Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/21/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:02 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. I wanted to mention at the top, because the President will be speaking, as you know, in the Rose Garden, that we’ll try for a 1:50 hard-out end to this briefing, in your interest -- I hope you agree.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. No announcements.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions -- one on immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham said that the agreement that they reached in the Senate that guarantees some extra Republican votes, virtually militarizes the border and it adds 20,000 new agents, 18 drones -- surveillance drones, and 350 miles of new fencing that will cost them more than $30 billion. The President supports this? The President endorses this idea?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, what we’ve seen is continued progress in the Senate towards the goal of legislation that would comprehensively reform our immigration system. And as I understand it, they’re still working through the details of this border security amendment and haven’t filed it yet, but we’re certainly pleased that Republicans and Democrats continue to work together towards common-sense immigration reform.
And this agreement would constitute a breakthrough on the bipartisan effort, and we applaud the tireless work that has gone into it and the broad effort.
I don’t have specifics; the amendment hasn’t been filed. But remember that the President insisted, now two years ago, when he put forward his principles for comprehensive immigration reform, that border security, enhanced border security, be part of it. His commitment to border security has been demonstrated by his record on this issue since he took office, by the increase already in the -- substantial increase in the number of border security guards; the increase in technology; and the reduction in crossings and increase in apprehension.
So the President is committed to border security. He has made clear that he insists that all his principles be met, and that includes, obviously, a clear path to earned citizenship. But we’ll await the details, but it would certainly constitute a breakthrough in this process.
Q I wanted to ask you about the meeting today with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. I think that’s been essentially dormant for many years. What are the President’s goals? He’s talked about maybe releasing more information. And does he want to give this board a particular deadline to operate on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you a few things. First of all, as you noted, the President will meet for the first time with the recently constituted Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. PCLOB -- a somewhat unfortunate acronym -- (laughter) -- is an independent -- we got to work on that, right? But the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is an independent agency comprised of five individuals, nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The chair, David Medine, was confirmed just last month.
The President looks forward to hearing from members of the board about their areas of focus and discussing recent developments, including the disclosure of classified information. The President believes that PCLOB can be an important part of the national conversation on these issues. But in the coming weeks, the President and members of his administration will begin meeting with a range of stakeholders on the subject of protecting privacy in the digital era.
As you know, the purpose of the board is twofold: to analyze and review actions the executive branch takes to protect the nation from terrorism, ensuring that the need for such actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties; and to ensure that liberty concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of law regulations and policies related to efforts to protect the nation against terrorism.
The board is required to report -- I think this goes to part of your question -- it’s required to report to Congress not less than semiannually.
So the President looks forward to this meeting. And we have seen, in the wake of these unauthorized disclosures of classified information, a developing debate about these issues. The President, as you know, believes that this is an important and worthy debate. He has made clear his views on the tradeoffs involved in finding the balance between our need to protect our citizens, protect our country, and our need to retain our values and privacy. But he believes that that’s a discussion that we should engage in. And he has taken efforts, as you know, to declassify information related to these disclosures, and he has made clear that he wants to continue to have this conversation because he thinks it’s very important.
Q So he says he welcomes a debate, but he also says he feels like he’s struck the right balance. Isn’t that a little bit like saying, I welcome the NBA playoffs but this is the outcome I want?
MR. CARNEY: No, because the President understands that he is not the only important voice in this debate and that these are issues that are extremely important and they go beyond the kinds of disclosures that we’ve had recently, but go to the age that we live in and the digital era that we live in, and the balance we need to find between our security and the protection of our privacy.
Q Last, any reaction to Senator McConnell’s speech today on the First Amendment?
MR. CARNEY: Be a little bit more specific?
Q He gave a speech on the First Amendment and claimed that the President is out to punish anybody who opposes him. He says that the IRS is simply one example of the various efforts that this administration has taken to undermine First Amendment rights of Americans.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I’m sure the Minority Leader in the Senate is aware, the independent inspector general has testified and has made clear in his report that he has found no evidence that anyone outside of the IRS had any involvement in the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status. So I would say that that charge is demonstrably bogus.
Q Jay, any specific recommendation from this meeting today? Or is this just a “get to know you” sort of session?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s certainly more than a “get to know you” session. It is part of a process. It’s the first meeting the President will have with this newly constituted board. There will be a number of issues discussed. It will be held in the Situation Room to allow for the discussion of classified matters, but it will be part of a process.
And the board is obviously an independent agency. Its membership, I think, is known and represents some real expertise in the areas that a board like this considers. And the President believes that this meeting is part of a process that is not limited to this discussion with the board, but that this meeting is part of that process that is already underway and he believes needs to involve all types of stakeholders.
Q There’s some anticipation that the President is going to have an announcement about climate change next week -- limiting carbon emissions from power plants. Is that something he’d like to do, impose limits on carbon emissions on power plants?
MR. CARNEY: Steve, as you know from the President’s inaugural address and his State of the Union address, this is an issue -- climate change -- the President cares deeply about. That's why he and his administration made significant progress in his first time to reduce carbon emissions, which are currently at a 20-year low, by doubling our use of renewable energy; establishing the toughest fuel economy standards in our history; and promoting efficiency in our homes and businesses. And those steps are already making a lasting impact and bringing benefits to the American people today.
The President has committed himself to continuing to work on these issues. He also made clear in his State of the Union speech that if Congress wasn’t going to act to protect future generations, he would take action. He explicitly announced that he was directing his Cabinet to come up with executive actions that he can take to reduce pollution and prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and to speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
So this is -- the President has telegraphed very clearly that he intends to continue progress on this issue. He will continue to address this issue in the future. He committed to that in the State of the Union address, in his inaugural address, and you can expect that you will hear from him on this issue in the future.
Q Next week?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don't have an announcement for you about when the President will next address this issue, but he certainly intends to keep his commitment.
Q Thanks, Jay. Yesterday on CNN, Senator John McCain reiterated that he didn’t think the administration was doing enough to help the dire situation in Syria. And referring to the recent announcement by the administration to further assist the rebels, he said, "Light weapons do not do well against Scud missiles and tanks, and it's just shameful." Any reaction from this -- strong reaction from Senator McCain?
MR. CARNEY: Under the President's leadership, the United States of America is the leader in the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and we have stepped up that assistance consistently over recent months. We have also significantly increased our assistance to the Syrian opposition, direct assistance, as well as to the Syrian Supreme -- the opposition's Supreme Military Council. And as you know, the President has authorized the expansion of our assistance to the opposition, including to the Supreme Military Council, and we will be consulting with Congress -- including, I'm sure, with Senator McCain -- on these matters in the coming weeks.
The approach the President takes to these issues is to evaluate policy options, including options in the provision of assistance to the Syrian opposition, based on whether they would hasten the achievement of our goal here, which is to bring about a political transition in Syria. And the President is fully aware -- you've heard him address this recently -- of the circumstances in Syria, the fact that Assad continues to slaughter his own people, and aware of the fact that we need to work with our partners and allies and the opposition to strengthen the opposition.
But the ultimate goal here is to bring about a political transition -- one that results in a governing authority that respects the rights of all Syrians; that maintains the state that combats terrorism and that reflects the will of the Syrian people -- all of the Syrian people. And we are working with our partners and allies and the opposition to help bring that about. And the President will continue to assess the options available to him, even as he, as you know, has authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council.
Q But he believes that the assistance so far, or what will be coming soon, is enough to deal with the current situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Dan, I'm not going to -- I can't inventory to you the kinds of assistance that we are providing, or we will be providing. I can tell you that it reflects the assessment of the President and his team about what are the necessary steps now to be taken in terms of the assistance that we can provide to help the opposition. And we will obviously continue to assess our options when it comes to the provision of different kinds of assistance.
But again, all of these decisions are made through a filter here that is designed to ensure that we are making choices and policy decisions that help move us closer to our goal here, which is a transition in Syria to a post-Assad governing authority.
Q Just to follow on Jim's question about the balance between privacy and security. So the President believes that the right balance currently exists, but will PCLOB, if they come back with additional guidance, advice, could all of this be rebalanced?
MR. CARNEY: I think that, yes, that the President wants to have this debate. He wants to hear the opinions and concerns of all stakeholders, because this is an important issue that affects our lives in the 21st century profoundly. And you've heard the President speak about this on a number of occasions recently, and know where he stands.
He has -- having come into office and assessed the programs that exist, and taken steps to enhance the oversight of those programs -- come to the conclusion that the proper balance, in his view, is being struck; that these programs are subject to substantial review -- both oversight by Congress and review by the courts, authorization by the courts. But he certainly believes that we need to evaluate them consistently and debate them and make judgments about how we're striking that balance.
But it's important to note that the programs as they exist now do have within them, by law and regulation, substantial oversight -- congressional and judicial review. And those kinds of restrictions help bring about the balance that the President believes we need to seek.
Q Did the President watch the game last night?
MR. CARNEY: He did.
Q What did he think about the results?
MR. CARNEY: He said not long ago in the Oval Office that he was simply sad that it was over, that it was a great series -- two great teams, very dramatic outcome of so many of the games. So he certainly congratulates the Miami Heat, but both teams for playing such a remarkable finals.
Q Back on immigration, Jay. So the cost of this grand compromise is some $30 billion total over the next 10 years. Isn't this an expensive overkill, as Dick Durbin has said it is? Does the White House believe that it's overkill? And is it necessary? Is a border surge really necessary since you've -- the administration has been saying that the border is secure? Why would we spend $30 billion more?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just be clear that the President has overseen substantial improvements in our border security, and that has been testified to by independent observers, as well as Republicans in Congress. And there's data to back that up, incontrovertible data, including the substantial increase already in the border security presence, the Border Patrol agents who have been put on the ground.
It is also true, when it comes to cost, that the independent Congressional Budget Office released their score of the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill prior to this amendment, and found that the bill would reduce the deficit over the next 10 years by $197 billion and about $700 billion over the following decade. That's $900 billion. So I think that is an important thing to note when we're talking about what additional costs might be incurred if this amendment emerges and is included in the bill and passed by the Senate, and hopefully ultimately in a form that meets the President's principles, passed through Congress and onto his desk.
So there is no question that we have done a great deal to improve our border security. The President made clear when he outlined his principles for comprehensive immigration reform that enhanced border security needed to be a central element to this process and to any comprehensive immigration reform legislation. So that has been a priority of his from the beginning. So we welcome the progress on this issue by the Senate. We await the details as they work on them of this amendment. But we certainly support improved border security.
Q But does improved border security mean one agent every thousand feet? Is there a point where this is -- as Senator Durbin said -- this is overkill and that as the old saying goes, “a billion here, a billion here, pretty soon you're talking about some real money”? $30 billion is still a lot of money.
MR. CARNEY: There's no question. And I would simply say that to evaluate the specifics of this amendment before it's been filed would be premature. I would simply say that it does represent substantial bipartisan progress that reflects the bipartisan progress we've seen overall in the Senate -- beginning with the Gang of Eight's work and the proposal that passed through committee -- continuing as we've seen the debate on the floor. And we commend Democrats and Republicans for the work they've done thus far, and we look forward to the final submission of this amendment and consideration of the full bill and passage in the Senate.
Q Can I get your reaction to the failure of the Farm Bill in the House and if you think that portends anything particularly unnerving for this White House as it deals with immigration, a budget cycle that's still unresolved, and a debt ceiling vote later on this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that there's no question that the House has had a difficult time passing legislation in general. But we believe when it comes to immigration reform that the kind of bipartisan progress we've seen in the Senate and the bipartisan work that we've seen in the House will, in the end, carry the day because it is the right thing to do for our businesses, for the middle class, for the economy at large, for deficit reduction -- as the CBO has shown -- and because as outside commentators, maybe even you yourself have noted, it's ultimately in the interest of the Republican Party to do it.
So we certainly hope that the progress we've seen thus far on immigration reform will continue, and it will continue through the Senate and the House, and ultimately result in passage of a bill that meets the President's principles that he can sign into law.
Everybody obviously that is difficult or requires bipartisan support is contentious and encounters obstacles along the way. That has been true for as long as we’ve been here, and I’m sure will continue to be true going forward.
Q Where do things stand on farm policy? There are things that need to be done to maintain food stamps and other elements of this farm policy that's now derailed because the House didn't pass this bill. Where are things, as far as the administration is dealing with Congress on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to -- Major, I just confess that I haven’t spent enough time on that issue today, but we can take the question and get back to you.
Q Shifting back -- shifting, rather, to something the President addressed in Berlin, but there’s been some intervening elements since then. Yesterday, there was scheduled to be the first direct meeting between U.S. representatives and the Taliban in Doha. Is there anything that you can tell us what came from that? And did that in fact happen?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure. I would refer you to the State Department, which has the lead on this. But I’m not sure that was the case in terms of a meeting yesterday. I know that we have made clear that we believe that reconciliation is essential ultimately to the resolution of more than 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
We’ve also made clear that this is going to be hard. The Taliban and Afghan security forces and coalition forces remain at war. And any process that would result in negotiations and efforts towards reconciliation is going to be fraught and difficult, and that is obviously going to be the case and is the case with the developments we’ve seen, which is the opening of an office in Qatar by the Taliban.
So we’ll continue to watch this process. We’ll continue to work with the Afghan government and pursue reconciliation, but --
Q Has there been any attempt to get more clarity from President Karzai since his separation from the U.S. was announced?
MR. CARNEY: On the Taliban talks?
MR. CARNEY: Look, both President Obama and President Karzai have long agreed that a peace process is the best way to ensure the lasting stability of Afghanistan. And we also know that, as I was just saying, that there are years -- decades, in fact, of mistrust to overcome here. So President Karzai knows that reconciliation is essential for the future stability of Afghanistan. We certainly believe that.
We also understand that this has been and will continue to be difficult. And we will continue to work with Afghan security forces as we engage in a military effort, even as we pursue this diplomatic --
Q But nothing that's gone on in the last couple of days to try to get a better sense of where he is on this?
MR. CARNEY: Where --
Q Karzai is.
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that he believes that reconciliation has to be part of a process that leads to long-term civility in Afghanistan. We do as well. And we continue to work with him and with the Afghan government to help bring that about.
Q Jay, following on immigration, you at this podium and the President many times publicly have said that border security is at its highest level ever; apprehensions are at the highest level, et cetera. If all of that is true, why then do we need thousands more Border Patrol agents, as Jim was suggesting a moment ago, if, in fact, we're at the highest level of border security ever?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I was saying, the President included as one of his essential priorities that had to be part of comprehensive immigration reform for him to sign it, would be measures that enhance further our border security. A lot of work has been done. The improvements that you mentioned have occurred, but more work needs to be done. And so we certainly expected border security to be part of comprehensive immigration reform as it emerged from the Senate -- in fact, we insisted that enhanced border security be part of it.
What we have been clear about is that immigration reform had to be comprehensive; that it had to include not just border security, but measures that held businesses accountable, businesses who hired illegal immigrants; it had to reform our immigration -- our legal immigration system; and it had to provide a clear path to earned citizenship for the 11 million illegals living in this country.
So those components all had to be part of it. And border security was one of those priorities.
Q I wanted to ask you about the economy. After the President's news conference Wednesday, as I recall, a few hours later Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made comments that, as you know, have been interpreted all around the world. On the one hand, he said that the economy is doing pretty well, it's getting better, and yet there seems to be this odd reaction where the markets are saying, uh oh, that means the Fed is going to stop buying all these bonds and that interest rates are going up and the economy is going to be in bad shape. How does the White House sort all of this out as people around the country are nervous about how this is affecting their 401(k), how this is affecting their take-home pay? How is the White House sorting out what he said?
MR. CARNEY: Here's what I have to say about the markets and the Fed Chairman and Fed policy.
Q I thought you might. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the economy is continuing to recover. We have had sustained economic growth. We have had sustained private sector job creation. But we are not where we need to be yet.
We have seen improvements in the housing market -- substantial improvements of late -- and that is vitally important as a part of the recovery that we've been undergoing now, from the worst recession since the Great Depression. We continue to focus on the things that are the responsibility of the administration, and the things that we can work with Congress on to keep this economy moving forward. And that includes investments in innovation and infrastructure and education. It includes deficit reduction done in a way that’s balanced, that ensures that we continue to grow and create jobs. And we focus on the things that, as an administration, we should be focusing on, and we don’t comment on areas that are independent of us.
Q Great. But if the markets are basically saying that if the Fed pulls out, then they're not confident in the long-term economy, my question then would be -- so that you don’t have to comment on Mr. Bernanke directly -- what does that say about the recovery that the President has ushered in? On the one hand, you want to trumpet the fact that the economy is recovering; but on the other hand, if it's such a shallow recovery that people are nervous that if the Fed pulls back, things are going to fall backwards, doesn’t that suggest this is not a strong recovery?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm just not going to get into markets and market psychology. I will get into policy and the steps that we can take to ensure that the economy continues to grow.
The President doesn’t believe that -- the President is focused on job creation, economic growth, ensuring that the middle class is secure and that jobs are being created that allow Americans to maintain a middle class lifestyle. And how markets react to that, we pay less attention to than what we can do to keep the economy growing and keep it creating jobs. So I’m just not going to get into the way the market moves.
Q I get it. So last question then -- so that the President could focus on the middle class, as you say, focus on the economy, how can he do that right now when he’s trying to get the immigration bill; when he’s going to be talking about climate change at some point soon, with a pretty big plan, whether it’s next week or future? The NSA -- he’s having the meetings today; this is an important issue. Syria. He’s juggling a lot right now. How do you focus on the economy, like a laser, when you have all this other stuff?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re right, there are a whole host of important issues that the President, the administration, the Congress are dealing with, and that continues to be the case. But the President’s number-one priority, in addition to making sure that he’s doing everything he can to protect the American people and our national security interests, is the economy and economic growth, and the middle class and its security and its expansion.
You have seen, amidst all the various things that you mentioned, the President travel several times on the Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour. That will continue. He will continue to discuss the measures that we need to be taking here in Washington to promote economic growth and investment, to promote the middle class and job creation, even as we deal with these other very important issues.
But, I mean, I think that your question reflects the fact that there is a lot of work to be done here, and we are engaged in that work.
Q Jay, going to back to Afghanistan, the Taliban has offered to release Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five members of the Taliban who are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Is this something that the administration is considering? Is this something that the President would agree to?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the main dialogue that we support is the dialogue between Afghans -- between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, there are some issues that we would like to discuss with the Taliban directly, and this includes the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl, who has been gone for far too long.
We continue to call for and work toward his safe and immediate release. We cannot discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that on a daily basis we are continuing to pursue -- using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools -- the effort to return him home safely. And our hearts are with the Bergdahl family.
With regard to the transfer of Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, we have made -- the United States has not made the decision to do that, though we do expect the Taliban to raise this issue in our discussion, if and when those discussions happen.
As we have long said, however, we would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law.
Q So you haven’t ruled it out?
MR. CARNEY: I’m simply saying that -- first of all, you have to separate the two issues. We are focused on the return -- the safe and immediate return of Sergeant Bergdahl, and we continue to use the tools at our disposal to help bring that about.
We also expect the Taliban to raise the issue of their detainees in discussions that we have with them if those discussions take place. And at this time we’ve made no decisions about the transfer of detainees. And in accordance with law, we would be consulting with Congress should we make any decisions about that. So we remain committed to the closure of Guantanamo Bay, as you know. But separate from that on these specific issues about individual detainees, that would be a process that is done in accordance with law.
Q So when do you expect those discussions to take place? Could they take place as early as Saturday? Secretary Kerry --
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, there have been some developments in that, and they're fairly fluid. I would simply say that this process is going to be hard. We’ve made clear, I think in the background that we provided to you, that this would be difficult, but that we continue to pursue this because we believe and the Afghan government believes and President Karzai believes and understands that, ultimately, lasting stability in Afghanistan can only come through a reconciliation process, a political process.
That's how conflicts like these -- like this one come to an end, and that's been true throughout history. But this process has been difficult. It will probably continue to be difficult and run into obstacles, but we’ll continue to press it. There are other avenues to press for reconciliation beyond the office in Qatar. But we will continue to pursue that avenue, as well as others, even as we pursue the military effort with Afghan security forces.
Q And I want to ask you about the Black Forest fire. It’s destroyed at least 509 homes in Colorado. The government helps to contain wildfires through the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program. But in the President’s 2014 budget, there are about -- it’s cut -- that program is cut by at least 30 percent. So is this really the best way to save, given that you have more wildfires, really, than in past years?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll have to take the question. I’m not familiar with the budget issues here. I know that in response to fires like this, we have provided an enormous amount of assistance and resources in general. I would have to get you specifics with regards to this particular wildfire. But on the issue of budgets, I’ll have to take the question.
Q Okay, and will you get back to me on that question? And one more just about Danny Werfel. He started his job on May 22nd. You said at that point that the President had instructed him to conduct a review of the IRS and to get back to the White House in 30 days. Tomorrow marks about a month. So is there an update on that?
MR. CARNEY: I think that Mr. Werfel has indicated that he would complete that review by the end of June, and we look forward to that completion.
Q Thank you, Jay. Senator McConnell in his speech said that “there’s been a coordinated campaign to use the levers of government to target conservatives and stifle speech. It’s been in full swing and open view for years.” Does the White House believe that the IRS controversy and the targeting of reporters in leak investigations has impinged on democracy?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re conflating a few things there. I’d ask you if in his speech was there a shred of evidence to back up his assertions -- because, as you know and I just said, the independent IG, inspector general, has made clear and testified that he had found no evidence that anyone outside of the IRS had any involvement in the inappropriate targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status, and I’m just curious if there was any other evidence to back up that assertion.
Q So do you believe that there is no evidence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just am not sure what he’s talking about.
Q Was the White House disappointed with Russia’s response to the President’s call for nuclear weapons cuts? And if an agreement was able to be reached, would the President try to do this in a treaty? Or is there a way he could do it without doing so that would not need Senate ratification?
MR. CARNEY: I don't want to get ahead of the process in terms of that. I can say that we had very -- the President had very constructive talks with President Putin on a whole range of issues, including the announcement that he made in his speech in Berlin.
The fact of the matter is we will continue to work with the Russians and continue to pursue this as something that's in the interest of American -- United States national security. The processes and procedures that we follow, we’ll have to evaluate and provide more information about as we move along.
But I think that amid all the other things that have been going on, it’s easy to lose sight of the progress we’ve made on these issues with the Russians and the significance of what the President announced in Berlin.
Q Jay, where do things stand on the student loan bill? Speaker Boehner yesterday said the President hasn’t lifted a finger to get a student loan bill passed.
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I can tell you, Mark. Congress needs to act to prevent student loan rates from doubling on July 1st, and spare 7 million students an average of $1,000 in additional interest over the life of loans that they borrow next year. The President's budget includes a proposal to guarantee students a low rate in July. Democrats in the House and Senate have also put forward strong solutions that would accomplish our most important goal, which is to make sure that those rates don't double in 10 days.
And while we have significant concerns about the specific approach Republicans in the House and Senate have taken, we at least welcome that they have acknowledged that this is an important issue to address, something they did not do when it came up last year.
So we will continue to work with Congress on this matter. And, as I think has been reported, just yesterday, Denis McDonough, the White House Chief of Staff, and other members of the President's senior staff were on the Hill working to find a compromise that can get broad bipartisan support. And in those discussions, we expressed our willingness to make changes to our own proposal, like adding an interest rate cap to try to help break the impasse.
We are encouraged by the bipartisan talks taking place in the Senate this week, and are confident that an agreement that is good for students is within reach. Again, I think while we have real concerns with the approach taken by Republicans, it is certainly a new and welcome development that they've recognized that this is an important issue. As you remember from the debate we had about this last year, there was not the same level of concern.
Q Back to the privacy board for a bit. You mentioned that the board was going to be meeting with stakeholders in the coming weeks or months.
MR. CARNEY: No, I said the President and members of his administration would be. The board is independent. I would refer you to the board for what their schedule of meetings is.
Q Okay. Regarding these meetings then, would some of the meetings involve, what, civil rights groups or Google people?
MR. CARNEY: Google people? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that such people might be considered stakeholders, but I don't have a list of attendees of meetings in the future. But I think there's a broad array of stakeholders and groups that are interested in matters of privacy, as well as institutions and groups that are interested in making sure that we're taking steps necessary within our laws and in keeping with our values to protect the United States and American citizens.
Q And is there any chance that some of these meetings might be public?
MR. CARNEY: All I can tell you is the President will be meeting with stakeholders. We don't have a schedule of meetings or anything to announce to you today. The meeting today is with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. It will be held in the Situation Room to allow for the opportunity to discuss classified information. So there's that.
But obviously, this is a debate that the President believes we need to have. To allow for that debate to involve the public, he has taken steps, as you know, to ensure that as much information as possible be made public while being mindful of the need to protect resources -- sources rather, sources and methods and national security. In the last few weeks, we have provided enhanced transparency on it, and engaged in a robust public discussion about U.S. surveillance practices under Sections 215 and 702.
And yesterday, at the request of the President, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, directed the DNI, in consultation with the Department of Justice, to review Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions and filings relevant to these programs, and to determine what additional information the government can responsibly share about the sensitive and necessarily classified activities undertaken to keep the public safe.
So the President's interest is very much in ensuring that as much information that can be provided and declassified as possible is provided, as long as we're doing so in a way that's responsible and keeping with our national security interests. So that will be part of the process that he hopes will help continue to foster this debate.
Q I'd like to ask about climate. A couple of months ago, Gina McCarthy, the President's EPA nominee, told a senator in response to written questions that there was no consideration of a rule to limit emissions from existing power plants. This week, the President's Climate and Energy Advisor suggested that there is such consideration. So does the administration still stand by McCarthy's statement? Does it need to be revised?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, you said she "suggested." What is a fact is that there's an effort underway involving new power plants.
Q Right, I'm talking about something else.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know you are. But I think it's important for everyone else to understand the distinction here. And I don't have any new policy announcements or executive actions to make today. But the President made clear in his State of the Union address, he made clear generally in his Inaugural Address, that he believes this is an important issue and that where Congress won't act, he will take the actions available to him to make sure that we're doing what's necessary to address these very important matters.
Q But McCarthy said under oath that there was no such rule under consideration. I'm just asking whether that statement is still true.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get into policy discussions. Certainly, we fully support Gina McCarthy and --
Q -- she’s been on the record.
MR. CARNEY: -- yes, and that she testified truthfully in her hearings.
Q Back to the Farm Bill for a minute. Does the President believe there are any consequence for farmers in the agriculture sector for the House's failure to pass the bill? Like, what does he think those are, and what does he want Congress to do now?
MR. CARNEY: As I said earlier, I just haven’t -- I don’t have a lot of detail for you on steps forward now on the Farm Bill. The President obviously believes that Congress needs to act to pass legislation, and we've made that clear in the past. We'll have to get back to you on next steps now that the House has failed to pass a Farm Bill.
Q Does he think the failure to pass it is the fault of House Republicans? Or does he reserve some blame for Democrats --
MR. CARNEY: I think the numbers explain that story pretty clearly.
Q Jay, a simple question: Why Africa? Why now?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, as you know, the President hasn't made a trip -- this is now his second term -- to this very important part of the world where we have --
Q He went to Ghana.
MR. CARNEY: What's that?
Q Except for Ghana.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, except I said a sustained trip; he made a brief stop in Ghana early on. In keeping with the trips that President Bush took in his time in office; in making clear the importance of Africa in a variety of ways -- the President will make a trip next week to engage in three countries with leaders in the region. This is a part of the world that’s seeing substantial economic growth, where there are substantial opportunities, and substantial national security and other national interests for the United States and our allies.
So it's an important trip. We'll have more for you on that. We'll be providing preview information of the trip for the press very soon, but it's a kind of trip that is essential to promoting U.S. national security and economic interests globally.
Q Might the President be visiting with Mr. Mandela while he's there?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific schedule announcements to make today. Obviously, we're very mindful of President Mandela, former President Mandela's health conditions and the reports about them. But we'll have more details about the trip for you as we get closer to it.
Q On Afghanistan, we were told that there was close coordination with President Karzai about the talks in Doha, Qatar, yet he sounded very surprised about the conditions and the formalities for these meetings. Is that -- he actually accused the United States of contradicting statements with acts. Is that President Karzai being President Karzai again? Or there was something that was overlooked in the preparation for this meeting actually? I want to ask you if the United States approved raising the Taliban flag over the office and having a sign that calls it the “Mission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that there is obviously a great deal of mistrust, as you would expect, between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This is a conflict that’s been going on for 30 years, and an active war that’s been going on for a decade. That mistrust continues and it will continue, and it will be difficult to bring the parties together to pursue a reconciliation process. But that process is essential to the long-term stability of Afghanistan. And President Karzai has stated that he believes that and understands that.
It is certainly our policy and our position here in the United States that that’s an important element here and an important step that has to be taken. There are obviously -- that mistrust has been manifested in the way the opening of this office has played out. We hope that the issues that have caused concern here can be resolved, and that the office will be opened and that talks can be engaged in. But whether it's through this process or another, we will continue to pursue reconciliation, and so will the Afghan government because that is ultimately the only course to pursue for the long-term stability of the country.
It is difficult -- friends don’t negotiate with each other, enemies do. And it is hard to do this, and I think conflicts throughout history demonstrate that. But in the end, it is the only way to ensure the peace and stability of Afghanistan in the future.
Q Did you sign off on the sign on the name for the office and the flag?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the Qataris, where the office was opened. There is no question that there's been some mistrust and misunderstandings here. That, as I understand it -- and the State Department would have more for you on it -- is being worked on. But I’m not going to predict an outcome to that process except to say that the difficulties and obstacles that we’ve seen reflect decades of conflict and mistrust that has to be -- if not overcome -- dealt with so that a reconciliation process can move forward.
All the way in the back. Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Google people, the President actually just chose Google people -- the White House first privacy officer, Nicole Wong. How will she address the public concern on privacy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the fact that this position exists reflects the importance we attach to the issue. I would point you to everything I just said about the President’s views on the balance that we need to strike between our national security interests and protecting the American people, as well as protecting our values and our privacy.
He obviously sets the policy of the administration. So we’ll have more for you on that debate and our participation in it as we move forward.
Q Thanks, Jay. Could I ask you one --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I got a week ahead, too.
Q -- something that's developing right now.
MR. CARNEY: You going to break some news on me?
Q Well, the LA Times is reporting that the U.S. has been training Syrian rebels in bases in Jordan and Turkey. I wondered if you had any comment on that specifically. And more, in general, do you know whether the U.S. has, indeed, been training -- not boots on the ground, not supplying weapons -- but certainly training Syrian rebels?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you, Jim, is that we have stepped up our assistance. But I cannot inventory for you all the elements of that assistance. And as the President said, I cannot and will not get into some specifics about the assistance that we provide.
Q But this story says that the training has preceded this decision by the President.
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand that. But we can't comment on the specifics of -- around our programs, all of them related to the Syrian opposition. So I just -- we can tell you that we have provided and will continue to provide substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition, as well as the Supreme Military Council. And we will work with our allies, as well as the opposition, to make policy decisions that help bring about the ultimate goal that we seek, which is a transition there to a governing authority -- to an end of the violence and to a governing authority that reflects the will of all the Syrian people, that respects the civil liberties of all the Syrian people, and that maintains a functioning state in Syria because of the importance of ensuring that the conflict that we’ve seen there does not continue to spill into the rest of the region.
Q So you don't feel a need to call that story inaccurate?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m just not going to comment on the specifics of the kinds of assistance that we provide.
Q Jay, it’s a very specific story and talks about the two-week courses with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter anti-tank rifles and 23-millimeter anti-aircraft weapons at bases along the border, including one base -- a new base run by the United States. Are you denying the story --
MR. CARNEY: I’m simply saying that given the nature of the assistance that we provide, and the way in which we implement our assistance programs, I can't give you an itemized list or be specific about every single aspect of what we are doing.
The important point here is that because of the actions we have seen the Assad regime take, we have decided to increase both the scope and scale of our assistance to the opposition, and we’ve been very clear about that over the last weeks and months.
But I can't -- because of the nature of the programs and the way we implement them, I can't comment or inventory on a specifics of all of them. I think I’ve given the answer that I can give.
Q Week ahead.
MR. CARNEY: Now I’m going to give the week ahead. Schedule for the week of June 24th, 2013.
On Monday, the President will host a meeting at the White House with business leaders to discuss the importance of common-sense immigration reform, including the Congressional Budget Office analysis that concludes that immigration reform would promote economic growth and reduce the deficit.
On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
On Wednesday morning, the President and the First Family will depart for their trip to Africa. There will be a call previewing that trip later this afternoon -- Jon-Christopher. So anyone interested in more details can dial in.
The trip will continue through the weekend, and the President and the First Lady will return July 2nd.
Thank you all very much. Have a great weekend.
Q Do you know who the business leaders will be, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Do you know who the business leaders will be?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll have, I’m sure, more information for you about that later.
1:52 P.M. EDT