good life and send their kids to school and take care of their parents.

That's the approach the President takes.  It’s not a pinched view of deficits and debt; it’s a broad view of how we need to move forward with the economy.

Q    Does that mean that he’s willing to say no to Richard Trumka who he’s meeting with today who has told his folks to lobby Congress not to allow changes in Medicare and Social Security?

MR. CARNEY:  The President’s plan, which I know you all have read in detail, contains within it additional savings in health care programs -- $340 billion over 10 years.  And as a whole, the plan demonstrates that we can take a balanced approach that if we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more, we can continue to invest in areas of the economy that need investment and we don't have to ask seniors, or parents of disabled children, or the least fortunate among us to bear the burden of getting our fiscal house in order.  That was in many ways the essence of the debate that we've been having this past year.

Q    Also on these personnel announcements that you don't want to talk about, is the President also happy with the job that Senator Kerry has done as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee?

MR. CARNEY:  He certainly is.

Q    You talked a lot during the campaign about that $340 billion as basically a reduction in payments to providers.  What other savings did he tell the progressive labor caucus today that he might have to get out of entitlement programs as part of a grand bargain?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, I'm not going to read out the details of a meeting that was still taking place shortly before I came out here --

Q    It’s over now.  You can do it.

MR. CARNEY:  Secondly, there are two aspects here of savings in our health care programs that you may be conflating, which is the initial savings -- significant savings -- that also was the focus of debate this past year that were achieved through the Affordable Care Act, and the $340 billion is additional savings that's part of the President’s proposal.  That is a substantial amount of money.

What the President said on Friday is the position he will take when he enters the room with congressional leaders this coming Friday, and that is he has a very specific plan that takes a balanced approach and he believes very much that, broadly speaking, his plan is a good guide to how we can achieve a broader compromise. 

He also said very clearly that he is not wedded to every aspect of his plan, and that he understands that in order to reach an agreement, everyone needs to compromise and that compromise should not be a dirty word in Washington.  And I think that is another message of the election that he took, certainly, which is that the American people want action.  They don’t want political posturing; they don’t want ideology driving the decisions that are made here.  So I think citing, I believe, Speaker Boehner, it’s fair to say that the President also believes that we don’t -- he’s not looking to box himself in or box other people’s ideas out as we approach the conversation that will begin on Friday.

Q    But can he at least suggest to the meeting that just took place that they might have to give up more than they would like?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has made very clear that everyone, throughout this process -- not just in this past week since the election, but for some time now -- that the whole point of compromise is that nobody gets to achieve their maximalist position.  And that was the approach we took throughout negotiations in 2011 and it’s the principle the President has based his own proposals on. 

I mean, if you look at, again, the programs that the President has already cut through legislation he signed into law, if you look at the savings he’s willing to enact as part of his own plan, it demonstrates a willingness to give so that you can meet your negotiating partner somewhere in the middle and reach a deal.

Q    He didn’t have any specific --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any specifics before the meeting.

Q    I mean, if you could read them out before they do -- I’m sure they will soon.

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything specific for you, Bill. 

Q    I'm giving you a chance to go first.

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate that, but I don’t have any specifics.


Q    Obviously, I am interested in today’s conversation with President Putin, so whatever additional details you can provide, like how long was the conversation, what was discussed?  What plans for the President’s trip to Russia this year?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, these calls that I read out at the top were responses to calls to congratulate the President on his reelection.  They were focused on that subject and were all fairly brief.  I don’t have any more specifics for you on a conversation with President Putin.

Q    Jay, just to follow up on the compromise component here.  So is the President willing to compromise on his insistence that the Bush tax cuts are not extended for the top income bracket?


Q    So even if --

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I can help you with this.  The President is committed to extending and believes it is the right position to extending tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people -- 98 percent -- and 97 percent of small businesses.  The Senate has passed that.  The House could pass it tomorrow.  The President would sign it as soon as it got to his desk.  That would demonstrate to the American people that Washington can work on their behalf, and can address, at least in part, some of the challenges that face them with these deadlines -- end-of-the-year deadlines.

Second, he would, as I said the other day, not sign a bill that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent.  That has long been his position; it has not changed.  He will not sign such a bill.  That bill would never pass the Senate.  But if somehow miraculously it did, he would not sign it. 

He also believes, as part of the approach that he's long taken and part of this balanced -- the ethos of balance that he takes to these issues, that it is -- that he does not accept that you need to raise taxes, and will not accept a plan that raises taxes on those making under $250,000. 

And finally, a balanced approach requires substantial revenues.  And those revenues need to come from those who can afford it -- the wealthiest among us.  And that’s demonstrated in his plan.  You heard him talk about during the campaign that the Clinton-era rates that were in place in the 1990s, far from hindering economic growth, were part of a economic approach passed in 1993 that led to the longest peacetime expansion in our lifetimes, that led to the creation of more than 23 million jobs. It also led to the creation of scores -- hundreds, probably thousands of millionaires to boot, as the President made clear.

So there are different ways to approach this, but the President is clear:  He will not extend -- he will not sign a bill that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, because it's not good policy.

Q    Even if the wealthy end up paying more in taxes because their loopholes are closed, it's all about the rates.

MR. CARNEY:  You're talking about the rates.  You're engaging --

Q    You're saying it's all about the rates.

MR. CARNEY:  You're engaging in hypotheticals about plans that don’t exist.  What I can tell you is that the President will not sign a bill that extends tax cuts for the top 2 percent with an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

He has long supported and proposed tax reform, both individual and corporate, and he believes that’s important.  But you heard him -- he was pretty clear during the campaign, and has been clear in other forums that one thing we know about the Clinton-era rates for those top earners is that they were effective not just in ensuring that the wealthiest paid their fair share, but as part of an approach that fueled economic expansion, job creation, and wealth creation.

So that’s the thinking that he brings into this.  But I will not negotiate the specifics before the leaders even have a chance to sit down.


Q    Did General Allen's situation or the resignation of General Petraeus come up at all in the President's conversation with Karzai? 

MR. CARNEY:  No.  These were conversations about -- not that I'm aware of, Carol.  But these were very -- relatively short conversations about the President's reelection. 

Q    On the meeting here today with labor and progressive leaders, what was his message going in there?  They say some of them are concerned that he's going to over-compromise in a deficit-reduction deal.  And did he have a specific thing he wanted to convey to them when he met with them today?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say several things about the meetings that he's having this week, including the one that concluded just earlier, and that is that he is -- he wants to hear others' ideas.  He wants to listen. 

And in terms of the approach that he is taking, it's very much what you heard him express on Friday, and that is what he is telling those he is meeting with this week -- that he's committed to a balanced approach; that he will not sign an extension of the high-income tax cuts of the Bush era; the he believes Congress ought to act immediately to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation in the new year where everybody is America has their taxes go up.  And the reason is because the House wanted everyone's taxes to go up rather than accept that the top 2 percent of the American people shouldn’t have their taxes -- should have their taxes go up.

But these meetings are more about hearing from those in the room about what ideas they have and concerns they have.  Beyond that, I really don't have a readout for you.

Q    Jay, in previous administrations, White House staffers and Cabinet Secretaries have been asked to either submit a sort of pro forma resignation or at least declare their intentions for the second term.  Is the process at that stage here at all?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll say again that I don't have any information for you about personnel decisions.

Q    I’m asking about the process, not personnel decisions per se.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not aware of a process like that that's in place.

Q    And can I just -- if you would clarify, what was the timeline again in terms of when the White House learned about the General Allen investigation?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me find it here.  The President first became aware on Friday after the Department of Justice notified White House Counsel that there may be an issue associated with General Allen’s nomination -- which is my understanding why the Department of Justice felt it was appropriate to notify the White House, because, as you know, General Allen was nominated to be Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

The President was then notified Monday evening that Secretary Panetta had referred the matter to the Defense Department’s IG.

Q    The Pentagon says that Panetta learned on Sunday and then advised the White House, but the White House had learned about it -- at least about the investigation before then?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, they learned very broadly that there might be an issue associated with General Allen’s nomination.  Again, I would refer you to the Justice Department and the FBI in terms of the processes they follow for notifying different agencies and the branches of government.  But the White House Counsel was informed, and then the White House Counsel brought that to the President.  And the on Sunday -- rather Monday evening, the President was notified that Secretary Panetta had referred the matter to the IG.

Q    And one just logistical question about tomorrow -- what time is the news conference?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a time for you yet.  We’ll get that to you shortly.

Q    Jay, can I follow up?  Does this part -- did the FBI use this as part of a background check on Allen?  Is that how this --

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the -- well, first of all, we don't generally discuss vetting issues or background checks.

Q    You said it was part of the confirmation process, so this implies that --

MR. CARNEY:  It was not part of the confirmation process.  At least that's not what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that the Department of Justice notified the White House Counsel that there may be an issue associated with General Allen’s nomination.  As you know General Allen was -- that nomination has been suspended, but he was nominated to be the Supreme Allied Commander, and that hearing was pending. 

Q    That happened Friday? 

MR. CARNEY:  That happened Friday.

Q    And who was doing this background check?  Can you tell us that, or no?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to Justice and FBI for background checks.

Q    Has this been distracting at all?  I mean, the way you’re describing it these are two aberrant sort of incidents that happened that don't have a whole lot of thematic sweep across the administration.  Has this at all been distracting with what the President is trying to do with the fiscal cliff or other important matters?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, we have a host of important matters that we have to address.  This is obviously -- involves important personnel, so it’s something that the President has engaged in once he found out.  But the fact is --

Q    Well, how much time is it taking --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a timeframe for you.  I can tell you --

Q    Has he had to move other things around because of it?

MR. CARNEY:  No, no.  Remember, when the White House found out, when the President was notified, when the President met with General Petraeus and when he accepted his resignation, this was not a great expanse of time.  And as we’ve just been discussing, the President is having meetings today and will have other meetings this week focused on the path we need to take to grow our economy and create jobs, and the decisions we have to make in the coming weeks to help that come about.

But it’s part of -- it’s certainly part of governing that these issues arise and you have to deal with them.

Q    Just a question on fiscal cliff.  You say that he won’t sign any bill that comes to his desk extending the Bush cuts for the top 2 percent.  It’s highly unlikely that he would ever get a bill to his desk --

MR. CARNEY:  My point exactly.

Q    But my question is that how open is he to the notion that's been put forward by Tim Kaine that maybe you’d make the limit $500,000, or Chuck Schumer $1 million, in terms of going forward in these bigger negotiations?  Is he ruling them out completely, or is that something he’d consider?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I’ve given you pretty good parameters on the President’s thinking going into the process that he himself said begins with the proposal -- the specific proposal he has before Congress, a plan that achieves balance and that allows us to continue to invest in important areas of the economy.  But he is not wedded to every detail of that plan, so I’m not going to negotiate hypothetical details --

Q    He’s not ruling those ideas out?

MR. CARNEY:  I would again cite Speaker Boehner in saying that I’m not in the position to -- he’s not and I don't think the President is in the position of boxing ourselves in or boxing others out.  He looks forward to the meeting with leaders in Congress.  He has some very clear principles and positions that he’s taking into that meeting and believes that we can -- that a compromise is possible here that would allow us to address the fiscal cliff challenges and, more broadly, the overall economic and fiscal challenges that we face as a nation.

Ann, and then Martin.

MR. CARNEY:  Following up on that, is he just taking principles in, or will the President have anything concrete to put on the table?  You said a moment ago that negotiators have to meet each other halfway.  Is that just Congress that has to meet him halfway?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ann, I appreciate the suggestion that he doesn’t have a plan that he's bringing to the table.  It is the most specific and detailed plan there is, and it's been on the table for quite some time.  And he will bring that -- again, as I've said repeatedly, that is what he believes is the right approach.  But he is not wedded to every detail in it. 

There is a challenge here for anyone who would put forward alternative approaches to prove that the numbers add up.  And one thing we know about the President's plan is that the numbers add up.  And I think if nothing else over the course of this past year, we've earned some credibility on the fact that we know our arithmetic. 

And the fact is, you need a balanced approach that achieves a level of revenues, that achieves additional entitlement savings, that achieves reductions in spending.  And if you do that and you get to that $4 trillion mark the way the President does, you will have a very positive effect, he believes, the President believes, on our overall economic prospects, because you will send a signal to the world that we're getting our fiscal house in order, but you'll also send a signal to the American people that we're doing it in a way that doesn’t harm economic growth; that, quite the contrary, boosts economic growth; that doesn’t contract job creation, but instead boosts job creation.

And that’s -- again, you don’t make these decisions in a vacuum.  There's not -- cutting the deficit or reducing our debt are not goals to pursue by themselves.  They're goals you pursue because, if done right, they help the economy and they help the American people.

Q    Jay, has the President ever felt blindsided by information reaching him too slowly, not just with General Petraeus or General Allen, but Benghazi or any other -- has he ever felt that information moves too slowly to his desk?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't had that broad conversation with him, so I don’t have an answer to that. 


Q    Jay, Secretary of State Clinton has said recently that while she doesn't intend to serve into a second term, she would be willing to stay on until a successor is confirmed.  Does that give the President flexibility to move in a sort of a deliberate manner in that particular personnel decision?  And is that something he might -- that might allow him not to shoot for January 22nd of next year as a date certain when he needs to have a replacement?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, without speaking for Secretary Clinton or any member of the Cabinet, I think that the President greatly appreciates the service of every member of his Cabinet.  And decisions like that -- I think I discussed the other day the fact that Secretary Geithner will be staying through inauguration -- as emblematic of the kind of service that these individuals have given over these past four years.

So I think the President -- I know the President believes that Secretary Clinton has done a superb job and greatly values her service and her advice, and will be grateful for her service up until the day that she decides to leave.

Q    But should she offer that superb service for an extra month or two, could that be perhaps helpful?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you can be the judge of that.  We have a number of issues that we’re contending with, as this briefing demonstrates.  And the President will engage in a thoughtful process and make personnel decisions that need to be made in a timely manner.  And when we have decisions to announce, we’ll announce them.

In the meantime, he has a team, and a team that has served the nation and served him well, so he’ll continue to work with that team.

Mr. Scherer, and then Dave. 

Q    The FBI protocols were followed here in informing the White House, and yet still the President basically had a day’s notice that he was about to lose his CIA Director.  Does the President feel like the protocols have to be revisited?  Or would it be okay if at some future point this same sequence of events comes down and he only finds out just moments before he has to lose a senior member of his Cabinet?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that’s an interesting question and I appreciate it, but there are hypotheticals involved there that I’m not going to -- if this were to happen again in the same way -- I think this is a pretty unique situation.  But as far as the protocols themselves and how they were adopted and how they were followed, I would have to refer you to the FBI and Justice.

Q    Does the President feel like he was ably served by this FBI protocols that gave him only a day’s notice here?

MR. CARNEY:  The President made a decision based on his conversation with General Petraeus, and General Petraeus offered his resignation and said that he did not believe he could continue to serve as head of the agency.  The President took some time to think about that and agreed with that assessment.  I don’t think that that’s affected by the timeframe here.  I think that this was a meeting the President had and a decision that came out of that meeting.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Mr. Nakamura.

Q    Jay, given how partisan Washington has been the past couple years, does the fact that General Petraeus was a Republican and served in a Republican administration at all maKe it relatively easier for the administration to sort of deal with fallout politically?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  General Petraeus served his country in the military and at the CIA.  He did not serve a party.  And that is one of the great things about the military.  And the President is enormously appreciative of that service.

Thank you all.

Q    And there’s actually one other thing.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, sorry.

Q    Jim Messina and Bono were both spotted exiting and entering the West Wing.  I was curious if they met with the President today, or what they were here for, what they might have been --

MR. CARNEY:  You’ve witnessed the formation of a new band.  (Laughter.)  Bono and Messina.

Bono was here, as I understand it, not to meet with the President, but to meet on international development issues with other members of the White House, but not the President.

Q    How about Jim Messina?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure why he was here, but he’s, of course, always welcome.

Q    Bono doesn’t travel without him, I thought.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Take care.

1:48 P.M. EST

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