Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/6/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:58 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions, I just wanted to mention that earlier today, at the White House, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor; Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council; Jeff Zients, Director of OMB; and Alan Krueger, the President’s chief economist met with the following business leaders in the defense contracting industry: Wes Bush, Chairman, CEO and President of Northrop Grumman Corporation; David P. Hess, President of Pratt & Whitney; Linda Parker Hudson, President and CEO of BAE Systems Inc.; John S. Langford, Chairman and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation; David F. Melcher, CEO and President of ITT Exelis; Mike Petters, President and CEO, Huntington Ingalls Industries; and Marion C. Blakey, President and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association.
The focus of the conversation was the potential devastating impacts of the sequester going into effect as a number of the participants noted the notion that allowing the sequester to take effect would someone have limited effect or would be reversible, that notion was disputed heavily in the meeting. For some of these major companies, the impacts would be long lasting, as they would have to make decisions about programmatic changes they would make and therefore contractual changes. A company like Northrop Grumman, I believe, would have, for example, something like 20,000 small businesses in their pipeline that would be severely affected by implementation of the sequester.
And a lot of these companies, while they are defense contractors, also have a significant civilian side business operations that would be negatively affected by the impacts on their R&D budgets, for example.
So this is a very serious matter. I would also note that the participants did not support proposals thrown out there that we could somehow address only the defense spending side of the sequester, take care of that, but let the nondefense cuts kick in, across-the board cuts, or double up on the nondefense across-the-board cuts, because these companies depend for their workforces of their future on investments in education and in STEM education in particular, and in other areas of investment that this government makes to help build the foundation for our future economy. So it was a very good meeting and about a very important topic.
And with that, I go to the Associated Press.
Q Thank you. Does the White House have any response to the Boy Scouts delaying their decision on allowing gay members and leaders?
MR. CARNEY: We have no response. I don’t have a response to their process. You know that the President believes the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century. He also, as you know, opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such believes, as he said just on Sunday, that gay Americans ought to be able to participate in the Boy Scouts.
But in terms of the process of their evaluation of their policies, I don’t have a comment.
Q The President obviously is in Annapolis talking to Senate Democrats, and there’s no press access to that event, which, first, we just want to register our complaint on that. Second of all, can you give us any readout of what the President’s message was going to be to Senate Democrats, particularly on his priorities for immigration and gun control?
MR. CARNEY: The President will talk about all the work that the Senate is doing -- Senate Democrats are doing with the administration in a coordinated way, whether it’s on addressing the sequester that I just talked about and our fiscal challenges; the balanced approach we need to take towards further deficit reduction; the investments we need to make to ensure our economy grows and continues to create jobs.
On immigration, there has been -- and the President will note this -- significant progress made with the participation of Senate Democrats towards a bipartisan piece of legislation that would meet the standards and principles the President has put forward in his blueprint, and hopefully would pass the Senate and the House and get the President’s signature. That’s a very high priority of the President’s and of the nation’s. And on other issues, whether it’s taking actions to reduce gun violence in America, or dealing with a variety of other issues that confront us, the President looks forward to meeting with Senate Democrats because they play such an important role in moving this agenda forward.
Q What’s his message specifically on the assault weapons ban? That's an issue that several Democrats have refrained from voicing their support or opposition to. Is he going to push them to take this to the floor and have a vote on it?
MR. CARNEY: The President firmly supports reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. He has long supported that. He understands that these issues are difficult, that achieving them will not be easy, but he is committed to pressing forward on them and to enlisting the support of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate of both parties in the effort.
As for the assault weapons ban, in particular, I think he said on Sunday and I know he believes that this needs to come to a vote. The American people actually, by most polls, support passage of the assault weapons ban. The President certainly does, and he believes it should come to a vote.
Q Even if that means putting members of his own party in the position to vote against something that he supports or take a vote that could hurt them politically?
MR. CARNEY: I think he thinks that the American people, understandably, expect Congress to vote on these important matters, to vote yes or no. And he would hope that the Senate has an opportunity to do that.
Q Finally, I wonder if you have any update on the President’s State of the Union, how he’s going through the process of working on that; if there’s any sort of message or theme that you can tell us about at this point.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have a preview of the speech itself for you. It’s a collaborative process between the President and his speechwriter -- in this case, Cody Keenan, as I think it’s been noted is taking the lead on the speechwriting team for this and will be getting a higher profile in the weeks to come -- internally, anyway. But these are speeches that the President takes very seriously. He’s a writer himself, so he engages at a very deep level on the framing of a speech, on the writing of it and the editing of it and the shaping of it. So that process continues.
Q Jay, Speaker Boehner said today that he would not support a delay in the sequester without further spending cuts. And the reaction yesterday from Republicans, largely to what the President said, was negative. How do you plan to overcome that opposition? And more specifically, will the President give any details about what spending cuts he would like to see in a short-term package?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President was clear yesterday that he believes if we don't have the time, or the Republicans are not inclined in the short term to accept the offer that he put forward to Speaker Boehner that would resolve the sequester and then some when it comes to deficit reduction in a balanced way, that we should at the very least take action for a temporary buy-down just as we did at the end of the year of the sequester in order to prevent the terrible impact of the sequester if it were to take place, and to give Congress the time to continue to work on a budget process that the President hopes and others hope will produce a balanced approach towards further deficit reduction.
So a balanced approach means spending cuts as well as revenue through tax reform. So we would work with -- we will work with Congress on a package that would do that. So if Speaker Boehner is saying that spending cuts have to be part of that, the President believes that, too. But it cannot be spending cuts alone. The balance is what the American people support. And whether it’s proposals, as the Republicans have put forward, that achieve significant deficit reduction over 10 years only through spending cuts and therefore borne almost entirely by senior citizens and struggling middle-class families and others or proposals for short-term buying down of the sequester or other measures that would reduce the deficit, it has to be balanced because it’s -- the principle is broadly supported by the American people. It’s the right economic principle to apply.
And the argument that Republicans seem to be making is that the choice here should be unbalanced spending cuts that adversely affect Americans who are trying to get by, but hold harmless corporations that enjoy tax breaks for jets or subsidies for oil and gas industry, for example; hedge fund managers who pay a much lower tax rate through the carried interest provision than average folks who drive a bus or walk the beat in a municipal police department or teach our kids -- that that’s a better -- that he see that’s the choice, or we let the sequester kick, in thousands of upon thousands Americans lose their jobs as a result, and the economy takes a severe blow. That’s a terrible choice, and it's not an option the -- it's not a choice that has to be made.
If we do it in a balanced way -- and again, we've done this before, so why was buying down the sequester for a temporary period of time to allow for congressional work to be done on this issue for broader deficit reduction, why was it okay to do it in a balanced way two months ago but it's not okay now? It's the right thing to do. The President made that clear yesterday.
Q And you may pose that question, but, as I said in the original question, the response has been --
MR. CARNEY: Right, well, they will have to explain.
Q But how will you -- will you try to overcome that? Or is the President willing to accept the fact that on March 1st the sequester would just go in and the people who he met with this morning and their companies and employees will suffer?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President came out here yesterday in part to challenge the growing conventional wisdom among Republicans in Congress that the sequester is somehow acceptable; it's somehow a useful political play for them, because the effects of the sequester on average Americans out there would be very negative. And he put forward a proposal for avoiding that outcome while Congress continues to work on longer-term deficit reduction. That’s the sensible thing to do.
Why make -- why punish the American people because you haven't been able to achieve your ideological objectives through other means? They pass budgets that are wholly objectionable to most Americans; they didn’t become law because of that, because they don’t have the support of the American people.
Compromise solutions have the support of the American people, solutions that involve some revenues through tax reform -- the kinds of tax reform -- closures of loopholes and capping of deductions that, supposedly, Republicans supported a few months ago, but don’t support now. And then combined with spending cuts and entitlement reforms, we can achieve what has long been this President's goal and the goal of many others, which is significant deficit reduction on the order of $4 trillion over a decade that would put us on a fiscally sustainable path and allow our economy to grow and continue to create jobs.
Q And we know what the proposal is for $4 trillion, and he referred to it yesterday, but the reaction, as I've said, is they want to see -- the Republicans who would need to agree to this want to see what the specific spending cuts would be in the short-term deal.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that we would work with Congress on whatever a short-term deal would look like. It has to be balanced. The reaction I've heard --
Q That’s clear. But are there any -- do you have any meat on the bone for that right now -- for either side?
MR. CARNEY: We haven't -- we will work with Congress. The meat on the bone in terms of what balance would look like is available in the bigger plan. And obviously, you would take --
Q But he's proposing the shorter plan.
MR. CARNEY: Jeff, I think -- here are the facts: We proposed a specific option for the Speaker of the House. It was a compromise that was far more detailed than anything we ever saw from the Republicans in that process, both on the spending cuts side and on the revenue side. The President made clear yesterday and I've made clear that deal is still available.
If you want to pursue balance in a short-term deal, then you can look to the options provided in the President’s proposal for both spending cuts and reforms and revenues.
And you can -- when it comes to revenues, you can look to the language that Republicans used when they talked about how we could achieve significant revenue increases from wealthy Americans through tax reform alone. So if it was true then, it must be true now.
Q Jay, follow?
MR. CARNEY: Let me -- I’m going to go a little to the right here and then to the left.
Q Jay, thanks. I want to go back to the drone strikes. The New York Times is pointing out that a number of military and intelligence officials have expressed concern that the drone strikes might actually be creating more militants in areas like Yemen than they're killing. Is that one of the effects? Are they having the reverse impact?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would -- in terms of the broader effort, I would refer you to the Pentagon -- the broader effort in terms of dealing with al Qaeda. But the fact is, as John Brennan and others have made clear, our counterterrorism efforts are designed -- including our targeted efforts -- to limit civilian casualties. And I think any fair assessment of those efforts would draw you to the conclusion that they have significantly limited civilian casualties, I think.
Q Civilians have been killed.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again I’m not disputing that necessarily, although I won't talk about specific instances. But the fact is, is that the methods that we use are designed specifically to avoid civilian casualties. I think it’s fair to say that far fewer civilians lose their lives in an effort to go after senior leadership in al Qaeda along the lines that we are discussing here as opposed to an effort to invade a country with hundreds of thousands of troops and take cities and towns.
So I think that these are issues that obviously concern everyone involved in the effort to combat al Qaeda and to deal with the region as a whole. So that aspect of it is one that is very much in the front of everybody’s minds when they make these decisions and move forward with actions.
Q Stanley McChrystal was quoted as saying that these strikes contribute to a perception of “American arrogance.” How concerned is the President about that, that these strikes are making America seem arrogant?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the President takes a very serious approach to these matters and has, as I said yesterday, two responsibilities in mind, and that is his absolute responsibility under the Constitution to protect the United States and to protect American citizens, and his responsibility in carrying out the first to do so in a way that's consistent with our Constitution and our laws and our values.
And on the broader objectives, we obviously take the fight to al Qaeda in a way that we believe serves our national security objectives. And that means eliminating senior al Qaeda leadership, and it also means working with countries around the region to encourage a process whereby the populations in some of these countries recognize that choosing the ideology of al Qaeda is ultimately disastrous for them and their futures and their country’s future. And so it’s an effort that includes a lot of different elements to it that is not just military.
Q And just shifting to the President’s trip to Israel quickly, does he plan to bring any concrete proposals to his trip to advance the peace talks? Has Netanyahu offered any proposals ahead of the visit?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, this is a trip the President looks forward to making that is timed in part because we have here obviously a second term for the President, a new administration, and a new government in Israel, and that's an opportune time for a visit like this that is not focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals. I'm sure that any time the President and Prime Minister have a discussion, certainly any time the President has a discussion with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, that those issues are raised. But that is not the purpose of this visit.
Our views and our efforts on Middle East peace are clear and they’re continuing. And I think as I said yesterday, the visit will include travel to the West Bank as well as to Jordan.
Q Jay, on the drones, why are you dancing around the question of whether or not we kill civilians? Why can't the government at least admit that civilians have been killed?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think that I'm dancing around it. I didn’t dispute it.
Q You said I’m not necessarily disputing it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm just not going to -- what I can't do or what I'm not --
Q Civilians have been killed, right?
MR. CARNEY: I don't disagree with that.
Q Okay. Do you think this is going to imperil John Brennan’s nomination?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that John Brennan is uniquely qualified as a 25-year veteran of intelligence work -- a 25-year veteran at the CIA -- to lead that agency. And as the President’s top counterterrorism advisor these past four years, he’s done extraordinary work in the effort to combat al Qaeda, and through that work we have seen a significant decimation of senior al Qaeda leadership, including the elimination of Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Brennan brings I think not only a vast amount of experience but a significant perspective on the battles that we wage in this effort and the right way to conduct them. So the President believes that the Senate should and will confirm John Brennan expeditiously.
Q Two quick questions. CBO yesterday in a report said that the President’s health care law is going to push 7 million people out of their job-based insurance coverage. That's nearly twice the previous estimate. In fairness, it seems like it’s not because of the original health care law, it’s because of some tax changes in the fiscal cliff talks that in part is causing this change. But since it’s happening, how can the President still claim that people are going to get to keep their coverage, keep their doctor, if 7 million people are going to be thrown off their insurance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the report is oversimplified in a number of areas, and HHS can provide you more details, more information about that. The bottom line here is that no matter where you live, on January 1st, 2014, an insurance marketplace will be up and running, and consumers will have more access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage.
We've seen just in recent days and weeks, states led by both Democrats and Republicans stepping forward to implement the Affordable Care Act. We now have approximately 25 states, again, led by members of both parties, that will operate their own health insurance marketplace either on their own or in partnership with the federal government. And as I said, in 2014 consumers in all 50 states will have access to a marketplace where they can afford -- where they can access, rather, affordable private health insurance coverage.
Q Last thing is on the Boy Scouts. When you were asked about it before you said that the President was motivated in large part because he opposes discrimination in all forms, of course. He believed the same about discrimination in 2009, I assume, and yet was against same-sex marriage. What has driven his evolution on issues like same-sex marriage?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President gave a lengthy interview about just this very topic to Robin Roberts last year, so I would point you to his comments about his evolution.
Q But he opposed discrimination -- is it because of public sentiment changing so much over the last decade?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would -- for his personal evolution -- a term that he used -- I would point you to his words. I think that there’s no question, as many have written about and commented on, that our country has as a whole evolved significantly in our view, the public’s view, of these matters. And the President believes that's a very good thing.
Q Does the President owe the American people a clearer explanation about the standard or the threshold for killing Americans overseas?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s an excellent question and it’s the one the President -- and it is one that the President takes very much to heart and very seriously. He thinks that it is legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against al Qaeda. It is something that he has discussed internally. It is his belief in these issues, his belief that we need to move forward with more transparency as well as create, in his words, a "legal framework" around how these decisions are made that has led to, I think, unprecedented levels of information provided to the public about how we do this, including the speeches that I talked about yesterday from John Brennan and the Attorney General and others -- Jeh Johnson and others.
And the President fully expects that that process will continue, because these are issues that he believes are very important. As I said before, his high responsibility here as Commander-in-Chief is to protect the American people and to protect the United States from threats like the threats posed by al Qaeda.
It is also his high responsibility to perform that function in a way that is consistent with who we are, our values and the Constitution. And he believes that it's wholly legitimate to examine these issues and to have conversations about them. And he is engaged here internally in a process that I think reflects his views on this. I think he said late last year, in the fall, one of the things -- this was in an interview, and I'm quoting the President -- "One of the things that we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any President is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we're making."
So we're talking -- he's talking about this in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about how we move forward as a nation on these issues, because, obviously, this is a -- these are questions that will be with us long after he is President and long after the people who are in the seats that they're in now have left the scene.
Q And can we expect him to address this in a public way any time soon?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make or remarks to preview. But I just wanted to convey to you the seriousness with which the President approaches these issues, and he respects the questions being asked.
I think, again, while the white paper that was produced by the Department of Justice for senators was not a public document, as I noted yesterday, it does -- it did represent an effort in our providing of information to the applicable members of Congress to explain the legal concepts and legal theories that undergird the decisions that are being made.
Q Jay on that question --
MR. CARNEY: Can I just -- I'm still with Dan.
Q I just have one more thing on the budget. We're at a place now that we've been at several times over the last few years when it comes to fiscal matters, and that is there is a looming deadline, and then the White House will have meetings with people who are talking about dire consequences if something doesn’t happen. What do you say to the American people who are just simply frustrated with the cycle that they've sort of gotten used to now for several years?
MR. CARNEY: We agree with their frustration. The President understands that frustration. The dysfunction that often dominates the way we govern here in Washington is a source of frustration to every American who is paying attention and every American for whom the dysfunction has an adverse effect on how they live their lives, and maybe their livelihoods. That would certainly be the case if political calculations were the result of -- resulted in the sequester kicking in because of a desire to achieve some sort of ideological objectives in a way that would throw a lot of Americans out of work and do obvious harm to our economy.
The President talked about this I think on a couple of occasions. He said we have to get out from under the cloud of crises, this mode of governing where we sort of go from, as you described it, crisis to crisis in these confrontations. We need to go about our business in a way that allows for compromise, that rejects sort of absolutist positions that have no -- adherence to absolutist positions that won’t become law and that only drive us to brinksmanship. The President has practiced that in his approach, sometimes causing himself political peril, but he has believed that that’s the right way to do this.
And going to the aspect of this that involves reaching out to people like defense contractors or traveling around the country to engage, it’s a reminder that what happens here and the decisions made, or the failure to act, all of this has an effect on people around the country; it’s not just a parlor game here in Washington. These are real-world decisions that significantly affect our economy and the American people.
So he would whole-heartedly agree with the sense of frustration Americans have about this kind of governance, and he hopes that we can move beyond that and return, if you will, to sort of more regular order when it comes to how we deliberate about our budget process, how we move forward on reducing our deficit. The options for that -- that path is open and available. Compromise is the way to achieve it.
Q And so is the White House just pointing the finger -- the blame at Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all. I mean, again, I think if you saw in the President’s proposals, as he made clear yesterday, are on the table to be taken up, you saw tough decisions for a Democrat -- a Democratic President, you saw a willingness to compromise in the scope of revenue that he believes should be included in a big package, you saw significant spending cuts on top of the already significant spending cuts this President has signed into law -- that’s the kind of spirit of compromise that he believes is required when we’re just trying to get work done for the American people and trying not to do harm to the economy, let alone help the economy, which is what we should be doing.
Q Jay, on that question of the drone strikes, Senator Wyden today is saying he’s going to “pull out all the stops” to force the administration to turn over the actual legal analysis behind the justification for the drone strikes -- not the much discussed white paper, but the actual legal memos. That sounds to me like a senator raising the possibility of a filibuster. What is your answer to Senator Wyden? Will the Intelligence Committee, will the Congress get the actual legal analysis used to justify those strikes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without discussing specific actions or cases or memos, I can say that the President has been and is committed to working with Congress on these matters and to providing information to Congress, and that process continues.
I think it’s important to note -- and I should have said this yesterday -- that when it comes to some of these matters, the information that is kept secret is kept secret for national security reasons not to keep it from the American people, but to keep it from those who plot daily and continually to do harm to the United States and do harm to the American people. That is the premise behind which decisions like that are made.
Having said that, again, broadly speaking -- not referring to any specific operation or possible memo or memos -- the President is committed to continuing to work with Congress to provide Congress information on these important matters as he has been in the past.
Q So Wyden will get his -- the information he wants --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to -- I can't and won’t talk about specific operations or specific memos that may or may not exist. What I can say is that the President and this administration will continue to work with Congress, as it has, to consult with and provide information to appropriate members about these important, weighty matters.
Q An entirely different subject: The post office is saying it’s going to do away with Saturday delivery. Does the President have a problem with that decision?
MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of things. One, this is a decision -- it’s an independent agency, as you know, the Postal Service, and this is a decision that we found out about here just yesterday. And I’m looking -- I have a little more information for you on it. So let me just make that point.
The second point is that we put forward a year and a half ago a series of proposals for reform of the Postal Service that would put it on much more firm financial ground and it passed the Senate. Unfortunately, the House failed to take it up. So it would be our preference that that comprehensive package of reforms be implemented for the sake of a stronger future Postal Service.
But we’re looking at this particular action now and can't really evaluate it yet since we just found out about it yesterday.
Q You mentioned a minute ago that the President wants to put a legal architecture in place for the drone strikes. What steps is he taking to do that? Is he proposing something to Congress? Is he asking them to come up with it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think this is -- I was quoting the President and this is something that he and others have talked about. Mr. Brennan has said in the past that we’re trying to right now -- “What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions so that irrespective of the venue where they're taking place, we have a high confidence that they're being done for the rights reasons in the right way.” So this --
Q Would you agree to getting Congress involved in it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the answer is yes. Again, quoting the President, he said last fall that there is a -- that it requires consultations with Congress that this -- and that's why going to Jon’s question, that we have been and will continue to be engaging with Congress on these important matters.
What that structure looks like and timelines on it, I don't have information for you today about, but it is something that the President considers a lot and takes very seriously.
Q But are these deliberations underway?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, they are.
Q I mean, have you gone to Congress and opened these discussions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't have any modalities to report to you in terms of specific conversations or meetings. But as Mr. Brennan and the President have discussed, this is something that has been underway and will continue to occupy a fair amount of time for people involved here, because it is the desire of this President to make sure that we have an architecture in place that governs these issues not just for this President and this administration, but for the future.
Q But just to clear, he wants to write rules for this kind of --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have -- to use that fancy word, I don't have the modalities here. I don't know -- or I don't have for you today what that looks like. It has been described as a playbook. It has been described as a set of standards. But what it does represent, the effort itself represents I think the thoughtfulness and seriousness with which this administration, led by this President, approaches these issues.
Q Just one other question here. A few days ago you were asked about the --
MR. CARNEY: You’re not going to throw my words back on me?
Q -- remodeling of the West Wing and temporary quarters for the President. You referred us to GSA. They have been completely uncommunicative on the issue. Do you have anything more on it? And should we expect something from them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say that as a rule with renovations and things like that and just work being done on this complex, we do refer reporters to the GSA. That's their --
Q Yes, well, it doesn’t do us any good.
MR. CARNEY: But I can say specifically there -- the reports about a replica Oval Office are false, and no one is moving from the West Wing. Certainly, no decisions about that have been made and not in any timeframe that --
Q You’re saying that no one is moving from the West Wing, you mean including the President?
MR. CARNEY: Including the President.
Q Even though renovations may be made?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't have -- for what kinds of renovations -- I mean, you guys have looked around and seen that there’s constant work being undertaken here on the overall campus, but I don't have anything specific. But because this issue, because of the description of an alleged replica Oval Office was reported out, I can tell you that that is false.
Q Temporary office quarters for him?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don't have any more information for you. It’s not something that's on my radar. I would refer you for more details to the GSA.
Q That hasn't worked. Perhaps you could ask them to help us out?
MR. CARNEY: I will -- I'm sure they know now, because they're probably watching, that this has come up. (Laughter.)
Q Let’s hope.
MR. CARNEY: So we'll see what happens.
Q Come on, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, who do I have here? Yes, Peter.
Q Thank you, Jay. The President is making a Cabinet appointment today. Does he feel now that he has a team in place in the Cabinet and senior staff that reflects the gender balance and racial balance that he wants to see in his senior team? And does he have a team that looks like America, so to speak?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has addressed this, and his views are quite clear, which he believes that diversity is important because it improves the quality of debate and therefore the quality of decision-making. And he seeks excellent personnel to fill all of these positions, and he certainly believes he has found an excellent candidate in Sally Jewell, who will be announced as the Interior Secretary later today.
She is uniquely qualified for that job. With years of experiencing managing a nearly $2 billion-a-year company, she will bring to the position integrity, keen management skills, as well as dedication to the Department's mission of managing our nation's lands. Trained as an engineer, Jewell has broad private sector experience in energy and finance, as well as a commitment to conservation. So the President looks forward to making that announcement later today.
Q The Pentagon is expected this week to announce same-sex -- benefits for same-sex spouses, rather. A group in Congress has been open about pushing the Defense Secretary to do this. Was the White House involved in pushing the Pentagon to do this, and do you have any reaction to the step that is expected?
MR. CARNEY: I think I would refer you to the Pentagon for an announcement that they haven't made yet. So I don’t have anything for you on that at this point.
Q Are you pleased to hear that it's going to happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think in answer to questions I've had previously, the President has been very attentive to this issue and believes that it needs to be addressed. So I don’t want to get ahead of any announcements, but it is certainly something that has been on the President's radar and that he believes needed to be and needs to be addressed.
Q A follow on Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Connie.
Q I've got three. First on Israel, does the President expect to put any pressure on the settlements issue?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have a preview this many weeks in advance of the conversations that he will have with officials in Israel. I think that, as we said yesterday, we expect that Iran and Syria will be topics of conversation, but I'm sure a variety of issues will be discussed, as they always are, when the President meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. And that is certainly the case when he meets with Palestinian Authority officials. But I don't have a -- it’s far too early to give you a tick-tock in advance of a meeting that won't happen for a number of weeks.
Q Two on Iran. What are your thoughts about Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: What are my thoughts about it? Do you have a broader -- or more specific question, rather?
Q Does the U.S. still plan to support Egypt with military and financial aid?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position on support for Egypt is a support for an ally that is in the process of a transition from years of autocratic rule to democracy. We made clear our views on these issues, as we have recently during some of the protests and unrest in Egypt. And we believe that Egypt’s commitment to its obligations and its treaties are very important and that the process needs to continue in Egypt so that Egyptians are allowed to realize a future that is democratic and more prosperous.
Q But is the U.S. still going to give several billion dollars in aid to Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: We're making no changes in our aid program based on a visit by a foreign leader.
Q One more on Iran. As I was walking here, there’s a small group of demonstrators who are demonstrating for the pastor who’s been put in jail for eight years, chanting “Christianity is not a crime.” Does the U.S. have any leverage at all to try to get this man out of jail?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the State Department has been taking the lead on this matter. I've answered questions about this several times in the last couple of weeks, and it is of concern to the President, to the White House, to the administration, and we have made clear our view on this.
But for specifics in terms what we're doing, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q As a follow-up to the question about the Cabinet, you mentioned Sally Jewell’s experience in the private sector and business, and I'm wondering if the President feels that that's enough private sector experience in his Cabinet, or if he’s looking to fill some of these other positions with business leaders --
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements or hints to give about future personnel decisions.
Q But is that a satisfactory amount of business experience?
MR. CARNEY: The President doesn’t look at it that way. He looks at finding the best people with the best experience possible for each position. He, as I said in answer to the question earlier, believes that diversity is an important goal because diversity enhances debate and enhances the decision-making process. But I don't have any previews to provide on future personnel decisions.
Q And any kind of timeframe for how quickly he’s going to --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have that either.
Q Thank you. Back to the Postal Service for a moment. The budget last year endorsed an end to Saturday delivery of mail. Is that the administration’s -- still the administration’s position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was referring to a package of provisions and reforms that we put forward; the Senate passed a version of this. But the package is what’s important. It is true that as part of these reforms that we’ve proposed, that change in delivery service was included. But the overall package is what’s important because the issue is -- again, I'm not judging at this point because we're reviewing the action announced by the Postal Service, but our view was that there need to be a series of actions taken to help make the Postal Service more financially sound. And that's why we put together that package of proposals.
So it was one element of a more complete set of actions that we regret the House failed to act on.
Q A follow-up. The Postal Service says that it has its own authority to decree an end to Saturday mail delivery, but legislation on the Hill is split. Does the administration take a position on that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is related to a decision they just announced and we just found out about, and we're reviewing it.
Q How did you find out about it?
Q Yesterday. You said yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: It was yesterday. I'm not sure through what means, but it was only yesterday.
Q But does the White House agree with the Postal Service that it has --
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're asking me for a legal judgment here that we have not made. We're reviewing the decision -- or the announcement.
Q Jay, on immigration, there is a longstanding issue about the Haitian immigrants who were turned away from U.S. shores. Wade Henderson was part of the group meeting with the President yesterday, a group of progressives, and he said that issue is on the table about the Haitian immigrants. They've been turned away from U.S. shores when Cuban immigrants are allowed to come. What is on the table? What is the President considering when he deals with the issue of the Haitian immigrants?
MR. CARNEY: You've seen what the President's comprehensive immigration reform package looks like. I haven't had that discussion with him, so I would have to take the question.
Obviously, this is a process that we're hoping will continue in the Senate in a bipartisan way. The President has made clear that he wants to give the Senate space here and time here to continue the progress they've made, but that he will also, if he perceives that action is stalling or not happening at all in the Congress, that he is prepared to submit his own legislation. I just don’t have anything for you on that specific issue.
Q And a follow-up on that, though. For such a long time, the face of immigration -- or immigration reform has been the Hispanic community. We see that the Asian community is involved now and the African American community is involved now, and there is that component. What else is the President willing to give to those communities -- the Asian or the black communities -- in the way of immigration reform along with the Hispanic community?
MR. CARNEY: April, I think comprehensive immigration reform is not about a specific community, it's about a problem that we need to address as a whole. We have a system that is broken, and there have been bipartisan efforts in the past to address it. We hope that we are at a point now where a bipartisan effort can move forward again to address it; that follows the principles and the specifics that the President has laid out.
So, again, this is not about one community here, this is about an American problem that affects all of us. It affects our economy, it affects fairness for the middle class, it affects our businesses directly, and it affects those who don’t have legal status here in the United States, and with all the impacts that that fact has on our economy and our nation.
So we need to address this comprehensively, not narrowly, precisely because of the scope of the challenge. And that’s the best way to get something done in Congress.
Q But just to be clear, the reason why I asked that, he did have the Asian community and the black community, and the Hispanic community out there represented, coming together because each community has a large number of undocumenteds in this country. So you're saying you're not --
MR. CARNEY: I think your question reflects my answer, which is that this is a -- when it comes to immigration in this country, it's not about a specific community, it's about a broader issue.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Kathleen, I think I was going to call on you, and then I'll go.
Q Just one more on the announcement later today. I think Bruce Babbitt is quoted in the Times this morning or today criticizing the administration, saying that in the tug-of-war over opening lands to oil and gas and protecting lands, that industry has been winning too often. I’m wondering what you’d say to that. And then if his nominee -- the choice of nominee signals any change in policy on that front?
Q I think the President is rightly proud about the fact that oil and gas production since he’s taken office here at home has increased each year, and domestic oil production is currently higher than at any time in nearly a decade, and natural gas production is at an all-time high.
The United States is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in nearly two decades. Those are very important developments for our economy and our energy security. It is also the case that this President has pursued development of energy at home in a responsible and safe way. He believes that that is vital as we continue to make ourselves more energy independent. So both of these principles are -- move forward together. And the President believes that in implementing our approach to conservation as well as implementing our approach to energy, Sally Jewell will be an excellent Secretary of the Interior in carrying that agenda forward.
12:45 P.M. EST