Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 5, 2012 – 11:56 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. It’s always good to see your faces.
Q Hi, Jay, how you doing?
Q It’s good to see you, Jay. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Right back at you. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. I have — I just want to make a brief announcement — or not an announcement, just a reminder, because I know you all have seen this. But today the White House announced Summer Jobs Plus, which is a new call to action for businesses, nonprofits and government to work together to provide pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth in the summer of 2012. Already 32 organizations and four federal agencies have come together to commit to creating nearly 180,000 employment opportunities for low-income youth this summer, 70,000 of which are paid jobs or internships.
The President proposed $1.5 billion, as I know you all know, for high-impact summer jobs and year-round employment for low-income youths ages 16-24 in the American Jobs Act as part of the Pathways Back to Work fund. When Congress failed to act, the federal government and private sector came together to commit — to make that commitment that was announced today.
The President has set a goal of reaching 250,000 employment opportunities by the start of summer, at least 100,000 of which will be placements in paid jobs and internships. Today’s announcement is well on the way to meeting that goal, and we thank the private sector participants in this.
As you know, part of the President’s approach to all of our economic challenges is to do everything he can, working with Congress on the important things we can do and must do legislatively, working through his executive authority and working with the private sector, to keep all of the energy of his administration focused on creating jobs and growing the economy.
With that, I will begin with The Associated Press. Ben Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask you first about the fallout from the recess appointments. I understand the White House’s position on why it did what it did, but in doing so, of course, you had to expect that the Republicans would not be happy — and that’s obviously putting it mildly; the reaction was pretty fierce. I’m wondering how you think this will affect any other issues that you might seek to work on with Congress.
MR. CARNEY: We will, as I just said, continue to work with Congress on the issues that we have to address together. The President, any President, can’t put 400,000 teachers back to work by himself. He needs legislation, he needs Congress to cooperate and do the things that they have done in the past in a bipartisan way to put those folks back in the classroom or to put construction workers back on the job building our infrastructure or to do any of a number and a long list of things that can and should be done through Congress. And he looks forward to working with Congress on that.
I know you know, Ben, that this President is hardly the first to make a recess appointment. In fact, he has made far fewer — far fewer — as President this far in his term than either of his two predecessors, and that would include President George W. Bush. President Bush had made 61 recess appointments by this point in his term. By contrast, President Obama has only recess appointed 32 individuals now, including the four yesterday — 18 which — of which, rather, have been confirmed since.
So I certainly am aware of some of the reaction that you noted. The fact is, the President firmly believes he has the constitutional authority to act as he did. And they can make a lot of process arguments about it. We feel very strongly that the Constitution and the legal case is strongly on our side.
But more importantly, this isn’t about process, this isn’t about whether or not Congress is in session. And if I could digress for a minute, I think all of you should run up to Capitol Hill, check out the House and Senate and see if you can find a single member of Congress, and then tell me on this working day for most Americans whether or not Congress is in session.
But what it’s really about is the absolute urgency to install Richard Cordray as our consumer watchdog so that he can get to work today, as the CFPB has already announced, protecting middle-class Americans, protecting seniors from dishonest non-bank mortgage brokers, the kind who took advantage of that elderly couple the President met with yesterday in Cleveland, or to help students not get taken advantage of when they’re dealing with their student loans, or folks who deal with payday lenders.
I mean, we need — average Americans need somebody representing their interests in Washington. Lord knows that financial institutions have armies of lobbyists here, well paid, looking out for them. The American people need Richard Cordray where he is now thanks to the action the President took yesterday.
Q But can’t you see how it seems a little incongruous to continue to say that the President looks forward to working with them at the same time that he gives statements that he did yesterday — “I’m not going to take no for an answer, I’m not going to have — let an ideological minority stop me” — then the response from the Republicans about it’s a power grab, he’s arrogant. It doesn’t necessarily seem to lend itself to the next day, “look forward to work with them.”
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think that anybody expected or expects Washington to be a campfire where everybody holds hands together and sings Kumbaya. That’s not what the nation’s business is about.
As the President made clear when he was running for this office, his number-one priority was to ensure that when he became President, Washington stopped ignoring some of the very difficult challenges that faced the country. And he has taken many of those on, head on, and has put in place solutions to some of those very serious challenges we face.
And look, he has worked cooperatively with Congress from the moment he took the oath of office, and he will continue to do so. But the case here is pretty stark. The Republicans unfortunately in the Senate simply refused to allow Richard Cordray to have an up or down vote — not for any reason that had to do with his qualifications. Senator after senator — Republican — has said this is nothing about Richard Cordray; he’s very qualified. Republican attorneys general across the country have endorsed him. In the cloture vote, he received a majority of the U.S. Senate. But the Republicans filibustered. Why? Because they don’t even want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be in operation. They certainly don’t want it to have the powers that it has, by law, protecting American citizens from the kinds of practices that helped lead to the worst financial crisis and the worst recession since the Great Depression.
If they want to change the law, they should — going back to what we can do — what they can do, legislatively — they should try to pass a law to change it.
But it is the law of the land, and it passed and it was signed into law by the President because he is absolutely committed to the Wall Street reform piece of this and to the reforms that could not be implemented fully until Richard Cordray was in office, as he is today.
Q One quick campaign question for you. From the campaign side of President Obama’s apparatus, I guess you’d say, the focus continues to be on Mitt Romney. I’m wondering, does the President look at this as an open Republican race right now, or does he look at this as Mitt Romney still leads?
MR. CARNEY: As I think I said yesterday in the gaggle on Air Force One, the President and I spoke briefly, just took note of the results from Iowa. He didn’t make an assessment of what’s going to happen in the race or who he’s going to run against. I think he knows from experience, very personal experience, that primaries can play out in a variety of different and unexpected ways. So he’s focused right now, honestly, on his job. He doesn’t have a primary to worry about, and that affords him the luxury, if you will, but the importance of continuing to focus on what he can do as President to grow the economy and create jobs and, as you heard him today, to deal with our national security and our defense strategy.
So just talking — idle conversations in the hallways, I think we know pretty much what you know, because we get it from you guys in the press, about that process. It’s certainly interesting and we’ll pay attention to it as folks on the sideline for now. But I don’t really have an assessment at this point as to where it’s going to head, and if I did know I might make a trip out to Vegas.
Q Also, on the Cordray recess appointment, what, if any, concern does the White House have that the likely legal challenges to his appointment may — could undermine his ability to do his job, his legitimacy? And how concerned at all is the President that the Republicans could retaliate by withholding or by resisting compromise on things like extending the payroll tax cuts for the full year, or perhaps even harden their opposition, their resistance to further nominations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on the first point, I don’t want to anticipate legal challenges that we haven’t seen yet, and I wouldn’t be able to assess them adequately since, as you know, I am not a lawyer. I can only say that we feel very confident about the legal foundation upon which the President made this decision.
And I would just go back to what I said before about relations with Congress and the fact that we have important business to do. And I would be surprised if Republicans wanted to argue that even though the chambers are empty, even though many members of Congress have described what they’re on now as a recess, even though it’s been made abundantly clear as a matter of public record that there is no intent for Congress to conduct any business until they return from this recess, all of which plays into our argument that they’re in recess, in a sustained recess — if they want to make that case and then, because they’re mad about that, not extend the payroll tax cut for the American people, that would be a shocker. I think that would be very unfortunate for the 160 million Americans who, just as was the case in December, for January 1st, could not afford and should not be saddled with what would be essentially a $1,000 tax hike over frustration or pique with the fact that this President acted because Congress wouldn’t on a very important job — the installation of a consumer watchdog whose sole responsibility, as I think you saw was announced today by the CFPB, is to make sure that average Americans are not taken advantage of by dishonest financial institutions. I think that — it’s not a debate that we’re hoping to have, but if we were to have it I think we’d be confident we would win it.
Q And are there any further recess appointments in the pipeline or was this just a one-day flurry?
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about appointments or nominations today.
Let me move — Chris.
Q Thanks, Jay. The New Hampshire legislature this month is expected to vote on a bill that would repeal the same-sex marriage law there. The Democratic governor has said he’d veto any such measure that came to his desk, but the Republicans have a super majority in the legislature and they could potentially have the votes to override this veto. Both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have said they support the repeal of the marriage law there, but what does the President hope is the outcome of this vote?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, I honestly haven’t spoken to him about that state issue, so I would have to take the question and see if there’s anything I can get back to you.
Q The President has said that he — states should decide how to best address the marriage issue themselves. If the legislature decides to repeal that marriage law will he support that decision?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s an “if-if” question and I haven’t had the conversation with him or with any of the senior staff about it. So let me take that and see if we can get a response to you.
Q Senator Grassley says that he’s going to write a letter to the Department of Justice asking if President Obama got a new opinion before appointing Cordray. Did the White House talk to the Department of Justice? And why won’t they say whether they talked or not?
MR. CARNEY: Let me — I think I actually can say that we routinely consult with the Department of Justice on a range of legal matters, but we also routinely don’t delve into the specifics of any confidential legal guidance that the President or the White House in general would receive in the course of those consultations. So, I mean, I think that’s just standard operating procedure.
Let me move around. Norah.
Q Jay, most Americans start the new year — they start a new diet or a new exercise regime, or try and look at the new year as a fresh start. And the President has —
MR. CARNEY: Did you see my list? (Laughter.)
Q Exactly. Start drinking less. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You found out this isn’t water. (Laughter.)
Q The President chose to start the new year with an intentionally provocative action, something completely unprecedented, in appointing Richard Cordray. Why would he choose to start the new year by angering Republicans on Capitol Hill? Was this about politics?
MR. CARNEY: He chose to start the new year with an action that is designed to take care of and protect average Americans who have to deal with these non-financial institutions, and because of the way the law was written, the CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, could not implement and effectively oversee those non-bank financial institutions and therefore could not protect American citizens without having Richard Cordray in place.
And as I just said, unfortunately Senate Republicans, as a matter of ideology and politics and just the sheer fact that they don’t like Wall Street reform, I guess, or they don’t want those protections in place for average Americans, refused to allow an up or down vote on somebody who is broadly acknowledged to be enormously qualified for the job, has broad bipartisan support across the country, and who even among those very Republicans who filibustered his nomination is viewed as qualified for the post. They just don’t want the post to exist in the way that it’s written into the law.
So he took action because Congress wouldn’t on something that — because every day we didn’t have a consumer watchdog, every day Richard Cordray was out there waiting for, or hoping for, congressional Republicans or Senate Republicans to choose protecting average Americans over Wall Street and financial institutions and their lobbyists was a day when those Americans were not protected. So that’s why he acted.
He didn’t — it wasn’t a deliberately provocative thing. It was a deliberately decisive move to ensure that those protections could be in place and be implemented.
Q And is the President now prepared for the reaction in terms of what’s coming from Republicans? I spoke with some yesterday who said that they have been working with the President; they approved all but two of his judicial nominees, they’ve approved a number of executive appointments, and that quote, “that’s going to be very tough to do now.” They view this as provocative.
MR. CARNEY: President Obama has 74 nominees currently pending on the Senate floor. By contrast, at this time in 2003, President Bush had only 42 nominees pending on the floor. President Obama currently has a total of 181 nominees pending before the Senate. Those nominees have been pending before the Senate for an average of 165 days, or almost five and a half months.
So while they certainly have approved a handful or some nominees, and there have been — there has been — there have been ebbs and flows in that process, the fact of the matter is we’ve had an unprecedented level of obstruction when it comes to the confirmation, often confirmation of routine appointments and nominations. So that’s — I take issue with that supposition.
And I would just say — look, the President looks forward to working with Congress, with Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats, on the very important challenges that face the country, and the challenges that — for which the solutions require congressional action. And he — going back to an earlier question — he certainly expects that the Congress will extend the payroll tax cut, extend unemployment insurance; that they will do that without drama because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a tax cut for 160 million Americans, the kind of thing that Republicans, at least in theory, are supposed to be for.
So we expect that the President will be able to and will work to cooperate with Congress on a number of areas. And as I said earlier this week, we actually are fairly hopeful about the prospect of greater cooperation. Because not just the President is running for reelection, but all of the House and a third of the Senate, and everybody has to answer to their constituents. And I think constituents to members of Congress are going to want to know what their elected representatives did, and what actions they took, beyond obstruction, to help the economy grow and create jobs.
Q And then can I get your reaction on the appointments to the National Labor Relations Board? Mitt Romney said today that the President has now packed it with “union stooges.” And he said that the board’s actions are simply un-American, and what the President did was political payback for the unions helping him with his campaign.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would make two points. First of all, there were three nominees. One of them was a Republican who’s been languishing; hadn’t even gotten a committee vote for a year.
Secondly, I find it a little rich that on this and on the appointment of Richard Cordray to be the nation’s consumer watchdog, that the former governor of Massachusetts decided to take a position, in both cases, against the security and protection of working and middle-class Americans, because — the President made those recess appointments to the NLRB because the NLRB did not have enough members anymore to function. And it’s an agency, an independent agency, that is designed to protect workers’ rights.
The President thinks that’s important. He thinks it’s important to protect workers’ rights. He thinks it’s important, in the case of the CFPB and Richard Cordray, to protect consumers from the abuses of payday lenders or mortgage — non-bank mortgage brokers or student loan organizations or businesses. So that’s my comment on that.
Q Jay, in the new defense cuts, the strategic review, one of the areas to escape the axe is the East Asia Pacific region. Is there a way that the — how should China perceive that? Is this being done largely with China in mind?
MR. CARNEY: It’s an excellent question. As you heard the President make clear during his Asia trip — APEC, East Asia Summit — in November, the President is committed to rebalancing our focus, both in our national security and defense strategies, on Asia.
The President’s position as a candidate as well as since he’s been in office was that for — because of the intense focus on Iraq, principally, as well as the Middle East in general, that followed 9/11, we had as a nation not been paying enough attention to Asia. And that is broadly the case and broadly the President’s view with regard to economics, diplomacy, as well as foreign policy and national security.
So he made clear that in this defense strategy review, that he insisted on it and he was deeply engaged in it and met with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as the combatant commanders, because he wanted a strategy to drive the choices that were made around the budget, not the other way around; not because there were budget cuts passed into law by the Budget Control Act, voted on in a bipartisan way, that that number shouldn’t drive our defense strategy, but a strategy should then be developed that was best for the country, best for our future, and that the — and then the budget would address that.
So his commitment to, as you said, sort of maintaining our presence and even heightening it in Asia is part of that overall rebalancing.
Yes, and then Jessica. Sorry.
Q Just to follow up on — okay, thank you — what message then might this send to North Korea? And is there any concern that this new focus on Asia might be provoking in any way this new untested leader?
And then domestically on the same issue, defense companies are talking about losing hundreds of jobs, potentially thousands as a result of these defense cuts. What do you say to that?
MR. CARNEY: As regards North Korea and the change in leadership there, I mean, obviously that’s a recent development and the President’s focus on Asia and his goal of rebalancing our strategic view towards Asia long predates that, so there’s no relation there. And our position on North Korea remains as it was.
On the issue of budget cuts, these are the product of a bipartisan bill, the Budget Control Act that was passed, as you know, in August. And the fact of the matter is that after 9/11, for good reason, our defense budget increased rather dramatically and for a sustained period of time. And over the past three years our defense budget has been increasing. So we are making sensible choices that reflect our need to get our fiscal house in order, and we are making those choices driven by a strategy rather than just giving the Defense Department an across-the-board haircut, because that would be irresponsible.
We’re eliminating old Cold War programs to ensure that we can enhance our investment in intelligence, reconnaissance and other areas that are more suited for modern-day defense strategy.
So there’s no question that there are difficult choices involved in this, but the fact of the matter is that even with these cuts our budget, defense budget, will be substantial and larger even than it was towards the end of the Bush administration.
Q You touched on this in the gaggle yesterday, but I wanted to just press you a little further. Quoting some of the things the President said as senator when he opposed John Bolton’s recess appointment, he said, “It’s the wrong thing to do,” and he said, “This process means we’ll have less credibility and, ironically, be less equipped, in this case, to reform the United Nations.”
Now, I know in the gaggle you said that was — you posed it because he didn’t like John Bolton’s policies. But in this case he likes Cordray’s policies. How does this go to the substance of the matter, which is the recess appointment itself?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, the point I was making — again, I think I’ve cited the statistics on recess appointments, which is a constitutional authority allowed to every President and which has been exercised by this President’s predecessors in far greater degree.
Secondly, the distinction here is that, as I’ve noted, Richard Cordray has broad bipartisan support. There is no question about his qualifications for this job. In the case of Mr. Bolton there were a great many questions about his qualifications for the job, and a great deal of opposition to his nomination on the merits, on his qualifications, and that makes this quite different. This is an effort to deny Richard Cordray the opportunity to serve in this position because of opposition to the position itself and opposition to Wall Street reform, not because of opposition to this nominee.
And the fact is CFPB exists because it is the law. The position exists because it is the law. It was passed by the House and the Senate. It was signed into law by the President. If Republicans want to change that they can do it legislatively, or they can try to. In the meantime, the nation’s consumers deserve to have this consumer watchdog in place, and that’s why the President acted as he did.
Q A broader question about some of the executive muscle he’s been flexing lately. When he was a candidate in 2008, he railed against the executive powers that the Bush-Cheney White House had expanded, but now he is, as I said, flexing a lot of executive muscle. Has he flip-flopped on that position, or —
MR. CARNEY: I think there are apples and oranges here in terms of the use and extent of executive authority. I would simply point to the stats I just gave you about recess appointments, which is a well-established tradition and authority granted by the Constitution to Presidents of the United States, an authority that this President has used discriminatingly by comparison to President Bush, for example.
And going back to — this is not an either/or proposition. You don’t decide to simply act with your executive authority and not act with Congress because this President is committed to doing everything he can within his power to help the American people, to grow the economy and to create jobs. That’s his number-one priority. And that includes working with Congress, because on so many of these important issues Congress has to be part of the solution, has to be part of the effort to cooperate —
Q Did gridlock in Congress change his opinion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have certainly experienced gridlock on some issues and we’ve experienced a great deal of obstruction on the Richard Cordray nomination and other issues. But he exercises his executive authority I think in a very judicious manner. And as you and others have often pointed out, some of the things that he is able to do through his executive authority as regards — as relates to jobs and the economy are sometimes very small in their impact, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing.
And the fact is he will do things, small, medium and large, that he can do through his executive authority, that he can do working with the private sector, as he did today — or as the White House did today with the Summer Jobs Plus program — and then he will continue to press the Congress to take action on the American Jobs Act and to take action broadly on jobs and the economy, through the payroll tax cut extension, through the extension of unemployment insurance, through the absolute urgent need to do something about our infrastructure as a long-term economic growth matter and also as a way of putting idle construction workers back to work. I mean, that should be a goal that we all share, and traditionally, Republicans and Democrats have shared and have acted on.
So, again, we remain hopeful that we can work with Congress, that we will work with Congress, and that that cooperation would be driven by the demands of the American people and the constituents, those folks who sent members to Congress and sent the President to the Oval Office.
Q Yes, Jay, speaking of jobs, tomorrow’s jobs numbers — I know you’re not in the predictions business, but can you talk about the —
MR. CARNEY: I’ll throw it out there. (Laughter.)
Q If you’re going to Vegas you may as well do that, too. Can you talk about the hopes and the expectations, and specifically about the first jobs numbers of the year and how they might set the tone for what the President is going to speak about in the State of the Union speech and also what he says on the campaign trail in the months ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t dare to go there. What I can tell you is, as I’ve said before, that —
MR. CARNEY: Well, because it would sound like a prediction and I just don’t have one. So we look at these things as — and our economists look at these things as sort of longer-term trends. One number is not decisive, whether it’s good or bad.
What we are focused on — we can’t control data, right? What we are focused on is what we can do to help grow the economy, to help create jobs, so that that unemployment number comes down, so that the job creation number goes up, so that the growth number goes up. But we can’t spend a lot of time worrying about what those numbers are going to be because we don’t control that directly. We can only do what we can do. And that’s why this President is so focused on doing everything he can, from Summer Jobs Plus programs, to helping folks with their mortgages, to putting people back to work through the American Jobs Act.
Q Can I follow up with a couple logistical questions? A, are we going to hear from the President on the jobs numbers tomorrow? Are we going to hear from —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a scheduling announcement to make.
Q The other question is, the President has talked about wanting to get right to work on extending the payroll tax cuts. Are there negotiations already underway on getting the full year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any specifics for you. I’m sure that there are conversations being had, but beyond that I don’t have any details. I mean, we certainly look forward to that action being taken as soon as possible to ensure that there’s no doubt in the minds of the American people who would be affected by the failure to extend the payroll tax cut that the extension will happen.
Q But nothing involving the White House right now?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any details on that, no.
Q Jay, on recess appointments, earlier you said, I don’t think anybody expects Washington to be a campfire where everyone sits around and sings Kumbaya. What about hope and change? I thought there was an expectation — the President said that if he got elected, maybe it wouldn’t be singing around a campfire but the situation would improve. Has he just given up on that?
MR. CARNEY: I think that, in some ways, I answered your question before I got it, which is that the President’s promise was not just to change atmospherics but to change the way Washington did business and to change it by working together collaboratively with Congress and others in Washington to get people here to focus on challenges that they had ignored for too long — that we had ignored for too long.
And that included the need for Wall Street reform; the need for health care reform, a project 100 years in the making that had experienced numerous efforts and failures; the need to deal with our energy policy to get it focused on “all of the above” approach in terms of our energy sources, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to ensure that we were competitive in the 21st century in clean energy industries and doing things that helped our environment as well as helped our economy.
And he has done these. Saving the automobile industry, and because of the crisis brought on in the automobile industry by the devastating recession, insisting at great political peril, as I’m sure you all reported on at the time, that we need to have a vibrant, thriving American automobile industry. He was not willing to write it off, but in exchange for taxpayer assistance, insisting that those companies reform themselves and make themselves more competitive.
And that’s what he’s done. And he didn’t do it alone. He did it with Congress in almost all cases. So it is true that partisanship prevails still and the tone is not what you would hope. But the important thing here for the American people is that we change the way we do business, that we address the challenges that had loomed like elephants in the room that everybody ignored for too long. And that’s what this President has done.
Q But when you say “change the way you do business,” on the substance of how recess appointments go forward, you guys cite all kinds of legal precedent —
MR. CARNEY: Including Bush administration — Bush arguments right?
Q — we quoted and others quoted yesterday saying that you had the constitutional power to do this. Nevertheless, when you say now they’re in recess, they’re not working — Democrats, like Harry Reid, as recently as 2008, when George W. Bush was in office, agreed with the Bush White House — which he was not friendly with — that when they’re in pro forma session, then in fact they’re not in recess. They’re open for business. They’re not doing a lot, but there was an agreement that President Bush would not do — he did plenty of recess appointments. But when they were in pro forma session, he did not. He accepted that precedent. And Harry Reid as recently as 2008 was saying this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he didn’t take advantage of, or he didn’t act on the legal opinion of his own OLC and others who actually argued the opposite. So —
Q After they left the Bush administration.
MR. CARNEY: But look, I think their opinions are quite clear. And I think you reported one of them in your piece.
Q It was not an official position of the Bush administration.
MR. CARNEY: Our legal standing here we are very confident on.
MR. CARNEY: And on the absolute need to ensure that the CFPB has its full authority and its powers to protect Americans, middle-class consumers, from dishonest non-financial institutions, we’re very comfortable with that and the need to act.
Q Sure. People agree. But there was — when we talk about Kumbaya and all this, Harry Reid — who didn’t like George W. Bush, called him a liar, all kinds of other things — agreed that when — that this was in place and that he would not do these recess appointments. And President Bush didn’t defy that.
So how are you improving this tone that you’re talking about when you’re changing that gentleman’s agreement that was in effect just three —
MR. CARNEY: You’re talking about process here. On the one hand —
Q Process matters, because —
MR. CARNEY: On the one hand, you’re talking about whether — I mean, I defy you to find anything like a quorum, anything like even enough people to fill this room up on Capitol Hill who are elected members of Congress. You might find them in very warm places or snowy places having fundraisers. But you won’t find them in Capitol Hill because they are in recess.
And we can’t wait for a process that has proven itself to be broken to fix itself. And with regards to the President’s constitutional authority, which you’ve said he has, he’s going to exercise it. Because we have to have Richard Cordray in place in order to protect American consumers.
And the argument against that is either — on the other side is either a process argument, or, more truthfully, is an argument about the fact that they don’t even want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and they want to weaken it or water it down or eliminate it because they seem to believe that after all we went through in 2007 and 2008, the unbelievable harm that the financial crisis caused to this economy and to the American people, we don’t need new rules; Wall Street should go back to the way it was; the financial institutions should be — should regulate themselves.
They can take that on the road and try and sell it, but I don’t think there are going to be many buyers.
Q But last thing on that point — you’ve said that several times in this briefing and other places — that basically Republicans just want to do away with — they don’t have problems with Richard Cordray as a man, they think —
MR. CARNEY: I’m just quoting them.
Q And they’ve said that, it’s absolutely true. However, Republicans do have a substantive point they make on this that you’re not mentioning, which is that he has an office with $500 million, and they think that it’s unaccountable and that there should be oversight of that so he’s not just going after businesses. Do you at least agree that there should be some safeguards in place — there should be consumer protections — but there should also be protections to make sure he doesn’t have $500 million in a fishing expedition?
MR. CARNEY: But Ed, as you know, the kind of oversight that exists for the CFPB is no different than as exists for other independent agencies, by and large. It is part of the law that was passed and signed into law by the President, and if they want to introduce changes to the structure or oversight of the CFPB through legislation they should do that. But they should not block a highly qualified nominee for a job that exists in law out of ideological pique, because it’s hurting the American people and it’s certainly not doing them any good, I think, politically. But that’s just my advice.
Q If the President were to go ahead — were planning to go ahead with a controversial recess appointment, why didn’t he just appoint the person who invented the office to begin with — Elizabeth Warren?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a golden oldie. I think she’s running for Senate. (Laughter.)
Q She wouldn’t be running for Senate if the President had made a recess appointment.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, I think, look, we have enormous regard for Elizabeth Warren. She did a terrific job in setting up this agency. Richard Cordray is, as she herself has said, the right man for the job, the right person for the job, and enormously qualified. And as I mentioned at the top, she’s I think engaged in a campaign of her own right now. So —
Q Did you guys give her a heads up that you were going to do the recess appointment for Cordray?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe so, but —
Q You didn’t give her the courtesy call that you were recess appointing someone else?
MR. CARNEY: She’s running for Senate, Hans. A courtesy call? No, I don’t believe we did.
Q Well, she just said this agency was her baby.
MR. CARNEY: Hans, I don’t believe we did.
Q Just one more question. There seems to be some legal question whether Richard Cordray can be paid, because it’s a recess appointment. Do you know whether or not he’ll actually be paid?
MR. CARNEY: I assume, as with other recess appointments, he has all the — everything that comes with it. But I don’t have a specific answer to that.
Q Okay. And you made the shocking allegation that there were fundraisers in warm and snowy places going on around the country.
MR. CARNEY: I’m just guessing. (Laughter.)
Q Is the implication that just because Congress isn’t here in session that they’re not working?
MR. CARNEY: Only in Washington would not being in the office, not even being in the town where your office exists, qualify as being on the job. I mean, Congress — if Congress is in session they’re supposed to be somewhere, like, close to the capital.
So, look, train your cameras on the chambers. See if you can find any folks there.
Q They don’t let our cameras in, but I take your point. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I wonder why. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks. You spoke at length about the fact that the frustration that Richard —
MR. CARNEY: It wasn’t that long.
Q — Richard Cordray — over the course of two days — that Richard Cordray was being bottled up and held up by the Senate, unwilling to approve his — even vote on his nomination. Two of the three NLRB nominees were just put forth last month, just a few weeks ago. The Senate hasn’t had time to act on that. What’s the justification for a recess appointment for them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we need the agency to function so that workers’ rights continue to be protected. It’s an independent agency that cannot function without a certain number of board members, one. Two, any doubt about the Senate’s intention, or the Republicans in the Senate’s intention of allowing any nominee to come forward can be — was demonstrated by the fact that they wouldn’t even allow the Republican nominee to get to a committee vote so — who had been there for almost a year.
So the President acted because Congress wouldn’t, and it was clear that Congress wouldn’t — and numerous senators have made clear they won’t. And we have to have that — these independent agencies exist for a reason, and the President believed that it was essential to make sure that that agency could function.
Q Well, I have two follow-ups to that. The first is, if it’s so critical for the agency to function — everybody knew when those vacancies were coming — why didn’t the President nominate somebody earlier so the Senate would have time to confirm them in a — should they be so inclined, in a timely fashion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he was hoping that the Senate would confirm the Republican who had been up there for a long time. There was I think a Democrat who was recess appointed who was — they refused to confirm in the past. So, again, the Senate Republicans’ disposition towards this could not have been more clear and their intentions could not have been more clear.
And the fact is, it was simply a matter of the agency could not act and function without having the requisite number of board members.
Q So the standard for the Senate bottling somebody up is now statements by senators about their intentions, whether they plan or don’t plan to move on a —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, you know how Congress works. Maybe there should be a day where, for example, with the filibusters, senators actually have to hang around and filibuster — properly act out the verb, right? But instead, all they have to do is, like, tug on their ear and suddenly a vote goes down.
So, unfortunately, that’s how it works. So we — Laura, we could have a — I think at the — out of deference to your colleagues, we can have this esoteric conversation later. But I think the President, I think with clear justification, believed that he had to do this in order to ensure that this independent agency could function.
Q Thank you, Jay. Next week, Treasury Secretary Geithner will go to Japan and China. I’m not going to ask about the details, but can you give us a sense of general expectation by Japan administration on his visit and on potential deliverables?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I won’t talk about deliverables. I mean, this is part of his responsibilities as Treasury Secretary. I don’t think he’s been to China since last spring. I could be wrong about that, but I think it’s roughly that. And this is part of our engagement with Asia that we’ve talked about already, and in the case of Japan, an important ally. But I don’t have any more details on it. Maybe Treasury does.
Q We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the Gabby Giffords shooting. And she’s of course going to do things this weekend and mark it in a certain way. And when the President spoke and gave that really moving — by a lot of accounts — speech, he talked about taking steps on gun safety and gun control in the months ahead. Does he have plans of actually following through on that a year later?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we — did we publish that? I think we have put forward some positions on this, and I don’t have anything new for you on it. And I don’t have anything for you on the anniversary itself. It obviously was a — I mean, it’s a solemn occasion given that — I mean, it’s a remarkable recovery that Congresswoman Giffords has made, but we can never forget the lives lost on that day.
Q Jay, under the President’s defense initiative that he announced today, will the United States still have the ability or not have the ability to fight and win two major wars at the same time in different places?
MR. CARNEY: I believe Secretary Panetta, following the President, spoke at length about the broader defense strategy and the — what underlies it. So I would point you to his remarks for a better assessment of that.
Q He said we can do — the United States would be able to do more than one thing at a time.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s without question.
Q But I guess the question is, does that include fighting and winning two major wars at the same time?
MR. CARNEY: Look, what I can say is, again, you should — I think there is ample comment on this from the Secretary of Defense about what the strategy is and what it allows our military forces to achieve. What is true is that we are at the end of a decade of war.
Just when this President took office we had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re now down to half that, and the President is, as you know, as part of his Afghanistan strategy, committed to further drawing down Afghan forces gradually.
And that creates opportunities and allows us to rebalance our defense strategy. But for details about how that is underpinned, if you will, I would point you to the Secretary of Defense.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Are you guys willing to acknowledge that you’re working with Yusuf Qaradawi on the peace talks with the Taliban?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information on that.
Mark, I feel like I owe you one. You’ve been raising your hand for a bit.
Q Thanks. Based on White House Counsel’s legal analysis, if the Senate had come into pro forma session every day instead of every three or four days, would that have made a difference?
MR. CARNEY: I will leave it to the lawyers to analyze it or to provide further detail for you on it. Our assessment is that Congress has been in recess and has made every indication that it will be in recess for a sustained period of time, and that gaveling in and gaveling out for seven seconds does not constitute a recess with regard to the President’s constitutional authority.
I mean, let’s take the other — I guess going to maybe Laura’s question or somebody else’s — the other side of the extreme here, which is that if these gimmicks were all a Senate needed — the Senate needed to do to prevent the President from exercising his constitutional authority — any President — then no Senate would — I mean, no President would ever be able to exercise it because —
Q Well, in the last two years, the Bush administration —
MR. CARNEY: Well, but — and we’re saying that this is a gimmick versus a constitutionally enshrined authority. And we feel very comfortable, as a legal matter, that the Constitution trumps gimmicks.
Q And has the White House made a decision on when to notify Congress about the debt limit and to start the 15-day clock rolling on that?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing new for you on that. Thanks, Mark.
12:45 P.M. EST