Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/4/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:53 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I hope those of you who were in the pool enjoyed taking a stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue for lunch. I know I did.
Before I take your questions, I had a couple of announcements. First, last night and again this morning, the President was briefed on Tropical Storm Karen, which is forecasted to begin impacting the Gulf Coast this weekend, as well as the extensive activities underway by FEMA to support state and local partners along the Gulf Coast. To ensure that needs are met based on applicable legal requirements and consistent with its contingency plan, FEMA is recalling certain currently furloughed employees necessary to serve functions of the agency that protect life and property in preparation for the potential impacts of extreme weather, including Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf of Mexico and severe weather in the central United States.
FEMA has activated its National Response Coordination Center at FEMA headquarters in Washington. And FEMA is in close contact with local officials in potentially affected areas. To support state and local partners, FEMA has recalled and deployed liaisons to emergency operation centers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Additionally, today, FEMA is deploying three Incident Management Assistance Teams recalled from furlough to the potentially affected areas to assist with the coordination of planning and response operations.
At all times, FEMA maintains commodities, including millions of liters of water, millions of meals and hundreds of thousands of blankets strategically located at distribution centers throughout the United States, including in the Gulf Coast region, that are available to state and local partners if needed and requested. FEMA has recalled staff from furlough to activate our distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Second, later this afternoon, the President will be briefed on shutdown impacts by Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff; Sylvia Burwell, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and other senior staff. Among the issues discussed will be the effects of the furloughs at the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, which implements the U.S. government's financial sanctions, including those sanctions that apply to Iran.
The OFAC has had to furlough nearly all of its staff due to the lapse in congressional funding. Only 11 employees of 175 full-time employees have been excepted, meaning that the office is unable to sustain its core functions.
Among those functions, one, issuing new sanctions designations against those enabling the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as terrorist organizations, WMD proliferators, narcotics cartels and transnational organized crime groups. Two, investigating and penalizing sanctions violations. Three, issuing licenses to authorize humanitarian and other important activities that might otherwise be barred by sanctions. And four, issuing new sanctions prohibitions and guidance.
Now, this is just one of the items that the President will be briefed on. But it illustrates the consequences that the Republican shutdown continues to have on the government's missions and workers across the country. It is time for the Speaker of the House to bring up the Senate-passed funding bill and just vote.
Q Thank you. Going back to what you said about FEMA, do you have a number on all the employees who are being recalled because of the storm?
MR. CARNEY: I do not, but I'm sure FEMA does. So if you ask them, I'm sure they can provide more information to you.
Q And then, when you say that you utterly disavow the notion that the White House doesn't care how long the shutdown lasts, are you saying that because there is concern perhaps that public opinion could turn against the White House?
MR. CARNEY: No. I'm saying that in reaction to the response to a quote, because it is categorically our position that the government should be reopened today -- now, in half an hour -- whenever Speaker of the House John Boehner sees fit to put on the floor of the House a bill that would reopen the government, extend funding at levels Republicans claimed they were delighted with, and allow people to go back to work with no partisan strings attached. Put it on the floor now. Vote now. A majority of the House of Representatives, as is the custom in democracies, would therefore support it and it would become law, because the President would sign it. That is our position. End the shutdown now. Reopen the government now.
One of the many effects of this shutdown is the one I just gave information to you about that the President will be briefed on later today. And it reflects the breadth and scope of the implications of a shutdown as it continues on day after day. It means thousands and thousands -- hundreds of thousands of Americans -- both here in the Washington area and across the country -- who are sitting at home, wondering if they’ll ever get paid, wondering when the shutdown will end, wondering how they’re going to make ends meet.
Our position has always been we’re making no demands, we’re asking for nothing in return for Congress fulfilling its responsibility to open the government and fund the government. So I don’t think we could be any more clear. That is our position in public, it is our position in private. It is our position in the briefing room, and it is our position in the backroom. Open the government now. Just vote.
Q Then can you explain why a senior administration official would say something like that? I would think that a lot of the furloughed workers who read that quote this morning would have been pretty --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I cannot parse or explain every quote that appears in every article that you all write. What I can tell you is what I know absolutely as a fact. The President believes that the government ought to be reopened now. The President believes that there is an opportunity for the Speaker of the House to do that by putting on the floor of the House the so-called clean CR. And we are very confident, as are many Republicans, that it would receive a significant majority vote in the House. That’s the President’s position.
And I don’t think we could have been clearer or could be more clear about that. And that is the position the President took in his meeting with the Speaker of the House and the Senate Minority Leader, as well as Democratic leaders. It’s the position he took walking past some of you on West Executive Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue, and it’s the position he will take until the Republicans do the right thing. Why not just reopen the government at funding levels that they were very content with and that hardly represent the demands of the President? So that’s our position.
Q Quickly on the Asia trip and the decision to cancel -- can you explain or -- I mean, will that in any way affect this push by the administration to raise America’s profile in Asia and pay more attention to Asia?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, the cancellation of the trip is absolutely another consequence of the House Republicans’ decision to force a shutdown of the government. And it’s a completely avoidable consequence of a completely avoidable shutdown. And it’s a setback to our ability to create jobs through the promotion of U.S. exports and to advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.
The President is committed to the pivot of U.S. policy towards Asia, to the rebalancing of our policy around the world towards this important region of the world. And he looks forward to continuing his work with our allies and partners in the Asia Pacific region, and to returning to the region at a later date.
Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry will ably lead delegations to both Indonesia and Brunei in place of the President.
Q Jay, were you saying with your opening comments today that the sanctions against Iran and Syria will be affected by the government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that the people who are in place normally, under normal circumstances, have been furloughed. The people who handle this important function for the United States government in advancing U.S. national security interests and the national security interests of our allies and partners around the world have been furloughed, and that that is a negative consequence of this wholly unnecessary decision by House Republicans to shut down the government because they’re not getting, whatever day it is, whatever partisan demand it is that they’re asking for.
Q But there’s no change to the sanctions as a result of that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, you would have to address the sanctions question specifically to the office. What I think I read in quite a great deal of detail is what the people in that office do and why it is so important that they be returned to work.
Q Speaker Boehner is denying reports that he would allow a vote on the debt ceiling that would rely on Democratic votes to get passed. He’s also saying that Republicans would demand spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. What’s the White House position on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s disappointing, because that means the Speaker of the House has just declared that it is his position that if House Republicans, principally tea party Republicans, do not get satisfaction on their partisan wish list, they will allow the United States of America to default for the first time in our history with horrible consequences to middle-class families everywhere. That’s an outstanding position to take, and it’s disappointing.
Q Where do you think -- what’s the next step then?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s something that I think would make it easier to understand how the President views this. From the beginning, the President has made clear what his position is, and it has not changed and it will not change. We have seen a variety of positions and tactics and strategies and communications efforts from Republicans to explain why they shut down the government, to explain why they’re threatening to default.
The President’s position is clear: He is asking nothing from the Republicans in return for them fulfilling their responsibility mandated by the Constitution to fund the government and pay our bills. No demands. No strings attached. And they ought to do the same. They ought to simply open the government, pass the CR on the House that would get Republican votes as well as Democratic votes. The President would sign it today. People would go back to work tomorrow. If they acted really fast, some could go back to work this afternoon.
And then, when it comes to the debt ceiling, it is highly irresponsible to announce to the world -- a world that depends on the United States economy, depends on the full faith and credit of our economy, depends on the bedrock fact that the United States always pays our bills and always pays our bills on time -- and say that all of that I will risk if I don’t get what I want, if my tea party Republicans don’t get what they want -- one faction of one house, of one branch of government holding everybody else hostage; holding the American people hostage, holding families across the country hostage.
And when it comes to the debt ceiling, as I think we’ve tried to explain, the stakes are so much higher even than a shutdown.
Q Lastly, was the President satisfied with how the Secret Service reacted yesterday to the woman who crashed her car?
MR. CARNEY: I think this is a matter that’s under investigation. I haven’t had that specific conversation with him. So I would leave it to the investigators to make that judgment. But he certainly -- it’s my understanding [he] was obviously briefed on it, never at any risk or in any danger.
Q Getting back to the Wall Street Journal article, does the White House believe that it has the upper hand in this standoff, that you’re winning?
MR. CARNEY: As the President said when he went to get a sandwich with the Vice President and was asked -- nobody wins. Nobody wins when the government shuts down and American families across the country go without a paycheck. Nobody wins when the government shuts down and an extremely important office, whose function -- who work to help ensure that the sanctions regime that has brought us to the point where we are with the possibility of achieving a diplomatic resolution to our nuclear weapons challenge with Iran can't go to work. Nobody wins. Nobody in America wins, and that includes politicians.
That’s why it is the President's position that the Speaker of the House ought to put on the floor of the House a bill that would absolutely pass the House with Democratic and Republican votes, and reopen government now.
Q But is that why the President keeps calling this a Republican shutdown, and that he won't negotiate because he believes that he has the upper hand?
MR. CARNEY: He calls it a Republican shutdown because Republicans in the House chose not to extend funding for the government. Republicans in the House, the Speaker of the House continues to choose not to put on the floor of the House a clean CR -- just a bill that extends government funding at levels agreed to for the whole previous fiscal year -- and put it for a vote. Why? Because he knows it would pass. Why? Because he knows Republicans would vote for it. And he knows, I assume -- and I'm just basing this on what I read in the press, so take it with a grain of salt -- but he knows that there is a relatively small faction of his House conference who would be mad at him, angry at him, would oppose that decision to open the government without any partisan strings attached. Well, he should do it anyway. He should do it to open the government, help those American families, put them back to work. And he should, in the same spirit, without drama or delay, ensure that the United States continues to have an unbroken record of never defaulting.
Q And you talked about the conservative faction of the Republican Party, and the President has talked about this as well. What is it about the President, what's the deal with the President and the tea party? Why are they so far apart, and why is there just seemingly so much venom between this White House and --
MR. CARNEY: There's no venom here. We just want the government to be open. We just want, again, the Speaker of the House to put on the floor of the House a clean continuing resolution. And if there are members of the House who won't vote to open the government, they should vote no. And I suspect they will.
I know that there are some who have declared they would never vote to raise the debt ceiling, which is a weird way to interpret your constitutional responsibility when you take the oath of office, since the Constitution assigns to the Congress the power and the responsibility to pay the debts of the United States.
Setting that aside, it's a small faction. They should vote how they see fit, of course. But we're confident, and I think Republicans across Washington are confident, that if the Speaker put that bill on the floor, it would pass with Democratic and Republican votes -- and by some Republican estimates, many Republican votes. Because a lot of Republicans understand that this is bad for their constituents. It's bad for the economy. There have been independent assessments done about the impact on our GDP of a sustained government shutdown.
Q But there's no deadline to force anybody's hand here. We passed the September 30th deadline. Are we likely to just be in this state of impasse until October 16th at midnight?
MR. CARNEY: There's one outcome here, which is that the government reopens. And the President is not going to agree to partisan demands in return for Congress fulfilling its basic responsibility.
What the President said today and what he's said every day, and what he’s said all year long is he is not only happy to negotiate, he's eager to negotiate with the Republicans over our broader budget challenges. And what is highly ironic about the position being taken now by Republicans is that they seem to be suggesting they will only negotiate if the government is shut down and they're threatening to default.
Because the door has been open all year long here. The President took Republicans out to dinner. He brought them here. Senior members of his team have been engaging with lawmakers of the Republican persuasion all year long on this issue. And some of them have had -- some of these conversations have been extremely encouraging.
So we know that there is, potentially, the spirit of compromise among some quarters of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill. And what I think is required here is the willingness of leaders on Capitol Hill to allow that spirit to blossom, and maybe we can get somewhere. But we will not --
Q Do you think he should sacrifice this job to get this done?
MR. CARNEY: This is not about any person's job on Capitol Hill -- except for the staff who have been furloughed. This is about the individuals around the country, hundreds of thousands of them, who don’t have a paycheck and are sitting at home. More broadly, it's about how our democracy should work, and the
fact that the United States is the most powerful economy in the world and the most reliable economy in the world, in no small measure because we always pay our bills. And nobody here of any party has until 2011 monkeyed around with that proposition.
Q Even if there were to be a clean CR and a clean debt limit, and we were to get those both behind us, what encouraging signs have you seen -- are there any -- to suggest that there could be grand bargain talks again that might yield anything?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t attach a catchphrase to the kinds of budget conversations that we could have. What the President has long sought is a broader agreement with Republicans on how we fund our government -- what kind of choices we make to ensure that we're investing in the right areas so that the economy grows and the middle class is expanded and protected, and that we are creating bulwarks in the foundation of our economy for the future by luring investors to the United States and expanding markets overseas for American products, and making it the right decision for companies, including American companies, to invest here in the United States. And as we do that, to responsibly continue the project of reducing our deficit. I say "continue," because as you know, on this President's watch, the deficit has been cut in half.
And he wants to continue that work. And he wants to continue it in the manner that he believes is supported by the American public and is the most economically logical, which is in a balanced way, so that we can continue to grow and that the middle class is protected and expanded.
Q But given that discretionary spending has borne the brunt and he, the President, has repeatedly said he won't cut entitlement spending beyond the farm subsidies, other mandatory programs, has he got -- was there any indication from the Republicans, for instance at the meeting at the White House the other night, that they would put revenues on the table? Did he even challenge them to ask whether they would put revenues on the table?
MR. CARNEY: Jackie, I'll say a couple of things. One is -- as you know, because you covered in detail -- the President's budget addresses entitlement savings beyond what you just discussed, what you just mentioned. So the President's position is well known and has been on the table. And it's a compromise offer. It's an offer that he made to the Speaker of the House at the end of last year, at a time when the Speaker of the House was at least putatively making an offer of his own that he immediately took back and we haven't seen it again. The President, by contrast, put his offer on the table, left his offer on the table, incorporated it into his budget. And it remains an offer on the table.
Beyond that, we're not going to negotiate over Congress's fundamental responsibility to reopen the government and ensure that the United States pays its debts. And I'm not going to negotiate over what a negotiation might look like here in the briefing room and what the topics, the items of that negotiation might look like. But you can just look at the President's budget and understand that he’s serious about investing in the future -- making sure that we make choices that give quality education to our children, we make choices that continue the dynamic in this country where we are becoming more energy independent and we are approaching our energy needs in an all-of-the-above manner; more decisions that ensure that we're on the cutting edge of innovative technological research so that we can create businesses here, and more decisions that protect and expand the middle class.
Republicans know that because it's documented on page after page of a budget proposal. And the President is ready to talk about it, as he has been all year long. So the whole idea that he is not willing to negotiate is a canard, because he has been willing all year long to sit down and have these conversations, and he has had these conversations. What we haven't seen from Republicans thus far is a willingness to put a counteroffer on the table, to be serious about taking a compromise approach.
And what he won't do is, as he just said, negotiate with Republicans while they have the American economy held hostage and are trying to extort partisan demands from the economy, from the American people, in return for reopening the government or in return for insuring that we pay our debts.
Q But did he challenge them, or ask them what they would propose to negotiate? And is it true that there was laughter when the Speaker brought up the suggestion that they talk about a grand bargain again?
MR. CARNEY: Here's what I can tell you, Jackie, is that the President's position -- and there's a beauty in the simplicity of this. The President's position, as enunciated in the Oval Office, in which the only other attendees were the Vice President and the four leaders, is exactly the same as the President's position as enunciated here in front of you and as reiterated by me: Happy to negotiate over a wide range of economic and budget issues, happy to negotiate over ways that we can strengthen and improve the Affordable Care Act after the Republicans reopen the government -- he is not asking anything in return for reopening the government, putting people back to work -- and after the Republicans allow the United States to send the message around the world that we do not default on our obligations.
Q Jay, you spoke pretty forcefully about the dangers of having that office that enforces the Iranian sanctions closed. I assume the White House would veto, though, a bill if the Republicans were to put one forth that would specifically fund that office.
MR. CARNEY: Our position on the piecemeal, gimmicky approach that the House Republicans have taken, with no explanation for why they wouldn’t just open the government at spending levels they set, remains the same. And it's clearly enunciated in the statements of administration policy. They should just reopen the government, right? The President is not asking for anything in return. He didn't say, I'll only sign a bill to reopen the government if you include legislation that would expand background checks, something he believes very powerfully.
As strongly as some Republicans believe that the Affordable Care Act is bad for America, that’s how strongly the President believes that expanding background checks is a common-sense measure to reduce gun violence in America that is entirely in keeping with our Second Amendment rights. But he’s not asking for that. He’s not making that demand. He knows that, unfortunately, he could not get that through the Senate. He’ll fight again for it, but not while holding the economy hostage, not while asking the middle class to pay the price.
Q I just wanted a yes or no; you gave me a yes. I got that. My next question is, you pointed out repeatedly that the White House has agreed to this temporary funding bill that is essentially at the sequester levels -- you call that a concession, which it probably is. Would the White House agree to that funding level, the sequester -- essentially, the sequester funding levels for the entire year?
MR. CARNEY: Look, what I’m not going to do -- because the Republicans have shut down the government and they’re refusing to open it unless they extract some concessions from the American people and the White House -- is negotiate with them or with you until they open the government. And then I probably won’t be the one negotiating with them, although I’d be happy to -- because I know where we stand. We stand for smart investments in the economy that help the economy grow, that invest in the American people, invest in education, research and development, and infrastructure.
And you know what, there are a lot of Republicans and a lot of business men and women around the country who agree with those very same policies. And I believe that we should continue to reduce our deficit in the responsible way that we’ve reduced it under President Obama, in a way that has allowed us to recover significantly from worst recession since the Great Depression. We need to continue moving in that direction, not move backwards, which is how the --
Q So the White House position here -- because we have -- we’re at a point where you want the government reopened, that specific CR passed; you want the debt ceiling lifted. And the Republicans have a whole range of other demands that they’ve made or tried to make.
MR. CARNEY: Which you could summarize as they want to keep the government closed and they want to threaten default.
Q Okay. So is this really just going to go on where you’re going to sit back and wait for them to simply -- do simply what you’ve asked for?
MR. CARNEY: But here’s the thing -- we do not, constitutionally -- the President of the United States does not constitutionally have the power to pass a CR. He does not have the power to lift the --
Q Well, you have the power to negotiate with them and agree to some tweaks here or there. I mean, you do have that power, don’t you?
MR. CARNEY: The door is open. We are willing to negotiate. The President has been willing to negotiate all year long.
Q You just you said you weren’t.
Q Yeah, you said you’re not going to negotiate.
MR. CARNEY: Alexis -- I just said, I thought, with great clarity and eloquence, that --
Q And modesty. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: And modesty -- that the President is willing to negotiate, has been willing to negotiate -- as he just said in a sandwich shop -- with Republicans, but not when they’re threatening to keep the government shut down and to default on our obligations. And in return for doing the responsible thing, the President is asking nothing. He’s asking for nothing from the Republicans.
So if their position, which is what you're enunciating, is that it is a concession by Republicans to the American people to open the government and to send hundreds of thousands of people back to work, they ought to say so. If it is a concession by Republicans to not default, they ought to make that clear to the American people. I think that would be an astounding thing to say.
Q But the Speaker is saying that he wants some commitment on deficit reduction further, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. I understand you're opposed to any kind of negotiations on that. I mean, could we have a situation -- the Cuban Missile Crisis ended with a secret deal to move some missiles out of Turkey six months after the Russians pulled the nukes out of Cuba. I mean, can you have some kind of an agreement that you'll act on --
MR. CARNEY: Are you saying that John Boehner is Khrushchev? (Laughter.)
Q I don’t know who's Khrushchev and who's Kennedy on this.
MR. CARNEY: I'm pretty sure who the President is.
Q There goes your Twitter feed, Jon. (Laughter.)
Q But I mean, is there something -- they want something. Boehner -- there have been a lot of unreasonable demands made, there's been a lot of -- but Boehner has put forward a --
MR. CARNEY: We're making none.
Q But Boehner has put forth a proposition here that raising the debt ceiling, there should be some commitment to further deficit reduction.
MR. CARNEY: The President made a commitment to further deficit reduction in the budget he submitted in the offer he made.
Q So you'll agree to do those things? So chained CPI --
MR. CARNEY: We'll agree to continue to talk -- to have intense negotiations, as we have been willing to do all year, on our budget challenges, once the Republicans open the government with no strings attached, pass a bill that has majority support not just in the Senate but the House -- has bipartisan support in the House -- would be signed by the President in a heartbeat -- and once they agree to just lift the debt ceiling, pay our bills, don’t threaten to tank the American economy to get what you want.
And some of them, including one Republican who said it on the record, don’t even know what they want. They just want -- they just say they've got to have something from this. We've got to extract something out of this -- I'm not even sure what it is, said one Republican, by name, on the record. Really? That’s just wrong.
Q You talk a lot about the institutional powers of the presidency that you want to preserve in this process of a shutdown and default. I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about how that conversation wound through the White House about deciding not to go on the trip to APEC and ASEAN. Those are two significant events that Presidents historically have attended. There had to be some rather intense discussion here about what the President would lose institutionally by not being there, and losing the bilateral conversations -- the T-TIP is at a pretty important point of either reaching conclusion or not. And I'm just curious about how significant or how intense the debate was here about what would be lost by not going.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that America plays an exceptional role in the world, and that politics in Washington should not be standing in the way of exerting American leadership abroad. So the unfortunate need to cancel this trip -- because Republicans in Congress have decided to shut the government down, and, in this case, undercut U.S. leadership abroad -- sends the wrong message to the world. So I think the answer to your question is there are consequences to this and it's unfortunate.
Secretary Kerry will ably represent the United States at these summits in Indonesia and Brunei. And the President made the decision that based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel under the circumstances of a shutdown, it was his determination that he should be here continuing to press his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government.
But your question, in a way, answers itself. You're right. This is not good for America. It's not good for our economy to have the President unable to travel to Asia, where some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are located, to make the case for America's economic dynamism and America's potential as a source of investment, and also to make the case for America's national security interests in that region. So I think there are many consequences of shutdown, and this is one of them.
Q Were there voices within the administration urging the President to go even so?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President very much wanted to go and believed it was the right thing to go -- under the circumstances, where the Republicans decided to shut down the government, have decided for day after day after day not to put on the floor of the House a bill that would pass with a majority --
Q But you're not saying he couldn’t have gone.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I don't get to make those legal or logistical decisions. I think that it was certainly highly complicated, given shutdown, to make that kind of trip. That's why we initially pulled down the backend of the trip and the second two countries, and why in light of the fact that the Republicans have continued to shut the government down that the President decided to not make the trip at all.
Q Before you came out, OMB released a statement of administration policy saying it supported the legislations brought to the House by Republicans and Democrats to provide back pay to federal workers.
MR. CARNEY: Once the Republicans open the government.
Q Right. And the President signed the military pay legislation, which covers them currently, even though there's a shutdown. In that respect, there are two pieces of piecemeal legislation that address part of the shutdown scenario. Is that consistent with the administration's overall denunciation of any other piecemeal efforts to open the government?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question -- and I answered this the other day with regards to our men and women in uniform and the extraordinary service and exceptional service that they provide to our country -- that it is necessary for us to have their backs under any circumstance. And that is why we and I think virtually everyone in Capitol Hill supported that legislation. As for back pay, that's something that Congresses have done every time there has been a shutdown, as I understand it, and it's something that bipartisan majorities support.
But it is conditioned, the back pay for when they open the government. And right now, John Boehner and the tea party that seems to have his ear, principally, have made the decision that they won't open the government unless they can get whatever demand it is they can think of today, because it's changed. Remember, this was all about defunding or delaying or sabotaging in some way the Affordable Care Act. And for many, it still is. But they keep changing their lists of demands, which I think makes clear --
Q These would be the only two piecemeal legislations the President would support?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we do not support -- we support just opening the government. Back pay is --
Q No more than these two?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think I've explained, Major, the back pay is not a piecemeal -- does not address the situation you have where the government is shut down and hundreds of thousands of workers are sitting at home without pay. It just means that if and when the Republicans realize that they have no other option besides opening the government, that these hardworking Americans will get paid.
Q I know the administration wants to defer to Congress on the debt ceiling, but I would imagine you have at least some range --
MR. CARNEY: We don't want to. We have to, by law.
Q But you have some range by how much you would like to see the debt ceiling raised. You would probably not want it for just two weeks or two months or something. There is probably some general approach you would want to see followed in the raising of that debt ceiling. Can you outline any of that today? And point of fact -- and I'm not trying to be cute here -- wouldn’t that ultimately be subject to a negotiation, how much and for how long?
MR. CARNEY: Our position is Congress must and should raise the debt ceiling.
Q Right, but for how long?
MR. CARNEY: And the reason they need to do it is to --
Q No, I understand that.
MR. CARNEY: Hold on. But it's to remove any uncertainty about the bedrock principle that the United States has and always will pay its bills and pay them on time. So it's up to Congress to decide how to create that certainty and what measure they will take to ensure that certainty. We’re not going to --
Q You’re not bystanders in that process, are you?
MR. CARNEY: Our view is that the Congress ought to do what up until 2011 it had always done, which is ensure --
Q -- they were subject to a year or two years. That went back and forth. And I'm just curious --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not disagreeing with the history. What I'm saying is that never before, until the current crop of Republicans took control of the House in 2011, had there ever been the real threat of default by a party to the negotiations. And that's what we have to avoid.
Meanwhile, it's important to remember, because we all forget, because it happened so quietly, these same Republicans raised the debt ceiling well in advance of the deadline without drama or delay earlier this year. Ask them why. Why was it okay not to default then or threaten default then? Why is it now necessary, presumably politically, to threaten the economy of the United States and the world today?
Q As soon as you pointed to FEMA, taking some workers off of furlough because of the threat of Tropical Storm Karen, Republicans sent out an email noting that they had -- there was an administration veto threat on a bill that they have passed in the House that would reauthorize FEMA. Tell me why some government spending is not more essential than others, even in the face of a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: You should ask that question to Republicans, because we think the whole government ought to be reopened on time, now -- well, not on time. They've already shut it down for a few days. So do it now.
What the law under shutdown allows for, as I understand it -- and I am venturing into territory that others principally occupy -- but it allows for these kinds of recalls when the issue is of protecting life and property. Obviously, in a circumstance with an impending bout of severe weather in the Gulf of Mexico and another one in the central United States, those circumstances apply. What Congress ought to do is -- I mean, what kind of a country pays as they go, a la carte, for their essential government functions? Certainly not the United States. But that's what they are proposing, right? We’ll turn on the lights Tuesday and fill the gas tanks on Friday. Is that the approach? It's crazy.
Q Isn't it better than nothing, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: For the hundreds of thousands of American workers who would not go back to work under any of these piecemeal approaches, the answer is open the government now. The President is not asking the Republicans for anything in return. He does not view -- and I don't think anybody who is affected by this views the opening of the greatest -- the government of the greatest country on Earth, economically and in so many other ways, as a concession to a President or a party.
Q On a separate matter, Congressman McCaul is asking when the President will name a nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security. He's pointing to yesterday's incident here and at the Capitol, which may or may not have been in relation to the Department of Homeland Security.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make or preview for you today.
Q He's calling it "irresponsible" for the President not to have selected a nominee.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any personnel announcements to make today.
Q Jay, going back, you guys have used a lot of hostage metaphors. Has there ever been a hostage negotiation --
MR. CARNEY: We and the Republicans --
Q I understand that. But has there ever been a hostage negotiation situation where the people doing the negotiation have refused to accept any hostages being released? The reason I say that is, why -- you can put some people back to work today, you can save the government some money today by signing these piecemeal deals. Why not?
MR. CARNEY: This is a gimmick and all they have to do is open the government today.
Q You can say it's a gimmick when he’s signed the bill and you get some people back to work.
MR. CARNEY: Ask Republicans why they won't put a bill on the floor that would get Republican and Democratic support. Just open the government.
Q We've all asked those questions a million times. What's wrong with taking the high road here?
MR. CARNEY: Because it is absolutely essential that the government itself open. And again, these are levels that Republicans not only agreed to but celebrated. So if we agree on, for a modest-term CR, what the funding levels ought to be, why are they refusing to open the government? And you know why. Because they just continue to throw out demands that are associated with the simple proposition that the government of the United States ought to be open for business.
Q I understand, but why refuse to do this piecemeal? Why do you believe it's --
MR. CARNEY: Because it is inappropriate and bad for the economy and bad for our democracy to negotiate over the fundamental responsibility Congress has to keep the government running, and for the United States to pay our bills.
Q Do you believe they’re less likely to act? Is that the real issue here, that they're less likely to fund the entire government if you do -- if you accept those terms?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I think that Republicans in the House need to open the government. The President is not asking for anything in return. Nothing. Nothing. No partisan strings attached. Why won't the Speaker of the House -- someone I've known for a long time and many of you have known -- do what everybody thinks is the right thing here -- virtually everyone -- which is just put a bill on the floor that many of his own Republicans would vote for, Democrats would vote for, and would open the government. And if it's about negotiating, even though they refused to negotiate in any kind of seriousness or good faith all year long, the President is ready to negotiate once they open the government, once they ensure that we pay our bills.
Q You didn’t answer Major’s question on the amount that you want the debt ceiling raised. Why is that?
MR. CARNEY: Right, because the issue isn't, for us, a specific term. It’s the threat of default that has never been made before --
Q As long as they raise it a day, or even a week, you're happy?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the issue is certainty. The issue is certainty. The United States should not be in the business because of its elected leaders of sending signals to the American economy and to the world economy on any kind of basis, whether it’s weekly, monthly, or yearly, that we may not be paying our bills. Our position is that Congress ought to do it without drama and delay -- which they did, by the way, in January of this year, and probably not a single one of you -- with the exception perhaps of Bloomberg and CNBC and the Wall Street Journal -- even reported on: “They raised the debt ceiling. Guess what.”
Q So 10 months? So what you're saying --
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm saying they should --
Q -- that's an acceptable amount of time --
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, we're not negotiating with them over that responsibility, and so I'm not going to negotiate with you over that responsibility.
Q But you must have a length of time that you want it done. What do you define --
MR. CARNEY: They just need to do the right --
Q What defines the right thing?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I think you’ve established --
Q That you don't have an amount --
MR. CARNEY: -- in all the time you’ve taken in asking me that I'm not going to negotiate with you over the duration around which the Congress ought to fulfill its --
Q You're not going to negotiate with them about that either?
MR. CARNEY: They need to end the uncertainty about -- and stop threatening the full faith and credit of the United States.
Q Given your analysis that is widely shared by others that a majority of the House actually would support a clean CR, there is a route under House rules where a majority of the House can supersede the Speaker. Presidents like Lyndon Johnson have used this. Why aren't you encouraging a discharge position of getting your allies in the Democratic Party to do that? Or is there some consideration of that?
MR. CARNEY: That's an interesting question and when I was covering the Hill I was one of those reporters who never quite got all of the specific arcane procedural rules, so I'm the wrong person to answer it. What I can tell you is they ought to just act and let the majority speak and let the bill pass, and the President will sign it. However that comes about is fine with us. The Speaker ought to just let it happen.
Q One other quick question -- any enrollment figures you can give us for the online health care exchanges? We've gotten a lot in terms of --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve gotten broad numbers about the general interest in the Affordable Care Act site, healthcare.gov, as well as the remarkable interest expressed by callers to the 800 number. We're in the stage of -- I think we're day three or day four of a 182-day, roughly, process. So I don't have specific data for you. What I can tell you is it is irrefutable that there is not great interest.
It is also absolutely the case -- and we were saying this -- I can point you to the briefings -- before we knew that there would be this kind of volume of interest that it is absolutely a fact based on experience that in the early periods of an open enrollment stage of especially a new program like this, a lot of this is people comparison-shopping, talking to their families, calling people they trust for their opinion, checking what’s on offer against offers elsewhere, and that as we saw in Massachusetts and we saw with other government programs, people make those choices after they do a lot of window-shopping.
So we are not anticipating that everybody who is going to enroll in a health care plan through the Affordable Care Act through these marketplaces is going to do so in the first week. In fact, it’s a six-month enrollment period for a reason. All we can know now and what we can tell you now is that people are getting through the system; they are enrolling. There are great anecdotes out there of people who have successfully enrolled. And that process will continue, and we continue to address the challenges created by the extraordinary level of interest in health care reform and the options available to people for the first time.
I have something for you here that I thought was rather remarkable --
Q No indication of how many people have successfully enrolled, though?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don't have those figures. And like other government programs, we're not going to release them minute-by-minute or day-by-day, but they’ll be collected and aggregated and put out in the kind of timeframe that is normal for this kind of program -- like Medicare and Medicaid and other --
Q What kind of timeframe is that?
MR. CARNEY: I would check Medicare and Medicaid. I don't have a specific date for you.
But I wonder -- this would be a good one, Wendell. Joshua Pittman is a 31-year-old, self-employed videographer from Alabama -- a libertarian Republican who voted for Ron Paul in 2012, and believes that Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, is the future of the GOP -- successfully enrolled in a bronze-level Obamacare health insurance plan yesterday.
Butch Matthews is a 61-year-old former small business owner from Little Rock, Arkansas, who used to wake up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to deliver canned beverages to retailers before retiring in 2010. A lifelong Republican, he was heavily skeptical of the Affordable Care Act when it first passed. "I did not think that Obamacare was going to be a good plan. I did not think that it was going to help me at all. I am still a very strong Republican, but this -- I'm so happy that this came along." It saves him $13,000 per year.
Q Can you say that no one in the Obama administration knows what number of Americans have actually signed up?
MR. CARNEY: You understand, right, that there are people calling up by phone. There are people enrolling on different --
Q I understand that. I just want to know is there anyone in the administration that knows whether there's a number.
MR. CARNEY: You should ask HHS. I don't have a number. And what I can tell you is, just like Medicare. just like Medicaid, just like Massachusetts, we're not going to have that data on a daily or hourly basis for you. We'll aggregate it and release it at the appropriate time when we have collected it.
But what I can also tell you -- and I know it's very disappointing to the man behind you and others who want Americans not to get their insurance -- their proposition is that it is good policy to deprive the American people of the opportunity to buy private insurance on a market through these marketplaces that had never existed for the guy in Alabama and the man in Kentucky. But it's happening. And the fact that there's interest is demonstrated by what you guys have reported is glitches but problems caused by the sheer volume of interest out there.
And I'm sure that we're going to be discussing the pros and cons of this for a long time. And I'm sure that opponents of Obamacare will continue to argue against it and perhaps try to pass legislation against it.
But day-by-day, regular folks are getting to see the options available to them, and it doesn’t matter if they are Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, or whether they, like a lot of people, don’t care at all about politics, they're going to make the choice that makes sense for them financially and gives them security.
Q You said this about me, so I --
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t. That was somebody else.
Q No, you said it, so, do tell, has the President done anything to reduce the impact of the budget cuts of the budget semi-shutdown since it started? Can you --
MR. CARNEY: He's called on the House --
Q No, no, has he used his agency power to ask any regulators to make life easier in any way for Americans -- for example, opening up parks, not putting up signs, not picketing White House -- not picketing parks? And are we starting websites, for example? Please give me some examples.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the President believes that the Speaker of the House and he's asking --
Q But has he --
MR. CARNEY: Would you like me to answer, Neil? Because if you want to have a soapbox, I'm sure they'll set one up for you outside.
Q -- does the President do -- has the President done anything?
MR. CARNEY: The President has asked Congress to do its job. He does not have the capacity or the power from the Constitution to pass a bill in the House that is a continuing resolution.
Q Does the President regard this as a strike? Does the President think the government is on strike?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, please.
Q Jay, back to the Asia trip. Your counterpart in Moscow today said that the Russian leadership was disappointed that the President couldn’t make the trip in part because President Putin was hoping and was planning to meet with President Obama at APEC. How big of a setback is that to your relationship with Russia, the President can't meet with him there, considering they were expected to talk about Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we never put out a plan of meetings. So what I can tell you --
Q You weren't planning to meet?
MR. CARNEY: -- is that obviously the President wanted to go and thought it was the right thing to advance United States interests abroad for the President to be able to go. But unfortunately, the Republicans voted to --
Q Are you saying that he wasn't planning to meet --
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying --
Q -- Putin is saying that he was.
MR. CARNEY: I'm just saying I don’t think we ever had a firm schedule of bilateral meetings to announce. So I'm not suggesting that he wouldn’t have met with him -- a very good chance that he would have, as he did in St. Petersburg and as he does often at these kinds of summits.
Q Well, the President called the leaders of these countries to express disappointment. Is he going to follow up with a phone call to President Putin?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President, I think as we read out, has called the leaders of the nations that we were going to visit, and the President has phone calls and communications with President Putin with some regularity. And obviously we are engaged in a process that’s very important with Russia right now, after a number of disagreements about how to proceed in Syria, that has made it possible for an agreement to be reached at the United Nations Security Council that calls on, in a verifiable and enforceable way, Syria to -- the Syrian regime, the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons arsenal -- an arsenal that, until a few weeks ago, they would not acknowledge existed. And that is a very significant accomplishment. And obviously, the United States and Russia have been working together on it. And that work will continue.
Secretary Kerry will be at both of these summits and will have appropriate meetings with our partners and will certainly attend the summits themselves.
Q One other question. Chinese President Xi is visiting several of the countries and summits that President Obama had hoped to visit and is going to be unable to. Is the administration concerned that China will be able to exploit President Obama's absence here in a way that sort of shows that China is a more reliable partner to this part of the world than the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: We have a very important and broad relationship with China. And the President has met with -- here in the United States and elsewhere with the new President of China. And those conversations will continue.
The President, again, intended to attend these summits and to have a variety of meetings as part of them. He is confident that Secretary Kerry will ably represent the United States in Indonesia and Brunei. But there is no question that it is in the United States' interest to be able to engage in Asia. It is in our national security interest, and it is in our economic interest. And it is another example of a consequence -- a wholly unnecessary consequence of this wholly unnecessary decision by House Republicans to shut the government down because they don’t want the two men I just cited to be able to get affordable insurance online in Alabama and Kentucky.
Q Jay, can you confirm that the President's Chief of Staff went to the Hill, or maybe he's on the Hill now, to talk to Democrats? And is he up there to talk about any new ideas related to the shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t be surprised. I think that’s right. I don’t have his schedule committed to memory. But certainly the Chief of Staff frequents the Hill, meets with lawmakers of both parties. And I'll take your word for it.
Q And then also, can I follow up -- because we weren't expecting the President to be here this weekend, can you help us understand what he hopes to do with his schedule this weekend, how he might use his time?
MR. CARNEY: I know what he hopes more than anything else is the opportunity to sign a bill that reopens the government, and looks forward to the Speaker of the House coming to that very important decision.
Thanks very much.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: We will get back to you with the week ahead. Obviously, we planned to be elsewhere next week and we had a larger staff to compile weeks-ahead. But we'll get back to you with more information on that.
Q Why lunch down the street today?
MR. CARNEY: Because I was hungry.
Q What did you get?
MR. CARNEY: No, he had a good -- as I think he told the pool and others who were around, it was a lot of -- he really enjoyed getting out, the Vice President as well, beautiful day. And he wanted to do it because he had heard about this particular restaurant and other establishments here in Washington that have made the decision to offer discounts or, in some cases, free food or coffee and things -- cookies -- to furloughed federal workers.
And that’s the kind of neighborliness and the kind of spirit of taking care of one another that the President believes is so much a fabric of this country, and he wanted to say thanks. And he wanted to get a sandwich.
2:48 P.M. EDT