White House Press Briefing by Jay Carney, November 28, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 28, 2011 – 12:36 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome back.  I hope everyone here had a fantastic Thanksgiving, had a chance to spend some time with family, and is well rested and ready to get back to work, as I am.  (Laughter.)

Q    Psych yourself up.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Not wanting to overtax myself on this day back, I do not have any announcements to make at the top, so I’ll go straight to your questions.

Ben Feller.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Two topics.  First on Europe.  There’s a growing fear that the euro is in a particularly perilous state, perhaps poised to collapse within days.  Is that the White House view?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ben, our position is and has been that it’s critical for Europe to move with force and decisiveness now, particularly with new governments coming into place in Italy, Greece and Spain.  We continue to believe that this is a European issue, that Europe has the resources and capacity to deal with it, and that they need to act decisively and conclusively to resolve this problem.

We obviously have a great deal of expertise and experience in these matters, and we have been in regular consultation with our counterparts from various European governments, consulting with them, offering the advice and expertise that we have to assist them.  But we continue to believe that Europe has the capacity to deal with this, and that they will, conclusively. 

Q    What kind of commitments, if any, is the President seeking today on this issue from the European leaders?  And is he confident that they have the requisite sense of urgency?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, the President has been and will continue to be in regular contact with Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, as well as others.  The meeting today is a regular summit, an annual summit, with the EU.  It was held here two years ago, was held in Lisbon last year — it rotates.  And this will be — obviously, the global economic situation and, in particular, the situation in Europe will be one of the topics of conversation.  There will be other issues. 

And the President will reflect in his conversations in the meeting today what I’ve just said to you here, which is that the United States believes that Europe needs to take decisive action, conclusive action, to handle this problem, and that it has the capacity to do so.

Q    One question for you on Pakistan.  Can you tell us what the President’s personal reaction was upon learning of the NATO strikes that apparently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and also whether the White House is fearful that this will harm the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, as many people outside the building have been saying?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President’s reaction is all of our reaction, which is that the events that took those lives — the event, rather, was a tragedy.  The loss of Pakistani life was a tragedy.  We mourn the brave Pakistani service members who lost their lives.  And our sympathies go out to their families and go out to Pakistan.

We take this matter very seriously.  I believe my colleague over at the Pentagon, George Little, announced earlier today that in addition to ISAF looking into this, at the request of General Allen, CENTCOM will be investigating this matter.  And we’re obviously very keen on finding out exactly what happened.

As for our relationship with Pakistan, it continues to be an important, cooperative relationship that is also very complicated.  And we have been — senior U.S. officials have been in contact with the Pakistani government, with their counterparts in Pakistan, including Secretaries Panetta and Clinton, Chairman Dempsey, General Allen, Ambassador Munter.  And those contacts will continue.

It is very much in America’s national security interest to maintain a cooperative relationship with Pakistan, because we have shared interests in the fight against terrorism.  And so we will continue to work on that relationship.

Yes, Reuters.

Q    Just to follow up on Pakistan, have any senior White House officials been in touch with people in Pakistan?  Has the President reached out to anybody?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no contacts at the presidential level to report and I don’t believe anybody in the White House has been.  But as I said, some of the most senior members on the national security team for this administration have been, and I’m sure those contacts will continue.

Q    I guess a lot of people are fearing that this is at crisis levels, the tensions between the United States and Pakistan over this incident.  And I’m wondering how you would characterize it in terms of —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we take it very seriously.  And there are challenges to this relationship, and we’ve discussed them here this year.  This is obviously a significant issue that we take seriously, and that’s why we, through CENTCOM, will be investigating to find out exactly what happened.  And our condolences go out to the families of those who lost their lives, and to the Pakistani people overall, for this tragedy. 

We continue to believe that it will be in not just the United States’ interest, but Pakistan’s interest, to work with us cooperatively on our shared goals.  Don’t forget that Pakistan and the Pakistani people have been primary victims of terrorism and terrorists, and that we work with them and that cooperative relationship has borne fruit for the United States and for our national security interests.

Q    And on Europe, how worried is the President about the impact on the U.S. economy as this crisis fully intensifies and as people predict maybe only days left to save the euro?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President is concerned, as he’s expressed, about the fact that we — this is a global economy and that the events in Europe obviously have an impact on our economy.  It’s created a headwind for much of the year, and continues to create that headwind.  And that’s why we believe it’s in the United States’ interest, but, most obviously, in Europe’s interest to act decisively to deal with this profound challenge.

It does remind all of us that we need to take decisive action on the things that we can control.  And one of those things we can do is take action on measures that can grow the economy and create jobs.  As you know, the Senate this week is going to take up a provision that the President put forward to expand — to rather extend and expand the payroll tax cut for  160 million Americans, and extend it to small businesses up to a certain level of payroll.  And he believes very strongly that we need to take that action; that Congress needs to act to do the right thing by the American people and the American economy.

Let me move around a little bit.  Yes.  Tell me again —

Q    Julia Edwards, National Journal.

MR. CARNEY:  All right, Julia.  Thank you.

Q    I just wanted to ask what the administration’s plan was to see that unemployment insurance was extended to the end of the year.  I hear a lot of focus on payroll tax cuts.  Is that because it’s more politically advantageous to be talking about what you can do for working Americans versus something that may be construed as welfare?

MR. CARNEY:  Extending unemployment insurance has been very much a part of the President’s plan.  It was part of the American Jobs Act as something that has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, and should, we hope, enjoy bipartisan support this year. 

In addition to being vital to those who have found themselves unemployed and are unemployed for a substantial period of time, unemployment insurance has been recognized by outside economists and by members of both parties as vital assistance to an economy to help it grow and create jobs.  It is a direct injection, if you will, into the bloodstream of the economy.  And so we very much support extension of unemployment insurance.

If we do not do that, approximately 6 million Americans will lose their benefits over the course of next year, and that will obviously have very negative impact on their lives, but a negative impact on the economy.

Q    — forward then would be most likely to be combining unemployment insurance in a package at the end of the year, if Congress doesn’t take action on it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to speculate about how this will play out.  What the President is focused on, and what you’ll hear him talk about in Scranton on Wednesday, is the need for Congress to take action, for the Senate to vote yes to the extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut and to the extension of the payroll tax cut to small businesses.

And this is something that outside economists have made clear — just this year alone, the 2 percent payroll tax cut that 160 million Americans have gotten this year that that has resulted in $1,000 on average in every recipient’s wallet this year, has caused up to 1 percent in GDP growth.  Take that away and you’re going to shrink the economy and you’re going to cause the economy to shrink — to grow less, and you’re going to do a lot of harm to 160 million working Americans. 

Q    That’s payroll tax cuts —
MR. CARNEY:  Right.

Q    On unemployment insurance, is that something we can expect to hear him talk about this week?

MR. CARNEY:  You will hear us talk about it because we think it’s vitally important to extend it and to assist those Americans who are unemployed, and to — through the unemployment insurance, to assist the economy.

Yes.  Jake.

Q    Just to follow on a couple questions that have already been asked.  On Pakistan — the President is not making any conclusions about what happened.  It may, in fact, be that the Pakistanis fired first.  The President is keeping an open mind about what may have happened?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we want to — obviously we want to wait to see what the investigation discovers, yes.

Q    Okay.  And then in terms of what’s going on in Europe, you said that this is a European issue, Europe has the resources and capacity to deal with it.  But President Obama said recently that this is a problem of political will.  And I guess I wonder, you didn’t say Europe has the political will to deal with this.  Do you —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has been very clear both publicly and in his conversations with European leaders that they need to demonstrate the will to deal with this very challenging problem.  We recognize that this is difficult.  We experienced similar difficulties in tackling the challenges that we faced in this country as we were in freefall, economically, in the beginning of 2009, shedding jobs at a terrible pace, and where the prospect of global economic collapse was out there.  And so the President fully understands the challenges here, both political and substantive.  But he believes this is a moment that requires that kind of decisive action.  And, yes, that requires political will as well as the financial resources necessary.

Q    What is he doing, other than these occasional conversations with European leaders?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would just say they’re not occasional. I mean, if there are the two leaders he’s spoken with more often than Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy in recent weeks and months, I don’t know who they are.  I mean, they’re regular.  We read them out regularly.  He’s in consultation, obviously, with other European allies.  Tim Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, is in regular contact and has traveled frequently to Europe, and other counterparts have been involved as well.

So we’re very engaged in this.  We have, because of our experience, our unique experience, I think, some very constructive help that we can offer and advice that we can offer. But we also recognize, and I think Europeans feel strongly about this, that this is something that they need to solve and that they have the capacity to solve — both the financial capacity and political will.

Q    Lastly, I wanted to get your feedback on a study that the Wall Street Journal wrote about today, based on — my understanding, based at least partly on numbers tabulated by our unofficial statistician, Mr. Norwick, which is that President Obama seems to have traveled to battleground states more so than any other President before him.  And I’m wondering if you could respond to this.  It looks like the President is campaigning on the taxpayer dime more than any other President has done.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I reject the premise of that precisely because what happened in 2008 was Barack Obama, then-Senator Obama, expanded the political map dramatically.  And what is included in this article, and in this chart, is Virginia, for example. 

Now, every President who’s occupied the Oval Office, just a few short minutes across the river from Virginia, travels to Virginia frequently to hold events.  When you look at George W. Bush’s travel as President, that’s not included on this list as a swing state or a battleground state because it was not perceived to be possible that a Democrat could win it.  But Barack Obama won that state, and he’s made numerous visits to Virginia, just as most Presidents prior to Barack Obama have made numerous visits to Virginia.

North Carolina is another example.  It’s not included in George W. Bush’s tabulation because it was not perceived to be a swing state.  Barack Obama won it — very narrowly, but he won it in 2008.  And if you take away those two states, and you look at, for example, Bush traveled more frequently in the same time period to Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Florida, President Obama has actually traveled less to the overlay battleground states than his immediate predecessor.

So I just think that, if you took off the map and said, the President of the United States can’t travel to states that are perceived to be battleground states, you would severely limit the capacity of this President and any of his successors to travel anywhere.  Because the fact is, we live in a country that is very close, politically, in terms of which way states could go in any given presidential election.  And increasingly, we’ve seen that more and more states find themselves on the political map as potential battleground states and swing states. 

And if every President, whether it’s President Obama or his successor, or any successor after that, were to simply say, oh, I can’t travel to any state that might be contested in the next election, then the President would have to spend most of his time here in Washington, D.C.  And I don’t think that any President should do that.  Presidents should travel, and they should be able to get out and speak to the American people about their substantive agendas, and that’s what this President has been doing.

Q    He sure seems to spend a lot of time in states, though, that he’s going to be —

MR. CARNEY:  He spends a lot of time in a lot of states.  And some of them, red, blue; some of them were declared red forever and ended up not being — they’re purple now; and states that maybe are considered blue or were considered blue but Republicans might think they have a chance of winning next year. I mean, I just think that it’s a guessing game to suggest that we know what states are battleground states, necessarily. 

And if — again, I think the salient point is, then-Senator Obama and his presidential campaign expanded the map dramatically, made states battleground states that had not been for a very, very long time.  And to then say that he can’t travel to those states because he won them and made them competitive I think would severely restrict this President’s ability to travel, and any future President’s ability to travel, which I don’t think is a good idea.

Q    Follow-up, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  You earned the right.  Yes, sir, Mr. Knoller.  (Laughter.)

Q    Can you tell us how it’s decided where events, like the President going to Scranton on Wednesday, how is that decided that’s where he would go?  I mean, Pennsylvania is a state that seems to me would be indispensable to his reelection, wouldn’t you say?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Mark, I think as you know probably better than, or as well as anybody in this room, a lot of factors go into presidential travel.  Proximity has a lot to do with it.  I mean, there is a concentration of travel in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania because they’re close by.  And if the President is trying to get out of Washington and communicate with the American voter, he can’t — or the American people, rather — he can’t always go to the mountain states or the plain states or the West Coast.  And so I think you do see a concentration in this time zone.

And I’m very confident — I’ll offer my opinion — that President Obama is going to win Pennsylvania.  He’s also going to win the election.  I think he won Pennsylvania by double digits, but that’s now, I guess by your estimation or whoever put together this list, a battleground state.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  We don’t take anything for granted.

The point is, is that these are subjective assessments, and again, if you decided that every state that was close or could be close were ruled out as a potential place for a President to travel, you would make it really, really difficult for any President to go anywhere in the country eventually.

Q    But you’re not saying that politics played no role in the decision, are you?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m saying that — I mean, there are a lot of decisions that go into — a lot of factors that go into the decisions.  And official events are made for official reasons.  And they’re made because we find places where the President can talk about the policy proposals he’s put forward that makes sense for a variety of reasons — logistical reasons, as well as location in terms of schools or sites that if we’re highlighting his infrastructure proposals, then near a bridge, for example, or highlighting his proposals to help veterans, something that would involve veterans, or schools.  I mean, all of those factors go into deciding where the President travels.

All the way in the back, yes.

Q    On the payroll tax cut and the risk to the jobs package, given that the Republicans are going to block any tax increases, is the President open to negotiating additional long-term spending cuts in return for that short-term stimulus?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is very interested in making sure that 160 million Americans, working Americans who get a paycheck don’t have their taxes raised next year because Congress won’t act.  The fact of the matter is, is that a payroll tax cut has been supported by not just Democrats, not just this President, but by Republicans in the not-too-distant past, including some who came out against it yesterday.

So we believe that there is substantial support out in the country among not just Democrats and independents, but Republicans, for an extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut as well as an extension to small businesses, and that there is broad support for paying for it in the way that the President put forward in his principles, in his plan, and that the Senate is going to put forward later this week.

Again, if Republicans are going to vote against this, they have to explain why.  They have so energetically fought to protect tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires — protected millionaires and billionaires rather than funding a program that would have sent teachers back to work, protected millionaires and billionaires rather than funding a program as part of the American Jobs Act that would have put construction workers on the job to rebuild bridges and highways and schools, protected millionaires and billionaires rather than pass the entire American Jobs Act.  Now, they did that with great passion.  But they don’t seem to have — show a lot of passion when it comes to extending a tax break for average Americans.  And I think there needs to be some questioning about why that is.

Q    But they do want spending cuts.  The things that they want are spending cuts and they want to change the defense sequester, which you’ve said is off the table, I guess, for these negotiations.  Is spending cuts something that you would be willing to negotiate —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to negotiate an outcome that we don’t believe should come to pass.  We believe that Congress should respond to the will of the people, which overwhelmingly supports the President’s proposal for a payroll tax cut extension and expansion and the means by which both the President and Senate Democrats believe it should be paid for.  So rather than get ahead of a vote that we believe will happen later this week, I’d like to see everybody in the Senate held accountable in voting one way or the other on this proposal.

Q    Jay, Pakistan’s prime minister tells CNN that there will be “no more business as usual” in Pakistan-U.S. relations.  And I’m just wondering what do you take that to mean and how much stock do you put in what sounds like a threat?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we take the matter very seriously, as I’ve said earlier, and we understand the concern that members of the Pakistani government as well as the Pakistani people have about this incident.  And that’s why we’re very interested in having it investigated and finding out exactly what happened.  We mourn, as I said, the loss of life and we extend our condolences to the Pakistani people for it.  So we take it very seriously.

Q    But “no more business as usual” is obviously an indication of things souring–

MR. CARNEY:  We understand that this is a serious issue.  We take it seriously.  We have a relationship with Pakistan that has been complicated for a long time, but it’s also an important relationship and one that we need to work hard on because that cooperation is in the interest of the United States.

Q    And the calls for Justices Thomas and Kagan to recuse themselves from overseeing the health care challenge, any response to that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would just say that I believe — my understanding of how this works is that it’s up to each justice to decide whether he or she should be recused.  Just speaking of Justice Kagan, because obviously this President nominated her and that confirmation process occurred just last year and we all either participated in it or witnessed it, these issues were raised just a year ago in an expansive confirmation hearing, and they were — these questions were asked and answered both in the hearing itself and in written questions that were responded to in writing.  It’s a mystery to me how this can suddenly be an issue a year later and they want to revisit what they just visited not that long ago.

Q    Justice Kagan has said —

MR. CARNEY:  Again, as I just said, all this stuff was examined, all of it was — questions were asked, she answered it, and she responded in writing to this.  So I think it sure sounds like a political thing to try to revisit it just a year later.

Q    But the information that was in the email was not available during the confirmation hearings.

MR. CARNEY:  Norah.

Q    On the payroll tax cut extension, will the President sign an extension that does not include a tax on millionaires to pay for it?

MR. CARNEY:  The President looks forward to the Senate voting on the bill that Senate Democrats are putting forward that pays for an extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut in a way that Senate Democrats support, the President supports, Democrats, independents and Republicans support around the country — Republicans support everywhere, apparently, except on Capitol Hill.

Q    But just to move that conversation along —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to —

Q    — Republicans will likely vote against it —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to negotiate —

Q    — and it’s going to fail, and so it will likely end up in an omnibus —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, before we —

Q    — or continuing resolution.   So is the President going to back down and sign an extension of the payroll tax cut extension without —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to negotiate an endgame here before this vote has even happened.  And I think it’s not fair to the American people to sort of just say, oh, well, they’re going to vote against it, let’s ignore that and move on and see what they might vote for.  Because here’s what Senator McConnell said about the payroll tax cut in early 2009.  He suggested that we should have a two-year elimination of the payroll tax.  “It put a lot of money back in the hands of businesses and in the hands of individuals, both of whom pay the payroll tax cut.”

Senator John Kyl, who had something else to say about it yesterday, said, in late 2009, “You can do some things to stimulate job creation, and certainly something like reducing the payroll tax cut, which has been written about recently, would accomplish that” — job creation.  That must be a good thing, right?

Senator Hutchison: “I think the payroll tax cut does help some.  It helps the individual who is working, and the employer.” Senator Alexander, in late 2010, said, “If you’re a small businessperson in Tennessee, what this means is that you won’t be paying tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps more, in taxes.  And you can use that to create a job.  It also means that your employees who work there will get a one-third reduction in their payroll tax payments every two weeks, and maybe they’ll spend some — more money creating more jobs.”  We couldn’t have said it better.

Senator Hatch called it a “conservative approach to help put our economy back on track; a targeted, reasonable way to get employers hiring again.”  This is a conservative approach, as I said. 

Now, obviously these Republican senators believe that a pay roll tax cut is a good thing — at least they did.  But what they seem not to believe is that millionaires and billionaires ought to pay a little extra in order to ensure that middle-class Americans get a payroll tax cut.  So they’re more — forced to choose here.  They’re siding with those who — as the CBO study showed and others have showed — have done exceptionally well in the last 10 years, even 30 years, while middle-class Americans have seen their income stagnate.  We just don’t think that’s the right position.  We don’t think the American people support that position.

And before senators are forced to vote on that matter, as they will later this week, and explain why they’d rather see taxes go up on regular Americans than see millionaires and billionaires pay a little bit more — before we get beyond that, I want to see that vote happen.

Q    And then just a quick question on Pakistan.  Did the President make any calls on Pakistan?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no calls to report out to you.

Q    And if NATO forces or American forces are fired on from Pakistani military bases, are they allowed to defend themselves?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that’s a question best directed towards ISAF and to the Pentagon.  I would say, if it’s a question about this incident, that we are just beginning an investigation into what happened.

Q    Jay, the President’s travel.  I thought — I didn’t think the criticism was that the President should stop traveling — obviously he’s entitled to travel.  But as you make a fair point, that he’s expanded the electoral map, isn’t the criticism that the campaign and not the taxpayers should pay for it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, but the suggestion is that he can’t make official travel to any state that’s considered contested or close.  And we just utterly reject that, because the President has a responsibility, as the President, as Commander-in-Chief, as well as the leader of the country on domestic matters, to go out and meet with Americans, to have events in different states across the country, and to express his —

Q    — four or five states —

MR. CARNEY:  But what you’re saying he — again, you’re saying he shouldn’t go there because it’s close, and it was only close because —

Q    He can go there, but maybe the campaign picks up the tab at some point.

MR. CARNEY:  I see.  And, again, take away those states that he happened to win against all odds and probably against the predictions of various new organizations, that he then — it was okay for previous Presidents to go there, but not for him because he won so convincingly in 2008.  That just doesn’t make any sense.

Q    So why does he go to North Carolina so many more times than he goes to Tennessee.  Why does he go to Pennsylvania so many more times than he goes to Georgia?

MR. CARNEY:  Jake, there are a variety of reasons — of the decisions are made about where he goes — and he goes to red states, he goes to blue states, he goes to states that are considered battleground states — and those decisions are made for substantive reasons based on the policy issue that we’re putting — that he’s addressing.

My point was that if you — that the whole construct of the article was built around the idea that he’s done it more than his predecessors.  And if you take off states that weren’t considered battlegrounds when Bush visited them and they turned out to be battlegrounds because Barack Obama won them — his predecessor, George W. Bush, traveled to these states significantly more than President Obama has. 

So the whole point being, Presidents need to be able to travel.  When he travels on — when it’s political travel, political events, those are paid for by the book according to the rules that exist.  And when he does official events, those are paid for in the manner that official events are paid for.

Q    Last thing on the euro — one quick one on the euro.

MR. CARNEY:  On which one?  Sorry.

Q    The euro.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — the U.S. is part of that research group — essentially put out a report today saying that the euro contagion can spread and that their concern is that the policies in Europe but also in the U.S. are behind the curve.  Speaking about the U.S. side, since the President is talking to European leaders today about their debt issues, after the super committee failure it seems like both parties have said, look, we’re going to fight these issues out on taxes and everything in the election.  Is the President —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we haven’t said that.

Q    Okay.  So between now and the election, will the President campaign for his $3 trillion deficit plan?  Or is he just — because he mostly goes out on the road and campaigns for the jobs bill, but we don’t really hear him campaigning on the deficit plan.  So will he push that now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is an urgent need to take action to grow the economy and create jobs.  That is certainly his number-one priority.  He put forward a detailed plan.  He talks about it a lot and he will talk about it again in the future.  And it remains available to Congress to take up and act on it at any time.  It is unfortunate that the super committee — because, again, it refused to deal with or consider the Bush tax cuts or revenue in any substantial way — that the super committee failed, because it allowed for a mechanism by which Congress could have acted more efficiently and quickly to deal with this long-term deficit and debt challenge.

But there is nothing that prevents Congress from doing the right thing and taking up a balanced approach, the likes of which the President put forward in a 80-plus-page plan, and acting on it; and acting on it if not this month then next month, or January or February or March.  It doesn’t have to wait until the election. 

It shouldn’t wait, because it’s a high priority, and the President — it’s funny, if you look at sort of the assessments that are made by outside observers and columnists and commentators and economists, they always say, what we really need, what this economy really needs is near-term — measures to have a positive impact on the economy in the near term, to grow it and create jobs in the near term, and measures that deal with our medium- and long-term deficit and debt problems.  Well, the President has put forward proposals to deal with both.  And he certainly hopes that in addition to acting on the payroll tax cut and extension of UI, that Congress will see fit to continue to act on other measures, provisions within the jobs act, and he certainly hoped that Congress will take up his deficit and debt reduction plan.

Q    Back on Europe.  On Friday, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands called on the IMF to take a bigger role in the European debt crisis.  The United States is the largest shareholder in the IMF.  Does the administration support this idea?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I would just refer you to the things we said about — questions about the IMF’s role coming out of the G20, and that hasn’t changed, which is IMF has substantial resources; it can play a role on the side, if you will, or a part of this.  But the issue here is a European issue and Europe needs to act.  What we’ve also said is that we do not in any way believe that additional resources are required from the United States, from American taxpayers.

Yes, Chris.

Q    Today Representative Barney Frank is currently announcing his retirement from Congress.  As the longest-serving LGBT member of Congress and also a senior Democrat, what does the White House and the President think that this says both to the advancement of LGBT issues in Congress and also to the Democrats’ obvious desire to take back the House in 2012?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any official reaction yet, but Congressman Frank has served for a very long time and he’s served very effectively representing his district, and I know that we appreciate his service.  And his prominence as an openly LGBT member of Congress obviously had I think a very positive impact in terms of general acceptance.  But I don’t know if it has larger implications.  Members of Congress who’ve served a long time decide not to run again all the time.  And I’m not sure about the political implications of that seat at all, but we certainly are very grateful for Congressman Frank’s service.

Q    Jay, in the coming year, in the interest of transparency, would the President be willing to have each of the trips he takes domestically broken out for their cost that is covered by the White House and what parts are covered by the DNC?

MR. CARNEY:  I can refer you to — I can get back to you on who — the DNC or how these things — I know that we do this by the book the way it’s supposed to be done.  We do it very carefully.  I’m not going to stand here and announce a whole new administrative burden or agree to a whole new administrative burden.  I would refer you to the folks who handle this, especially at the DNC.

Q    But no one has done that before.  Would he be willing to consider being the first?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m not — I can take the question but we do this absolutely by the book and are very assiduous in making sure that we follow the rules.

Q    Do you use the same rules that President Bush did?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’ll have to take that.  We use whatever rules exist and —

Q    So you didn’t change the rules?

MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of, no.

Q    Going back to the payroll tax cut just briefly, the House Republicans have suggested a willingness to work on this.  Is the President going to sit down with them and try to figure out a pay-for that could work to get the payroll tax cut extension done?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think the nature of these questions basically assume and let off the hook those members of Congress who aren’t willing to say yes to a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans because they refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans, those who have benefited enormously over the past 10, 20 and 30 years while the middle class has not benefited very much — or as much — to pay a little extra. 

So let’s not presuppose that this vote will fail.  Maybe members of the Senate, in this case, will hear from their constituents, will recognize what all the data shows, which is that by large majorities the American people support this proposal and support the way the President believes it ought to be paid for, and the way Democrats believe it ought to be paid for, and enough of them will vote yes to overcome the usual filibuster because of parliamentary tactics and get it out of the Senate.  And then the House will have to decide where it stands on this issue, which side the House is on and individual members of the House are on. 

Beyond that, I don’t want to negotiate an endgame that presupposes a failure that we hope won’t happen.  We have put forward a means to pay for this payroll tax cut extension and expansion, as well as unemployment insurance — the President has.  The Senate Democrats have done it as well.  We think that Congress ought to act on that before we start negotiating an endgame that shouldn’t necessarily come to pass.

Q    And on the Egyptian elections, is there any concern, even though they are just getting started today — is there any concern about an Islamic takeover at the top and how the White House will work with a federal government headed by Islamists?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll say a couple things.  One is, thus far — and this is a long process, as you know — it’s my understanding that the elections have gone well, and we welcome that development.  The fact of the matter is the democratic process is what’s important.  Principles matter to this President, not parties.  And we hold whatever party prevails or is represented in the outcome of an election like this, whether it’s in Egypt or elsewhere — our standards have to do with respect for human rights, respect for the democratic process, denunciation of violence, and inclusion of and respect for minorities in the process. 

And I think it is in some ways unfair to assume that any party that has a religious affiliation cannot adhere to democratic principles.  It’s simply not the case and hasn’t been borne out by the facts.  So before we judge the disposition of a government — or a parliament that’s just beginning to take shape through elections that have started today, I think we need to let the process run its course, continue to espouse our firm support for democratic principles and for civilian control of the government, and then judge the outcome by the actions of those who prevail. 


Q    Thanks.  Quick follow-up on both Scranton and today’s EU summit.  Dan Pfeiffer had tweeted earlier today that there would be more “We Can’t Wait” stuff this week.  When will that be rolled out?  In Scranton, or is the Scranton message purely on the payroll tax cut extension?  And if the former, can you put some meat on the bone?  And then with regard to the summit today, just to clarify — is the President asking these EU leaders for anything explicit that he hasn’t already spoken with Merkel and Sarkozy about?

MR. CARNEY:  This meeting is going on now, so I don’t want to say what happened before it’s happened.  I think, generally, the description of the President’s message that I gave is going to be the message that he delivers in this meeting.  I think it certainly is the case in the current crisis that Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy and other leaders of European countries are key to the process, and that’s why the President has had so many direct conversations with them, and will continue to.  And obviously this meeting with the EU is important in that regard, too, but it will also discuss other issues.

The President, on Wednesday, will focus on the payroll tax cut.  And I don’t have any announcements beyond Dan’s tweet to make about further executive actions. 


Q    Jay, Senator Kyl said yesterday that the reason that the payroll tax should not be extended and sweetened, as the President wants, is that that’s millions of dollars more that won’t go into the Social Security trust fund, therefore, it might conceivably endanger the stability of Social Security.  How do you all react to that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, a couple of things.  One, that’s simply not the case, because it would — it presupposes the idea that U.S. treasuries are not the most rock-solid investment in the world, which they remain to be — which they remain even as we speak.  So, secondly, it’s not a position that Senator Kyl took in the past. 

And the fact of the matter is, we need to take measures to grow this economy.  We need to take measures to create jobs.  And what we should not be doing is asking 160 million hardworking Americans, middle-class Americans most of them, to have their taxes raised next year by a thousand bucks on average, just so millionaires and billionaires don’t see their taxes raised just a little bit.  It just doesn’t seem fair to this President or to Americans of every political persuasion across the country.  So we believe very firmly that the Senate ought to act on a vote and ought to say yes to a payroll tax cut extension later this week.


Q    Jay, a U.N. report out today says Syrian security forces have committed gross violations of human rights since the crackdown, including killing hundreds of children and sexually abusing boys.  And even with the sanctions imposed by the Arab League, is it time for the U.N. Security Council to get involved?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t seen the report that you referenced, but we have very strongly condemned the violence perpetrated by the Assad regime, the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Assad regime.  We have worked very hard to isolate that regime and, as you know, we took action, and we have since seen the EU take action, the Turkish government take action, the Arab League take action, to further isolate the Assad regime because of its refusal to cease and desist from the kind of violence that it’s perpetrating, and the kind of violence you just referenced.

So we believe that’s the right action.  We believe that the fact that it’s the right action is demonstrated by the support for that approach that we’ve seen now, not just among Western nations, European nations, but also by the Arab League.  And we will continue to work to isolate the Assad regime because he’s clearly lost his legitimacy to lead.

Q    But my question is that is it time, perhaps, for the next step?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ll continue to work with international organizations.  We believe that the approach that we’ve taken is the right approach and that it is most effective when we have this kind of concerted, broad effort, as demonstrated most recently by the Arab League’s action.

Q    Jay, Iran followed the President through the Asia trip. Are there any concrete steps that you can report or talk about now regarding China and Russia?  Efforts to come about with a unified approach to prevent —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you know from the Board of Governors vote that there is great unity in the international community in condemning Iran’s refusal to live up to its international obligations.  That vote coincided, as I think Tom Donilon mentioned when he briefed in Indonesia, with a U.N. vote condemning the attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States — overwhelming votes, including Arab states and other states around the country, with very few opposing. 

And I think that demonstrates the approach that we’ve taken here that has unified the world in isolating and pressuring Iran because of its behavior, whereas in the past we had a situation where Iran did not face the same kind of pressure because there was disunity in the international community about what action to take, and some folks were blaming the United States, when in fact that wasn’t true.  The action that we’ve taken has demonstrated that the bad behavior is being perpetrated by the Iranian regime.

Q    Nothing to move us past the point where we were —

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think you saw some new sanctions that we put forward.  You saw some other sanctions that others have put forward.  And that will continue to put pressure on the Iranian regime.  And the fact that that pressure is having an impact has I think been validated by a lot of outside sources and validated in fact by the President of Iran.  So that pressure continues.  And we’ll ratchet it up in a variety of ways.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  On the newest move by the Arab League against Syria, there are a couple of countries that came out, one of them being Iraq, that said that they won’t impose these — or, I guess, enact these sanctions or act on them.  What do you say to countries like that that are partners of the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think the significant fact here is the action that the Arab League took, which reflects the action that the EU took, the United States took, that Turkey took.  And that’s our focus, is that there is a remarkable amount of agreement, internationally, among not just Western states but states in the region about how reprehensible the actions that the Syrian regime has taken are.  And we believe that that kind of isolation will have an effect and that it is the right thing to do.

Q    There’s no discussion with U.S. partners that are —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you perhaps to the State Department for specific conversations that may be taking place, or might take place with other countries that have a different view.  But again, I think the story here, and I think it’s a pretty remarkable story, is the broad consensus that we’ve seen in isolating Syrian for its behavior.


Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Last one.

Q    Yesterday, Senator Toomey said he saw wiggle room in the President’s veto threat for the sequester, specifically to defense, arguing that the President be comfortable with the size of the cuts but he could take some from defense and apply them elsewhere.  Can you address that specifically?  And also, has the President talked with Secretary Panetta about his concerns over the defense trigger?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m sure the President and Secretary Panetta, because they speak all the time, have spoken about this. Let me be very clear:  The President said there are no easy off-ramps here.  Congress voted to impose the sequester on it to hold its own feet to the fire, to get it to act.  To then tell — it’s the kind of behavior — to suggest that they should undo what they did just a few months ago, to declare to the world, as they did when the held this vote, the Budget Control Act, that we’re going to hold ourselves responsible, and then a few months later say, never mind — that’s not acceptable.

Q    That’s not undoing it, it’s just — the same amount of money would be cut.

MR. CARNEY:  Changing it is undoing it.  The whole purpose of the design of the sequester was to make it so onerous for everybody that it would never come to pass.  To change it so that it’s not so onerous only relieves pressure on Congress.  And obviously Congress needs an immense amount of pressure to get positive things done.  

Q    So to clarify, a veto threat — sorry, he would veto a threat to change the amount of defense cuts —

MR. CARNEY:  The President made clear that the sequester should stay in place and that Congress should act.  Because Congress passed a law holding itself responsible, and holding itself accountable and they should do the right thing and get it done.  So there’s no wiggle room, to use your phrase, as I think I said in a briefing either here or on Air Force One last week.

Thanks, guys.

Q    Thank you.

1:25 P.M. EST