Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/8/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. It's a pleasure to see you all. I was reminded on my way out here that today is the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record. And we offer him congratulations on that anniversary. It was a remarkable achievement by a great baseball player and a great man.
Before I take your questions I also wanted to note that some of you have seen that the President will travel on April 22 to Oso, Washington, to view the devastation from the recent mudslide and to meet with families affected by this disaster, as well as first responders and recovery workers. Further details about the President’s travel to Washington will be available in the coming days.
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who lost a loved one and those whose friends and family remain missing as a result of this devastating incident. The administration remains focused on supporting state and local efforts and first responders. As you know, the President, earlier this month, declared a major disaster in the State of Washington and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts. This assistance is in addition to the support provided under the Presidential Emergency Declaration granted on March 24, 2014.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: How are you?
Q I'm good. How are you?
MR. CARNEY: I'm great.
Q I just wanted to ask about the equal pay event today and the President’s remarks. You and other officials have been saying that this renewed focus on equal pay does not have to do with politics, but I'm wondering how that assertion squares with the President’s remarks today, which were sharply partisan in which he tried to draw a lot of contrast with Republicans.
MR. CARNEY: Because Republicans are blocking passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Right? If they wanted to take politics out of it, they should do what the President asked them to do today, which is pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Instead, they are, for reasons that I've yet to quite understand but appreciate, decided to engage in a debate about whether or not this is the right thing to do.
Well, we absolutely welcome that debate, as progressives have for years, which is when there is something that a President or a Congress can do to ensure that there’s greater equality in our country for women, we ought to do it. And this is something that, upon any close scrutiny, is clear we ought to do. That's why the President took action, using the authorities that he has, to sign an executive order -- or two executive orders today to empower women who work for federal contractors. But Congress can provide the same kind of protections for all women workers out in the country by passing this important legislation.
So if they’re complaining about it being politics now, then they ought to just pass it, because it's the right thing to do.
Q But I'm wondering, do you see this as a policy issue that you support but one that is also advantageous politically?
MR. CARNEY: I think that paycheck fairness is the right thing to do for our economy because when women succeed in our economy America succeeds. That's how the President views it. It's why he signed in his first few days as President the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which addresses some of the issues related to paycheck fairness. But more needs to be done. That's why the President took the action he took today and why he called on Congress to pass additional legislation.
Again, this President, and the Democratic Party more broadly, have been pushing these kinds of issues for a long time. The reason why the President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act and that was the first bill he signed as President was because it had been blocked previously be Republicans and it took a Democratic President to sign it. The only way to prove that there’s bipartisan support for women on these issues is to demonstrate it with votes in Congress.
Q And on another topic, the President is going to Fort Hood tomorrow. He has attended a memorial service there previously. These memorial services have almost become -- I don't want to say routine, but they’ve become sort of part of the job for him. I wonder how he views tomorrow’s memorial service in sort of the spectrum of memorial services he’s had to attend for gun violence victims.
MR. CARNEY: Julie, I would say that it is true that the President has attended ceremonies and services of this nature in the past far too often, but they never become routine. The pain of the family members who lost loved ones is not routine; it's unique in each case, in each instance. And I think the President is as heartbroken by this event as he has been on each occasion that something like this has happened in the country and where he has traveled to participate in ceremonies or services that commemorate those lost and celebrate their lives.
Q Should we expect any particular focus on any policy element of gun violence in his remarks tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s views on the need to take common-sense steps that address the challenge and problem of gun violence in America are clear and he has continued to act on his views through executive action. He has made clear his extreme disappointment in Congress’s failure to follow the lead of the American people and overwhelming majorities of Americans in every state in the country by expanding background checks. The memorial ceremony that he’ll attend I think will focus on, and the President will focus on, the families of those who were lost and those who were lost themselves.
Q Jay, outside economists say that the data that the President is citing, the 77 cents phrase, is wrong. Regardless of the merits of this push, do you have better data?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s absolutely not the case. There are some economists who have different views on what it means. But to say economists -- I mean, from Reuters I would expect something a little more precise.
Q Whoa --
MR. CARNEY: That’s just not true. The facts are that women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make. There are a variety of reasons for that --
Q Are those the facts, though? Seriously, are those the facts? Because that's been disputed --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, that’s based on Census data.
Q -- over the last couple days as this story has gotten a lot of play.
MR. CARNEY: That’s based on Census data. Now, there has been an important discussion in the last several days and even prior to that about what those data represent and how much of that is due to a lack of transparency in the pay that women receive versus men; the lack of -- the kinds of things that ensure that women who do the same work get the same pay that men get; and also things that have to do with the fact that women tend to fill lower-wage jobs, which is why it’s so important to raise the minimum wage.
Again, if Republicans feel like this is a political or partisan issue, they ought to demonstrate that they want to help women at the lower end of the income ladder here by raising the minimum wage -- because I think 60 percent of minimum wage workers are women in this country.
But certainly there’s a lot of discussion about what that figure represents, but I don’t believe there’s any doubt on the basic fact that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
Q There is doubt. Maybe not all economists -- I should have said “many” -- and I’m sure that there are others who would say --
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jeff, it’s based on Census data. I understand that there is discussion about what it means. But, look, I just want to thank everybody for allowing us to have a sustained debate about this issue because I think every day that we talk about it and every day that the American people see that this President and his allies in Congress are fighting for women is a good day because it brings us closer to the day when we can actually get things done in Congress that will help women.
Look at what the President signed today. Look at what is contained within the Paycheck Fairness Act. These are not objectionable provisions. These are things that just allow for the kind of transparency that means that women will know whether or not they’re getting fairly paid for the work that they do, and that they have the kind of protections that they need to ensure that. I don’t know why you would oppose that.
Q Let me ask about another issue. Ukraine’s state security service has said that protestors in Luhansk have seized the state building, wired it with explosives, and are holding 60 hostages. The protestors are denying this. Does the U.S. have any confirmation on that?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve seen the reports. We do not have independent confirmation. We would certainly, as we have made clear, oppose any violence, any taking of hostages, any placement of explosives in a building, as has been reported. But we don’t have independent confirmation. We have serious concerns about developments in parts of Ukraine, and I think you heard Secretary Kerry discuss this in open testimony on Capitol Hill earlier today.
So as to this specific report, we don’t have independent confirmation, but we are certainly concerned about a pattern here that is very worrying when it comes to efforts to cause unrest and to destabilize Ukraine and destabilize the Ukrainian government.
Q Will this be the primary issue discussed by the President and Secretary Kerry in their meeting today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President and Secretary Kerry have a standing meeting weekly if they’re both in town, and they discuss the whole panoply of issues that fall into the Secretary of State’s portfolio, so that would include this issue; it would include the Middle East peace process; it would include all the other issues that are front and center currently on the -- within foreign affairs.
Q Jay, your own Labor Department has that gender pay equity metric at 81 cents.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I want to thank you, Jim, again, for bringing this up and giving me the opportunity --
Q I sent you the link.
MR. CARNEY: And the point is?
Q That Reuters didn’t get it wrong. (Laughter.)
Q That was for you, Jeff.
The numbers are a little bit all over the place, are they not? That number, 77 cents --
MR. CARNEY: Do you doubt -- I mean, we can have this --
Q I’m not saying there’s any doubt that there’s gender pay inequity.
MR. CARNEY: Does anyone here doubt that -- okay. There’s gender pay inequity. It’s clear, as Lilly Ledbetter can attest, that it is essential for women to be able to know what they’re being paid compared to women who -- I mean, to men who do the same work. It’s clear that there needs to be protections for women so that they aren’t retaliated against when they seek to discuss what they’re paid or find out what their coworkers are paid. And the efforts underway here, whether it’s the executive orders and the provisions the President signed today, or the call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, are very common-sense ways to address the need for these protections for women and the transparency that allows for those protections to take effect.
So again, the data that -- the 77 cents figure, which is a widely used figure, is based on Census data, as I understand it. I don’t think -- if there’s ways to slice this data that alters it by a few cents here or there -- there’s any dispute over the fact that that gap continues to exist. There is an important discussion about what contributes to that gap, but I think that it is fair to say that women in most workplaces would recognize that the gap is a problem and it’s one that needs to be addressed. And first and foremost, what needs to be addressed is the need for equal pay for equal work.
Q But should the President sign an executive order establishing gender pay equity here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m glad you raised --
Q You’ve acknowledged yourself that --
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you raised this again and I was looking forward to the question, because what we have here is a circumstance because of the transparency that exists at the White House, where everyone in America can find out what everyone here earns, everyone in America knows that everybody is paid equally for the same job. So that we have two senior advisors to the President -- one is a male, one is a female -- they’re paid the same. We have two deputy chiefs of staff -- one is a male, one is a female -- they’re paid the same. Our National Security Advisor, our Counterterrorism Advisor, our White House Counsel, our Director of Communications -- they’re all paid at the same level as their male counterparts.
And that is a good thing. And that’s how it ought to be and what the Paycheck Fairness Act would do and what the executive orders the President signed today would do, is ensure that there is more transparency so that women who don’t work here but work in places where there isn’t that kind of transparency cannot be retaliated against when they discuss their salaries and try to find out what their male counterparts are making, and that they can enjoy the protections necessary to assure that they can pursue equal pay for equal work.
Q And getting back to Secretary Kerry’s accusation that Russia is making mischief and perhaps even setting a pretext for further intervention in eastern Ukraine -- does that suggest that perhaps Moscow has not taken seriously or is not taking very seriously this threat of additional sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we’re concerned about what Russia has done in Crimea. We’re very concerned about the presence of substantial troop numbers on the Ukrainian border. We’re concerned about efforts underway in Ukraine to destabilize the situation there in eastern Ukraine, destabilize the government.
I think there’s ample evidence that some of the unrest there has been promoted by people who aren’t local, people who are paid. And that suggests an effort underway to destabilize Ukraine, and causes us great concern, which is why Secretary Kerry spoke about this as he did before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, why I discussed this yesterday, and why we are monitoring the situation there very closely, and why we are making clear to Russia that there will be additional costs incurred by Russia should Russia engage in further provocations and transgressions.
Q Jay, would you just acknowledge that this debate is a bit more nuanced? I mean, as the briefing showed yesterday, you can pay everyone in a workplace the same for equal work and still have a median wage gap because of various choices, education, jobs held. And the Labor Department data says when you factor those things in, you get a wage gap that’s not $1 to 77 cents, but the difference can be as little as 5 or 6 cents. I mean, you often ask us -- the Affordable Care Act or other things -- to look at the broader list of statistical nuances around a public policy issue. Would you at least acknowledge that that is part of the --
MR. CARNEY: And, again, I am absolutely encouraging a broader discussion here about these issues and hope that we can talk about this --
Q -- that 77 cents is not, though we have discrimination --
MR. CARNEY: I hope we have this discussion every day until Congress passes the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Q Do you acknowledge that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, acknowledge --
Q That the 77 cents to a dollar is not absolute proof of 23-cents-per-dollar discrimination. There can be other economic factors.
MR. CARNEY: I acknowledged that in my first answer, which is that there are a variety of factors that play into the gap. That the gap exists I think is indisputable, and that there is workplace discrimination I think is indisputable, especially for women who have experienced it. And that there are things that we can do administratively and legislatively to address that problem is also indisputable, as the legislative language in the Paycheck Fairness Act demonstrates, as the Lilly Ledbetter Act demonstrates, which again Republicans blocked and Republicans are blocking this bill now. I mean, there is a long sort of track record here.
Q I'm not talking about Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: So when Republicans get up -- when Republicans get up and they --
Q I’m not talking about Republicans. This is Labor Department data --
MR. CARNEY: They’ve cited the arguments that you’re making and they cite -- they want to talk about what’s happening in different work places, as opposed to what they can do to help improve the situation. What they’re not acknowledging is that there’s a problem that they have the power to address, but they refuse to address it. And they refuse to address it through raising the minimum wage. And they refuse to address it by putting in place protections for women when it comes to paycheck fairness. That’s a problem and it’s a shame. And I think that there’s an opportunity here for Republicans to get right on this, and we certainly hope they do. We certainly hope they take away this debate from us by doing the right thing.
Q On Ukraine, is the message to the Ukrainian transitional government, in the face of provocation, you are essentially on your own? That if there is a security situation from provocateurs or paid agents, that you have to deal with it yourself? And is there a concern in this building that there is some level -- as you’ve talked before about the restraint the transitional Ukrainian government has showed -- at which they can no longer be restrained and have to respond in a way to either protect themselves, protect their territorial sovereignty, or their very own citizens?
MR. CARNEY: I think I need a more specific question. Obviously, it’s a sovereign government and they enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of sovereignty. And I don’t think the actions that the United States has taken or that our allies have taken --
Q But, clearly, this administration --
MR. CARNEY: -- suggest that Ukraine is on its own, and quite to the contrary. We’ve acted very quickly with our international partners to support Ukraine and to provide assistance to Ukraine.
Q I guess what I’m saying is those are long-distance signals. And as the question from Jim suggested, you’re not always sure whether or not Moscow reads those signals the way you want them to be read. I’m talking about actual things on the ground where in Ukraine that are not parts of Crimea that are up for grabs essentially, this administration has complimented the transitional government for not sort of taking the bait and responding in an aggressive, military way to things that look provocative. Is there a concern that there could be a point at which that transitional government can no longer take that provocation and acts in a way that it believes legitimately protects its citizens, but could cause a more destabilized military situation that could spin out of control? And what are you trying to counsel them to do?
MR. CARNEY: I think I understand what you’re getting at. I think that our view has been that the Ukrainian government has performed admirably in the face of a very difficult situation, both economically and in dealing with the provocations and transgressions by the Russian government and others who seek to destabilize Ukraine and to undermine its efforts to focus on and move forward towards May 25th elections. So we continue to make clear our admiration for the manner in which the Ukrainian government has addressed these challenges.
We’ve made clear, as Secretary Kerry did today, earlier, that we strongly oppose and are concerned by some of the actions we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine and, of course, categorically reject and oppose the occupation of Crimea and the attempted annexation of Crimea with utter disregard for international law, treaty obligations and the will of the Ukrainian government, parliament and people.
Q Secretary Kerry’s testimony was read by some in the Middle East today. They concluded that he was blaming -- or placing the larger share of blame on the current impasse in the Middle East peace talks on Israel, not allowing -- not following through on the scheduled Palestinian prisoner release and the new tenders in the settlements. Is that a sense you think is a fair reading of what the Secretary said? And does the President share that?
MR. CARNEY: I think that we have and Secretary Kerry has made clear that it is incumbent upon both sides to make difficult decisions and difficult choices to move the process forward. And both sides have done things that have made it more difficult to move forward, and I think we’ve made that clear when it comes to actions by the Palestinians with regards to international organizations, as well as the issues you cite with regards to the Israelis.
So I don’t -- I think that our view -- I know that our view has been that both parties need to continue what they had done earlier, which is make some tough decisions and do so in pursuit of negotiations and ultimately a negotiated peace. Right now, at the request of both parties, the United States facilitated a meeting, as I think you know, between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators just last night to continue the intensive effort to resolve their differences. Gaps remain, but both sides say they are committed to narrowing the gaps.
There is a window of time for a path back to substantive negotiations. The issue now is whether the parties can demonstrate that they are willing to make the difficult decisions required to move the process forward. The parties both understand what the choices are, and they are not choices or decisions that the United States can make for them; they are choices and decisions that the parties have to make for themselves. So we play a role in facilitating this process, and it’s an important role. But ultimately, some of these tough -- all of these tough choices and decisions have to be made by the parties.
Yes, in the back. Yes, sir.
Q Thank you. A couple of questions, if I may. We know that Rwanda is celebrating the 20th anniversary of -- or, I’m sorry, commemorating, not celebrating -- the 20th anniversary of the genocide. But in that region, right now, there is a crisis unfolding in South Sudan with 3.7 million people facing -- the U.N. says 3.7 million people are facing starvation, which would be akin to the famine that happened in Ethiopia in the early ‘80s. And of $1.27 billion requested by the U.N. only $385 million has been received, and the U.N. reports that if $230 million is not received in the next 60 days, this is what might unfold. Has this administration focused any attention on what is going on there, and is there a reason why we haven’t heard very much about this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, actually, I discussed this last week in response to a question, and the answer is, yes, we’re very focused on it. The situation in South Sudan is of great concern, and we are working with our partners to address it. I think some of the questions that you ask have to do with the United Nations and not just the United States, but our focus from our representation at the United Nations as well as here at the White House and the State Department is very intense on this challenge.
Q At what point would the United States enter? For example, with this great attention being given to, say, Ukraine
-- and rightly so -- and the goings-on there directly by the United States, for example -- at what point would the United States -- what would be the calculus at which point the United States would decide to move in and take action outside of the U.N.? Because not everything, clearly, happens by the U.N.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s certainly the case, but we, as we have with Ukraine and as we do with crises internationally all the time, we work together collectively with our partners to address challenges, and we work unilaterally. And I think that’s been the case with Ukraine; it’s been the case with South Sudan, and will continue to be.
But I understand -- part of the point of your question I think is that when the world’s attention is focused on a crisis like Ukraine, there’s almost a limit to the bandwidth and that the media have to focus a spotlight on a challenge like you see there or elsewhere when there are situations in places like Ukraine. It’s incumbent on this administration, this Congress and governments around the world to make sure that even as we address some of these crises that are getting the most attention at the moment, that we’re continuing to make progress on other challenges. And when it comes to South Sudan, we are committed to doing that. And there’s no question that that challenge is no easier than many of the others we face.
Q And on the question of fair pay -- sorry, just one more -- there is clearly a racial component as well, with black men making about 25 percent approximately; Latino men making approximately 66 percent; black women 70 percent and Latino women 60 percent. What is the calculus, political or otherwise, for not having a focus on this inequity in pay? Is there a calculus?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would disagree that there’s not a focus on it. One of the reasons -- and this goes to the example I cited about women, but also goes to employments facts about minority men and women -- is that we need to raise the minimum wage because it will benefit directly those who currently earn the minimum wage, earn below $10.10 an hour, as well as help everyone above that pay level, and help the economy.
So, again, this is an opportunity for Congress to take direct action that can assist people who are working full-time, taking responsibility for themselves and their families, and yet receiving a wage that places them in poverty, which surely isn’t what anyone’s view of what a minimum wage should do. And what I think you fail to hear Republicans concretely address is whether they support a minimum wage at all, because the logical extension of their arguments against raising it leads you to the conclusion that they don’t support a minimum wage at all, at least some of them don’t. And if they don’t, they should say so. They would be, I think, aggressively opposed by vast majorities of the American people should they say that.
Q Jay, the question on equal pay, in terms of what the President is presenting with this statistic -- when it came to health care, the President himself cleaned up his words and said, look, I should have been more careful about if you like your doctor or if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. On this issue, when you’re acknowledging 77 percent is not exactly the figure, his own Labor Department is saying it’s not it, why does he continue -- including today -- why does he cite that figure when even you’re saying, well, it’s not quite that?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say that.
Q You said it’s more nuanced than that. You said in your first answer --
MR. CARNEY: I said that there are many -- 77 cents is based on Census data. You can argue with the Census if you like. I can give you their number. Two, I did say that there are a lot of factors that go into the gap and I would not contest that. Nobody here has contested that. But surely you’re not contesting -- and I want to commend the men aligning here in the front row and the interest they’re taking in this issue -- but surely you’re not contesting the suggestion that there is pay discrimination in this country, right? And if there isn’t -- and if there is, shouldn’t we --
Q Slate Magazine called it a lie to say 77 percent, though, and they said when you factor in a bunch of other stuff, it’s probably 91 cents compared to a dollar -- which is still not right because it’s not a dollar to dollar. So let’s make that clear. However, it’s not 77 cents. So why does the President say that?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, again, this is Census data. This is built on Census data. I’m not disputing that others have made different assessments about the factors that go into that gap. The gap is --
Q Even here at the White House -- you cited that again and again, that 88 cents is not really fair because that’s --
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t say that.
Q Well, you said because there are some who make a little lower and that brings the median down.
MR. CARNEY: No question.
Q And so it’s more nuanced.
MR. CARNEY: And the reason you know what people make here, every dollar for every individual, is because we publish what people make.
Q Congress publishes that, right?
MR. CARNEY: And I think you ought to ask Congress what the equities are in offices in Congress. The fact that there’s a problem here that needs to be fixed doesn’t mean -- and that the problem exists in a lot of places only reinforces the need to fix it.
And, again, I think it’s excellent that there is so much interest in this subject because certainly millions of Americans across the country are interested in paycheck fairness and they’d like to see Congress take action. And while they’re doing it, they’d like to see Congress raise the minimum wage because that would disproportionately help women workers across the country as well as all workers across the country.
Q One other quick question. Attorney General Holder today testified on a number of subjects on the Hill. And he was asked about General Petraeus and whether there’s still an active criminal investigation as to whether he leaked classified information. Attorney General Holder testified openly under oath that that investigation is still open almost two years after General Petraeus stepped down at the CIA. My question being, one, has the President been briefed on that investigation at all in the last two years?
MR. CARNEY: I think you have to ask the Department of Justice. We don’t weigh into Justice Department investigations.
Q The President has spoken publicly many times about how terrible it is and illegal to leak classified information. So why has this case not been resolved after a couple of years? Wouldn’t the Justice Department -- wouldn’t this administration want to get to the bottom of it?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department for questions about a Justice Department investigation.
Q A question about how the data is going to be handled once the Department of Labor gets it from these federal contractors. I looked through the --
MR. CARNEY: Sounds like a question you might want to ask the Department of Labor, but I’ll try.
Q Okay, just bear with me for one moment. If not, I’m going to ask you about dry-cleaning disparity between men and women, so it’s your choice.
MR. CARNEY: It’s terrible! (Laughter.)
Q And I’m wondering when the President will take up that battle.
MR. CARNEY: How about the disparity that existed until three years ago where insurance companies could charge you twice as much as your twin brother, even if you’re in the same health.
Q Leaving, aside my fictional twin brother -- on the question of the data, so for example, it's going to be collected, it's going to be aggregated. It's not going to, obviously, identify names. But I'm curious if whether the government is interested in, for example, disclosing this information so a Latina engineer at Lockheed Martin would know what she’s earning compared to a white male engineer at that same company, rather than, for example, relying on that coworker to share that information voluntarily with her. Is that something that the policy of the administration would consider?
MR. CARNEY: I think that is something you would probably need to address to the Department of Labor, and I can take the question to see if we have any insight. I believe that the EO talks about prohibiting retaliation against those who discuss what they’re paid and what their colleagues are paid, but for more details, we'll take the question and I suggest you go to the Department of Labor.
Q Jay, I just want to clarify, come back to the pay equality issue. So the President cited Census data that women on average make 77 percent of what men make. Why is that an example or evidence of discrimination in the workforce at large, but it's not evidence of discrimination with women here at the White House making 88 percent of what men here at the White House make?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, what I can --
Q It's the same measure. It's the same metric. And there’s a big gap on both sides.
MR. CARNEY: And we are hard at work here at the White House in the most transparent of ways to ensure that women compete for and earn senior positions, that women are recruited for more junior positions so they’re put in the pipeline for senior positions in the future. In fact, virtually every woman who sits in a senior staff office today was promoted internally within the White House or the administration to that position, which demonstrates the President’s commitment to a diverse workforce here at the White House and in the administration, and demonstrates his commitment to having the very best talent around him advising him.
Because it's not just a question of fairness; it's a question of quality. And there have been great studies in the private sector about having more women in senior levels in Fortune 500 companies improves the performance of those companies and improves the bottom line of those companies. And I know the President feels that the quality of debate and discussion and advice that he gets within this White House and, more broadly, within this administration is improved by the presence of women and, more broadly, of a diverse body of advisors.
So there’s no question that everybody needs to do more to get this right. One of the reasons why, one of the factors that goes into the figures that exist here at the White House is an aggressive effort to bring in young, talented women and others to help the workforce here to be diverse and to make sure that there are people in the pipeline that are promoted within this White House and future White Houses and administrations so that that talent base is there in the future. Because it goes to fairness, but it goes to quality.
Q But, Jay, I'm asking about the metric here. You would say there is no pay discrimination here at the White House, right? I mean, there’s no pay discrimination here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: It's absolutely the case that there’s equal pay for equal work.
Q Okay. But you're using the same metric to argue there’s pay discrimination in the workforce at large. Explain to me why the metric works in the economy at large but it doesn’t work here at the White House.
MR. CARNEY: Again, the fact that there is indisputable Census data that women earn 77 cents on the dollar that men earn -- a lot of things go into that discrepancy. Discrimination and lack of transparency and the inability of women to find out what they’re paid vis-à-vis their male coworkers is part of the problem. That is something we in the administration, via the President’s authorities, and Congress, through legislation, can address. That's what the President is saying today. That's why he took the action he took. That's why he called on Congress to do what it can do to address those problems.
I’m not disputing that there are a lot of factors that go into that. But the discrepancy is real. And, again, I think that --
Q But I still don’t understand why you’re saying that’s evidence of discrimination outside the White House, but the same metric is not evidence of discrimination inside the White House. I mean, it’s the same metric.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, what I’m saying --
Q You’re not doing very well. You’re at 88 percent.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, again, if you want to compare metrics we’re doing better than the public at large.
Q So is that the goal, to do a little bit better than the outside?
MR. CARNEY: No, the goal is to do absolutely the best that we can do. And that’s what we’re striving to do here, and that’s what the legislation the President calls on Congress to pass would ensure that others are doing across the country. And what astounds me about this debate is the suggestion -- and you don’t hear a lot of women making it -- that there isn’t pay discrepancy here, there isn’t pay discrimination.
Q I’m not making that suggestion. I’m asking about a metric you are using for companies outside the White House.
MR. CARNEY: I think we don’t dispute anything you’re saying, except that we have transparency here. What this law, if passed, would provide would be greater transparency for women. The transparency exists here at the White House. It should exist everywhere. And women should have the protections and tools in order to fight for paycheck fairness and transparency. Republicans object to this strenuously, using the same arguments that conservatives use when they objected to every bit of progress made on civil rights for women and minorities over the past many decades. And they were wrong then and they’re wrong now.
But I want to have this debate. I want you guys to -- let’s talk about this every day until they pass it. Peter.
Q I’ve got a quick question on Ukraine. You talked yesterday about evidence or a suggestion that the Russians are basically hiring some of these people that are causing these disruptions in Eastern Ukraine. Now the Russian Foreign Ministry is out saying that there are 150 American mercenaries from the company Greystone Limited, formerly part of Blackwater, that are dressed up in Ukrainian special task force uniforms and creating disruptions in Eastern Ukraine. Just for the record, what do you make of this? This is from the Russian Foreign Ministry.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, well -- I mean, I would I think point you to what the company itself has said in the past, which is that this is not true. And certainly -- I mean, I’m not sure what your question is. I would point you to what the company has said.
Q Is this bogus, this allegation?
MR. CARNEY: It seems bogus to us, yes.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Senate voted yesterday to block the entry of the new Iranian U.N. envoy to the U.S. Will the administration follow up and block his entry?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we share the Senate’s concerns regarding this case and find the potential nomination extremely troubling. The U.S. government has informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable. The legislation passed by the Senate underscores just how troubling this potential nomination would be.
Q Would President Obama sign it?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, this is a potential nomination. We’ve informed the government of Iran that this potential selection, rather, is not viable.
Q Yes, but the bill passed by the Senate yesterday to deny a visa.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a potential selection, as I understand it, that has not been formally made. We’ve informed the government that that selection is not viable.
Q First, on the Middle East, you said the window of opportunity is closing. Hasn’t it been closing for 66 years? I mean, what’s so special about this period of time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s obviously a longer discussion. But the parties have been engaged in a process to try to move towards a framework for negotiations and a way of resolving some of the most difficult issues that separate the parties. We’ve put in place a process with some timelines associated with it. And we’ve been working with the parties to facilitate the discussions and negotiations that they’ve been engaged in.
They met again last night. There was some progress, but there are decisions that need to be made and steps that need to be taken that only can be made and taken by the parties themselves.
Q Now, on the Alan Gross situation in Cuba, he now says he is going on a hunger strike. He wants the U.S. to talk directly to the Cubans. After 50 years, isn’t it time to just talk directly to them and not --
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I don’t think there’s any doubt in the minds of any senior Cuban government official what our views are, which is that Mr. Gross ought to be released immediately. And that has been made abundantly clear I think to the government of Cuba, and it remains our position to this day.
Q But they want the recognition of direct talks.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they want the release of Mr. Gross, and that’s what we are working very hard to achieve.
Q Jay, on another topic. On Thursday, President Obama travels to another part of Texas and he’s going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Can you talk to me about what the President plans to say, particularly as this is his second term and he’s been more outspoken this term, it seems, when it comes to matters of race?
MR. CARNEY: You want me to preview his remarks?
Q Yes, I do. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t get ahead of the President. I know the President looks forward to this event and will be delivering remarks, and I don’t want to steal his thunder. The achievements that the Civil Rights Act represent are historic, and the President will gladly participate in an event celebrating that achievement. But I’m not going to -- you’ve heard the President address some of the issues, as you noted, so I think you know where he comes from and what his thinking is. I’m sure that will be reflected in the remarks that he gives. But beyond that, I’m not going to preview it.
Q So you say you don’t want to steal the President’s thunder -- should we take that as being something like the President might make news, he will speak more forcefully on issues of race?
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to leave it to the President to --
Q I’m asking you because you said that. You said you don’t want to steal his thunder, and thunder makes you think that he’s going to shake something up.
Q There’s thunder coming. (Laughter.)
Q Give me something. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President has spoken about civil rights in the past, and done so I think with clarity and passion. I wouldn’t expect this to be any different.
Q Jay, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be dense, but what does “not viable” mean?
MR. CARNEY: Not viable?
Q The potential nomination --
MR. CARNEY: It’s diplomatic jargon --
Q Yeah, it kind of is, right?
MR. CARNEY: -- to mean what you want it to mean.
(Laughter.) No, I think it’s --
Q That’s actually a very candid answer, because I can’t tell from that whether you guys would let this person in the country or not. And so I’m wondering whether you’re --
MR. CARNEY: This is an issue in terms of our -- the fact that we host the United Nations and some of the issues around that, and the questions about that process that I would refer to our representation at the U.N.
We have made our views as an administration known, as I did just now, about this. And we think that the bill that the Senate passed reinforces the point that we’re making, but we’ve communicated that to the Iranian government.
Q What point are you making?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not viable. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, the House is scheduled to vote on budget alternatives this week -- I think five of them in total. Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a Republican, is going to bring to the floor the President’s budget. Something similar to this happened in 2012, I think it was, with numbers but no specific policy behind it. It was voted down 0-414. Does the White House have --
MR. CARNEY: Because it’s not the President’s budget. If they follow that path again, that will be welcome to us, because what they’re really trying to do is hide from a debate about the Paul Ryan budget, which is, as the President said, like a very bad rerun, which in budget form ensures, if passed, that millionaires would be an enormous tax break; that middle-class families would get hit hard; that Medicare would be turned into a voucher program, no longer a guarantee; that, in the height of hypocrisy, the savings that the Affordable Care Act achieves would be retained in order to give those tax cuts to millionaires, but the Affordable Care Act would be repealed, meaning that the 7-point -- however many million who have signed up on the marketplace, plus the 3 million kids -- young adults, rather -- who are on their parents’ plans, plus the millions who have benefited from expanded Medicaid would be out of luck, but those millionaires would get that substantial tax cut.
I think whatever phony votes they might have, the debate is going to be around those priorities. And you know what the President’s priorities are, which is to work together to invest in our economy, invest in our people, to expand opportunity, to reward hard work, to do things like raise the minimum wage so that folks at the very bottom who are working full-time and not even making a salary that pulls them out of poverty get a fighting chance -- not to reward people at the very top with a hefty new tax cut. I just don’t think that’s good policy. I don’t think most Americans think it’s good policy. But we welcome the debate.
Q I know in the front row we’ve talked about the 77 cents and 88 cents on the dollar conversation. I want to ask you specifically -- I know in the White House if you work the exact same position you get paid the exact same no matter your gender. Some nonpartisan, nonpolitical organizations have done all sorts of studies on this and found, to quote them, “Once you compare men and women with the same background doing the same job and working for the same type of employer, they essentially earn the same amount throughout America,” which is to say that this problem for people doing the same thing for the same amount of time is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know who you’re citing, but I don’t --
Q It’s from an organization named PayScale, based in Seattle, Washington. The number I think is separated by like, perhaps 3 to 5 percent, they suggest. So does the White House concede that there have been great gains made; that actually, if people across America are doing the same thing for the same amount of time whether they’re a man or woman, they are making about the same amount of money?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not familiar with that study. I think there is certainly ample evidence that, as I think Lilly Ledbetter discovered, that that is not uniformly the case. And it is something that is not the case and is allowed to not be the case in part because of the lack of transparency and the retaliation that some females across the country experience from their employers when they seek to find out what they’re making compared to what their male colleagues are making, or counterparts are making. So that’s why we need something like the Paycheck Fairness Act.
If, as a broad matter, you’re making the argument that we’ve made progress in this country on equal rights for women, I think that’s true -- often resisted by the same folks who are resisting this. So we need to make more progress. And passing this bill, taking the action the President took today, signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, as he did in 2009 -- those are all steps along a road and a path that is unfinished, but that needs to be finished.
Q A question on Syria. A lot of the time during the hearing with Secretary Kerry today was spent on Syria, and he suggested that we would be sending -- the U.S. would be sending more assistance to the moderate opposition. I’m wondering, since there’s been some reporting on a debate in the White House between the Pentagon and the State Department, if that assistance is going to include training and arming the moderate opposition.
MR. CARNEY: As I think I’ve said and others have said, Secretary Kerry and others have said, the President has asked his team to constantly evaluate the situation in Syria as it evolves and as it changes, and what our options are when it comes to making sure that we’re employing the best policies when it comes to providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and assistance to the moderate opposition.
As we’ve discussed periodically, that conversation continues and that discussion continues. And we are, and the President is, evaluating different options. But I don’t have any announcements to make or even a review of the options that may or may not be on the table to present to you except that the President is always tasking his team to assess what options are available to him.
Q Is it fair to say that there is more support within the administration or a bigger push for military action, or a little bit more traction at that point --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know what you mean exactly by military action. I think the President has addressed the question of direct military action. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss what options are on the table.
Q Thank you, Jay. A question on Canada, but not Keystone this time. Any comments on yesterday’s result of the election in Quebec, where the party in favor of breaking up the country lost the government?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any reaction here. The State Department might have it.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks very much, everybody.
1:40 P.M. EDT