Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 20, 2012 – 11:40 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Awfully quiet in here, very subdued. I wanted to welcome everyone here, including my fellow Irish Americans. It is after all, Alternative St. Patrick’s Day here — (laughter) — at the White House.
Q Nice tie. Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you very much. This is actually Josh Earnest’s tie. We switched. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Better than orange —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, that’s pretty good, huh? He came to my aid, and I appreciate it.
I do not have any other comments to make at the top of the briefing. (Laughter.) So I’ll just go straight to questions.
Q Jay, just a couple topics. The budget — House Republicans released a budget plan today that would include cuts to the safety net programs for the poor, proposes lower tax rates. Does the administration see value in this plan? Do you guys see this as a starting point for potential compromise on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: Unfortunately, no — because what the Ryan plan fails to do is in any way meet the test of balance that every credible person in this debate has said must be met if we are going to deal with our fiscal challenges in the future.
In this room, we have had a lot of talk about the Simpson-Bowles commission, the Rivlin-Domenici commission, the President’s budget proposal. All of those share in common at their core a recognition of the fact that there is no responsible way to deal with our budget challenges if we do not do it in a balanced way; if we do not include both discretionary spending cuts, reforms to our entitlement programs, cuts in our defense spending and cuts in our tax expenditures. We need to make sure that the effort to get our fiscal house in order — that the burden of that effort is not borne solely by senior citizens and families with disabled children, or the poor or the middle class.
And unfortunately, what we see in this proposal is, again, much like its predecessor, essentially a shift of money from the middle class, seniors and lower-income Americans, disabled Americans, to the wealthiest Americans — the wealthiest among us — $150,000 on average tax cut, additional tax cut, for the wealthiest Americans; a program that would voucherize Medicare and end Medicare as we know it, and create a system in Medicare where seniors are progressively basically priced out of the market and more and more of the burden of their own health care costs is borne by them, a burden that they cannot bear — many of them.
So it is not a plan that this President could support. It’s not a plan that not just Democrats but responsible Republicans could support if they supported Bowles-Simpson or Domenici-Rivlin, or other efforts to deal with this problem in a balanced way. And it’s not one that we think the American people would broadly support because it’s not right for the economy and it’s not right for the vast majority of the American people.
Q Do the tax rates give you a diminished hope that you could have some sort of basis for tax reform, perhaps in a lame duck session?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s hard to anticipate what the end of the year will look like. Let’s put that aside. Driving in this morning — I have satellite radio — I was listening to a news program, and I heard Chairman Ryan on, and he was asked about the tax rates and the lowering of the tax rates in his proposal. And then a responsible questioner said, well, how are you going to pay for that? “Well, I know there aren’t any specifics here. We’ll just let the Ways and Means Committee handle that in a transparent way.”
So that’s the message to the American people — we’ll let Congress make sure that a system that gives massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans somehow isn’t paid for on the backs of the middle class. I don’t think that’s a bait-and-switch the American people want to engage in particularly. We’ve seen it before. We’ve heard it before. It’s not the right approach, and it’s not fair.
Q I just wanted to ask you on Iran, the President issued a statement on the Persian New Year. He accused the regime of trying to drape an electronic curtain on Iran. This was a message by video. Does the administration have a sense of how many people actually saw it in that country?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department. I don’t have that figure for you. Obviously, one of the central messages that is contained within it is this issue of an electronic curtain — the efforts at many levels by the Iranian regime to restrict access to information to their own people because they’re afraid of what the Iranian people might do with the truth, and knowing the truth about the way they’re treated by their regime, the way that Iran is viewed and the Iranian regime is viewed by the international community, the extensive international consensus that exists that points a finger at Tehran and its refusal to live up to its obligations, its international obligations, the incredible price that is being paid by Iran because of the sanctions regime that continues to be ratcheted up as a result of the regime’s failure to live up to its obligations. So it is a multifaceted effort by the regime, and it demonstrates just how fearful the regime is of the truth.
Q Jay, Saudi Arabia said today that oil prices were not justified at their current levels, and that it stood ready to pump more oil if there were buyers. Does the United States agree that oil prices are not justified at the prices that they’re currently at? And would you like Saudi to pump more oil?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say two things. One, the President is very concerned about the high price of gasoline that American consumers are paying when they’re filling up their tanks. It is obviously a burden for American families trying to make ends meet, and it is one of the reasons as I’ve said before why it was so essential to extend the payroll tax cut and give 160 million Americans extra money in their pockets to help deal with these added costs that every family is dealing with.
On Saudi Arabia, I think the Treasury Secretary has commented on this, so I would refer you to his comments about it. I’m not going to get into sort of broad conversation or speculation about the global oil markets.
Q Would you, like, maybe sort of more generally then — as the President goes out on a tour to talk about energy and as you continue to express your concern about gasoline prices, is there more that other countries in the international community could be doing or that the United States would like to have them do to help bring those prices down?
MR. CARNEY: It is certainly true that the price of oil is driven by a global market, and that’s a point I make when asked about what tools the American government has to drive down prices at the pump. And those tools are limited in the near term.
Beyond that, I would simply say that we, as a nation, our government is in regular consultations with and conversations with oil-producing states as well as our allies around the globe for whom this is an issue — certainly, as we mentioned before, a topic of conversation between the President and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. And it’s a topic of conversation between this government and governments around the world fairly regularly because of the prominence of the issue right now.
Q Any specific governments you want to mention?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specifics for you.
Q All right. Just one follow-up to my question yesterday. Today is the FEC filings. I’m just curious to find out which White House officials have appeared at Priorities USA events and how they felt that operation was going.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have that information for you. I can take the question. Again, as this administration — as previous administrations have, of both parties — allows for the fact that White House officials, Cabinet officials, on their own time, private time, can participate in political activity. But beyond that, I don’t have any details.
Ed. Then Dan.
Q Thank you. I wanted to follow up on Congressman Ryan’s budget, because you hit him for not having details on taxes, but you haven’t put all your details on taxes on the table either. The Buffett Rule has been a principle that you’ve talked about around what you want the tax rate to be as a minimum, but the President hasn’t put those details on the table either. So how can you hit the Ryan plan for not having details when —
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s look at the difference between a principle like the Buffett Rule, which would say that if you make $1 million or more you should not pay a lower effective tax rate than a hardworking, lower-income or middle-income American — Warren Buffett’s secretary, for example. The other side of this is to say we’re going to dramatically cut income tax rates, most dramatically for the highest-income Americans, bequeathing upon them an enormous tax break, coming after many tax breaks in the previous decade for that very same population of Americans, and promise that we’ll explain how we’re going to pay for it later. I think there’s a big difference. And I think for average Americans out there, there’s a big difference. One is about essential fairness, about closing loopholes that unnecessarily benefit those of us who are the wealthiest in the country — I say us — unfortunately I don’t mean me — (laughter) — but another is a program that says we’re going to give more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans but without saying how we’re going to pay for them.
And the implication is there really is only one way to pay for them. You either have the middle class pay for them directly through higher taxes on the middle class or on lower-income Americans, or you have seniors pay for them, which the voucherization of Medicare essentially demands, or you pay for them — and it’s probably an all-of-the-above approach in this case — or you have them paid for through dramatic cuts in education, in research and development, and in other essential aspects of our discretionary budget, which the Ryan/Republican plan actually makes clear is their plan.
So those are choices that this President feels are not right for the American people, are not right for the American economy right now. And to the extent that this is a debate that we’ll be engaged in again this year, we are ready to have that debate.
Q Quick follow-up. Mr. Knoller had a blog post I think earlier today saying that the debt rose $4.899 trillion under President Bush and has now risen $4.939 trillion under President Obama. So question is, you don’t like the Ryan plan, but the President obviously inherited a lot of debt from the Bush administration but has now added more debt than his predecessor. So if you want to hit the Ryan plan, what credibility do you have that you’re going to cut the debt?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we put forward a plan in — a very clear plan that achieves over $4 trillion in deficit reduction, that achieves — as the CBO recently re-estimated, brings our deficits down as a share of GDP to a very manageable level and drives down our debt. And it does it in a balanced way that includes the $1.2 trillion in real cuts agreed to by this President and Congress last summer, and then builds upon those with reforms in entitlements that produced savings, and in raising revenue by asking oil companies, oil and gas companies to give up 100 years of subsidies by the American taxpayer at a time when they’re making near-record profits — again; that asks hedge fund managers not to pay the income tax rate that you pay — to pay the income tax you pay rather than on their substantial income pay an exceptionally low rate, a much lower rate than working-class and middle-class Americans.
That’s the balanced approach that Republicans who supported Simpson-Bowles believed was right. It’s the balanced approach that Republicans who supported the Gang of Six proposal believed was right. It’s the balanced approach that Republicans who supported the Rivlin-Domenici commission believed was right. Unfortunately, we have not seen that same recognition of the need for essential balance by House Republicans or by a majority of Republicans in either chamber.
Laura Meckler, how are you?
Q Doing good, thank you. A couple questions. First, on the Ryan Budget. Since his last budget, he’s made some changes in how he approaches Medicare. Do those changes — are they headed in the right direction? Are you — do you feel like the Medicare proposal this time is something closer to what you would like to see than to what he proposed a year ago?
MR. CARNEY: Unfortunately, no, we do not believe that there is much difference at all in this proposal. It is still a proposal that creates a voucher system for Medicare and thereby ends Medicare as we know it. Contrary to some assessments that somehow by calling it Medicare it still remains Medicare, we’re going to stand by the fact that Medicare as we know it would be ended by this program. And it creates, basically — it segments the Medicare population.
I mean, one of the reasons why Medicare has worked, and why seniors in this country support and want Medicare to continue, is because all risk is pooled currently for Medicare recipients and the guarantee that exists for Medicare exists for all. If you segment the Medicare population into a part-private, part-public system, what happens is private insurance companies — understandably, because they’re market-driven — are going to cherry pick the healthiest, youngest seniors, pull them into their private plans, which just makes the pool of Americans of seniors who continue on the traditional Medicare system older and sicker, which drives up costs, which then drives more — creates more pain for those Americans who can’t afford it. That’s a recipe for destroying Medicare as we know it, not saving it or strengthening it.
Q But that’s what Medicare Advantage is today.
MR. CARNEY: What we’ve seen in — well, that’s why Medicare Advantage is not the foundational program of the system. One of the reasons why we know that doing this doesn’t work is because of what we’ve seen in some of the Medicare Advantage studies. I mean, you can’t — if you were to replace Medicare with Medicare Advantage, that’s a problem you would have.
Q On the message to Iran and also the action by the Treasury Department today on a related front, essentially, how much of a difference do you think this is going to make in terms of the ability of Iranians to actually get more information?
MR. CARNEY: In terms of the action that we’re taking?
Q Yes, the action that the administration is taking.
MR. CARNEY: To allow certain companies to — that provide information technology?
MR. CARNEY: Well, fortunately, there remain some avenues for Iranians to get access to information. We want to do what we can to allow companies to — make sure that those companies understand that they can continue to provide services like that to the Iranian people. It’s hard to measure what that impact will be, but it is vital.
One of the reasons why we have had, we believe, the upheaval in the Middle East that we’ve seen in this last period is because of the information that people in the region have been getting about what a better life would look like, and the demands that they have then been making when they hit the streets, saying, we want more democracy; we want a government that respects and works for us and doesn’t, as in the case of Syria or Libya before it, brutalize us and repress us. So access to information is a very powerful tool in the effort to provide greater democracy and greater freedom for people around the world.
Q And just lastly, you said that you would take the question on Priorities USA, but you had also said the same thing yesterday, that you would take that same question. So is this something that you are prepared —
MR. CARNEY: No, I honestly — I’ll see if I can get an answer. But again, I just didn’t look into it yesterday. I just forgot. But it is simply — I mean, it is a fact that this — in this administration, as in previous administrations, officials in the White House and the Cabinet are able to participate on their own time in political activities. So if there’s more information, I will get it.
Q But you don’t oppose giving us the information. It’s just that you don’t have it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just see what we are gathering here versus what the organization that you referenced or others might have to give out, because we’re not collecting all this data. It’s not really — again, this is private activity, not White House activity.
Q Thank you. Does the President believe that oil companies and hedge fund managers are hurting the economy?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the tax breaks, the loopholes and subsidies that exist that provide $4 billion in taxpayer money to oil and gas companies, for example, or provide untold millions and billions in tax benefits to some of the wealthiest Americans who take advantage of the carried interest rule — that those provisions are not helpful to the economy and they are not fair, and that removing them would create benefits for the economy by creating a fairer tax system, one that is fairer to the broader majority of the American people and the middle class that should not be paying, in the case of the carried interest rule, their income taxes at a higher rate than hedge fund managers who — I mean, let’s be honest about what a carried interest rule is. You guys understand it. It’s not — this isn’t even investment interest income. This is basically being paid for their work, but because of a loophole in the tax code, they’re being — they’re getting to pay taxes at a substantially lower rate, as if it were investment income.
So that doesn’t seem right to this President. It doesn’t seem right to a heck of a lot of people. And it ought to end.
Q Everyone, I think, agrees that the economy is in a much better place now. Mitt Romeny has admitted that the economy is doing better. Does the President —
MR. CARNEY: He said that? (Laughter.)
Q Does the President believe that this is a function of what he has done — the President himself — or is it just part of a natural cycle, what goes down comes up?
MR. CARNEY: Two things. The reason why America always comes back when it’s down is because of the American people. The President firmly believes that. It is also the case that when he took office in January of 2009, we were on the edge of an abyss. We faced the potential for a global financial meltdown and the possibility of unemployment and economic contraction the likes of which we had not seen since the Great Depression. And though we did experience both of those things — the worst recession since the Great Depression, the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, and the worst economic contraction — but not nearly as severe as we could have if we had not made the right choices, if we had not done the things we did to stabilize the economy, to stabilize the financial sector, to salvage and revivify the automobile industry, to provide essential assistance to states and municipalities so that they wouldn’t have to lay off masses and masses of teachers and firefighters and police officers, and get our economy going in the right direction again.
That has resulted in quarter after quarter now of economic growth, positive economic growth. It has resulted in two years of positive private sector job growth. Unfortunately, the hole was so deep that we’re not out of out it yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Q And another subject. Yesterday you were asked about Trayvon Martin, whether you had a conversation with the President about that. Have you had a conversation with him —
MR. CARNEY: I have no conversations to report out to you. I note that the Justice Department has said that it’s looking into the matter, and I would refer you to the Justice Department. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers, as I said yesterday, are with Trayvon Martin’s family. But beyond that, not least because there is an investigation going on, I don’t have anything else I can add.
Q So you have nothing to read out, but have you had a conversation with him about this?
MR. CARNEY: I talk to him about a lot of things.
Q Jay, there’s talk out of Europe that Syria — the wife of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Asma Assad, might be placed on a new sanctions list, along with several other family members. And these alleged emails from Assad that were leaked saying that he was able to brag about getting around U.S. sanctions because he got an iTunes account with a fake New York address and New York identity. Is there more that the U.S. can do on the sanctions front, particularly with Syria? And what do you guys make of him bragging about getting around these sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll make two points. There is more, and we are working with our allies to put greater pressure on the Assad regime to isolate it further, deprive it of economic lifeblood. I don’t have specific new sanctions to announce today, but we’re certainly working with the “Friends of Syria,” working with our international partners, to do everything we can to put great pressure on Assad.
With regards to those emails, I saw that it just — it’s really sickening, if you think about it, that a man who is overseeing the slaughter of his own people is chortling about evading sanctions and getting an iTunes account. There may be no better image for the kind of heartless and brutal approach that he’s taken to the demands of his own people for greater democracy and better treatment from their own government.
Q Is there anything that the “Friends of Syria” event at the end of this month — expect new policy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are working — very much preparing for that “Friends of Syria” meeting. We’re obviously very concerned about getting humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. That’s a constant subject of conversation now and will be, I’m sure, at that meeting. We fully support the Kofi Annan mission, which is ongoing. And we’re working with our allies within the “Friends of Syria” and with nations both at the United Nations and elsewhere to look at every way we can to put greater pressure on the Assad regime.
Q But nothing specific right now that you guys are looking at?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new to add today.
Q Can I ask you about Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q The President has talked about a steady drawdown of forces. Has he solicited yet from his commanders a recommendation for the next phase?
MR. CARNEY: I believe General Allen is testifying today on the Hill broadly about Afghanistan, obviously since he’s the commanding general. And on that issue, I believe that we are in the process of drawing down the surge forces that the President sent in. We will have withdrawn all of those forces by the end of this summer, middle of September, and that assessments will be made about the pace of continued drawdowns as we get closer to that period where we’ve drawn down the surge forces.
So I don’t believe that there have been new proposals put out about — or asked for, for new withdrawals. I think I made this point in regards to an article that appeared in a newspaper that was incorrect about proposals that supposedly were circulating that are not and have not.
Q Does the President have to have any recommendation from his generals before the NATO summit in May?
MR. CARNEY: I think I made clear last week when we were talking about Afghanistan that there will be — while Afghanistan will clearly be a subject of intense discussion in Chicago at the NATO summit, you should not anticipate a new announcement about troop withdrawal schedules in Chicago. There is a timeframe —
Q We should not —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q I’m sorry. We should not anticipate?
MR. CARNEY: Should not. That’s correct.
NATO is operating under a timeframe in Afghanistan that was established at Lisbon. And as we have said in recent days, including coming out of the President’s most recent phone conversation with President Karzai, we are in the process of transitioning security lead over to the Afghan security forces. We are — we will by some point in 2013 have transferred combat lead over to Afghan security forces. We will still be in a support role with those Afghan forces on some missions. And by 2014, the full process of transition to full Afghan security lead will have taken place, in accordance with the Lisbon decision.
Again, numbers in terms of pace of withdrawal we don’t have for you. But this is all about implementing a strategy that the President put in place which was designed very clearly to focus the mission on the number-one objective, which is going after al Qaeda, stabilizing Afghanistan in support of that objective so that time and space was created and stability was created so that we could help train up Afghan forces and prepare them to take over responsibility for their own security and bring American men and women home. And that’s happening now, and it will continue to happen.
Q And then can I ask you — there’s been some excellent reporting over the last several days about Sergeant Bales, who is accused of the civilian massacre in Afghanistan, and some of the stresses that were on his family. Did the President read some of those stories? Has he expressed any concern or comment about Sergeant Bales’s condition and his family?
MR. CARNEY: Norah, I don’t have any conversations with the President to read out to you. I can tell you that, setting aside an individual case and obviously a matter that’s under investigation, that the issue of stress on our armed forces, those serving in theaters like Afghanistan and Iraq, is always — has been a focus of this administration since the President took office. PTSD in particular is something that we have put a focus on both here and at the Veterans Administration. And it’s something the President talked about when he was running for office, that this is clearly a period of extended combat for the American military. We ended, as promised, in a responsible way — the President did — the war in Iraq. But that was a nine-year conflict, and we’re obviously in Afghanistan now for over 10 years.
So one of the reasons why the President is so focused on executing a strategy that has very specific priorities and objectives, and in achieving those objectives and bringing Americans home, is because he does not believe that we should be in Afghanistan any longer than we need to be to achieve that mission. He wants to bring our troops home as soon as possible.
Q And then, final question. Vice President Biden was in New Jersey for a fundraiser and he was talking about the bin Laden raid, and he said, you could not find a more audacious plan if you go back in history 500 years. (Laughter.) What did he mean by that?
MR. CARNEY: I think he meant that the decision the President made, as you all know and are aware of, was a very difficult one; that, as has been reported, that the information that we had, which was obviously of high quality, was not conclusive; that the advice the President was getting from his senior-most national security advisors was mixed on what to do — mixed at best; and that in the end, he had to make a very fateful decision.
And as he said, one of the reasons why he felt so confident in making that decision was that he knew that the forces he would send in on the bin Laden mission were the absolute best that have ever existed, and that they would fulfill their mission with great professionalism and success. Obviously, it would have been a different story if bin Laden had not been in that compound. But the President — that’s why you’re President — you have to make those tough calls. And I think that’s what Vice President Biden was referring to.
Q More audacious than D-Day?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the historical assessments I’ll leave to him and others, but there’s no question that this was a very, very difficult decision that only Commanders-in-Chief have to make.
Q So he didn’t misspeak?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Jay, do you have any reaction to the dozens of people — I believe the latest estimate, more than 40 people who were killed in Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are certainly aware of the attacks. We strongly condemn the attacks on innocent civilians in Iraq — a blatant attempt by extremists to undermine Iraq’s progress toward a more secure, stable and prosperous future. We offer our condolences to the victims of these reprehensible acts, as well as their families and loved ones. And we support the continued efforts of Iraq’s security forces to bring those responsible to justice.
What is true is, even as we see these attacks now, which are clearly aimed at trying to get attention in the run-up to Iraq hosting the Arab League summit, is that despite these efforts by extremists, violence in Iraq remains at near-historic lows, and Iraqi forces have demonstrated their capacity to deal with the security challenges that exist in that country again and again in recent years. And we have — we do have faith in their ability to show that again — that ability again.
Q To what extent is the administration, is the President concerned that these latest does sort of destabilize the region there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that, as I just said, that the — we have seen some spectacular attacks in Iraq over the number of years that this President has been in office, all aimed at trying to destabilize the situation in Iraq. Overall, however, the violence levels in Iraq remain at near-historic lows. And Iraqi forces have proven themselves capable of maintaining security, and proven themselves to have been — thanks in no small measure to the training that they received from U.S. forces — to be professionally capable of dealing with security challenges –which doesn’t mean that there won’t be spectacular attacks again in the future, but you have to put them in context.
Q And just on Syria, Jay, according to recent reports, the insurgents there are now being accused of human kidnapping and torture of pro-government forces. To what extent does this complicate efforts to get humanitarian aid to the region? And to what extent does it look like this is sort of spiraling or descending into a civil war?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say on those reports that we have seen them and — those and other reports of excesses committed against security forces. And we would denounce those attacks, as we have previously denounced killings of Syrian security personnel. Expanding the scope of violence harms the Syrian people first and foremost, and this violence must stop.
We should also note, however, that these attacks would not take place if the Syrian government wasn’t brutally and indiscriminately attacking Syrian cities and civilians one by one. While the regime’s crackdown does not justify violent responses other than in self-defense, we would note that there are many more reports of unspeakable atrocities at the hands of government forces, and reiterate our call for the Syrian government to halt its attacks on cities.
So let’s be clear. We absolutely denounce attacks like these and killings like these. We’ve seen these reports and we would denounce them. Within the context of what’s happening in Syria, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the great preponderance of violence against civilians and innocent people is being perpetrated by forces under the control of the Assad regime.
Q Jay, this is the second week, I guess, in succession that the President is making energy the focus of his activities, his public activities. Will that continue as gas prices remain high or go higher? And does it mean he will be talking less about job creation?
MR. CARNEY: Yes and no. He will continue to talk about the absolute need to have an all-of-the-above approach to our energy challenges, to the need to have American-made energy. He will also continue to talk about jobs and economic growth. Both are urgent priorities in this country.
And I would simply take a little issue with the premise of the question, that somehow the focus he’s been demonstrating on energy issues of late is wholly different from where he’s been. One of the reasons why we can report to you that we are well on our way to doubling the production of renewable energy in this country is because of the President’s focus on investments in alternative energy sources in this country from the time he took office. One of the reasons why we can report to you that we are continuing to increase domestic oil and gas production in this country is because of the focus that he has put on growing domestic oil and gas production in this country since he took office.
I mean, as someone who has spent a lot of time at a lot of energy events with the Vice President, and who noted in the first several years the President’s attention to these issues, I think we can confidently say that this has been a priority and a focus of this administration from day one.
Q Also, there was — you’ve mentioned it before, last year when prices went up for gasoline, the Justice Department task force on oil speculation. Has the President ever received a report either last year or this year about that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to check if there was a formal report. And I would refer you to the Justice Department about the efforts that the task force or unit undertook last year. As you know, at the President’s request, the Attorney General has reconstituted the task force and asked them to again investigate potential fraud and speculation, because we need to do everything we can to ensure that American — hardworking Americans aren’t getting ripped off at gas stations.
It is certainly the case that the global price of oil is what drives the price of gasoline, and that is hard enough for Americans to deal with. We need to make sure, protectively, that they’re not getting gouged because of speculation and fraud.
Q Thanks. I know we will probably get a briefing later in the week, but for those of us who can’t wait, could you give us a little bit of a sense of what the President really hopes to accomplish at this nuclear summit in Korea, and what message he also wants to send to North Korea and Iran? As a secondary question, there are these two treaties that he talked about wanting Congress to ratify that have to do with nuclear security, and I’m just wondering that those are nowhere in sight. Is there anything that — any message to Congress on those this week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President looks forward to his visit to Seoul to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit. As you know, the President made nuclear security a priority when he took office and hosted a security summit, Nuclear Security Summit here in Washington. And he will continue that work at this summit in Korea.
You will be getting briefed on more details about what we expect from this visit, perhaps sooner than you think. But I don’t have a lot of specifics right now for you to read out from the podium about what will happen next week in Korea or on the treaties that you mentioned. So we’ll have to get that information for you.
Q And can you just — this maybe part of that — but new free trade deal with Korea, a lot of other stuff — will there be non-nuclear aspects of this trip that he’ll want to talk about?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I’ll have to refer you to our friends at the national security staff for specifics on that. He will obviously spend some time with our host, the South Korean leader. But beyond that, I don’t have any details for you.
Q Any thoughts on the latest out of Denver?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry.
MR. CARNEY: How about that, huh? I don’t know. Who’s going to get Tebow? What do you think? Is there a pool? (Laughter.) Is that what you meant? Yes. Are you a Broncos fan? No?
Q I just thought maybe that would come up with the President and I thought I’d ask. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I actually have not — I can report out that I have not had that conversation with him yet, but I look forward to it.
Q Yes. I want to ask about some comments made by the First Lady last night. The first one — to follow up on this executive order issue — in February, 2008, then-candidate Obama told the Houston GLBT Caucus that he would support a federal non-discrimination policy for federal contractors as President that would include sexual orientation and gender identity. Just wondering if the President has changed his position on that since then, and if not, why he hasn’t taken any action to implement that policy.
MR. CARNEY: Well, all I would say is, since this is in reference to a conversation we’ve had a few times in this room about an executive order, I just — I’m not going to comment on an executive order that may or may not be under consideration at this time.
Q But it is still his policy.
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates on his positions or policies to give you on that matter, but — with regards to the questions about an executive order, I just don’t have any comment on it at this time.
Q And as for the First Lady, last night at two different events in New York City she made reference to the effect that Supreme Court appointees will have on “whether we can love whomever we choose.” Is that a reference to marriage equality? And if not, to what is that a reference?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. I think, as folks who regularly report on the First Lady’s speeches, they’ll know that she has said this before and has for some time, and that is a reference to the President’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act. The President and First Lady firmly believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal protections and the ability to thrive, just like any family does.
The First Lady has said she is proud of his accomplishments, including repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” ensuring hospital visitation rights, and calling for the repeal of DOMA. And obviously, our actions on DOMA and our decision not to defend DOMA is well known. That’s what she was referring to.
Q So she does not believe that that is a — she does not believe in marriage equality?
MR. CARNEY: It was a reference to DOMA.
Q Jay, heading into this Seoul visit, how do the President’s thoughts about a world without nuclear weapons — as he enunciated in the Prague speech — today compare with his thoughts back then, given what’s happened with Iran and North Korea since then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t had that high-altitude conversation with him. I know that nuclear security is a very high priority for this President. That’s why he hosted the summit that he hosted here. That’s why he’s going to Seoul.
It has been noted by others, and I’ll note it here, that the efforts this President has undertaken with regards to unifying the international community against Iran, in demanding that Iran give up its nuclear weapons ambitions and get right with the world, begin to honor its international obligations, has been — is proof of his concern about and his focus on the threat of nuclear proliferation. And one of the reasons, as he’s noted, that it is essential to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is that it would cause a terrible nuclear weapons arms race in the region, which would obviously greatly diminish nuclear security around the world.
I don’t have anything new for you, particularly on the efforts in North Korea. That, too, is of great concern. We’ve had some developments in that arena of late that you know about. But this is an extremely high priority. The efforts that the United States and other countries have undertaken to try to secure nuclear materials and to try to prevent dangerous regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons have been very robust. And that effort will continue for as long as President Obama is in office.
Q Thank you, Jay. Two things. We know that the President is looking forward to meeting Mr. Putin at Camp David. That means that the Russians will probably take part in the G8. They will probably not take part in the NATO-Russia Council. Does it have anything to do with separating the two events, moving one of them out of Chicago?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q And second, on the World Bank — the deadline for the nomination is coming up this Friday.
MR. CARNEY: On the what? Sorry.
Q World Bank.
MR. CARNEY: All right.
Q No nominations yet. To the best of your knowledge, has the selection been made and just not announced? Or has there been no selection? And why?
MR. CARNEY: Rather than give you a play-by-play or an update on the conversations internally on this issue, I’ll simply say that we have no announcement to make on that issue.
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcement on a timeline to make. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much. Two questions. One, Ford Motor Company has announced that they will invest in India $1 billion, and also several other U.S. companies are going into India. What I’m asking, is this a shift from U.S. companies investing in China now to India?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t made that assessment myself, and I haven’t heard any assessments made with regards to that. Obviously India is a growing economy and I’m sure one that American companies view as having great potential for their products. But I don’t have any comment beyond that.
Q And second, as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan is concerned, Afghanistan has now bringing those who were supporting al Qaeda and Talibans now into the mainstream of accepting the Afghanistan constitution. My question is now that can you do this at a time — you said yesterday that U.S.-Pakistan relations are now complicated. What do you think complications are there between the two relations? And second, can you do all this transition without Pakistan’s full support and help combating all this terrorism and al Qaeda from the region?
MR. CARNEY: Well, one of the reasons why the relationship with Pakistan remains extremely important to us because of the — is because of the role that Pakistan plays in our efforts to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan and achieve our objectives in terms of taking the fight to, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda.
There is a parliamentary-led process underway in Pakistan, and we respect that process. And will continue awaiting the outcome of that process to hear formally from the Pakistani government about how they would like to engage moving forward.
It would not be productive for me to comment beyond that on specific recommendations or reports in the press. But I think it’s important also to note that the United States has critical national security priorities that we continue to pursue, including counterterrorism efforts aimed, as I said, at al Qaeda, strengthening Afghan security and supporting Afghan-led reconciliation. All are areas where we believe we have common goals with Pakistan and we continue to move forward on those areas because they’re in our national security interest.
Q Will we see any opening of the —
MR. CARNEY: You know what, you asked for two, you got four. Let me leave it at that.
Q Jay, you may have addressed this at the top of the briefing, but some House Democrats are finding some positive elements in the Ryan plan, things that they think are grounds for further talks. For instance, the example they gave was the elimination of the alternative minimum tax proposal because it hits so many middle-class Americans. Does the President and the White House believe that there are some positive elements in the plan today that are food for thought in talks down the road?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t seen the comments that you refer to. The idea that tax reform is a good idea is certainly one that I think is broadly shared by members of both parties and certainly this President.
The problem is that when you present all the good things in tax reform like, hey, I’m going to give you a tax break, and, hey, I’m going to eliminate the AMT, and then have no details on how you would pay for them, and given your priorities that you have very robustly expressed in terms of not asking the wealthy to pay more, not asking corporations to give up their subsidies like the oil and gas corporations, not asking hedge fund managers to pay income tax at the rates that everybody else pays — then it’s pretty evident who’s going to get stuck with the bill.
It’s going to be middle-class Americans. It’s going to be seniors on Medicare. It’s going to be families with disabled children. It’s, unfortunately, the same list of those who would be bearing the burden for this — the benefits that go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans that existed last time we had a Ryan budget proposal.
The fact that people all agree that there should be tax reform doesn’t mean that the specifics don’t matter, because they matter a heck of a lot to every American out there who has to make ends meet. So I think we’ve seen pretty clearly that what this proposal does not do is take the serious approach to getting our fiscal house in order that everyone who’s serious about this issue says you have to take.
I mean, you guys ask me a lot about the Simpson-Bowles commission — the President created it, what’s his view on it? Shouldn’t his proposal mirror that? And the fact is it does very much mirror the central tenets of Simpson-Bowles. One thing that’s often not noted is that not a single House Republican on that commission voted for it. Chairman Ryan did not support it.
So I think that when we talk about what everyone agrees has to be the responsible approach to deficit reduction, we look at who has put forward different plans that embrace that balanced approach and then look at the Republican proposal emerging from the House, you have to acknowledge the very grave differences between them, which I did today.
Thanks very much, guys.
END 12:30 P.M. EDT