Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/9/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I did cross a bridge here, but on my way here, I was at a funeral in Falls Church. I apologize for the delay. It was a funeral for a remarkable woman, the mother of a friend, who lived a great life and was a great woman. And it was a lovely service. Her name was Theresa McKenna.
And with that, I have a couple of announcements. First, on Wednesday, January 15th, President Obama will travel to the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina for an event on the economy. Further details on the President’s trip to North Carolina will be made available in the coming days.
Second, this afternoon, as you know, President Obama will host an event here at the White House to name officially the first five Promise Zones that our administration is partnering with to invest in and rebuild. The President will be joined at the event by representatives and community members from each of the five zones, which are located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The President first announced our Promise Zone initiative during last year’s State of the Union address as a way to partner with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand access to educational opportunities and quality, affordable housing, and to improve public safety.
Yesterday, as we reflected on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the President reiterated this commitment. He reminded us of the frustrations that many American families face and the need to build ladders of opportunity for those working to get into the middle class. So today’s event will be a critical step forward in delivering on this commitment and making progress toward our greater goal of strengthening the economic mobility of all Americans.
As I think you know, there will be a final call I'm told at 1:50 p.m. For those of you who need to go over there, feel free, don't mind me. I apologize again for being late. And if anyone is still around I'll keep taking questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President met this morning with several lawmakers to discuss his NSA review. Is there any kind of readout you can give us from that meeting, and can you also tell us what lawmakers attended?
MR. CARNEY: I think I have that here somewhere, hold on. Give me one sec. I can tell you that he did --
Q I have a question on another topic if you want --
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, I apologize.
Q It’s okay. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I was told as I was coming out here and I just can't find it, but we did have a short readout. He did meet with congressional members on the NSA disclosures issue, and we'll have -- if I stumble across it, I'll come back to you. It’s in here somewhere. Otherwise, we'll get it to you right after the briefing.
Q On that other topic, the President obviously has developed a good relationship with Chris Christie over the past couple of years. I'm wondering if he has any reaction to both Christie’s lengthy news conference today and also the issue with the bridge in general.
MR. CARNEY: On that, I haven't spoken to him about the situation in New Jersey. I don't know, but I doubt that he had time to catch any of the news conference. And beyond that, it sounds very much like a state matter to me. And to the extent that it isn't, as I understand there was a statement by the U.S. Attorney. That's something that you would have to ask the Department of Justice about.
Let me tell you that today President Obama met with members of Congress to discuss the administration’s ongoing review of signals intelligence programs, including our study of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies report. In August, the President committed his administration to working with Congress to pursue reforms of our nation’s surveillance programs and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This meeting was an opportunity for the President to hear from the members about the work that they have been doing on these issues since they last met and to solicit their input as we near the end of our internal review. The President thanked the members for their ongoing work on these challenging issues.
I'll run through quickly those who attended: Senator Feinstein, Senator Chambliss, Senator Leahy, Senator Grassley, Senator Durbin, Senator Cochran, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Udall, Senator Wyden, Representative Rogers, Representative Goodlatte, Representative Conyers, Representative Frelinghuysen, and Representative Visclosky, Representative Schiff, and Representative Sensenbrenner.
Q Has the President set a date yet for his speech on the NSA review?
MR. CARNEY: We don't have a scheduling announcement to make. It remains the case that he will be making remarks upon the completion of his own review, the complete review, and decisions he’ll make about the path forward, and that will happen before the State of the Union address on January 28th.
Q Hey, Jay. Because of the magnitude of what’s happening in New Jersey, would the President be advised by the Attorney General if indeed there were to be subpoenas issued for personal emails and phone records?
MR. CARNEY: No. And this is not -- again, you're asking about something that would, if it even were to happen, would be an investigation that would be done by the Justice Department. It would not involve the White House.
Q But this could also involve the Department of Transportation, because the way I'm hearing, out of New Jersey, there could be charges linked to obstructing interstate highways and traffic, acting under the color of state law to interfere with lawful political activity. So this is beyond just state law in New Jersey. This has far-reaching ramifications.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that may be the case, April. I honestly only know what I've had the chance to read in the paper. But there's certainly nothing that involves the White House with this issue. And to the extent that there's any involvement of the federal government, I think you would have to ask the Department of Justice.
Q So to be clear -- so the President, if the national transportation -- or the Department of Transportation or the Attorney General wants to look into it, the President would not be advised about that?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, you're asking me speculatively, but I do not imagine that this would be something that as a rule would involve a White House or a President.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the meeting with lawmakers about NSA, can you provide any additional detail? How far is he along in terms of making his decisions? Is he consulting with them about potential decisions in terms of his own review?
MR. CARNEY: The answer to the first part is that he's fairly far along. This is a review, broadly speaking, that’s been underway for some time. He's had a number of meetings with people conducting close examinations of this issue -- the review group, the PCLOB, and obviously the members he met with today, as well as members of his own team. But he's not yet finished with that, and he is still soliciting input, which he did today, and sort of reviewing the scope of the matter and some of the ideas that were presented, for example, in the review group report, which was released publicly.
So he's obviously close to the end of this review in the sense that he will be giving remarks about his conclusions and the steps forward he wants to take within the next couple of weeks, or before January 28th -- don’t want to have to do the math. But it's also the case, as we've noted, that when it comes to the review group's recommendations, for example -- specific recommendations -- that the President wanted every one of those and wants every one of those to be considered, and it is the case that, with the exception of the one on which a decision has already been made, that there will be some, I expect, that he will want to act on or want the government to act on right away. There will be others that he may decide should not be acted on, and there may be some that would require further review.
So I don’t think -- I expect that this will be an important milestone in the process, and a conclusion, in many respects, for this review. But not all of the work will be done simply because these recommendations are being acted on.
Q Separately, Speaker Boehner in a new conference today called on the President to take a more active role with regard to Iraq, pointing to the events in Fallujah and sort of talking about the U.S. experience there. Can you comment on that, please?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn't see those remarks by the Speaker, but obviously as you know, Mark, the administration is deeply engaged in efforts to consult with the Iraqi government and also to step up assistance to the Iraqi government in their effort to combat international terrorist groups operating in Anbar province, and that effort continues.
As you know, I think yesterday I mentioned that Vice President Biden had had yet another conversation with Iraqi leaders, including the Prime Minister, and those kinds of consultations are ongoing as we provide assistance to the sovereign government of Iraq in its important effort to combat these al Qaeda groups and international terrorist operations, because the overwhelming majority of Iraqis -- no matter whether they're Shiite or Sunni, no matter their political views -- want to be rid of al Qaeda.
And President -- rather Prime Minister Maliki has been conducting internal outreach to Iraqi local, tribal, and national leaders, including Sunnis and Kurds. And the Council of Ministers recently decided to extend state benefits to Sunni tribal forces killed or injured in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is the al Qaeda affiliate that is in Anbar right now.
So I’m not sure what the Speaker was calling for, but I can assure you that this administration at the highest levels, as well through our embassy in Kabul -- I mean, rather, in Baghdad is very directly involved in this in an assistance role.
Q If I could just ask about today’s event. What does it say about the President’s efforts generally to combat income disparity, that having sort of launched his own version of a War on Poverty he’s beginning with a fairly narrowly targeted program -- five Promise Zones -- when national programs like raising the minimum wage would have a much greater effect on decreasing poverty?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is not going to pursue Promise Zones and then say we’re done with the effort here. As you know, the President is forcefully committed to raising the minimum wage. We support the legislation in the Senate that would raise it to $10.10 and then index it to inflation. The President himself has spoken about it, including at the State of the Union address last year and including multiple times during the course of last year, not least of which was the speech he gave in Anacostia towards the end of the year on economic mobility and income disparity.
Raising the minimum wage, you're absolutely right, would have a profoundly positive impact. And that's why he believes strongly that Congress ought to act, and he supports efforts in states to act to raise the minimum wage. So this is not a one-off proposition.
The Promise Zones represent the kind of creative and innovative approach to some of the economic challenges we face that the President believes are essential if we're going to build on the progress that has been made over the past 50 years in combating poverty, and move in different directions to tackle the challenges that remain. Partnering with local communities, local governments and businesses in a way that the Promise Zone program does is an absolutely vital and I think creative way to further economic development in different parts of the country. And I think we've seen bipartisan support for that effort, which is always a welcome thing.
Q Thanks, Jay. On unemployment, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, now saying that he is open to an extension of -- a long-term extension of long-term unemployment benefits if the cost is offset. Are you on the same page as the Senate Majority Leader?
MR. CARNEY: What we have said remains the case, which when it comes to the bill that exists that would deal with the emergency that exists for 1.3 million families -- Americans and their families -- across the country extends that unemployment insurance without offsets, we believe that Congress ought to act on it right away. We have always been open to, as we've said and I've said daily from here, conversations about how to move forward for a longer extension; a full-year extension is what is normally talked about.
So, yes, we're obviously in sync with Senator Reid in that respect and I think in the general approach to this, which is -- the only measure that exists is the one that has cleared the first hurdle in the Senate. And unlike some of the policy debates that we have in Washington and the legislation that moves forward in Congress, this is one that is desperately needed now by some very real people in the country who are suffering. So our view has been that in keeping with past practice 14 out of 17 times, including all five of the times that President George W. Bush signed an extension into law, we can and should move forward with the short-term extension without offsets. But we are absolutely open to discussions about how to move forward beyond that.
Q It seemed like before you wanted the three-month clean extension and then to talk about offsets after that. So now you're willing to talk about offsets before the first three months is extended for the long-term benefits?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I guess the way I would explain it, Brianna, is that we certainly oppose any suggestion that movement on getting these benefits right away to the family should be halted or stalled while conversations are being had about longer-term solutions.
So we believe that Congress ought to act right away to extend these benefits for three months, short term; to ensure that these 1.3 million Americans don’t suffer; and that their efforts to find jobs aren’t hampered by the fact that they have no assistance and no assistance to put food on the table for their families or to pay their heating bills, for example. But we are open to conversations about how to move forward for a longer period. That’s what I think I’ve been saying all week.
Q Well, it seems sort of like something has changed a little bit; that there seems to be more of a realization that talking about the long term and offsets for the long term may be the way to get the benefits in the near term for the long-term unemployed -- kind of confusing -- put in place.
MR. CARNEY: Well, our interest is in the result in the sense that -- obviously there are conversations all the time between members of both parties in both houses about how to move forward on issues, including this one. And the Republicans who voted in favor of cloture earlier this week I think demonstrated how important and bipartisan this issue is, and we want to see that kind of cooperation and cooperative bipartisan conversation move forward on this issue and so many others.
I think, again, our view is -- putting aside the conversations about what moving forward looks like on Capitol Hill -- we want these benefits passed. And right now there’s a bill that would do that, get that assistance to those families right away. And we just don’t want any conversations about subjects related to this, including long-term extension, to stall efforts. We want that effort to move fast.
Q I guess my bottom-line question is, when you’re talking to Americans who are directly affected by this, the long-term unemployed, should they be -- in your estimation and the estimation of the President and the White House, should they be feeling more encouraged today than perhaps -- yesterday it seemed pretty discouraging. Should they be feeling more encouraged today that this is going to be resolved?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t really answer that. We’ve been, I think, optimistic in a way that not everyone has this week and last week about the prospects for this moving forward and assistance getting to these families. And so we remain hopeful and optimistic that it will happen. I don’t know that developments in the last 24 hours make that more or less likely, but we certainly hope the answer is more likely.
Q Just a real quick thing on the Promise Zones -- and I apologize if I’ve missed this -- but is there specific money attached to the kind of -- the efforts for these five places? And if so, where does it come from, and how much? Is that something he’s going to be announcing -- specific dollar amounts?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll have more information, specific information after the President’s event, or concurrent with the President’s event. This is about partnership, and I know that there is existing monies that helps the agencies involved at the federal level focus their attention on and efforts on, and cut a lot of bureaucratic red tape for and on behalf of the area selected here. So I think that is the principal objective. But for more details --
Q The fact sheet said investments -- sort of used terms like -- vague terms like “investment,” but it didn’t say --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything more specific than if we’ve already put out a factsheet, because that’s what I was referring to. But I’m sure that those who are working on a policy level on this can get you more information.
But the focus here really is on creative and innovative efforts to cut through red tape on behalf of these Promise Zones, who have put plans together to work with local communities, work with local businesses to help create jobs and assist the middle class. And that’s sort of the idea behind the Promise Zones. And these five areas -- three cities and two areas -- put together plans that would achieve that with the assistance and the bureaucratic red tape-cutting assistance that we can provide at this level.
Q Jay, I just want to come back to Speaker Boehner’s call for the President to be more engaged in Iraq. He also basically suggested the President was outsourcing Middle East policy to the Vice President, saying, “Starting with the President delegating his responsibilities to the Vice President, the administration has chosen to spend much of its time and energy explaining why having terrorists holding key terrain in the Middle East is not the President’s problem.” What do you say to this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t seen it, but I take your word for it that that’s what he said. That’s just an inaccurate representation.
I know that Speaker Boehner opposed candidate Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq. I know that. Maybe he still does. Maybe he thinks that American men and women in uniform ought to be fighting today in Anbar Province. That’s a disagreement that may continue to exist. I don’t know. I don’t know Speaker Boehner’s specific views on this.
The President made a commitment to end the war in Iraq. He fulfilled that commitment. We, as a nation, continue to have an important relationship with Iraq and the Iraqi government, and commitment to assist the sovereign nation of Iraq in the ways that we are assisting the government now, both through materiel assistance and through the good offices that we bring to bear in urging the various political leaders in that country to work together to resolve what has always been, or what has always demanded a political solution here.
The alternative to sectarian violence is nonviolent, peaceful, political negotiation and resolution, and there have been obviously periods in Iraq’s recent history where they have embraced that. And what we are hopefully seeing now -- and it is still a very fluid situation -- is an effort to reinvigorate that process, where Sunni tribes and others are being encouraged by and assisted by the Iraqi government to deal with a common problem here, which is the presence of, and destructive presence of the al Qaeda affiliate that is doing so much -- wreaking so much havoc in Anbar.
So I’m not sure what the Speaker means by that, and maybe he ought to be more clear about what he envisions ought to happen. And if he means that we should have troops there, he ought to say so. The President would disagree with that.
Q A year ago, the administration was talking about how good things were in Iraq, and the violence was down quite a bit. Is there any sense that the ball was dropped here? Or is this all kind of events completely out of control -- outside the control of the United States’ influence? I mean, you have the flag of al Qaeda flying in two cities in Iraq.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, I think, as I said earlier this week, there was terrible sectarian violence in Iraq when there were tens of thousands of U.S. troops there, when there were men and women fighting and dying in Iraq -- American men and women in uniform. And through the enormous courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, as well as the efforts of our diplomatic personnel, we have provided enormous opportunity to Iraq to move forward and find a peaceful resolution to sectarian conflicts and to unify behind democratic goals and shared prosperity. And we continue to assist Iraq in that effort in the way that the United States can and does assist sovereign governments that are dealing with these kinds of conflicts.
When it comes to -- I was asked earlier this week about looking out at the world, and different extremist groups and the threats they represent, and some of them represent threats that are local or regional, and some of them potentially or in fact represent threats to the United States, to the American people and to our allies. And we obviously make policy decisions and judgments and take actions based on the assessments of the kinds of threats that these groups represent.
And we are very mindful of the fact that this al Qaeda affiliate has created a lot of chaos and carnage in Anbar Province, and that’s why we are engaged in the effort we are to assist the Iraqi government to help them expel that presence.
Q Can I just take a quick crack at New Jersey? Governor Christie I think is without question the one Republican elected official the President probably has the best relationship with, or had. I’m just wondering, any surprise in the White House that his political operation could have been involved in something like this?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have a comment on that. We’ve seen the news and obviously have read it, so I can’t claim that I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I will simply point you to the fact that it’s a state matter in New Jersey, and to the extent that there’s any federal involvement I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q If you could, what’s the promise behind the Promise Zone? What will these cities have a year from now or two years if everything works just right?
MR. CARNEY: With the action on and implementation of the plans that they presented, there should be -- and we hope there will be -- a partnership with local businesses and communities that creates more jobs, increases economic security, expands access to educational opportunities and to quality, affordable housing, and also improves public safety. So that is the hope, that through this program, this partnering with the private sector and local communities, we can help bring economic progress to regions of the country -- cities and regions that have a plan for doing that.
Q Do you have a means to measure that?
MR. CARNEY: Major, I would urge you to come back to us with questions. Maybe we can connect you with some of the policy people on this. But the Promise Zones are something that the President talked about in the State of the Union and has talked about periodically through the year last year. And now we have five regions -- three cities and two regions that have been selected for action, and the President believes deeply that this is the kind of creative, innovative approach to economic growth that can help us make progress. And it can be coupled with other efforts that we take, whether it's extending unemployment insurance -- emergency unemployment insurance to Americans who need it while they're looking for work; or raising the minimum wage, which study after study demonstrates has a very positive impact, both for those who benefit directly from it by having a raise in income, and because of the economic bang for the buck you get out of it.
So we're moving on all fronts on a broader economic agenda that’s focused on economic mobility. And the problem the President talked about that has been developing over the course of many decades here in this country, where the promise, or one of the promises of America -- which was that no matter your circumstances, if you worked hard you could get ahead and become anyone or do anything that you dreamed -- that that has been diminished; that the economic mobility that we prided ourselves on is now outranked by some of the countries in Western Europe that a lot of folks left 100, 200 years ago to pursue the dreams that America afforded them.
Q On Iraq, how would you describe the President's sense of urgency? Even with promised and agreed-upon weapons sales to the Iraqis, many of them haven't arrived; they're two or three or four months late, even those that have been approved. There are new requests that are having trouble in Congress getting approved; Senator Menendez is still somewhat unresolved as to whether or not he's going to approve the most recent one. And the implication of Speaker Boehner's criticism is that by having the Vice President so routinely involved, it conveys to the Iraqis and everyone else the President himself does not consider this an urgent priority. How would you evaluate that? And how would you describe where things currently are and what you're doing to try to get those things already approved to the Iraqis and remove the blockades that you're currently encountering on the most recent request for all those?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're going to continue to work with Congress to provide the assistance that we believe is important in this effort with Iraq.
On the first point, when the President asked the Vice President to oversee Iraq policy when they came into office in early 2009, that was widely viewed as a demonstration of the fact that the President took the need to move forward in Iraq and to wind down that war so seriously. He brought it right into the West Wing, and that is where it resides today.
So the President is very engaged in this effort. And he spends, as we discussed yesterday, quite a bit of time with the Vice President talking about national security matters, including, a lot lately, Iraq. So I think that that reflects the commitment he has and the Vice President has to working with Iraq on a very complex problem.
And as was the case and has been the case for a long time -- and we believe Iraq’s leaders agree on this -- the only way to fight ISIL is through strong coordination between the government of Iraq and local Sunni officials and tribes against a common enemy.
That was true late in the previous administration, and it’s true today. And it’s not just about military assistance -- although that's important -- and it’s not just about the much-improved capacities of the Iraqi forces, it’s also about a will -- a political willingness to unify against this common enemy. And that means Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. It means the various political blocks. And that is the conversation that we are having at very high levels with Iraqi leaders.
Q On the weapons part, is he satisfied that approved weapons still haven’t been delivered? And has he done anything or said anything to try to speed that process up?
MR. CARNEY: We are, again, working with Congress to accelerate our foreign military sales and looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles --
Q I’m talking about things that have already been approved and still haven’t gotten --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any -- the Department of Defense has -- if you have a specific question about a specific shipment, I have to ask you to bring your question to the Department of Defense.
Q I’m just asking if the President is satisfied.
MR. CARNEY: The President -- I haven’t had a specific conversation about the timing of shipments. I know the President wants assistance provided to the Iraqi government as quickly as possible.
Q Jay, has the President had a chance to talk to Secretary Gates? Or does he want to -- does he feel like they need to talk any of this out? Or is it kind of turn the page?
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things, Ed. I think I spoke at length and repeatedly yesterday in answers to questions about that, about the fact that the President appreciates Secretary Gates’s service as Secretary of Defense and his lifetime of service to our country. The President did speak with Secretary Gates I think over the weekend, if I'm not mistaken, when he learned about the injury to his neck that Secretary Gates suffered.
Q Not about the book, per se.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Did it come up in that conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think the book had come out.
Q And he hadn't heard about it yet, the details on this?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't know, Ed. I mean, certainly not the details. We had not -- nobody -- as I said yesterday, we got the -- I got the book the night before. But we had seen some reports, the early reports about it.
But again, his view is the one I repeated several times yesterday and just repeated again. But I don’t know that they have -- I don’t believe they have talked in the last few days since they talked last, and I'm not sure when they'll talk again.
Q Two other quick ones. On the Promise Zones, fair to say the President has put a serious plan on the table on this. Do you believe that the Republicans who are talking about this are serious as well? Rand Paul, Marco Rubio put a plan on the table yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: A Promise Zones plan? Or you mean --
Q Oh, I'm sorry -- economic zone. They have their own versions of this. Paul Ryan is talking about how Republicans need to help people who are in poverty -- they got to do a better job on that. My question is more -- Rand Paul is here today, Mitch McConnell is here for the President's event. We've talked about this before. He reaches out, they say they want to work, then things fall apart. Is there any hope on this issue that when there are so many people in America --
MR. CARNEY: There's always hope, Ed. And I think you saw the President in Anacostia late last year made clear on this specific issue that he wants to hear from any member of Congress, from anybody of any affiliation who has a good idea about how to deal with this challenge that he described as the challenge of our time that we need to address, because it goes to the heart of who we are as a country economically and how we see ourselves and define ourselves. And he is eager to listen to and talk to and negotiate with anyone who has a good idea.
So I know that the men you mentioned gave speeches the other day about their ideas, so I haven’t evaluated them. I don't know that anybody here has yet. But I think that I would point you to what the President said before, and the answer is, yes. And the fact that the senators you mentioned are here, presumably because one of the Promise Zones is Southeastern Kentucky, I think that's a good thing.
And we should always -- as I said, I don't know, some time this week, that when it comes to working with Congress or using the other powers the President has, he is not doing one or the other, he'll do both. And where there are opportunities to move forward with Congress in a bipartisan way, he will embrace them because he knows that's the right thing to do for the country.
Q Jay, thanks. I want to go back to unemployment insurance. Senator Ayotte has floated an amendment that would essentially pay for an extension of unemployment insurance benefits by closing a tax loophole of people who fraudulently claim to have kids who don't actually have children. Is that something that the President would support?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't know that much about it. But I'm certainly not going to negotiate proposals that are floating on Capitol Hill. What I know is that there is a bill that got 60 votes on a cloture vote that would extend these benefits right away to 1.3 million Americans and their families, and that that vote included six Republicans who supported it.
Q That doesn’t have enough votes to pass this bill.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s what they said about the cloture vote. That’s what you guys reported about the -- and when I say "you guys," I want to make clear I'm talking collectively -- because that was what people thought, and that was the conventional wisdom. And maybe you're right, maybe you're not, but we're not going to concede that that’s -- I don’t think the 1.3 million Americans out there and their families want to hear anybody give up on that effort. We're not going to, because it has to happen, and we hope that Congress will make it happen.
As I said to Brianna, we're absolutely willing to have conversations about how to move forward on the longer-term extension. We are concerned with getting that short-term extension done because the clock keeps ticking for those families who were depending on assistance and no longer are receiving it.
Q And on that point, does the President regret not having fought harder for this before everyone left for vacation?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t remember if you were here the day that Gene Sperling came and listed the number of times the President explicitly, publicly, passionately called on Congress to act on this. So we did it then, we're doing it now. They ought to --
Q This is still a long -- I mean, the White House Democrats still voted on something that didn’t contain unemployment insurance benefits.
MR. CARNEY: Well, they vote a lot on a lot of things that don’t include unemployment insurance benefits. That doesn’t excuse them from the absolute necessity of extending unemployment insurance benefits now.
The budget deal was a good deal and it was an important deal. It was a modest deal, but it was a significant -- far more than the size of the deal was the symbolism after what we'd been through of Congress actually coming together in a bipartisan way to pass a budget. And that made it important. But that doesn’t excuse Congress from the need to act, as it has in the past, under Republican Presidents and Republican Congresses, as well as Democratic Presidents and Congresses, to extend unemployment insurance.
Q Is the President concerned that there's a loss of momentum in terms of getting this passed?
MR. CARNEY: The President is concerned each day that this isn't passed for the families who rely on this assistance.
Q One, Jay, quickly, on Afghanistan. Has anyone from the White House reached out to Karzai, or will anyone, in the wake of the Gates book? Do you feel like -- I know you got some questions on this yesterday, but is that something that you think is --
MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of, Kristen. We are in contact with President Karzai -- we, as a government and an administration, our embassy in Kabul, others, the State Department and elsewhere -- with the Afghan government on a regular basis on a variety of issues, because we work collaboratively on so much in Afghanistan, and specifically on the need for the bilateral security agreement to be signed promptly so that we can begin to plan for 2014. There is not a lot of time left before that planning has to begin.
And the bilateral security agreement was negotiated in good faith. It was endorsed by the loya jirga, and we certainly agree with that endorsement. It ought to be signed.
Q Thank you very much. Presumably, there's going to be more memoirs written. Does the President have a view on whether his appointees should disclose private conversations he's had with them in the Situation Room or in the Oval Office?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say what I said yesterday, which was a broad statement not a presidential statement, that that anybody who has the privilege and honor of serving at a high level in a White House or an administration, and participates in debates and conversations with a President and other principals, leaves office and decides for himself and herself how to speak about it and write about it and when. And that’s each individual's decision.
So you're right, I know some people write memoirs, some don’t. We’re too busy focused on what we’re doing today and what we can do this year for the American people to spend a lot of time worrying about that.
Q There’s no standing directive, though, to high-level appointees that they should refrain from making public the conversations they're having with the President in the Situation Room or the Oval Office?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when you say the Situation Room -- if you’re saying, is there a standing directive not to leak classified information, yes, I think there’s a federal statute -- at least one. So when you talk about conversation, I think it’s understood that -- at least I’m confident it’s understood that when you work here or elsewhere in the administration that you -- it’s an honor and a privilege, and that those you are assisting and advising can best rely on your assistance and advice when it’s discreet.
Q On that point, do you know whether President Obama feels that some presidential confidences were betrayed by Robert Gates, things that he said and never expected would show up in print?
MR. CARNEY: Mark, he is focused on other things -- I promise you. I have talked to him about this in the course of conversations about a lot of other issues, and we didn't spend a lot of time on it, because he is much focused on other matters, including getting those Promise Zones done, and getting minimum wage raised, and getting that unemployment insurance extended, and the situation in Iraq, and the negotiations with the P5-plus-1, and, and, and -- this is way down on his list. It’s not even on his list.
Q But if you had told me something off the record and I reported it, you’d be mad at me, right?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll see. (Laughter.)
Q But is the President mad or disappointed in Robert Gates?
MR. CARNEY: He did not demonstrate those emotions in my presence.
Q One last thing. Is it coincidence that eight counties in Kentucky, the state of the Senate Minority Leader, were chosen to be a Promise Zone?
MR. CARNEY: Are you suggesting that we’re trying to assist the --
Q I’m not suggesting, merely asking.
MR. CARNEY: I think that the Promise Zones were carefully selected, and I would ask you to check in to find out by whom in the process. But I think this was -- I know this was based on the merits and the programs that were put forward. And I think that if you look at the diversity of the list, that reflects what the -- at least at one level what the criteria were.
Q Does the President have any position on the current status of India in its relationship?
MR. CARNEY: Does he have any --
Q Any thoughts on what’s happening on the India-U.S. relationship front?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any new information to provide since we talked about that last. It’s an extremely important relationship, and I just haven’t had that conversation with him yet. I know he’s updated on developments on the issues surrounding the relationship, but I haven’t spoken to him about it.
Q Yesterday, Secretary Kerry met him at the White House. Among other foreign policy issues, was India a topic of discussion when --
MR. CARNEY: When who met with him? Sorry.
Q Secretary Kerry met the President.
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t know. I don’t know if we gave a readout of that. It’s a regular meeting the President has, so I just don’t know the answer to that.
Q A quick clarification?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Is the President aware of this withdrawal of diplomatic -- of the privileges to the diplomats and to our diplomatic missions in India? Every day, we have something or other being withdrawn. So is the White House going to get into it so that this is resolved?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the State Department is engaged, and I know that they have addressed this in briefings by my colleague, Jen Psaki, and others -- Marie Harf and others. So I would point you to what they’ve said about it. The President is obviously a consumer of the news as well as a recipient of many briefings, so I can say with great confidence that he is following these developments. But I don’t have a position or view to express from the presidential level on those developments.
Q Jay, two economic things. Number one, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committee have reached a deal on fast-track trade authority, something which the President has called for at least in principle. This actual legislation that they’ve negotiated, is this something, A, that you guys support? How confident are you that you can get this fast-track authority passed through Congress? And what is the President going to do to persuade particularly members of his own party to back this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that trade promotion authority is a priority, not in theory but in fact, for the administration because it is a key part of our overall economic strategy and our foreign policy, particularly in Asia, and because it’s time for Congress to update and to assert its own role in trade negotiations. We are pursuing transatlantic and transpacific trade deals, as you know, with countries that together represent half of the world’s gross domestic product, separating out the United States. And we will be working with Congress to secure legislation that will assure their role in bringing those trade agreements home.
So when there is progress on that front, we view it as a good thing. I don’t have details on -- with any specificity on the movement in Congress today, but we do believe that this is a priority. The President has made clear it’s a priority. He has pushed -- and this is for these folks here who cover this stuff -- TPP and T-TIP, and as well as the TPA. So, any “T” you can think of in fact. (Laughter.)
No, seriously, Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, these are important proposals that we want to see acted on, and trade promotion authority is an important part of that.
Q The other thing, on this White House meeting tomorrow on the NSA stuff, which I guess will be with staff, as I understand it, and not with the President himself -- but maybe I’m wrong on that -- will tech companies be represented at that meeting? And if so, which tech companies?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have greater information on that. I’m sure we’ll be able to provide more to you tomorrow. What I have is that as part of our outgoing -- ongoing, rather, outreach and following up on the President’s recent meeting with tech executives, White House staff will be meeting with representatives from tech companies on Friday. This is another opportunity to share views, as the administration nears completion of our internal review of signals intelligence. And contradicting me directly, it says here we would not expect a readout of that meeting, but I’ll see if we can get participants depending --
Q Did you say tech companies will be at that meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Representatives from tech companies.
Q But you don't --
MR. CARNEY: But I don't have specific --
Q Thank you. On that, is the President really looking at executive actions he can take in terms --
MR. CARNEY: On which?
Q On the intelligence reforms. You have said that --
MR. CARNEY: I think if you look at the review group’s recommendations, and obviously he’s looking at actions that --
Q But he’s gone beyond that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't want to characterize -- he’s obviously -- the review is greater than that group’s efforts. I think the recommendations put forward were widely viewed as pretty extensive, and the work that that group did as quite credible by not just here, but by the outside community that is following this and cares about it.
So I would point you to those recommendations for a delineation between which, if acted upon, would require legislation, which could be acted upon through executive authority. I’m sure there’s a balance. So the answer is, yes, both.
Q Okay. And where is he on State of the Union? Has he begun to do a process? Has he mapped out a basic --
MR. CARNEY: I saw some notes on a napkin when I was in the Oval. Maybe that was -- no, he’s -- we’re where you would expect this far out, working on it. Working on it.
Q Jay, there’s been some reports that the President believes that as part of the NSA review that there should be curbs on spying on foreign leaders. Can you talk about that at all? And can you talk about whether or not there have been any conversations as part of the review with foreign leaders to get their perspective on it?
MR. CARNEY: I think I can point you statements we’ve made in the past about the fact that that issue, in terms of signal intelligence and surveillance, is one of the ones that was identified as an area that merited review and is being reviewed. I'm not going to preview conclusions that the President will make or actions that he will decide to take. But it is certainly the case that that is one of the issue areas that has been part of the various reviews that are being undertaken.
Q I was just wondering, since he’s had members of Congress in and intelligence officials, whether or not there was any sort of similar reach-out with foreign leaders or State Department folks to kind of get -- Brazil has had a number of questions about what they think should be done.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we've read out various conversations the President has had with foreign leaders and when those conversations have touched on this subject. I don’t have any new ones to review for you.
I think, as a broad matter, as we've said, when these issues have arisen between the United States and a specific nation, we have been directly engaged with the nations involved through normal diplomatic channels and at various levels, including very high levels. So I think that continues. I just don’t have more than what we've already provided in terms of presidential conversations.
Q The President before he left for his break indicated at the press conference that he was interested in a recommendation that private communication companies might be the ones to be the repositories of the metadata as an alternative to the NSA stockpiling that information. Is it the President's ambition that that question be resolved before he gives his remarks to the American people?
MR. CARNEY: She’s good, right? She framed it in a way that actually had a chance of getting an answer.
The President -- I would point you to what he said in terms of viewing that as a serious recommendation. And it's certainly one that he's looking at and his team is looking at, but I don’t have any more guidance to give to you before he makes those conclusions and gives his remarks.
Q Did it work?
Q So, yes, I was going to say -- it was a good try, but it didn’t work in the end. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: She's a pro and a veteran. It works sometimes.
Yes. I know you guys have got to go. We'll make this the last one.
Q Is President Obama going to have any more meetings like the one today?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling updates to provide to you. We're obviously fairly close to the end of this process, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I just don’t have any meetings to preview beyond what we have.
Goyal, you get the last one. You're very patient.
Q Thank you. First of all, Happy New Year.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
Q Two quick questions. One, going back to India-U.S. relations. My question is a simple one: How does the President feel as we enter in the New Year as far as the future of India-U.S. relations? Not going back what had happened or what’s happening, because these are maybe small issues, but beyond this issue, really, where do we stand today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Goyal, I would say what I said earlier, which is that this is an extremely important relationship that has many aspects to it and cultural ties, political ties, economic ties. And the President believes strongly that we need to continue to build on that relationship. And you know he worked very hard on U.S.-Indian relations in his first term and will continue to do so in his second term. But I don’t have anything more specific for you with regards to some of the issues that have come up in the last month.
Q And second, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, as the troops are going to be out of Afghanistan, but some nations in the region are worried, including India is really engaged in many ways, as far Afghanistan is concerned -- and security. And Pakistan is also important in this relationship. So what role do you think India should or will play in the future in Afghanistan, as far as security is concerned?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think it's for me to project. I think that there are a number of very important players in the region. Most importantly, and what we've been focused on obviously has been assisting the buildup of and professionalism of Afghan security forces and assisting the Afghan government in helping give it the space so that it can be stronger as this transition occurs.
Now, you mentioned the withdrawal of troops. And it is true that the combat mission ends and U.S. troops are withdrawing. We believe, and have a plan for, a small presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014. But that is dependent upon the Afghan government signing the bilateral security agreement that was negotiated between the two nations. So going back to what I said before, that needs to be acted on so that we can move forward with our planning. Absent it, we cannot plan for a troop presence beyond 2014.
2:20 P.M. EST