Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/7/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:32 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions, I have a statement at the top.
For years, health care costs in America skyrocketed with brutal consequences for our country. Escalating costs hurt our economy, eating into workers' wages and holding back hiring. They contributed to our deficits and crowded out crucial investments like education and maintaining a world-class infrastructure. And they've taken money directly out of consumers' pockets with Americans paying far higher health care prices than others around the world for no better outcomes. The Affordable Care Act, for the first time in decades, has helped to stop that trend.
New data released yesterday shows that in 2012 health care spending as a share of the economy declined, something that has happened only a handful of times over the past several decades. And the years 2009-2012 saw the slowest growth in U.S. health care expenditures since the government started collecting this information in the 1960s. These trends have already begun to pay dividends in the form of savings for American consumers, lower costs for businesses, and our rapidly declining deficits.
We have already seen powerful examples of these trends at work with hospitals and other providers making changes to their practices to bring down costs following the enactment of the health care law, prioritizing results over the amount of treatment a patient receives.
As we bring millions more into the health insurance system, we will be working to make sure these encouraging trends continue to bring down health care costs for our economy, for our businesses and for consumers.
After you absorb that, you can fire away. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. Today's vote in the Senate advancing the jobless bill, the President called it an "important step." But some of the Republicans who voted for it still insist that there should be some concessions, whether they're reforms to the U.S. system or ways to pay for the $6 billion-plus cost. Yesterday, Gene Sperling, from the podium, said that that was unnecessary, but given the numbers of the vote and the necessary concessions that might be required, does the President now think that there must be some kind of pay-for, some way to accommodate those Republicans to win a vote?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that this is an emergency situation for 1.3 million Americans and their families. Their benefits were cut off last week. As Gene said yesterday, they expected a check this week and haven't gotten it, and won't unless Congress acts.
Congress should follow the admirable lead of the Senate -- the House should -- and pass a bipartisan bill that extends emergency insurance to the unemployed for three months. And as we said yesterday, Gene and I, once that happens -- to deal with that situation for those Americans and their families -- we and Congress can continue to talk about how to move forward beyond that three-month period.
Think about the fact that, I think Gene said yesterday, 14 out of the last 17 times we have extended emergency unemployment insurance benefits, they have been unpaid for because this extension was viewed as an emergency. That happened under Democratic Congresses and White Houses and under Republican Congresses and White Houses. It happened five times under the previous administration each time when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today, and each time when the long-term unemployment rate was significantly lower than it is today. And when it happened towards the end of the previous administration, with bipartisan support, our deficits were climbing rapidly. Under President Obama, our deficits have been cut in half; they are coming down at a rate faster than we’ve seen since World War II.
I would also point you to the fact that yesterday there was a great deal of skepticism in this room, understandably, that today’s vote would succeed. Last month you couldn’t find a Republican lawmaker, until Senator Heller came forward, who would go on the record supporting extension of unemployment insurance benefits.
Q But it only succeeded because some of those Republican senators believed that they could still get these --
MR. CARNEY: And they passed a bill that extends unemployment insurance. They voted on cloture, and six supported it, that extends -- that would extend, if passed, emergency unemployment insurance benefits for three months without a so-called pay-for. That’s what they voted to do. There’s been bipartisan action in the Senate. We hope to see further bipartisan action in the Senate, and we hope the House will follow suit.
And I understand that as there often is, given Congress’s track record, that there’s skepticism and doubt about the capacity for Republicans to join Democrats, or Democrats to join Republicans to do the right thing by the American people and by the American economy. But they can and they have. They just did when they passed not a grand bargain, but a significant budget deal. And they’ve done it again today in the Senate. And we -- as the President noted earlier today, it’s not a huge amount or a huge accomplishment, but it’s reason to hope. And I think the American people are looking to Washington in this New Year to shed its habit of inaction and obstruction, and instead to embrace common-sense solutions that help the economy, help the middle class, continue this recovery. And that’s what this would do.
Q So would you at this point be willing to issue a veto threat to anything that contains --
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I won’t do, is speculate about things that don’t exist, because yesterday the informed conventional wisdom said that this would not happen today, and it happened. Yesterday, I think there were two Republicans on the record who said they would support -- they would vote “yes” today. I think we ended up with six. Again, six weeks ago, five weeks ago there wasn’t -- when the President was saying several times a week that we needed to do this and insisted on this, I think most of you were noting to us that there wasn’t any Republican support. So we don’t share the conviction that this can’t happen. We share the profound belief that it ought to and it will.
So we're going to press forward with this. We commend the Senate on the action it took today. And we need to get these benefits in the hands of the American people because, as the President said, this isn't just about helping these Americans, these 1.3 Americans and their families. This is, as independent economists have said again and again and again, a boon for the economy. This is a direct infusion. I mean, when you talk about bang for your buck, this is a direct infusion into the economy, and helps -- economic growth helps job creation, not just helps these individuals as they look for work, but has a broader macro effect. And the failure to extend them has the commensurate negative impact on the economy and job creation.
And that’s, if you can dispassionately look at it only from a macro level as opposed to imagining what life is like in those households where a parent has been looking for work and has been relying to put food on the table on this assistance. There's a long tradition, bipartisan tradition throughout many, many years and many administrations and Congresses of extending these benefits when economic conditions demand that we do it. And we should do it again.
Q Quick question on immigration. Some Democrats even in the House are suggesting that one way to get this overhaul through the House would be to focus on giving immigrants who are here illegally legal status, and not go to the next step which is providing a path to citizenship, and deal with that perhaps later. Is that a step that the President would support? Would that be considered?
MR. CARNEY: The President's views have been clear, and they have not changed. This is a comprehensive problem that needs a comprehensive solution. The only way to advance this is to advance it all, and that includes enhanced border security; it includes measures to hold businesses accountable so that everybody plays by the same set of rules; it includes measures to deal with and provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented people here; and it includes the measures we need to take to enhance our legal immigration system so that those who come here to get educated stay here to create businesses.
So how the House gets there is obviously up to the House and House leadership. But in the end, we need comprehensive immigration reform. The President put forward principles; he did not expect to get everything that he wanted in terms of the line-by-line bill as he would write it, but what the Senate passed in a bipartisan way adheres to those principles. And that reflects this broad bipartisan consensus across the country. This is a remarkable thing. You know -- you've covered Washington for some time. You don’t get issues as significant as this very often where this is this kind of coalition of Republicans and Democrats, of business and labor, evangelicals.
This is an opportunity that should be seized, and if it is seized, will do great benefit -- bring great benefit to our economy and our businesses, which is, again, the focus of the President and of so many members of both parties here in Washington.
Q Jay, on a completely different subject.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q What does the President think about Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed that with him, but I can tell you a couple of things.
Mr. Rodman is on a private trip. And our views about North Korea and its failure to meet its obligations have not changed. And our views about Kenneth Bae have not changed. So I heard about -- I did not see -- some of the comments that Mr. Rodman made, but I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response. I'm simply going to say that we remain gravely concerned about Kenneth Bae's health and continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.
Q Was there any effort by the White House or the State Department to discourage Rodman from doing this trip?
MR. CARNEY: This is travel that's private by nature, and we do not vet private travel to North Korea. We have not been contacted by Mr. Rodman about this trip or his prior trip, and we do not -- the U.S. government does not vet U.S. citizens’ private travel to North Korea.
Q Is there any good that can come from something like this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, sports exchanges can be valuable. Sports diplomacy can be valuable. And it's something that we pursue in many places around the world, including through direct support. But this is a private trip. And our focus, when it comes to North Korea, is on sharpening the choice that that regime faces between further isolation, further economic deprivation because of its insistence upon using its resources to fund its military program and fund its nuclear ambitions, or a decision to come in line with its international obligations and taking advantage of the opportunity to rejoin the community of nations, to ease that and potentially end that isolation. That's the very clear choice that the DPRK faces.
Q And just one other topic as well. Senator Murkowski today gave a speech calling for changing U.S. laws about the exportation of crude oil, which is a big issue for lots of people in the energy industry, as the U.S. energy situation changes. What is the White House's thinking about that?
MR. CARNEY: I didn't get a chance to review those. I saw that there was a story about that, but I don't have anything for you on that. You might try the Department of Energy.
Let me move up and back. Chris.
Q Thanks, Jay. Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a stay on same-sex marriages in Utah. As the litigation that brought them there proceeds through the courts, did the President express any disappointment with that decision?
MR. CARNEY: We have no comment on the specifics of this case, because the United States government is not a party to this litigation. But speaking broadly, as you know, the President's views on marriage equality are well established. He believes that loving, committed gay and lesbian couples that want to get married and have access to the full benefits, protections and obligations that marriage brings should be able to do so.
He has also long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples. And he believes strongly that protections should not be taken away from committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families. So, again, I can't -- we're not party to this case. For the sort of questions of legal nature about it, you might try the Department of Justice. But on the broader issues here, the President has been very clear.
Q The thing I want to ask you, though, is that there is a question about whether the federal government will recognize the marriages that were already performed in that state as legally valid. Are there any conversations taking place between the White House and DOJ about that?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice. I'm not -- again, this is a matter that's in litigation now. We're not a party to the litigation. The views of the President are well known. And when it comes to questions like that, I think the Justice Department is the best place to ask them.
Q The Speaker of the House says that a month ago he told the President that any extension of unemployment benefits would have to be paid for and have to include measures to help people get back to work. That was a month ago. That was before this emergency situation where they have expired. Did the President in any way act on that or initiate any discussions about coming up with a plan that would be acceptable to House Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: I thank you for the question, Jon. As a rule, we don't read out conversations between congressional leaders, the Speaker and the Chief of Staff, which is the case here. So I'm not going to get into greater detail about that. I can tell you that our view is clear, as I just expressed, which is that there is a bipartisan bill that has cleared a significant hurdle in the Senate that extends these benefits, these emergency benefits, for three months to make these families, these Americans, these 1.3 million Americans and their families whole as they look for work. And we are absolutely of the mind that the House ought to follow suit. They ought to take care of this. And we can then continue to have conversations about how we move forward beyond the three months, which is what we've been saying for quite some time and what we said yesterday, again, when I think the consensus view was that this vote would fail this morning.
So we believe there's some momentum here and that there ought to be a willingness, a bipartisan willingness by members of both parties in both houses to do what they've done before when the unemployment rate was lower and when the long-term unemployment rate was significantly lower. It can't have been the right thing then and the wrong thing now. And if the argument is solely a matter of fiscal probity, why was, when deficits were climbing in 2008 exponentially, it was the right thing then, but in a period of steep decline in our deficits it's the wrong thing now.
So the premise is flawed. But the fact is the Senate took an important step with bipartisan support today and we believe that the House ought to follow suit.
Q But, Jay, as you know, it passed today with the votes of Republicans who said that they would only support final passage if it is paid for. So the question is -- it's really a direct one here -- is are you -- is the White House opposed to paying for the extension of these unemployment benefits with cuts to other programs?
MR. CARNEY: The White House believes that we ought to do this the way we've done it 14 out of the last 17 times.
Q So the answer is, yes, then you're opposed to doing it in a way that is paid for with cuts --
MR. CARNEY: Yes. We believe that Congress ought to act on this short-term extension of these emergency benefits right away so that those benefits begin flowing again to these families who, by the way, in addition to the other hardships they face in many parts of the country, are contemplating how they pay their heating bills. Louisville, Kentucky, before I walked out here today, was seven degrees Fahrenheit -- seven degrees. That’s what it was here this morning. If you didn’t get a check this week, or you know you're not getting one this week, and you know you've got a heating bill coming, you might be wondering how you're going to pay it.
Q So there's no negotiating with the Republicans on this point?
MR. CARNEY: Let me just -- all I would tell you is that yesterday the same questions were asked on the premise that this would fail in the Senate. It has not failed; in fact, it picked up Republican support. So we are absolutely unwilling to concede that there is not support for doing what Congress has done in the past.
Q You talk about what the House should do, so is there some reason to doubt that it will do it?
MR. CARNEY: It wouldn’t be interesting if that weren't the case, Bill.
Q Why not admit that if you really want this to happen, you're willing to talk to them about alternative plans?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I can only repeat what I've said in the past -- in the very recent past -- which is that Congress has done this before many, many times. The previous President, a Republican, signed it into law, unpaid for many times, bills that had bipartisan support, bills that were passed by Congress when the unemployment rate was lower and when the long-term unemployment rate was significantly lower.
So again, the question you ought to be asking is why was it the right thing to do --
Q Will you let it fail?
MR. CARNEY: But, Bill, that premise is the same you would have asked yesterday on the supposition that it was going to fail today, and instead, it picked up votes. And what we have seen steadily since December, and what we saw this weekend on the Sunday shows, and what we saw yesterday and what we saw today is that more and more Republicans are supporting, publicly, the idea that we need to do this in the way that we've done it before, which is to set aside ideology and recognize that this is the right thing to do for these families and the right thing to do for our economy. It's not that complicated. So hopefully that’s what will happen.
Q If it doesn’t?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s the same question you could have asked yesterday -- "Jay, it's not going to pass tomorrow so what do you do then?" So you're suggesting something with certitude that you can't possibly know. And, in fact, I think recent history suggests --
Q And so are you.
MR. CARNEY: I would say that we have the momentum when it comes to the building consensus that this is something that ought to be done.
Q One more thing. On the health care costs, declining health care costs, aren't you giving the ACA more credit than it’s due? Health care costs have been declining between 2009 and 2012, at a time when all consumer spending has declined. So by piggybacking the ACA onto it, aren't you giving it more credit than it deserves?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that you can disagree about the scale of impact of the ACA on the continued slowdown in health care costs, but according to a range of experts from the Congressional Budget Office to leading health economists, the slowdown does go beyond the recession. I would remind you that we are now obviously in 2014, and the recession, as a technical matter, is something that ended sometime ago. The economy has been growing and creating jobs.
I would also remind you that a number of skeptics, including the aforementioned Speaker of the House, said in August of 2010, "Health care costs will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare." I think he missed on that prediction. Paul Ryan: "Unless repealed, this law will exacerbate the spiraling cost of health care." That was in January of 2011. The opposite happened. The opposite happened.
And it reminds me -- Bill, it's good to do this because you covered it, too -- remember 1993, the Clinton budget? Remember? And some of these members are still in the House and the Senate -- profoundly confident predictions that if this budget were to pass, we would -- the country would go into recession, job growth would be decimated, terrible things would happen, and instead, we saw the longest sustained period of economic growth and job creation in half a century.
So I think we're a little bit better about the prediction business.
Q Jay, there have been some reports in talking about the economy that the President may have some new proposals this week, specifically the Promise Zones that have been talked about before. Whether you call it -- or confirm it now, the idea that he has some tax incentives and some other things to help areas of the country that have been historically dealing with poverty, will he have something to say this week on that, and on the anniversary of the War on Poverty?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make. I think the program that you cited has been discussed in the past. It's something that we think is a significant help economically, and it's something this President supports. But I don’t have any scheduling announcements with regards to the President or previews of policy proposals he may make or remake.
Q When the President today in talking about the unemployment benefit issue acknowledged, as Gene Sperling did yesterday at the podium, that long-term unemployment is still a big problem in this country, since he's now been in office for five years, will he acknowledge that some of that is his responsibility? It's not just policies from the Bush administration, but he's now had five years. Does he bear some responsibility for long-term unemployment?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that everyone who is sent to Washington by their representatives bears responsibility for taking action to help the economy and help the American people. And that’s why economic growth, job creation, middle-class security have been the cornerstones of his domestic policy since the day he was sworn into office.
The problem that we've seen with both the reduction in mobility, economic mobility has been one that’s been obviously developing for a number of years and decades. When it comes to -- and he talked about that in his speech here in Washington at the Center for American Progress, so the event sponsored by CAP. And when it comes to long-term unemployment, this is obviously a situation that has been developing for some time, and it was gravely exacerbated by the worst recession since the Great Depression.
And the fact that it is a continuing problem and a problem that calls out for creative solutions only reinforces what the President has said about the need to take action, and the need to do things legislatively and through other means that help Americans out there who have been looking for work for too long. And you've heard the President talk about it a lot because it's very much on his mind.
Q When you talk about the millions of jobs that have been created and some of the recovery that we've seen under the President you certainly take credit for that, that his policies have worked in some ways. Will you also take responsibility that when you have a record number of people on food stamps; when you've got, as he says and Gene Sperling said yesterday, this long-term unemployment problem, some of his policies have not worked.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure that’s what he said. He said that long-term unemployment continues to be a persistent problem that we need to address. And we look forward to collaboration and cooperation from Congress on measures that will help the long-term unemployed, that will help other unemployed Americans strengthen the middle class, help our economy grow. And the President has put forward a host of proposals that are of the nature that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, including his proposal to combine a simplification and reduction in the corporate tax rate as part of a package of investments that would help build our infrastructure and put people back to work.
So this President is very eager to have conversations with members of Congress about what we can do to further the economic expansion, further the job creation that we've seen. Because there's no question -- given that we started this enterprise here, the President did, when we were hemorrhaging jobs at 800,000 per month, and that job loss was sustained and dramatic -- the work is not yet finished, not even close to finished, which is why it's the President's primary preoccupation.
Q Thank you. So it's not entirely unprecedented, though, to pay for unemployment extension. You said 14 out of 17, so that leaves three; I think at least one of those times was under this presidency when the unemployment rate was higher. So does this -- it seems like both sides have something to say here, and that -- is there a way out?
MR. CARNEY: We'll take the 14 out of 17 as opposed to the 3 out of 17 in terms of the preponderance of evidence. But I would simply argue that you have a situation where last week 1.3 million Americans and their families were cut off. You have areas of the country where the unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national rate of 7 percent. You have families who, in many cases, are in very desperate circumstances in terms of the prospect of trying to do without that assistance as the individuals or the primary breadwinner in the family searches for work. And remember, as Gene said yesterday, this assistance comes with the requirement that you're looking for work.
So we're talking about a proposal that extends these benefits for three months -- not a year -- three months. And Congress ought to do what it has done the disproportionate percentage of the time in the past, including under Republican Congresses and Republican Presidents, and extend these benefits so that these families can live without some of the fear that they face during a time of economic hardship and thereby create the time here in Washington for further discussions about how to move forward beyond the three months.
It doesn't seem, given the bipartisan nature of these kinds of efforts in the past, given the pro-growth nature of the extension of these kinds of benefits and pro-job creation nature of it, it doesn't seem like it should be a huge ideological disagreement. In fact, what we've seen over the past several days is that it's not.
And when you hear what Senator Heller says and what other Republicans have said, including some Republicans not in Congress but in the think-tank world, there is a positive economic reason to do this. There is obviously the moral reason to do this, because we should be helping these Americans as they search for work. And that has held true in the past and it ought to hold true now. And we take great heart in the fact that what was largely silence from one side of the aisle in December on this issue has steadily grown when it comes to support for moving forward on this.
So what we think is that the House ought to do what -- follow the Senate's lead. The Senate ought to finish the work of passing this. The House ought to pass it. And then we can move forward with discussions about how to move beyond the three-month period that this extension would cover.
Q So is the hope that the Speaker just doesn't really mean what he has been saying for a month?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would simply say that, in the past, including under President George W. Bush, these benefits have been extended more often than not, considerably more often than not without pay-fors because of the emergency nature of the assistance and the economic benefit of the assistance at a macro level. And what the bipartisan bill that has been moving through the Senate represents is a compromise, a three-month extension, not a year. And if Congress acts on that, as it should right away, then we can continue discussions about how to move forward. That's the economically sensible thing to do. It's the centrist thing to do. It's certainly -- extending these benefits is not a disservice to the families who are counting on them and to the individuals who are looking for work. So we remain hopeful that Congress will take action.
Q Can you say which lawmakers the President talked to last night lobbying for this bill?
MR. CARNEY: I can only tell you that the President has been in contact with lawmakers on this issue, but I'm not going to itemize a list.
Q And can I just jump back to the Murkowski question earlier? One of the things she asked for specifically was to lift the ban on crude oil exports. It's not necessarily a new issue. Is the President --
MR. CARNEY: I certainly don't believe our position on this has changed, but I saw the headline. I just don't have anything more on it for you. Energy might have something for you. But I just, before I came out here, didn't look into it.
Q Jay, the House has passed dozens of bills to create jobs and for skills training for the long-term unemployed, including the SKILLS Act dating back to I think March of last year. They are held up in the Senate right now. What's wrong with those bills presently out there, pushed by House Republicans admittedly, that the President wouldn't be supporting them as a means to try to help accommodate these people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you would have to be more specific than those bills.
Q The SKILLS Act, specifically.
MR. CARNEY: I think a number of these bills have been scored as terms of their job creation and their cost. Obviously, what needs to happen is for a bill to move through both houses of Congress in a bipartisan way. I understand in the House -- I understand in the House you can pass something with purely Republican support and check it off your list as having done something. But in the Senate, because of the circumstances there and the rules there, you need what we saw today, which was bipartisan action. And the President has put forward a series of proposals that represent what has traditionally been a bipartisan approach to job creation and economic investment and development.
Building our infrastructure is hardly a pursuit that Democrats have engaged in alone over the years. And making a more competitive and more fair corporate tax code is not something you'd normally associate with Democrats alone. So this is just one idea that we've put forward and Gene repeated again over the weekend and this week that we ought to be able to move on, like, comprehensive immigration reform. This is not some ideological pursuit. It has the support of evangelicals. It has the support of big business and small business. It has the support of labor. It has the support of Republicans across the country. It has the support of Republicans on Capitol Hill. So let's do it.
Q So why won't this hold the same fate as immigration reform, given the intransigence?
MR. CARNEY: We believe immigration reform is going to pass. It's going to pass. And it's up to the House to decide when, but it's going to happen.
Q Just for better understanding, Katherine Hackett was the woman who spoke before the President today, and there was a group of those who have been impacted by the cessation of their long-term unemployment benefits. Who pays in situations like that for those individuals to come to the White House, just curious?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to get that. I don't have any background on the individuals.
Q Then, if I can, specific to the weather that you addressed earlier today -- in Louisville, seven degrees here, a record cold, the coldest in two decades in large parts of America. Can you give us a sense, given the breadth of this as a real issue, what the President has been doing or what contacts he has had today in terms of emergency management?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is certainly aware of the dramatic weather that parts of the country have been experiencing. And there have been no requests thus far for federal assistance. But FEMA is monitoring the weather and in contact with state, local and tribal partners through its regional offices. We urge residents to be safe and to follow directions from local officials. If local officials say stay off the roads, avoid travel unless it’s an emergency. Depending on the state, depending on the region, local officials have the best insight when it comes to what’s the right thing and the safe thing to do.
We are confident that the team at FEMA is monitoring this closely and if there is an issue that requires federal assistance, they’ll be on top of it.
Q After 43 years, the activists behind the theft of an FBI office that exposed domestic spying have now come forward, and the FBI spokesperson told NBC News that a number of events during that era, including that burglary, contributed to changes in how the FBI identified and addressed domestic security threats, leading to reforms of the FBI’s intelligence policies and practices. Do you see any relationship between what happened then and the situation with Edward Snowden now, that the two somehow correlate and the impact is the same, that he should somehow be treated the same way those individuals were?
MR. CARNEY: Our view of Mr. Snowden has not changed. He’s been charged with felonies for the illegal leaking of classified information. And our intelligence community experts are better able to address this, but there are dramatic negative impacts to that kind of leaking when it comes to our national security.
Q Are there any positive impacts? Anything of value?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply -- the President was asked a version of this at his press conference at the end of the year and he said it better than I could in terms of how he views these matters. And you know from what he said then and what he’s said in the past that he takes these issues very seriously. He has instituted a review about the NSA procedures and broader issues that encompasses both the review group as well as other elements. And as we've said, you’ll be hearing from the President on these issues before the State of the Union.
Q The President brought the NSA advisory report to Hawaii with him on vacation. Can you tell us a little bit about how much time he spent reviewing that on his vacation, and maybe tell us a little bit whether he has -- has he come to sort of a decision at this point, or close to a final decision?
MR. CARNEY: He and his team are continuing to review the review group’s report, including sorting through which recommendations we will implement and which might require further study, as well as those that we might not pursue. As I mentioned earlier and as we said in December, there are other pieces of the review beyond the review group’s work, which the group presented to the President in December.
We expect that -- in fact, we know with confidence that the President will have made some decisions about which recommendations he wants to implement, which require further review, and which we will not implement, and you will hear him discuss those issues later this month.
Q Can you talk a little bit, though, about in terms of, for example, the last couple weeks in Hawaii, the last couple days -- was he spending time each day on this issue, the President himself and/or people around his --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t travel with him to Hawaii, but I can say with confidence that this is an issue that he takes very seriously and he consumes vast quantities of briefing materials, and I'm sure he gave and has given the report from the review group a great deal of consideration.
Yes, Sam. I'm sorry -- Brianna. My peripheral is fading with my age. Sorry.
Q It’s the beard.
MR. CARNEY: It’s the beard that's growing up and blocking my view. (Laughter.)
Q You're not going to blame the beard. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I might. I mean, look what it’s done to you. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
Q Oooh --
MR. CARNEY: Sorry. I say that out of affection. (Laughter.)
Q On unemployment benefits, you're citing momentum on that, which seems to be based on the fact that the White House expected the preliminary vote to fail.
MR. CARNEY: We didn’t; you guys did.
Q Well, some Senate Republicans were indicating they had the votes as early as yesterday afternoon, and then --
MR. CARNEY: Really? I had one of your colleagues tell me an hour before it passed right here in this room that we were three votes short -- two votes short.
Q We reported that Senate Republicans were indicating -- some Senate Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it was close, Brianna. I think there were exactly zero Republicans on the record for this. Then there was Senator Heller, who, admirably, co-sponsored this legislation, and then we ended up with six. It’s what makes these things worth covering, is that none of this was baked in the cake.
Q Yes, it was going to be close, but as Jon noted, the Republicans who voted for it, they want conditions that obviously the White House isn't advocating. And this was a preliminary vote. This was a vote to begin debate. So is this really momentum in terms of a clean extension of long-term unemployment benefits?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Why is that, if that's not what Republicans who voted, that's not what they want?
MR. CARNEY: Because the operating rhetoric of the moment in December when this was an issue the President was pushing was that Republicans wouldn't support extension, they weren’t necessary -- the benefits weren’t necessary and, in fact, according to one top Republican, they were a disservice to the recipients of the benefits. So I think by anybody’s analysis, that view has evolved in a positive direction.
I think if you look at what senators who were out publicly over the weekend said about this, there has been significant and commendable movement in the direction of moving forward with extending these emergency benefits to the 1.3 Americans and their families -- I keep saying 1.3 -- I mean 1.3 million Americans and their families who had this assistance cut off last week.
Q So the debate has moved from the need for the benefits to the need for a pay-for. You think you can push them beyond that, including House Republicans, to a clean extension?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there is growing bipartisan support for extending emergency insurance to the unemployed. I think that it's irrefutable that the direction of this debate has moved in a favorable way since December.
I acknowledge that this is hard; unfortunately, these kinds of things tend to be hard. But we are hopeful, and we believe and know that it's the right thing to do. And we're not -- we don’t have a corner on that faith and wisdom. We know it's shared by Americans across the country and by economists and by Republicans and Democrats alike.
So we're just going to keep pressing for Congress to do the right thing, which is extend these benefits temporarily, three months. And then, as we've said quite clearly, we should then have conversations about how to move forward, which we're absolutely willing and interested in doing.
Q You cite this as an emergency, the time is now. We know that the checks are not arriving, obviously. But the issue of a pay-for, it's a traditional request of Republicans. It's not something you were blindsided by. I guess I'm asking because the perception is that this is a political fight. So if it's not politics and the checks aren't arriving right now, then why not try to find that middle ground on a pay-for, middle ground that has been found before?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on a relatively rare number of occasions. What I would say is that the ideological fight, if it were to be one, is around horse trading over what are essentially emergency benefits for families in need -- individuals, 1.3 million of them, who are looking for work actively, and who have been suffering under circumstances of long-term unemployment that are unique in our history, and certainly our more recent history.
So this, again, is a short-term extension. And we have made clear that we would look forward to conversations about how to move forward after this three-month extension is passed. Again, this is -- I think those Americans who are watching these kinds of debates, and especially those who are directly affected by what Congress will decide to do here, are only asking Washington to work for them and not against them.
And this is a case where those who support this extension aren't asking for anything extraordinary, right? We’ve just cited how many times this has been done in the past when the circumstances were not as dire for families like these. So we ought to do that. And there's an opportunity here I think that we saw at the end of the year in December with success that Senator Murray and Chairman Ryan had in working out a budget deal to return to normal order a little bit, to obviously not end all division that we have here or -- there's going to be areas no matter what where we disagree and we can't move forward legislatively.
But this is the kind of thing where history shows us we should be able to move forward, and there are a whole host of areas where that opportunity exists. And it doesn’t make you less of a Republican or less of a Democrat to find some common ground here and move forward. And this President has demonstrated his willingness to do that again and again, and he will continue to do so.
Q Last question, just on -- to follow on Dennis Rodman. I don’t know if you've seen the interview --
MR. CARNEY: I haven't, no. I heard about it, yes.
Q Okay. It was rather testy. He suggested that there's a valid reason for North -- for the North Korean government to be holding Kenneth Bae -- I assume you know that he suggested that. Is it hurtful to the U.S.'s position on North Korea and also relations with, for instance, South Korea, when you have someone who has a really rare access, who's freelancing with these kind of opinions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we don’t -- the United States government does not control or vet the private travel of private citizens to the DPRK. The interview that you mentioned -- I won't sort of dignify what I understand was an outburst with a response.
Q But is it hurtful?
MR. CARNEY: Look, our position on Mr. Bae is what it was, and we want to see him released. We remain gravely concerned about his health and continue to urge North Korean authorities to grant him amnesty and immediate release. And that pursuit continues regardless of what's happening with this visit.
Q But you won't say it’s hurtful when this is -- I mean, this is the exposure to America that North Korea has.
MR. CARNEY: I don't know whether I could assess whether it's hurtful or not. What I know is what our position is. And I'm not going to address the assertions made in the interview because they don't merit one, a response or a comment. We believe he needs to be released and granted amnesty.
Q Two things, Jay. One, to follow up on Brianna, is there any concern on the White House's part that Dennis Rodman could now be or in the future be in violation of the Logan Act, preventing private citizens from undermining U.S. foreign policy by interacting with foreign leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't heard that discussed.
Q And then, the second thing is on unemployment insurance. Is there a metric that the White House would use for when emergency unemployment insurance is no longer necessary in terms of unemployment --
MR. CARNEY: That's a great question. There's a mechanism built into these benefits, as Gene, far more of an expert than I, discussed yesterday, whereby already benefits are reduced the number of weeks that they're extended or reduced depending on the unemployment rate. And that exists already. There are only some areas of the country where the full benefits, the full extension of benefits are delivered because of the unemployment rate. And as the unemployment rate comes down, weeks are lopped off that time period.
So there is an already existing mechanism within the program that accounts for a reduction in the unemployment rate. Even though we've made substantial progress in bringing down the unemployment rate from its terrible highs from the Great Recession, we still have a lot of work to do. Seven percent is no one's idea here of an acceptable unemployment rate. So that work continues.
And while we have Americans out there actively seeking jobs who depend on this assistance, we need to do the right thing here in Washington to ensure that it continues.
Q Thanks, Jay. So we now have these drones and the Hellfire missiles flowing to Iraq. Are there concerns about how the missiles in particular will be used given the consideration about civilian casualties in some of these areas? You're talking about Fallujah, Ramadi. And also, what about the suggestion we've heard by some observers that just sending more weapons will just encourage Prime Minister Maliki to believe that a political solution is not the way to go?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our policy is certainly not to simply send more weapons. We continue to follow events in Iraq's Anbar Province very closely as the situation remains, as you know, volatile. Iraqi tribes, with support from Iraqi security forces, continue successfully to confront Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters in and around the city of Ramadi, and to prepare to confront extremists in the city of Fallujah.
We remain in close contact, as I said yesterday, from here in Washington and from our embassy in Baghdad with all of Iraq's political leaders at the highest levels about how we can continue to support their efforts to defeat our common enemy and about how there needs to be a united effort, a unified effort to combat the ISIL and the threat it poses in Anbar.
And as you may know, Vice President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker al-Nujaifi yesterday to press for that unified effort. And we have made clear -- and we believe that Iraq's leaders agree -- that the only way to fight ISIL is through strong coordination between the government of Iraq and local Sunni tribes and officials, who are essential in this effort. Because I think there's no question, despite the divisions in Iraq, that the vast, vast majority of Iraq's citizens reject the extremism that al Qaeda represents. And that's why we're having the conversations at very high levels with Iraq’s leaders about the need to work together to combat ISIL.
And we were pleased to see Prime Minister Maliki and Speaker al-Nujaifi call on the residents of Anbar to rise up against extremist elements, as well as their call on the Iraqi Army to operate in a professional manner with the backing of the local population. This, as you know, is very key.
We were also encouraged by Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s comments that internally displaced Anbaris -- residents of Anbar Province -- are welcome in Najaf and Karbala, which is Iraq’s Shia heartland, and that they would be received by a committee established to meet their needs. And that kind of approach -- unified, in a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation -- is one that we believe is essential to the effort here.
Q Since the Prime Minister was here in November, is President Obama satisfied with the degree of cooperation with what he’s seen in terms of Maliki addressing the sectarian issues and the political reconciliation issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is a matter that we have discussed in conversations at the very highest levels with Iraqi leaders ever since President Obama and Vice President Biden took office in January 2009. I know from my personal experience when I worked for the Vice President, he’s traveled many times to Iraq and spent -- and continues to spend a lot of time on the phone with Iraq’s leaders pressing this very issue, as well as many other issues. It’s an important relationship that we have with the government of Iraq, with the Iraqi people, and our commitment to assisting them in this effort I think is represented both by the military assistance that we're providing and speeding up, but also by the kind of discourse that we have with Iraq’s leaders.
Q Jay, yesterday you described -- you said that CMS would be providing demographic data in its next report. Will that be in the annual monthly report that we should be getting in about a week?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just said I knew it was coming soon. I don't know in what form of report. I don't think I said next report, because I don't know.
Q And why has the demographic and geographic diversity, which you have said and which the White House has said for weeks now is the crux of the solvency of the program -- why has that been scrubbed out of the last two months of reports of all of the data we've seen from CMS so far?
MR. CARNEY: I have addressed these questions to CMS, which has been providing briefings and direct information. This is a fairly complicated piece of business, all this data coming in from a variety of sources. It has to be scrubbed; it has to be made accurate. Top-line numbers are a little simpler to come by than more nuanced slices of the data.
But as I said yesterday and as I know CMS has said, we will be providing that data once we're confident that it’s ready to be made public.
Q So it’s not the White House’s policy that age, for example, has been removed from the data that's --
MR. CARNEY: No, no. Look, I think, Jared, if you’ve watched us since the rather difficult days of October, our approach has been very clear. We put out what we have; we acknowledge the wholly unsatisfactory launch that healthcare.gov underwent on October 1st and have made every effort, with a team of folks working 24/7, to fix the problems that caused that rocky start to the launch of the website and other problems as they arise. And there’s no question, even as we've seen dramatic improvement in the functionality of the website and dramatic improvements -- or increases in the enrollments, that we still have more work to do and that we take nothing for granted.
So we're going to get that information to you when it’s ready, and my understanding is that will be soon.
Q You said you wouldn’t lay out specific calls with Republicans in the Senate, but I wonder if you could kind of describe the outreach effort in the last day or two leading up to the vote. And also, looking past the three-month extension, what does the White House see as the best path forward if you -- once you get a short-term extension passed?
MR. CARNEY: On the second one, I'll accept that challenge if and when it arrives. I hope we get to have that conversation if Congress acts, the House and the Senate, to extend benefits for three months.
On the first one, I would simply say that it’s been a comprehensive effort here that has involved obviously the President and others in conversations with members of Congress, members of the Senate as well as the House. And this will continue.
The arguments that are made in those conversations are not unlike the ones we're making publicly. They’re similar -- they’re the same, which is that this is something that we've done in the past; it’s the right thing to do; it’s good for the economy. We have, unfortunately, a high number of long-term unemployed Americans who need this assistance and we ought to take action. And we will absolutely want to have further conversations about how we move forward beyond a three-month extension.
Last one. Steve.
Q Thank you. To follow up on Jared’s question regarding the demographic data -- so if the administration doesn’t have the demographic data and this is the most -- one of the most important factors in determining the success of these exchanges, does it then follow that the administration doesn’t know whether these exchanges will be successful or not?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think we would make declarations about where we're going to be on March 31st in October -- we can make projections about where we hope to be -- but October or November, December or January. I'm not even sure I understand your question. We are confident that we are making significant strides when it comes to enrollees and that enrollees represent a lot of Americans from different regions of the country, age groups and circumstances.
But the issue here is -- I guess this is sort of -- this is the new thing where we're going to find some problem in the system. Well, first of all, we acknowledge problems when they arise and when they need to be fixed. We acknowledge that there needs to be the right mix for the marketplaces to be maximally effective. We believe we will achieve that mix. But we're not going to even imagine or hope that you’ll take our word for it; you’ll evaluate it as you see the proof of it, as you have with the enrollment figures and the numbers that were obviously terrible in October and gradually improved after that.
So we're committed to getting the data to you and you can judge it for yourselves.
1:33 P.M. EST