Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney -- Golden, CO, 9/13/12
Lions Park/Golden Community Center
10:30 A.M. MDT
MR. CARNEY: Okay, thanks for doing this, this morning, from a spectacular gymnasium. I just wanted to note at the top that the President spoke with the leaders of Libya and Egypt last night. As you know, we put out statements on those productive phone calls that the President had. And beyond that, I think I’ll just take -- we can take your questions.
Q Can you respond to the latest outbreak in Yemen? Are you guys concerned about that? And does that add some more pressure to -- where are you on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are doing everything we can to protect the safety and security of our personnel in Yemen. And since the protests began, the Yemeni government has sent additional security forces to our embassy, and Yemen’s President Hadi and other senior officials committed to maintain order and protect our personnel and diplomatic facilities.
President Hadi has publicly condemned violence against diplomatic personnel and facilities. The Yemeni government has also made clear that they will not tolerate violence against American personnel and will hold perpetrators accountable for any such actions. Just so you know, all U.S. embassy personnel are safe and accounted for.
I think it’s important to note with regards to that protest that there are protests taking place in different countries across the world that are responding to the movie that has circulated on the Internet. As Secretary Clinton said today, the United States government had nothing to do with this movie. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. America has a history of religious tolerance and respect for religious beliefs that goes back to our nation’s founding. We are stronger because we are the home to people of all religions, including millions of Muslims, and we reject the denigration of religion.
We also believe that there is no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out against violence, which has no place in religion and is no way to honor religion. Islam respects the fundamental dignity of human beings, and it violates that dignity to wage attacks on innocents. It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These, after all, are places whose very purpose is peaceful to promote better understanding across countries and cultures. Governments everywhere have a responsibility to protect these places.
Now, we understand that it is hard for some people around the world to understand why the United States does not prevent movies like this from seeing the light of day. But as you know, our country --
Q Jay, just to be clear, you’re still reading --
Q What Clinton --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I’m sorry, this is me. This is all me. I’m reiterating -- yes, I mean, I’m paraphrasing some of what Clinton said.
Q Reiterating what Clinton said --
MR. CARNEY: No, when I said as Secretary Clinton said -- these are not --
Q -- reprehensible?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I’m paraphrasing her. The United States had nothing to do with this movie. We rejected -- this is building off of what Secretary Clinton said, but this is not a verbatim quote of her statements.
Q Can you pick it up from “we understand it’s hard for some” --
MR. CARNEY: Sure. It is hard for some people around the world to understand why the United States does not prevent movies like this from seeing the light of day. For one, that is impossible in today’s world, as you know. But, furthermore, and more importantly, our country has a long tradition of free expression, which is protected by law. Our government does not and cannot stop individual citizens from expressing their views. Those of us who care about religious tolerance and who respect religious beliefs must not allow a tiny minority of people to provoke conflict between different religions, cultures, and countries. All leaders must draw a stark line against violence.
Q Jay, can I ask about Egypt? Is the President considering withholding any aid or putting new strings attached to the aid that’s already in place?
MR. CARNEY: No. I think it’s important to note, as the readout of the President’s call noted, that the -- first of all, that we appreciate the public statements that President Morsi has made condemning acts of violence and emphasizing that Egypt will honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel. The President last night made clear to his counterpart that the United States rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities.
We have an important strategic partnership with Egypt, and that partnership continues. We are focused on assisting Egypt as it -- and the new government there -- as it makes its way in the post-Mubarak era for that country. And we are, as we are around the region, interested in assisting these countries to promote democracy, respect for human rights, and economic development. And that’s certainly the case with Egypt.
Q So no thoughts to amending any of that aid?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Are you satisfied with the efforts the Egyptian government has taken to protect the U.S. facilities there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that the United States embassy in Cairo is secure and all U.S. government personnel are safe and accounted for. There are protests, small protests, in Cairo continuing, and obviously, we are monitoring that situation closely. And I would note that, again, the protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie. They are not directly in reaction to any policy of the United States or the government of the United States or the people of the United States.
Any violence associated with the offense taken by the movie, of course, is unjustified, as we’ve made clear. But we are monitoring the situation and the security of our embassies and our facilities and our personnel around the world. It is important to note that as these protests are taking place in different countries around the world, responding to the movie, that Friday, tomorrow, has historically been a day when there are protests in the Muslim world. And we are watching very closely for developments that could lead to more protests. We anticipate that they may continue.
Q Jay, the President yesterday said that Egypt isn’t an ally. Is that a new position, or based on some new evaluation? Can you expand on --
MR. CARNEY: No. The President, in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly, that we do not have an alliance treaty with Egypt. “Ally” is a legal term of art. As I said, we don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do, for example, with our NATO allies. But as the President has said, Egypt is a longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.
Just last night, as you know, the President spoke with President Morsi to review the strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt, while making clear our mutual obligations, including the protection of diplomats and diplomatic facilities.
Q Jay, Republicans are picking up on a column by a Washington Post writer looking at public records that says the President has missed a lot of national security briefings and has not attended one since September 5th. What's your response to that? Is he missing briefings that he should be attending, and what's your response to that?
MR. CARNEY: This line of criticism is based entirely on a fallacy. The President receives the presidential daily briefing every day of the week.
Q I'm sorry, say it again?
MR. CARNEY: He receives a presidential daily briefing, a PDB, every day of the week. He has briefings in person with his national security team most days when he is at the White House. He has extensive conversations with, meetings with and updates from his senior national security team, separate and apart from those specific meetings and from the PDB that's prepared every day for him. And when he is on the road -- as you know, he travels, as is the custom, with senior national security staff and is kept abreast of all the information that is provided in the PDB on a regular basis, and is in regular contact with his senior national security staff in Washington when he's on the road.
I find it -- I think that the President's record, when it comes to acting on -- interpreting correctly and acting on intelligence in the interest of the security of the United States is one that we are happy to have examined and it is one that he takes -- it is a responsibility that he takes enormously seriously.
Q Can I go back to the protests you expect to continue tomorrow in Cairo? Is the U.S. --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know specifically in Cairo. It's just been the tradition -- it has been commonplace through this period for protests to occur in the region, in particular on Fridays.
Q Is the U.S. -- are there any specific precautions that the U.S. is making to prepare for that? How is the President monitoring that? And are we coordinating with President Morsi?
MR. CARNEY: We are, yes, coordinating with governments in the region and making sure that there's a clear understanding about the responsibility of host governments to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel. The President, very early after the incidents occurred in Benghazi and Cairo, directed that security -- precautions be taken to enhance security at embassies and facilities around the world. And that is continuing to take place.
And he is being -- he is very much on top of this. I meant to and neglected to last night read out a briefing he received from his Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough that was focused specifically on developments in the region with regards to the protest, but especially on the progress of efforts underway to enhance security at our facilities.
He will also have a briefing later today with senior members of his national security team from here in Colorado after this event.
Q So was that a phone briefing with Denis?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it was when we were in the air.
Q Were you able to -- there were reports of one of the third victims, a gentleman from Massachusetts, being identified today. Can you confirm that? And has the fourth victim been identified?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department. I believe that they are handling notifications as well as would be handling any public release of information about the other two victims.
Q Can I change the subject for a minute?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q The sequester -- you guys have to -- a report that says exactly what you'll do. When will you do that? Is that going to happen tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, you can expect that report to be released tomorrow.
Q Then, House Speaker says, we've done our bit; it's up to you guys, you're dragging your feet. Any response to that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't seen that comment. I find it surprising, since the Budget Control Act -- which majorities of Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress supported -- contained within it the direction to Congress to take action to find, through compromise, additional savings of $1.2 trillion, and if they could not achieve that, then this sequester was the forcing mechanism -- rather, the sequester was the forcing mechanism to make it -- to compel Congress to do its job.
So the Speaker of the House announcing that he has done his job, when in fact Congress has failed to do its job and that is why the sequester still looms out there, is a rather remarkable statement.
There is a simple obstacle to resolving this, and that is the adamant refusal of Republicans in Congress to accept the simple proposition that we need to have a balanced approach to solving our fiscal challenges. They would rather see deep and harmful cuts in our defense spending, deep and harmful cuts in our non-defense discretionary spending, in education, in border security, in assistance to veterans, in research and development. They would rather see all of that than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more to, as the President believes, return to the marginal tax rates that were in place for wealthier Americans under President Clinton when this country created more than 23 million jobs and there were many millionaires coined to boot.
So Congress needs to act, and it can act. One thing it could do to deal with the fiscal cliff -- which is a related matter -- tomorrow, if they're actually working tomorrow, which is always a question, but if they were in session, they could -- the House could immediately pass what the Senate passed, which is an extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people -- 98 percent of the American people.
The remarkable thing about the refusal to do that is that everyone in Washington agrees virtually that those tax cuts should be extended -- Republicans, Democrats, independents, everyone, the President. So let's get that done. And that would address a significant portion of the fiscal cliff. It would create certainty and security for middle-class Americans and businesses. And it would be absolutely the right thing to do. But because of that adamant refusal to simply accept balance, the Republicans have yet to take that simple measure.
Q Jay, I know this is a topic that we've been on before, but Romney is talking about China again today, and he said the President has had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator and he hasn't done so.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that this President's record when it comes to making sure that American businesses and American workers are competing on a level playing field, specifically with regards to China, is one we're proud of. This President, this administration has taken significantly more actions at the World Trade Organization. And, thus far, every action that we've taken has proved successful -- this President's commitment to both free and fair trade.
And his focus is on ensuring that our businesses and workers are able to compete on a level playing field, because if they do, if they are, he is very confident that we -- the American people and American businesses -- will compete and win in the global economy.
MS. PSAKI: And I can just add one thing on Romney's record on that. In his own book, he questioned the President's -- the actions of the administration and the President to put in place tariffs on Chinese tires, an action that we know and have seen over the last couple of years has been very effective. And so that raises questions about his own judgment on some of these issues.
Q He questioned the wisdom of the tariffs?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I can get you the piece from the book, too.
Q So that raises questions --
MS. PSAKI: About his own judgment on what's effective.
Q Can I just go back to Morsi real quick? It seems clear from the readout of the call that the President is frustrated, or trying to put pressure anyway.
MR. CARNEY: Not at all.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he was very clear. I wouldn't say he was frustrated. I was with him when he made the call. It was a long and substantive call. As the readout makes clear, the President reiterated the importance that and the obligation that Egypt, as other countries, has to protect diplomatic personnel and diplomatic facilities. And he appreciated President Morsi's expression of condolences as well as his assertion that he will abide by that commitment.
Q Was there something more specifically that the White House would like to see him do or say?
MR. CARNEY: I believe President Morsi this morning -- well, this morning our time, I'm not sure what time in Egypt -- did make some public statements. That was what I was referring to when I talked about appreciating the public statements that President Morsi has made condemning acts of violence and emphasizing that Egypt will honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel. Those were statements he made this morning.
Q Jay, can I ask you about housing? The President barely mentioned it in his convention speech last week. Yesterday, we were in Las Vegas, a city that's been really hammered by the foreclosure crisis. He made a couple of references to housing, so he expanded on it a little bit. But it's clear it's something that the administration has fallen short on its goals. I mean, I think you guys said you wanted to help 9 million homeowners, and I think about 2 million or so have been helped so far. Why isn't he talking about this more?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I'll start by just saying that Nevada is also the place where Mitt Romney presented his comprehensive plan on housing to let the housing market hit bottom. And in contrast to that, the President has taken a number of steps, including the HAMP program, including the HARP program that have benefited -- I believe have benefited the people of Nevada by -- they've received hundreds of millions of dollars in the state as one of the hardest-hit states across the country.
The President is the first to say that this is an issue where there's more that needs to be done. He has continued to take steps over the course of his presidency to take more steps to improve programs when improvements can be made. And he remains committed to doing that.
At the same time, his view and the view of many economists is the best thing we can do to help the housing market is also to help the economy continue to recover and move that at a faster pace. And there's a number of steps he's proposed to do that as well.
But I will say he spoke about it in Nevada yesterday, as you mentioned, briefly. He spoke about it when he was in Nevada in May. He speaks about it when he's in states where this is an issue that the people of the state are dealing with and confronting, and is happy to put his record and the efforts he's made to improve the housing market up against Mitt Romney's any day of the week.
And, at the end of the day, what we're looking at here is who is going to be more committed to taking the steps needed to continue to help the housing market moving forward. And when you put the President's record, when you put the President's effort up against the Romney/Ryan view of just letting the market hit bottom, that seems like there's a clear choice for the American people and especially the people who have been hit hard by this over the last few years.
Q Why didn't he mention it in the speech last week? I mean, that was sort of his big chance to speak to the American people. And, obviously, housing has been a huge part of the problem over the past four years.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Look, he speaks about it frequently on the campaign trail. His speech last week was designed to offer to the American people the choice moving forward, bringing that into focus. It didn't mean he spoke about every issue that he was passionate about, every issue that impacts people across this country. And every time he's out on the campaign trail, that's another opportunity for him to do that. And that's one of the reasons you heard him speak to this issue yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: I think it's important to note, too, that the housing market that this President inherited was in collapse and the housing finance system in utter disrepair. And this has been an enormous challenge, as you note. And the variety of efforts the President has taken to address that challenge have assisted millions and millions of homeowners. And one that I'd like to point out is through the GSEs and through the FHA, the efforts to allow homeowners to take advantage of historically-low mortgage rates, which he was able to do administratively, which has helped millions of families.
He has called on Congress to pass a universal refinancing initiative, which would allow all homeowners -- responsible homeowners who qualify, even if their mortgages are underwater -- to take advantage of these remarkably low rates, to stabilize their mortgage situation. It would do enormous help to millions of American families and to the overall housing market. And that's another measure that Republicans have refused to pass, which harms no one but the American people.
Q On a somewhat related topic, the Federal Reserve said today that it's going to spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities to help the economy. Any thoughts on that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't comment on the Fed or Fed actions.
Q And the lady? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot pole.
Q Has the White House heard from Vice President Xi of China --
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to take that. I'm not sure.
MS. PSAKI: I can add one thing about the remarks. I know I flagged for you guys this morning it will have a similar tone and content to yesterday. He'll start out with a topper on the events in Libya, reiterating his commitment to protecting all Americans who are serving abroad, acknowledging how difficult it is for everyone to see disturbing images on TV as they have over the last 24 hours, reminding the American people that together we can meet these challenges. So you should expect to hear that from him when he speaks shortly.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all very much.
10:55 A.M. MDT