Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a sad day. (Laughter.)
Q Not for Tigers fans.
MR. CARNEY: I stayed up a little late last night watching baseball. And I was reminded by the travesty that occurred sometime after midnight for Red Sox fans, that there’s a reason you play the game. There’s a reason you play the game, right? Because when statistical probabilities say you cannot lose -- (laughter) -- Red Sox-Rays. You have to go to the playoffs.
Q Is this an analogy here of some kind? (Laughter.)
Q Did you use that chart during the debt ceiling debate? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Sports is life. Sports is --
Q The curse is back?
MR. CARNEY: I hope not. But my congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays. Amazing comeback. And there’s always next year. I don't have any other announcements. (Laughter.) But I'll take your questions.
Q Are you sad?
MR. CARNEY: I’m very sad.
Q Glad you’re hanging in there. Two questions, one follow-up. On the jobs bill, I believe you said yesterday the Senate will act and you’re confident about that. Do you have any clarity yet, does the President have any clarity from the Democratic leadership about when that will happen? Are you confident they’ll vote in October?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly understand that the Senate will -- it’s my understanding that the Senate will take it up in October, which begins in a few short days. And then, of course, how it proceeds, we’ll have to see, in terms of when the vote might happen.
But we do expect, and the Majority Leader has said that the Senate will take it up. We look forward to that -- because we feel very strongly that all of the elements of the American Jobs Act are designed to generate the maximum benefit to the economy and give the kind of boost to hiring that the economy desperately needs.
As I said yesterday, if some members of Congress oppose portions of the jobs act, they ought to say what they are and why. Whether it’s hiring back teachers or putting construction workers to work, rebuilding our infrastructure, renovating our schools -- they should say why. Or maybe it’s giving a tax cut to small businesses, or incentives to small businesses to hire new workers or increase wages or give employees -- extend the payroll tax cut, extend and expand it, that the Americans have had this year.
And then when it comes to paying for it, we obviously believe it has to be paid for. The President put forward proposals that pay for it entirely, and pay for it in a way that’s balanced and fair, ensures that the burden is not borne by the middle class, that it’s a shared burden, and that represents the kinds of choices we have to make in an environment where our resources are limited and we have to make choices about what our priorities are.
Q Can you say whether the President spoke to Speaker Boehner about this, or whether he plans to?
MR. CARNEY: I’m certain he will. I don't know if he’s -- I don't think he’s spoken to the Speaker in recent days about it. No doubt they will discuss it. As I mentioned yesterday, the President has put forward a plan in detailed legislative language, and expects and hopes the Congress to take it up, debate it, pass it. And we’ll obviously be part of that process as it moves through Congress.
There’s not a lot of complexity to what he’s put forward. It’s a pretty straightforward plan that outside economists have judged would be beneficial to the economy -- substantially beneficial -- and beneficial to hiring. So this is the top priority of the American people, and it is absolutely the top priority of the President. So he wants Congress to take it up, act on it, so that we can -- that Washington can do what Americans out there expect it to do, which is take measures to help the economy grow, help the economy create jobs, rather than, as we saw during the summer through brinkmanship and intransigence, do things that actually hurt the economy dramatically. So we’re hopeful that that’s what will happen this fall.
Q One other quick topic. There was an attempted attack on the U.S. ambassador in Syria, as you know. Are there any plans to remove him from Damascus for his safety?
MR. CARNEY: No, there aren't. And let me just give you my reaction to this -- our reaction. These kinds of assaults against diplomatic personnel, including our ambassador, are unwarranted and unjustifiable. This is clearly a part of an ongoing campaign to intimidate and threaten diplomats attempting to bear witness to the brutality of the Assad regime.
Day after day, Ambassador Ford puts himself at great personal risk to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. And I’d like to make this point: that we urge the Senate to show Ambassador Ford its support by confirming him and allowing him -- allowing, rather, his courageous work to continue.
So we absolutely want Ambassador Ford to continue the important work he’s doing. And we hope that the Senate will act to confirm him to make that possible.
Q Good morning -- or good afternoon. Pressure seems to be growing in Congress for more military action in Pakistan beyond just drone strikes. And Pakistan’s intelligence chief was saying that that is just not acceptable, although he did seem to be trying to cool down the temperature a little bit by saying he didn’t want things to get to the point of no return. How close are we to that point of no return with Pakistan? And what is the White House doing to cool the temperature?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said yesterday, John, the relationship that we have with Pakistan is complicated but very important. They have been important allies, the Pakistanis have been, in our fight against al Qaeda, and that fight continues. And we expect to have continued cooperation with the Pakistanis on that. There’s no question that we have disagreements, complications in our relationship, and we speak openly and candidly with the Pakistani counterparts -- our Pakistani counterparts about this. But we certainly believe that the relationship is important enough, that the kind of cooperation we get is essential to our national security and we need to continue it, precisely so we can most effectively take the fight to al Qaeda and succeed in that region.
Q And what discussions are going on right now with the Pakistanis about military action that might go beyond drones --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that.
Q This is something that Senator Graham --
MR. CARNEY: U.S. military action?
Q This is what Senator Graham was talking about. He said "We have lots of assets beyond drones."
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure what he’s referring to. Certainly, we take action against the enemies of the United States -- members of al Qaeda -- where we find them. And as you know, in the case of Osama bin Laden, that happened to be in Pakistan.
The fact of the matter is we are fighting a war in Afghanistan, and one of the problems we’ve had, which is where this issue arises from, is with the safe havens that the Haqqani network has in Pakistan. That’s an issue that we raised with our Pakistani counterparts, and we continue to have those discussions on a regular basis -- those discussions and discussions about the broad range of areas where we have shared interests and cooperation.
Let me work this way, thanks.
Q If the President is promoting this jobs plan, the Senate is going to take it up in October, it has no chance of passing the Senate, how is that not a sign of resignation on the part of --
MR. CARNEY: You know, it’s a sunny day outside, Brianna.
Q But it's the truth.
MR. CARNEY: I don't share your pessimism.
Q Well, Senate Democrats I’ve spoken with do. And I just wonder why it isn’t a sign that the White House is resigned to a political win versus a policy win.
MR. CARNEY: I think -- I just utterly reject your premise. I will buy everyone in here a drink if, by the end of this year, there is not action on the jobs act. And Congress has to take -- Congress will have a lot of explaining to do, members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do when they go home for the end-of-the-year recess if they’ve done nothing -- nothing -- to address the urgent need to help our economy and create jobs. And not because the President is saying so, or certainly not because I’m saying so will the Congress take action, but because their constituents are demanding it.
So as we discussed yesterday here, we believe that the entirety of the American Jobs Act should be voted on and passed in full, and the President would sign it, of course. If the -- as discussions we’ve had from the very beginning -- if Congress were to pass portions of it, we obviously support all the elements, all the pieces of it, the President would sign each portion as it came to him, and then demand that the rest come his way, and if it doesn't, make clear what is blocking the passage of those measures that the American people support.
So I just think the premise of your question is wrong. I think that the Senate will act, and we expect the full Congress to act.
Q And not pass --
MR. CARNEY: No, again, I just think that it would be -- I would be very surprised if Congress takes no action to help boost economic growth or accelerate hiring before the end-of-the-year recess. It’s just almost inconceivable to me. Now, I did show a chart that demonstrates that the inconceivable can happen in sports and in politics, but I would be surprised.
Q My premise isn't that nothing will happen. I mean, obviously, there are some areas of agreement between the two sides. But the White House, obviously, is prepared to hit Republicans if the entire thing isn't passed, or all of the provisions in it are not passed. And that’s not expected to happen.
MR. CARNEY: Again, this goes -- so what you’re saying is -- is your question, do we expect all of it to be passed?
Q No --
MR. CARNEY: We hope, and that’s what we’re arguing for. That’s what the President is out there making a case for. But again, I think I’ve addressed the question because it’s been asked about specific elements. If the tax cut, the payroll tax cut extension and expansion came to him, would he sign it? Well, he obviously wouldn’t veto something he very much supports, as long as it’s paid for in a responsible and balanced way. And same with each element -- the infrastructure investments, or the money to hire teachers. And each element that he supports he would obviously sign because he thinks it’s important for the economy. But he would then ask, where’s the rest.
Q Yes. My point is, knowing the reality that all of the provisions won’t be passed but still pushing for it -- the fact that the President and the Speaker aren’t even talking, I mean that’s sort of depressing if you’re someone sitting at home without a job.
MR. CARNEY: There's a shining little ball that people, I guess, want you guys to focus on here that somehow -- that there have to be negotiations, when in fact --
Q Discussions. Communication.
MR. CARNEY: -- in the summer it was, where is the President’s plan? That shows you’re not serious because we don't have a written plan. Well, okay, now you guys have reams of paper and written plans, and now the question is, where’s the meeting? Well, there will be, I am sure, discussions and conversations and negotiations as this process moves forward. But there is a written piece of detailed legislation in legislative form called the American Jobs Act that Congress can act on -- and will take up. Where it goes from there remains to be seen. I just don't share your pessimism about its prospects.
Q On a lighter note, the Washington monument--
MR. CARNEY: Are you a Rays fan? (Laughter.)
Q No. The Washington monument -- there’s a lot of interest in it. It’s outside the President’s backyard. There’s engineers repelling down it; there’s concern it may never reopen. Has he said anything about it? I’m not trying to be pessimistic. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No, no. I haven’t spoken to him about it since that report came out. I do remember asking him if he could tell whether it was leaning or not from his balcony, but -- (laughter) -- and the answer is no -- because when the earthquake happened, wasn’t there a report that it leaned? I don't know.
But I don't have any -- I think the Department of Interior would have more information on that. I haven’t spoken with him about it. It’s obviously a very important symbol for this country and its democracy, so we certainly hope, as do all Americans, that it is properly repaired and reopened for the American public.
Q Forgive me if you’ve addressed this already, but can you explain what the President meant when over the weekend he told the Congressional Black Caucus that it was, “time to stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying, we’ve got work to do.” And what's your response to criticiss after the fact that he hasn’t used similar language when addressing other groups?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that the second part is utterly false, because I’ve heard him use exactly identical language with folks that he’s talked to.
And his point I think is simply that this administration has accomplished significant things over the past two and a half years in the face of incredibly challenging obstacles, beginning with the kind of economic collapse this country hasn’t seen since the 1930s. Among those accomplishments are, obviously, a health care bill, law, that was passed that would provide insurance for 30 million uninsured Americans -- an accomplishment that was 100 years in the making, 100 years of effort here in the United States, that failed until this President, working with Congress, was able to pass it. That’s an accomplishment.
There are certainly people who support health care reform very passionately who feel that it wasn’t perfect. And I think his point, the point that he’s making is that we cannot let perfection -- the failure to reach absolutely -- get everything that we want shadow -- or overshadow the fact that great things have been accomplished. And so much more work needs to be done. I mean, that’s the essential message that he was bringing to that group and to many others.
Q Jay, can I get you first to comment on the unemployment claim numbers that now show the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, an encouraging sign that layoffs may be easing? Any thoughts on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that there’s always a lot of volatility in the weekly numbers, and so we don't react much to one week’s results.
When we have positive signs, those are obviously good and we welcome them. But, again, I have to acknowledge up front that there is a certain amount of volatility in that particular number. And it doesn't change the fact that we need to take dramatic action, significant action, to address the unacceptably high unemployment rate in this country. That’s why the President is out pushing Congress to pass the American Jobs Act. As you know, reputable outside economists have said that if it were to pass in full, it would significantly boost employment in 2012 and economic growth.
So while that may be a good sign, and good signs are good things, we don't put a great deal of stock in one figure from one week.
Q The Vice President gave a radio interview this morning. He says it’s not relevant to blame the Bush administration for the current economic problems, and said, “What’s relevant is we are in charge.” Does the President agree with that, that this administration owns the economy, owns the blame for it?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not what the President said -- I mean the Vice President said. He didn't say that the blame for it is owned. But what he absolutely said is that most Americans want their elected officials in Washington -- all of them want their elected officials in Washington to act to improve the situation. That’s what this President and this Vice President have been doing since the day they were sworn in, and what they will continue to do.
As a political matter, I mean -- well, as a matter of basic fact, they’re in power and they are responsible for taking actions to improve the economy. That is indisputable and something that the President and the Vice President believe very strongly. It is also true that Americans understand, as data show, that the dramatic economic crisis that we’ve experienced dug a very deep hole that will take -- and will take a long time to climb out of. And I think Americans understand that.
Q The Vice President also said it’s totally legitimate that the election will be a referendum on Obama and Biden and the nature and the state of the economy. Do you agree it will be a referendum on the President?
MR. CARNEY: I think, again, what he said is that it will be -- it’s legitimate, and I think every elected official who’s running for office in 2012 will run on his or her record. And this President and Vice President will run on their record of saving the American economy from a great depression, of reversing the kind of dramatic contraction in the economy and dramatic job loss that we saw, and beginning to build a foundation for the kind of competitive economy that we absolutely must have in the 21st century for us to succeed and for America to continue to be the kind of America that we want it to be.
Q So just to put a final point on it, the President is -- he’s okay if this election is a referendum on his progress on the economy?
MR. CARNEY: The President fully expects that when people cast their ballots in November of 2012, that they will be making their decisions based on their assessment of his record, what he’s done, what he’s accomplished, and obviously comparing that and what his vision is for the future -- which is critical as well -- for where he wants to take the country going forward, and comparing that to whoever is the candidate for the Republican Party. So the answer is, yes. It’s more than that, but, yes.
Q The Chamber of Commerce and a bunch of other groups, business groups, called for the super committee to go big in its deficit reduction plan --
MR. CARNEY: Joining the President.
Q -- including a reform of the tax code. Do you take them seriously at that?
MR. CARNEY: Do I take their calls for the --
Q The Chamber call seriously.
MR. CARNEY: Well, yes, sure. I think that many people in Washington and all around the country recognize that a grand bargain, if you will, at least in size if not in name, is what we should be hoping to achieve. That’s why the President put forward a plan that substantially overshoots the mark in terms of the target that the super committee is legislated to have to achieve, because he believes that you need to have a significant -- all told, when you take the $1 trillion in savings from the Budget Control Act plus the savings from his fiscal plan that he put forward -- when you get into the $4 trillion range, you are achieving the kind of reduction in deficit and balance between debt and GDP that really should be the goal, that addresses the problem for a decade. Short of that, you don’t chip away at that ratio in a way that has that kind of maximum benefit for the economy.
Q Their call for tax reform, however, seems to preclude the idea of taxes going up for anybody. Is that serious?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just start by saying I haven’t examined their call or proposal in any specificity. What I think most people believe who look at this, the issue of tax reform, is that you need to close a lot of loopholes and eliminate a lot of special privileges that have benefited greatly those organizations or groups or sectors of the economy that -- or society who are able to pay lobbyists to get special benefits written into the law.
So, in terms of how it -- if you're saying that they're saying it should not produce revenue, the President obviously believes, as you know from the proposal he put forward, that we need to close loopholes as well as generate revenue to help bring down our deficit.
Q The idea of tax reform without the tax bill increasing for some people or businesses.
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to get into -- because you're talking about individual corporate reform. These are related, but different ideas, and I don't -- not having had the benefit of having read the Chamber's statement or proposal, I don't -- I'm out on thin ice here, so I don't want to comment too much.
Q The Energy Department is making the last of its loan guarantees under the Recovery Act this week. The program ends tomorrow. Did the President, in light of Solyndra's bankruptcy, request that the vetting be especially tight this week, especially rigorous?
MR. CARNEY: The process at DOE, what has been evaluated and improved over the course of the whole time that we've been in office, is merit-based and it's done -- it reflects extensive due diligence on the projects that you're referring to, the new large-scale solar generation facilities that receive loan approvals. And those projects are part of a broad portfolio of loans that's putting people to work and making a contribution achieving key administration policy objectives, like doubling electricity generation from renewables like wind and solar during the President's first term.
Q No more rigorous due diligence in light of Solyndra?
MR. CARNEY: The nature of the process at the Department of Energy I would think would be best described by those over there who are most familiar with it -- it is rigorous, it is merit-based, and it has been adjusted over time -- not because of anything in the last several weeks, but over time -- to improve it, as is true of all kinds of programs that this administration administers.
Q And one more, if I could. Can you respond to the ABC report that people who were involved in fundraising in the President's campaign were also involved in decision-making on some of these loans inside the Energy Department?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see an ABC report, Wendell. Hold on a second --
Q Three prominent fundraisers -- Steve Spinner -- I'm sorry.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, hold on one second. I know I have that here. Again, I didn’t see the ABC report, but it's my understanding, at least with regard to the gentleman you just mentioned, that he had no connection to overseeing the loan guarantee program.
Q Thanks, Jay. Going back to the criticism that the President has gotten from some within the African American community, why do you think he's failing to resonate and, in some cases, angering some leaders in the African American community?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just would take issue with the assertion. People from every community express their opinions. A lot of people are frustrated in this country, for understandable reasons -- because we have unacceptably high unemployment and growth that's not strong enough to drive the kind of growth and employment that we need. So there's a lot of economic anxiety and frustration. And I think that's reflected across the board. And it's understandable. And it's why this President is so focused on getting the American Jobs Act passed, because he knows that is the number-one concern of the American people.
Q But the recent criticism hasn’t been necessarily about the economy. Tavis Smiley said, in light of the CBC comments that the President made over the weekend, why does he get to speak to black folks like that? I mean, that's a very different type of criticism --
MR. CARNEY: I just addressed this question. And the quote that I think, Mary, you read to me, right -- I have heard him make similar comments to all sorts of different groups that have heard him speak.
So his point is that we have made tremendous progress towards some very hard-to-achieve goals and we’re continuing to make progress. An example is -- on the environmental front, for example, the fuel efficiency standards that this President enacted administratively, with the cooperation of major automakers, both domestic and foreign, represent an historic achievement, the kind of achievement that, had it been passed legislatively through Congress, might be the singular most -- single most important piece of environmentally helpful and energy-related legislation you could see in a generation. That’s a huge accomplishment.
It doesn’t mean that our work on energy is done, or our work on the environment is done, but it’s an enormous accomplishment.
Q I guess the question, though, is it doesn’t seem like he’s that concerned about this criticism. Will we see him try to do a better job of reaching out to some of these leaders -- Cornell West, Tavis Smiley, Maxine Waters -- who have been critical of him?
MR. CARNEY: I think there are individuals in every community who might be unhappy with a political leader. The fact is the President is the President of the United States of America and all of the American people, and he is working on their behalf to improve the economy, to take measures to help the economy create jobs, to protect the American people, defend the United States’ national interests here and abroad, and that’s what he wakes up every morning worried about. There are critics from all corners when you’re President, and that’s a fact of life.
Q Turning to the super committee. They’ve met a few times but haven’t briefed reporters yet. Has the President been in contact with the super committee? Is he aware of what’s transpired at these meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him. It’s certainly possible he has spoken to individual members -- I don’t know specifically about super committee matters, but he may have had discussions with individual members. I say “may have” because I don’t know of any specific ones. I just don’t want to rule out that he’s spoken to anybody on the super committee, and then when I walk out of here somebody remind me that he spoke to Senator so-and-so yesterday.
Q Is the administration at all concerned that there hasn’t been enough transparency at this point in the process?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that -- I haven’t heard that concern expressed internally. I think our primary concern or interest is in the super committee focusing on its responsibilities, on the task that it’s mandated to achieve -- and hopefully to over-achieving -- to coming up with the kind of proposal the President put forward, which is balanced, substantial in size, and represents the sort of bipartisan approach and balanced approach that we’ve seen from other committees and groups that have looked at this problem and tried to address it in a way that reduces the debt, deals with -- deficit -- deals with our long-term debt problems, and does it in a balanced way so that the middle class, for example, or seniors don’t have to bear all the burden.
Q On the health care law, is the President disappointed at all that what he’s described as his signature achievement is now going to the Supreme Court and could potentially become a pretty divisive issue next year?
MR. CARNEY: Potentially becoming a divisive issue? (Laughter.)
Q Is. Do you want to declare it as a divisive issue?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think there was any expectation other than that eventually this would require a legal review. I think that’s been the case of major domestic legislation of all kinds, including Social Security and Medicare.
The fact of the matter is we are absolutely confident that the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act will be upheld, as it has been upheld by numerous courts. And we look forward to that taking place. And what we also know is that, although full implementation of health care reform doesn’t take place until 2014 with the exchanges, there have been tangible benefits accrued to the American people already. Now -- as the Kaiser report mentioned the other day, more than 2 million young people now are on their parent's insurance because of the provisions that have taken effect from the Affordable Care Act. And that’s a very important fact to remember, and that’s in addition to the protections for those with preexisting conditions that now are in place and already implemented.
So we look forward to legal review that upholds the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. We note that not only have lower courts upheld its constitutionality but the fact of the individual mandates being both constitutional and wise policy is an opinion shared across the ideological spectrum.
A former governor of Massachusetts just said the other day, “The idea for a health care plan in Massachusetts was not mine alone. The Heritage Foundation, a great conservative think tank, helped on that. I’m told that Newt Gingrich, one of the very first people who came up with the idea of an individual mandate, did that years and years ago. It was seen as a conservative idea to say, you know what, people have a responsibility for caring for themselves if they can. We’ll help people who can’t care for themselves, but if you can care for yourself, you’ve got to take care of yourself and pay your own bills."
That’s the former governor of Massachusetts describing the individual mandate and why it’s smart policy, and we certainly agree.
Q I guess what I’m asking is, what’s the President’s reaction? If this -- what’s transpiring, is how he envisioned or would want --
MR. CARNEY: Carol, I don’t think anybody ever -- correct me if I’m wrong, this is the kind of thing that we expected would be taken to the courts, and we have proceeded through these cases --
Q I’m not disputing that. I’m asking is it -- I’m asking for a sense of what his mood is about this happening right now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know that his mood has changed appreciably since it was fully expected to happen. But he feels very confident that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld as constitutional, the individual mandate, and that implementation will continue apace as it has, because -- and very pleased to see that tangible benefits from the act are already being felt by the American people.
Q Just one more on that. Do you guys have any estimation on what it’s costing?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, what --
Q It’s costing the administration to fight these --
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask the Department of Justice, because they handle the legal -- the court cases.
Q Jay, the new fiscal year begins Saturday. President Obama will have to sign a four-day extension CR and then he’ll have to sign a six-week extension. Have you heard him talk about whether he thinks this is any way to run a government -- or fund it, at least?
MR. CARNEY: You know, Mark, I haven’t heard him address this particular instance of this kind of process. I know that he shares a lot of people’s frustration about how difficult it is to get seemingly simple things done in Washington. That was the case this past week with regard to the funding of government at a level that had already been agreed to through the Budget Control Act. But I haven’t heard him address the particulars that you just discussed and the kind of repeated steps that need to be taken, in this case.
Q And if he’s not worried about the Washington Monument, has he said anything about how long the "big dig" out there has been taking? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him at all. I think his office is far enough away that he doesn’t hear the banging and the drilling.
Q Well, you sure do.
MR. CARNEY: I do, although it’s not nearly as loud as it used to be. I think when Robert was here it was worse. (Laughter.) So I lucked out.
Q Because they dug deeper.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q I have two questions. The first is on -- I’m curious whether the President has been following the actions in the German parliament today with regard to the eurozone crisis. The lower house of the parliament passed some measures to increase Germany’s contribution and the SFS leverage. And I’m just wondering, is the President following this? Is he speaking with Merkel? And is this the sort of decisive action that he wants European countries to be engaged in?
MR. CARNEY: When I saw him this morning he didn’t mention whether or not he had been briefed on or knew about the vote in Germany. He is following the issue generally very closely because it is very important, and he has had regular consultations with European leaders about the overall issue of the eurozone and the need to -- for Europeans to take forceful, decisive action to deal with it. And as we have said in the past -- as I have said and others -- the Europeans have a capacity to deal with it. We have urged them to take the kind of action that is necessary to deal with it, and we obviously support the actions that have been taken to address it and urge them to continue that.
But on the specific vote today, I haven’t had a discussion with him about it. I’m sure he’s aware of it because he’s had advisors come in and out on different subjects.
Q Do you know -- are you aware, is he planning on talking with her today?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I can -- if he has -- it’s already pretty late there, but -- so I don’t think he had a call to Chancellor Merkel today. But I’ll double-check that.
Q And I have a completely non sequitor question, too. The President expected to speak at the Human Rights Campaign dinner over the weekend, and the last time that we checked in, his views on gay marriage were evolving. I’m wondering whether we’ll get an update on that evolution at the dinner or whether DADT will be the main -- essentially only newsbreaking topic of conversation.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen a draft of the remarks yet, so I don’t want to anticipate what he might say. I certainly think that the successful repeal and elimination of DADT is a topic worth discussing. It’s a major accomplishment and a much needed one. But beyond that, I don’t know what he will say at this point.
Q Is the President working on the speech himself?
MR. CARNEY: What’s today? Wednesday? Thursday?
MR. CARNEY: Probably not until tomorrow. I’m thinking about cycles here. Probably -- he will, definitely. There are very few speeches that he gives that he hasn’t marked up, left-handed. So he will.
Q Can I just ask you about immigration? We have a story recently on the website saying that the administration and Justice Department lawyers are reviewing statutes in four other states to potentially get involved in tough new immigration laws that have been considered or passed in those states -- I think Utah, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina. The reporter who wrote the story talked to experts who are saying this kind of federal intervention is highly unusual. Can you talk about what’s going on with this, if you’re aware, and kind of what’s prompting this from the administration? Do you consider this an extraordinary step? And are you actively considering taking court action in this case, in these states?
MR. CARNEY: I will have to refer you to the Department of Justice -- not as a dodge, but I think they have a better answer to this. I don’t.
Q But the President said yesterday in a roundtable forum with Latino reporters that what you don’t want -- just to quote him accurately -- he said that "you don’t want 50 states with 50 different laws."
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s certainly been his position, and he’s said that I think on numerous occasions. And that’s -- federal law is federal law for a reason when it comes to immigration. But I haven’t heard him say anything more than that in regard to your first question. So you might just get better direction from the Department of Justice in terms of what actions and involvement we might have legally.
Q Has he given recent instructions to take stronger action in these cases?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’ve heard him give, but if he has, Justice would know about it.
Q Hi, Jay. Picking up on Margaret’s Europe question, how big an economic threat does the President believe the debt crisis in Europe poses to the U.S. and the U.S. economy?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure how to measure it. It’s obviously caused problems for the domestic economy, the American economy, this year, as well as problems for other economies around the globe. It is one of the economic headwinds that has contributed to the slowdown and growth here and the related slowdown in hiring.
How big, I’m not sure I would hazard a guess, either in his voice or mine. But it is a concern. And the eurozone is a major factor in the global economy. We are very close allies with our European friends and work with them very closely in discussing these matters and, as I said before, have urged them in our consultations at all levels to take direct, forceful action to deal with it. So I hope that answers your question.
Q You said before that the Europeans have the capacity to confront the problem. But most analysts you ask even about what the German parliament did today will say that’s not enough; they need closer coordination with the ECB and they need a bailout fund that is substantially larger than even the larger one they’re putting together. So when the President speaks to European leaders, is the message not only, you guys can do it, but you guys have to do more, you’re not doing enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think when I say that we are urging Europeans to take forceful, decisive action, that that continues to be the message even as we take note of the actions that have been taken already.
Q Have you seen forceful action so far?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they’re certainly -- I mean, they’re certainly addressing it. But we continue to deliver the message that we believe forceful and decisive action needs to be taken. And when we say that that they have the capacity, obviously we’re talking about the financial capacity to deal with this. They have the resources and capacity to handle the problem. And then it becomes a matter of -- and understandably difficult given the nature of the system -- but it becomes a matter of political will and collective action that needs to be taken. So we continue to -- Secretary Geithner and others have these consultations regularly. We closely watch what’s happening and keep up those conversations.
Q Jay, can I briefly follow up on Mark’s question? He was thinking ahead to November and the latest CR running out. I'm thinking also of the super committee coming up in November. The President is supposed to be out of town, out of the country a lot of that month between the G20, APEC, Indonesia, Australia. Are you concerned that all of this is going to be coming to a head and he’s going to have to operate by remote control?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think two things: One, the tasks of Congress that are basic and fundamental to their responsibilities should be achievable without emergency action by the President of the United States. And that was our position last week and this week; it’s certainly our position as it regards November. And the deadline for the super committee is for the super committee itself to act, it’s not for Congress to act. And this is a congressional mandate for a congressional committee.
The President has well in advance put his detailed proposal on the table, which he hopes the committee will seriously consider. But it obviously -- the committee is the acting body here. We hope that as we enter October and work picks up with the committee, that they will, again, as I said, take up the proposals the President put forward and we can have conversations with them about that, and urge them to go in certain directions, and provide them information about our proposals and why we think they’re the right ones. But, ultimately, the committee has to act.
Q Well, it was a big deal last time and ended up, again, he was right in the thick of it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s just remember the fundamentally different nature of what we’re talking about in terms of if you’re referring to debt ceiling crisis.
Q Both, actually -- that and the CR.
MR. CARNEY: The failure to act in terms of the debt ceiling crisis would have been catastrophic for the economy, both here and around the world. It could have precipitated a global financial crisis that would have made what happened in 2008 seem minor. So there was an absolute imperative in the end to ensure that we did not default on our obligations. And even the threat of default -- when the mere possibility that Congress wouldn’t take action, that it would be held hostage by a minority of membership of the House of Representatives, and it wouldn’t take action to lift the debt ceiling -- even that prospect did serious harm to the economy and certainly caused great turmoil in the market.
So that’s a different kettle of fish, if you will, from what you’re discussing now.
Q Hi. Thanks, Jay. Twice you answered that you heard the President tell other groups to stop complaining. Can you tell us whether any other groups have been told to “take off their bedroom slippers”? And should anybody in the ballroom that night take offense at the President's admonishment to "take off their bedroom slippers and start marching"?
MR. CARNEY: The message that he delivered he has delivered -- that night he has delivered to audiences in different --
Q That --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would have to go back and look at the speeches. He has certainly used vivid language -- similarly vivid language before a variety of audiences. And his fundamental message is simply what I described before, which is those who support him and supported him and supported his candidacy in 2008, and who support the kind of agenda that he’s put forward have a lot to be proud of in terms of the accomplishments that have been achieved in the last two and a half years; that there is still much work to be done.
His point is that we need to -- all of us -- though the challenges we face are enormous and we have setbacks, that we need to keep fighting, keep struggling, keep moving forward to move the country forward -- the economy and employment and all the other things that he’s pressing for.
So, again, that is the same message he’s taken elsewhere. I can’t answer your question about exact phrases because I don’t have all the speeches in front of me.
Q You're careful not to use the phrase “bedroom slippers.” So you --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not careful, I just don’t know if he’s said it before or said it since. I just --
Q So he’s not sorry he said it in that context?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t talked to him about that phrase.
Q Jay, now that the President has made his decision about the No Child Left Behind waivers, is there still work being done to reauthorize -- or work out an agreement on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a question I might have to take. I mean, it’s -- as the President made clear and Secretary Duncan made clear, we have been working with the Congress on this for a long time -- the long time that Congress had to take action. Because Congress couldn’t act, the President did to move this program forward, to allow for the waivers that are provided to states in exchange for meeting very high standards. So I will get back to you in terms of what work we’re doing now with Congress continuing on and the possible reauthorization. But the decision by the President was to act because Congress had not.
Q Jay --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, April.
Q Getting back to the issue of jobs --
MR. CARNEY: What happened? Weren’t you over there earlier? (Laugher.)
Q I was, but I had a cough, I didn’t want to --
MR. CARNEY: Okay. That's very polite. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. Jay, getting back to the jobs issue, what is the acceptable unemployment rate that this White House would not look at it as a crisis?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as a crisis -- I would hesitate to use that term to describe our disposition in terms of is it -- does a crisis end at 4.9 percent but exist at 5. I mean, I know that this President believes that he will not be satisfied until every American who is looking for a job can find one. And we are obviously a long way from that.
So economists have models about what levels of unemployment represent some sort of economic nirvana. We’re focused on taking the policies that -- and pushing the policies in Congress that will help grow the economy and create jobs. And since we’re not in any danger of reaching the point where every American who is looking for a job can find one anytime soon, we’re not spending a lot of time thinking about what that point would be. We’re just focused on the task at hand.
Q Going back to Saturday night, I was there and talked to some congressional leaders off the record. And some were saying, look, the speech was "whatever" -- that’s with quote-unquote -- but they said at the same time it’s about, “what have you done for me lately?” They’re talking earmarks. They’re saying if you want this, you’ve got to give us something. What does the President say and what does this White House say about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know specifically about what people were asking you about, or for, in terms of actions the administration or Congress might take. The President’s policy proposals are very clear and they would benefit hard-hit communities. They would benefit teachers who have been pushed out of a job because of cutbacks in their states; construction workers who are idle because of the lack of work in states. They would put extra money in the pockets of every working American who gets a paycheck through the payroll tax cut holiday, so -- and expansion.
I think our position on narrowly targeted earmarks, if you will, is well known. His goal is to improve the economy for those Americans who desperately need the economy to improve.
Q These were black leaders, black lawmakers who came to me after the speech saying that, we understand what’s in the American Jobs Act, but when we go back to our communities, they still want more. They want earmarks. Is this administration --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had those conversations myself, and I haven’t discussed with our Legislative Affairs Office whether conversations like that have taken place, so I wouldn’t want to respond since I’m not all that familiar with them.
Q Okay. Well, what do you think about Al Sharpton’s march on the weekend that the King memorial was unveiled -- on jobs, the issues of jobs? What do you think about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know very much about it. But I think you’ve probably seen the President focus quite a bit of his energy and time on jobs and the economy. So he shares the opinion of others that we need to take significant action to grow the economy and create jobs. That’s why he’s out every week, in different parts of the country, calling on Congress to take action on jobs, because that’s the number-one priority.
Lesley, and then I’ve got to go.
Q Forgive me if this has been asked before. Has the President had a chance to talk with Bill Richardson since he returned from Cuba, pretty much disillusioned with the way he was treated? And has there been any talk about revisions to the administration’s Cuba policy?
MR. CARNEY: On both, I'll have to take. I don't believe he’s spoken to Ambassador Richardson, but I have to check, and I haven’t heard any discussion of that. I'll have to check on that as well.
Q Do you have a statement on Pastor Nadarkhani?
MR. CARNEY: I believe -- yes, didn't we put one out? Yes, it just went out.
Q Would you be able to -- so we can have it on tape?
MR. CARNEY: You want me to read it? Do I have it here? I may not have it.
Q We need the audio.
Q We’re big on audio.
MR. CARNEY: Let me find it here. Is this the statement itself, the one in the box? I mean, I assume it’s the same.
Okay, regarding Mike’s question about Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. Pasto Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, and crosses all bounds of decency and Iran’s own international obligations.
A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom and highlight Iran’s continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens.
We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: You bet. Thanks.
END 2:11 P.M. EDT