Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 07/08/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:31 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, friends. It is, as always, an honor and a privilege to be before you today. It’s been a while. For that reason, I had a little catching up to do, and I apologize for being tardy.
Before I take your questions, let me just note that, as a follow-up to this morning’s Cabinet meeting, the President is meeting with a group of health care innovators this evening to discuss the administration’s partnership with the private sector to support future innovation in health care delivery systems.
Fueled by the Recovery Act, adoption of electronic health records has doubled among office-based physicians since 2008, and quadrupled among hospitals. These developments have also been supported by the administration’s Health Data Initiative, which is making government data available to private health care providers and to the public. The President will be talking to leaders in health care innovation this evening about how these new data-powered tools are already making an impact on patient care.
And with that, I will go to your questions. Nedra.
Q Thanks, Jay. We're seeing chaos erupt in Egypt right now. The latest reports are more than 50 dead in protests. How is the United States addressing that? And can you update us on what the President’s thinking is on whether this should be labeled a coup or not?
MR. CARNEY: Let me begin by saying that the United States remains deeply concerned by the increasing violence across Egypt and by Egypt’s dangerous level of political polarization. We strongly condemn any violence, as well as any incitement to violence.
We express our condolences to those who have been killed and their families, and hope that those who are wounded or have been wounded recover quickly. We call on the military to use maximum restraint responding to protestors, just as we urge all those demonstrating, to do so peacefully. We also condemn the explicit calls to violence made by the Muslim Brotherhood.
During this transitional period, Egypt’s stability and democratic political order are at stake, and Egypt will not be able to emerge from this crisis unless its people come together to find a nonviolent and inclusive path forward. We continue to urge all political, military and religious leaders to prioritize efforts to bridge Egypt’s deep divisions.
The United States is not aligned with, nor is it supporting any particular political party or group. We remain actively engaged with all sides, and we are committed to supporting the Egyptian people as they seek to salvage their nation’s democracy. But we have been clear that these decisions belong to Egyptians.
Looking forward, we will work with the transitional Egyptian government to promote a quick and responsible return to a sustainable, democratically elected civilian government. But a transitional period must be defined by reconciliation, rather than reprisals or rejection of the political process. We call on the Egyptian military to avoid arrests targeting specific groups or movements, and to avoid restrictions on the media. We also call on all political parties and movements to remain engaged in dialogue, and to commit to participating in a political process to hasten the return of full authority to a democratically elected government.
In answer to your question, specifically, about what we call what happened, I'll be blunt. This is an incredibly complex and difficult situation. President Obama made clear our deep concern about the decision made by the Egyptian armed forces to remove President Morsi from power and to suspend the constitution. It is also important to acknowledge that tens of millions of Egyptians have legitimate grievances with President Morsi’s undemocratic form of governance and they do not believe that this was a coup. Indeed, they were demanding a new government. There are -- and again, to be blunt, there are significant consequences that go along with this determination and it is a highly charged issue for millions of Egyptians who have differing views about what happened.
So, in answer to your question, I would say that we are going to take the time necessary to review what has taken place and to monitor efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge an inclusive and democratic way forward. And as we do, we will review our requirements under the law and we will do so consistent with our policy objectives. And we will also, of course, consult with Congress on the matter.
Q We just moved a story with some administration officials saying that the White House -- showing that they’d really like to -- prefer to have an outcome where this isn't labeled a coup. Is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: I think the point is -- and I’m trying to be very candid here -- is that this is a complex situation and it is not in our interest to move unnecessarily quickly in making a determination like that because we need to be mindful of our objective here, which is to assist the Egyptian people in their transition to democracy and to remain faithful to our national security interests.
So I think that it is fair to say that we will take the time necessary to review the situation, to observe the efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge a way forward, and then we’ll consult with Congress and review our obligations under the law, mindful of our policy objectives.
Q There was a report over the weekend that the United States had diplomats urging the Brotherhood to -- the Muslim Brotherhood to accept Morsi’s ouster. Can you comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: I can simply say that we, obviously, had -- we were engaged with Egyptian counterparts throughout this process and we’re very focused on the democratic process and on, as we made clear, and President Obama and others made clear, on the need for the government to be responsive to the people of Egypt. In the end, decisions about who will lead Egypt in a democratic process will be made by the Egyptian people. And we urge on the authorities an effort to move that transition forward and to return to democratically elected governance as soon as possible.
Q Jay, what is it exactly you need to review in determining whether it was a coup or not? I mean, it seems pretty clear -- the army moved in, Morsi moved out.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I’m being very clear with you and Nedra and everyone here that this is a complex and difficult issue with significant consequences. And it’s also an issue that’s highly charged for tens of millions of Egyptians who have differing views about what happened -- millions who are calling for a new government; many, many other Egyptians took the opposite view -- and you have an extremely polarized situation in Egypt. And our objective here is to promote efforts at reconciliation and inclusiveness, and a movement forward towards a return to democratic governance and progress on the democratic transition in Egypt. And we will review our obligations and requirements under the law, and we will consult with Congress, but we will take the time necessary to do that in a way that is responsible and serves our longer-term policy objectives.
Q Are you trying to find a way not to cut off aid?
MR. CARNEY: No, we’re -- I think I would say on the question of aid, the relationship between the United States and Egypt goes beyond a provision of assistance, and it is based on decades of partnership and our commitment, this country’s commitment, to the Egyptian people. And everything we do will be focused on supporting a reduction in the polarization within Egypt and in hastening Egypt’s return to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
And we view this decision, this determination through that prism. As we deliberate through this process and we engage with Egyptian authorities and observe what’s happening and monitor what’s happening in Egypt going forward, we will keep our focus on what we can do to help hasten a transition back to democratically elected governance, what we can do to help foster reconciliation in Egypt in a situation that’s highly polarized, as we call on all sides to refrain from violence and to refrain from any incitement of violence -- because it’s obviously an extraordinarily complex and difficult situation.
Q As you no doubt know, there are protesters in Egypt who are carrying signs with inflammatory messages, accusing the President of backing terrorism and terrorists. They’re upset. Can you explain to those people what factors you take into consideration, or the President takes into consideration as he debates whether to continue aid?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we will -- I mean, the factors are what I described, which is what decisions should we make and can we make in accordance with our requirements under the law, in consultation with Congress, that foster the objectives that we have in terms of supporting the Egyptian people as they make this transition to democracy, and what supports our national security interests.
When it comes to our position -- I mean, we’ve been very clear that we don’t support a group; we don’t support a party; we support a process. And the President has also made clear that democracy is not simply the holding of elections, it is democratic governance. And it’s very important, in Egypt and elsewhere, where this transition is taking place, or has the potential to take place, that everyone recognizes that holding an election is the first step in making a transition to democracy, and that there are many other and many difficult steps ahead beyond that.
And we’re focused, when it comes to Egypt, on a democratic process taking root and reconciliation taking place so that the Egyptian people can enjoy greater prosperity and greater freedoms in the future. And that is something that’s in the interest of Egypt, of the Egyptian people, of the region, and of the United States.
Q Okay. Can we switch to Snowden for a minute? What is the White House’s message to Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, who have offered or are considering offering asylum to Snowden? And in order to leave Russia, if he were to, Snowden would have to pass through Russian passport control. What message is the administration conveying to Russia about the consequences Russia might pay if they allowed that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say that the United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries through which Mr. Snowden might transit or which might serve as final destinations for Mr. Snowden and we’ve made very clear that he has been charged with a felony, or with felonies, and, as such, he should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel other than travel that would result in him returning to the United States.
So all of our consultations through the appropriate channels have included that basic message. And that has been true, as we’ve said all along, in our conversations with the appropriate Russian authorities that while we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, we believe that there is a strong legal justification for Russia to expel Mr. Snowden, and given that he is wanted here on felony charges, that he should be returned to the United States.
Now, we have a very important relationship with Russia and, as the President has said and others have said, we believe that this is not something that should negatively affect our relationship with Russia.
It is something that we are pursuing through the normal channels here -- diplomatic and law enforcement channels. And I’m not going to speculate about outcomes that we hope don’t come to pass, because we believe that the case is very strong that Mr. Snowden has been charged with felonies and needs to be returned to the United States.
Q There have been diplomatic contacts to each of those countries from the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: The State Department would have answers about which specific contacts have been made with which countries, but I think that we have been having contacts through diplomatic and law enforcement channels with all of the countries that might serve as transit points or final destination points. And obviously that regards -- that includes countries that have been identified as having received asylum requests.
Q Quick follow-up, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Just to be clear, is the administration actively considering cutting off aid to Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say, Jon, is that we are monitoring the situation in Egypt. We are taking the time necessary to make the determination about what happened and what to label it, if you will, and we will work with Congress on that and on the issue of further assistance. I would point out simply that our relationship with Egypt is not limited to or defined solely by the assistance that we provide to Egypt; it is broader and deeper than that. And it is bound up in America’s support for the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy, for a better economic and political future, and we support that -- we support that process.
So our decisions with regards to the events that have happened recently in Egypt will be -- and how we label them and analyze them will be made with our policy objectives in mind, in accordance with the law, and in accordance with and in consultation with Congress.
Q But I’m just asking a very specific question -- I think you answered it in there, but let me just be direct -- $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt -- is one of the things under active consideration cutting off that aid?
MR. CARNEY: I think it would not be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs to Egypt. We think -- not just I, but we think that it would not be in the best interest of the United States to do that. We are reviewing our obligations under the law and we will be consulting with Congress about the way forward with regards to, specifically, the assistance package that we provide.
Q In other words, no immediate cutoff of aid?
MR. CARNEY: We think that would not be in our best interest.
Q Okay. And you said -- and it was said in the statement over the weekend -- the desire to return to a democratically elected government. That is “a” democratically elected government. The White House is not calling for the return of “the” democratically elected government of President Morsi?
MR. CARNEY: We are calling for a return to democratic governance, the democratically elected government. It is for the Egyptian people to decide who their leaders are. We have -- the President has expressed his deep concern about the actions of the Egyptian military in removing President Morsi from power, but we are mindful, as I said at the top, about the polarization in Egypt and the views of millions of Egyptians about the undemocratic governance of the Morsi government and their demands for a new government.
And again, I'm trying to be candid here about -- you’ll get no argument from me if you go on the air and say that this is a highly complicated situation that requires very carefully monitoring and engagement, and that we do not -- we want to take action that, and make decisions, that helps Egypt move forward in this process and that helps Egypt reconcile, and Egyptians reconcile, as they move forward towards democratic governance in the future.
Q But as deeply concerned as you are about how Morsi was removed, you are not calling for him to be reinstated in any way?
MR. CARNEY: We are calling for a return to democratic governance and to a democratically elected government.
Q And then just to follow up on the question about the reporting over the weekend about what exactly the administration’s involvement in all of this was -- The New York Times reported that Susan Rice spoke to a top Morsi advisor to tell him that the takeover was about to happen. Did that call actually take place as described?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have specific conversations to read out to you. I think that the military issued the deadline. It wasn’t for any American or non-Egyptian official to inform anyone in Egypt about that deadline. So I don't think that's a particularly illuminating point in terms of who conveyed to, or how it was conveyed to Egyptian officials that the military had set a deadline and intended to act on it.
What I will say is that we were obviously engaged with Egyptian officials in conversations that reflected the position the President had made clear, which is that he believed that democracy was more than just elections and that it was incumbent upon, and remains incumbent upon, Egyptian authorities to be responsive to the people they govern -- to all of the people they govern. And I'll leave it at that. But that’s the role that we have and will continue to play in Egypt, which is to advise adherence to democratic governance, to responsiveness to the rights and concerns of all the Egyptian people, and to reconciliation and negotiation over conflict and violence.
Q What would you say to Senators Leahy and McCain who look at the situation and say it’s obvious to them it’s a coup, that the law is very specific about when a coup occurs what needs to happen with U.S. foreign aid to a place where such an event has occurred? And in Senator McCain’s words, he believes it would be a pressure point on this transitional government to achieve some of the objectives you’ve just described. What would you say to those Senators who come to that conclusion and believe that it’s important for the United States to declare a coup because that's what’s happened and to implement the law as it’s written to achieve objectives that you’ve already outlined?
MR. CARNEY: First, I think I would say that we are going to make this determination based on the timeline that is in the best interest of a democratic transition in Egypt, that is consistent with our legal requirements and our national security interests. We will also --
Q So it could become a coup?
MR. CARNEY: Major, I've been very blunt about the fact that we are going to examine this and monitor this and take the time necessary in making the determination in a manner that's consistent with our policy objectives and our national security interests. And that process will include, when it comes to our assistance program to Egypt, consultations with Congress, including, I'm sure, the members that you mentioned.
But we do not believe that it is in our interest to make a precipitous decision or determination now to change our assistance program right away. Rather we believe it’s important to evaluate this, to examine our obligations under law, to monitor what is happening in Egypt and the steps that are being taken towards a return to democratic governance, and also to, as we do, make clear our view that violence is not acceptable, to call on the military to exercise maximum restraint, to call on protestors to protest peacefully, to call on groups and parties
-- and specifically in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood -- not to incite violence. We condemn any effort to incite violence because that’s not in the interest of the Egyptian people or the Egyptian nation going forward.
Q To follow on Jon’s question, it’s clear that this administration is not eager to have Morsi come back to power, but there have been conversations in Egypt today about perhaps a referendum on Morsi, to have another go-round, have a democratic expression of the existing government as it was, because there seemed to be very little momentum behind creating a different governing structure. Would the administration be open to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that we do not pick Egypt’s leaders. We support a process, a democratic process. It is up to the Egyptian --
Q -- the administration would support?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we support a return to democratic governance and an elected democratic government. How that process unfolds will be up to the Egyptian people. We've made clear what our broad views are about what needs to happen and should happen in the interest of Egypt, as well as our national security interests. But I would not rule in or rule out any manner that's legitimate that achieves that goal which is a return to a democratically elected government.
Q You said you don't want any arrests and you don't want any intimidation of the media. How would you evaluate the transitional government’s performance so far on those particular criteria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we've made clear -- a couple of things. One, the situation in any --
Q Both are happening.
MR. CARNEY: And violence is happening, too. And we condemn violence and we call on all sides to exercise restraint. We call on the military to exercise restraint. We call on protestors to protest peacefully. We call on parties not to incite violence. We call instead on all parties to engage in a process of reconciliation and negotiation that can hasten a return to democratic governance.
This is a volatile and difficult situation. It’s a very challenging situation, mostly for the Egyptian people but for everyone involved, including the United States. And we want to make sure that --
Q -- off to a bad start.
MR. CARNEY: I think that what is not helpful is to give an hourly or daily grade. We make our broad objectives known. We condemn violence and incitement to violence, and we urge all parties to reconcile, to negotiate, and to move forward on a democratic transition.
Q Is it your feeling, Jay, that there’s some ambiguity in the law that says the U.S. must suspend military aid to any country in which a democratically elected leader is removed by the military?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying, Wendell, that it is in our interests to take the time necessary to review what has taken place and to monitor efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge an inclusive and democratic way forward. And I’m being very blunt that there is not a simple or easy answer here and that it is in our interest to acknowledge that there is not a simple and easy answer here. It is, rather, in our interests to observe, to engage, to consult with Congress, and to do what we can to hasten a process in Egypt that encourages nonviolence and encourages a return quickly to democratic governance.
Q Is it your view that the President can waive this law or the requirement that the U.S. suspend aid?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we are going to take the time necessary to review before we make any kind of determination of the nature that you’re suggesting.
Q And is it your feeling the President can determine what time is necessary to review -- can set the time frame? And what would that be?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have -- I’m not going to give a timeline for you because I think what we have said and what I’ve just said is that we’re going to take the time necessary to review this. We’re going to consult with Congress. We’re going to do so in a way that reflects the requirements that exist under law. And we’re going to do so in a way that we hope enhances the possibility of fulfillment of our long-term policy objectives here, which is a transition in Egypt to democratic governance and a democratically elected government.
Q Is this a matter of days? Weeks? Months?
MR. CARNEY: I will refrain from putting an end period on a process that is currently under review. I will simply say that we will take the time necessary and we will do so in consultation with Congress. Obviously a number of members in both Houses have important views to be heard and we will consult with members of Congress on this very important matter.
Q One final thing -- a couple of members of Congress, Senator McCain in particular, have said you’re behind the curve again. He accused you of being behind the curve on Mubarak. What’s your response?
MR. CARNEY: The curve we’re interested in is the curve that leads towards a stable, democratic Egypt where the rights of all Egyptians are respected and upheld; where Egypt has the opportunity to grow and thrive economically and to fulfill its enormous potential in the region and in the world. And those objectives are very much in the national security interests of the United States and our allies. And those are the objectives that we’re mindful of.
When we’re taking the time necessary to make the determination that we’ve been talking about -- I’m being very blunt with you -- we’re taking the time necessary because that’s, in our view, the right thing to do in the furtherance of our policy objectives and in what we hope will be a return to democratic governance in Egypt.
Q Jay, I want to ask you about the Affordable Care Act, if I can, quickly. The administration announced it’s suspending -- on Tuesday they said that it’s suspending the employer mandate in the act, that it’s, we have now learned, waiving a requirement in the law that people’s incomes be verified before they’re able to receive a premium subsidy to buy insurance and these new exchanges. Obviously, it doesn’t change for insurance companies. They’d still have to waive preexisting conditions, and individuals would have to buy coverage or pay a fine. So what do you say to all those people who have to follow the law when they see the administration is making some of these changes and they say, why do we have to follow the law when you guys could change it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, everyone has to follow the law. But we make determinations that are in the interest of successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And we are flexible because that’s the right thing to do and to be.
We have made clear all along when it comes to working with states that we are flexible with the way that they implement the Affordable Care Act. When we see things that can be changed in a way that makes health care reform more effective -- for example, in the initial 21-page application, we saw that that could be improved, and we improve it and turned it into a 3-page application. And this is a situation, when you talk about the delay of employer responsibility provision, that affects about 4 percent of employers with more than 50 workers. The fact is that 96 percent of employers, roughly, already provide insurance.
And numerous experts agree on this matter that the decision to postpone implementation of this provision of the Affordable Care Act will have no significant impact on implementation overall of the Affordable Care Act. And that’s because we’re interested in getting it right, because we believe that getting it right will further the benefits that will be available to more and more Americans as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
Q People with different perspectives on this issue can view it as -- the delay as a problem, or as you guys view it, as the desire to try to get it right. Are there more delays? Will there be more problems with the Affordable Care Act that need to be resolved, or more issues that need to be resolved?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think you have to look at this as, when it comes to implementation, we have made enormous strides. The marketplaces will open on October 1st, as advertised. And come January 1st, those who have applied will have insurance available to them through those marketplaces.
Meanwhile, we have already seen significant achievements of implementation take place. The administration has met and exceeded its goal for 50 percent of doctor offices and 80 percent of eligible hospitals having electronic records by the end of 2013.
The Affordable Care Act is driving competition. For example, one out of four health insurers is newly offering in the individual market where HHS is running the marketplaces. So that, I think, demonstrates that the creation of these marketplaces is adding to competition and, therefore, having a positive impact, a downward impact on costs, in many cases, because that’s what competition can do.
Today, only one or two insurers dominate the market in many states or most states. And with the implementation of the marketplaces, the exchanges, and the arrival of new insurers in these states, you’re creating competition where none had really existed before. That has a positive impact on costs and it provides more choice to consumers, and that’s a good thing.
Q I want to ask you one other separate topic right now. There’s reporting today that records about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout were ordered purged from Pentagon computers and sent to the CIA, that being viewed as a place where they could be more easily shielded from Freedom of Information Act requests and the like. This is coming from the Pentagon’s Inspector General report that refers to the secret movement --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that report. I would refer you to the Pentagon.
Q Understanding that, even if you’re not aware of the report, is the White House comfortable -- given that this is the White House that’s presented itself as the most transparent or pledged to make it the most transparent -- in a move like that taking place?
MR. CARNEY: You’re reading -- you’re telling me something that’s happened that I’m not aware of. I’m not aware of the report. I would say that the evidence of our efforts of transparency and the comparative to previous administrations is pretty strong. So, again, I don’t have a response to that because I haven’t seen the report.
Q Perhaps you could be a little bit even more blunt on Egypt. It seems that what you’re saying is that the determination of whether this was a coup has less to do with the circumstances of Morsi’s ouster and what happened last week than what the military does going forward in terms of democracy, rule of law, protests. Is that fair?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s fair to say that this is a complex and difficult situation in which the factors that you mention are important. U.S. national security interests are important. A process that results in Egypt and the polarized factions within Egypt reconciling and returning to a path of transition to democracy is important.
So I think that what we don’t believe is necessary is to hastily reach a determination when the right course of action in our view is to review this in a deliberate manner, to consult with Congress, to review our obligations under the law and to, in the meantime, encourage the authorities in Egypt to hasten a return to democratic governance in that country and to a democratically elected government.
Again, I think that the bluntness and the candor that I’m trying to provide here reflects -- rather than get up here and say I don’t see the problem here, I’m saying that the complexity of the problem, of the situation in Egypt, demands the kind of assessments that we’re making about how to move forward, and how to evaluate the determination in terms of what happened and how that relates to our assistance program.
Q Thanks. Are you saying that if the military removes a leader but it’s acting on the will of the people, it’s not a coup, and that’s what you’re trying to determine?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not making broad pronouncements that apply beyond a specific answer to the question about a determination and whether and when it will be made with regards to Egypt. And I’m simply saying that because of the complexity and difficulty of the problem in Egypt, the situation in Egypt, the fluidity of the situation in Egypt -- which includes substantial violence just today -- that we believe that we need to review this in a way that is reflective of both our legal obligations but also our objectives in Egypt, which includes, most importantly, a return to democratic governance, a return to a democratically elected government, and to an end to the kind of polarization and violence that we see today.
Q I had a couple of specific questions on whether President Obama has spoken since Mr. Morsi’s removal with any of the following people -- Mr. Morsi, Mr. Baradei, or the interim President, Mr. Mansour. And if the President hasn’t, who is the highest level U.S. official who has?
MR. CARNEY: We have read out I think a variety of meetings that the President has had on the situation in Egypt as well as some of the communications that have taken place between U.S. officials and Egyptian authorities. I don’t have any more specifics to provide to you. I don’t have any calls or communications that involve the President to read out to you. You know from our readouts the engagements he has had in the days since President Morsi’s removal from office and during that process. But I just don’t have any calls to read out involving the President.
Q Do we know that he hasn’t spoken with any of those people personally?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have any calls to read out.
Q And I have one more. Are any top U.S. officials besides the Ambassador either in Egypt now or planning to go, to have some of these consultations in person on the ground in Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department. Obviously, we have the Ambassador there, but I’m not sure about other officials.
Q But on the NSC staff or anything --
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware. But I can’t rule that out. I just would refer you to State as a starting point.
Q Jay, can I ask it another way? If the Egyptian military feels that removing a suddenly unpopular President is part of the democratic process, can the United States accept that?
MR. CARNEY: What you’re saying -- let me just make clear, as I think I said at the beginning, but I understand in answer to these questions, I haven’t emphasized this point because it was part of an initial statement that we put out. The President is deeply concerned by what happened, by the actions of the military to remove President Morsi from office. The questions that we’ve had today go to the specific determination about what happened and how that determination, if it were to be made, how it would affect our assistance program.
And what I’m trying to make clear is that, given the complexity of the situation in Egypt and the fluidity of the situation in Egypt, it is in our interest to take the time necessary to review what has taken place, and to monitor efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge an inclusive and democratic way forward; to consult with Congress about the overall situation in Egypt, our relationship with Egypt, and our assistance program to Egypt.
It’s important to acknowledge that our relationship with Egypt is not defined by, or limited to, the aid that we provide. And our strategic interest in Egypt is not defined by, or limited to, that aid program.
Q What other leverage do we have?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not about -- look, the decisions about who will govern Egypt will be made by the Egyptian people. We believe that the Egyptian people have demonstrated quite clearly that they want democracy and a democratic process, and they also want democratic governance, not just elections. And we are urging the authorities to hasten the return to both the process and to a democratically elected government.
Q So, Jay, if it’s not about leverage, what’s it about? Are you saying that the cutoff of aid would put you in a poorer position to review and monitor? Or would you just have less influence if you didn’t have that as a threat?
MR. CARNEY: I think that Egypt -- we’ve had a long and important relationship with Egypt, here in the United States and with the Egyptian people. And it is our view that it would not be wise to abruptly change our assistance program. Rather, we believe we should take the time necessary to review what’s happened and to consult with Congress and review our obligations under the law when it comes to our assistance program.
So it’s not about any one thing. It’s about making determinations that, in a very fraught situation, enhance a process that we hope will lead to a return to democratic governance and to a cessation of violence in Egypt.
Q And you’re saying that the U.S. is in a better position to influence that if engaged in this way and in the other ways that --
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that it is the smart policy in our view, or the smart decision in our view to review this matter in a way that takes the time necessary to do it right and to -- as we observe what’s happening in Egypt and as we engage with Egyptian authorities on what’s happening.
Q Can you say what’s new about the President’s smarter government initiative? Aren’t these things that he’s been working on for several years now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the answer to that is, yes. I mean, this is -- for those of you who have heard him speak about this and know his interest and passion for this, this is -- it is not something that gets a lot of attention. But in an ideal world, maybe a world less crowded with news like what’s happened in Egypt or the like, this would get the kind of attention that I think it deserves. Because the effort here is a long-term management project to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our government; to reduce costs, to improve its outcomes, and to do it in a way that ensures that the government is acting in a way that enhances growth.
And technology is a huge asset in that effort. And those of you who know Todd Park and have heard him proselytize on this, know both his passion for it and his deserved faith in the possibility of using technology in a way that enhances the efficiency of government and its effectiveness, and its ability to both help the middle class and grow the economy.
We’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes already. We don’t expect that you all will be writing about them every day. But they matter, and they matter in the long term. Because, I mean, in this Cabinet meeting we were just in, the President made clear that the objectives here aren’t about the next three and a half years -- we want progress before the end of the President’s second term, but the goal here is to substantially improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the federal government over a five, 10-year and beyond -- multi-decade timeframe.
And it’s possible. And the right kind of management agenda coupled with the availability of technological innovation can make that happen. And we’ve seen that in the Open Data Initiative that we put forward -- Data.gov -- and this enormous potential for the release of data that the American -- this is data that the American people own; it’s their data. And to make that data available in a way that entrepreneurs can utilize so that -- and turn into services that are highly useful for consumers and the American people, but lead to the creation of businesses and creation of jobs.
This is exciting stuff for those who love innovation and technology and reform. And the President is extremely interested in it. And his Cabinet meeting we had today was, in ways, the most interesting that I’ve been a part of because it was so focused on this topic and the progress that we’ve made, and the ideas that members of the Cabinet can contribute. We have two new members of the Cabinet in the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce, who have decades-combined experience in the private sector, bring a lot to the table when it comes to that. And that’s hugely valuable in the President’s view.
Mark. Last one.
Q Jay, when you say that the President is deeply concerned about the actions of the Egyptian military in ousting a democratically elected President, doesn’t that preempt the need for a review? Doesn’t that say what the review would find?
MR. CARNEY: The review has to do with a determination that, as you know -- and that’s been the nature of the conversation we’ve had here -- affects our assistance program. And it is our view that in recognition of the fact that we have a very volatile and fluid and complicated situation in Egypt, reflective of the fact that millions of Egyptians view what happened in Egypt differently -- I mean, that different Egyptians view it differently and that there were millions who were demanding a new government -- we need to make this assessment in a way that furthers our objectives, which is a transition, a democratic transition in Egypt in accordance -- and we need to review it in accordance both with the law and in consultation with Congress but also mindful of what our policy objectives are.
So he is and remains deeply concerned about what happened. He is also focused on what needs to happen now, which is for the highly polarized situation in Egypt to move towards reconciliation; for all sides to show restraint -- for the military, in particular, to show maximum restraint, for protestors to protest peacefully, and for groups and individuals not to incite violence. None of that is in the interest of the Egyptian people -- the violence and the incitement to violence.
So we are going to continue to press for an inclusive process that leads Egypt back to the path of democratic transition as soon as possible.
Q Jay, can you explain what the President hopes to do when Congress comes back to rectify the student loan rate issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, sure. We expect and hope that Congress will fix this problem quickly. We believe that it can be done. The differences are not that significant. There is a way to do this that’s retroactive so that students are spared from having their rates double. We need to do it in a way that students are guaranteed a low rate and so that they’re not overcharged in order to pay down the deficit.
Our views on that are clear. And we should make sure that any solution we reach -- and we believe that there are a variety of ways to reach that solution -- that any solution that is reached with Congress ensures that college remains within reach for middle-class families and those striving to get there. So we’ll work with Congress. We’ll work with the Senate and the House. But we believe that there’s a solution available here that keeps with the President’s principles.
Thanks very much, guys.
2:17 P.M. EDT