White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, Jan. 15, 2014

En Route Raleigh, North Carolina–(ENEWSPF)–January 15, 2014 – 10:25 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome aboard Air Force One for the first outing of the New Year.  I hope you look forward to it as I do.  I just wanted to say a couple of things about where we’re going and the event the President will participate in.

Today the President will visit Vacon, a company that manufactures AC drives, which are used to control the speed of electric motors to maximize energy efficiency.  At 11:35 a.m. the President will tour the R&D facility, accompanied by Dan Isaksson, Vacon vice president, and Secretary Moniz.  At 1:00 p.m. at North Carolina State University, the President will announce new steps with the private sector to strengthen the manufacturing sector, boost advanced manufacturing, and attract good jobs with good wages that a growing middle class requires.

The President will announce the selection of a North Carolina headquartered consortium of businesses and universities led by North Carolina State University to lead a manufacturing innovation institute for next generation power electronics.

President Obama has declared the year 2014 a “Year of Action.”  And while he will continue to work with Congress on new measures to create jobs and grow the economy, he will also use his executive authority to get things done.  After shedding jobs for a decade, our manufacturers have added 568,000 jobs over the past nearly four years, including 80,000 over the past five months.  Manufacturing production has grown since the end of the recession at its fastest pace in over a decade.  The President is committed to building on that progress. 

With that, I’ll take your questions.

Q:    Could you respond to some of the criticisms that Judge Bates made of recommendations regarding surveillance?  He objects, for example, to the appointment of a special advocate to a rigorous procedure for national security letters, and so on.

MR. CARNEY:  Mark, as you know, we are in the final stages of wrapping up the administration’s review of our signals intelligence programs.  As we’ve been saying, we’re not going to discuss decisions and outcomes while the review is ongoing, and we wouldn’t discuss observations or assessments by others about recommendations that the President himself is considering as he makes final decisions prior to his remarks at the Justice Department on Friday.

Q:    What about the New York Times story today that the NSA is using radio waves to tap into computers around the world and monitor them?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, I won’t discuss specific tools or processes.  But the NSA operates under heavy oversight and is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid and foreign intelligence targets, such as terrorists, human traffickers, and drug smugglers.  They are not interested in the personal information about ordinary Americans, nor do they use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of, or give intelligence that we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.

Q:    Do you have anything to add to your statement last night about the unemployment insurance?  Who is to blame for this?

MR. CARNEY:  I think if you look at my statement, we’re very disappointed that Republicans blocked a common-sense, compromise solution that would have extended unemployment insurance benefits to the 1.3 million Americans and their families who have been cut off from this emergency assistance.

It’s very frustrating when, again, the previous President, a Republican, signed similar extensions five times without offsets.  And Majority Leader Senator Reid has gone quite a distance to try to accommodate the concerns of Republicans who have shown a desire and an interest in extending these benefits when it comes to offsets and when it comes to offering amendments. 

So we’re going to continue to work with congressional leaders, with Senate leaders to move this forward.  The need is urgent.  It should not be tied up in ideological or partisan debate.  The Americans who need this assistance are Republicans, they’re Democrats, they’re independents, they’re unaffiliated — they’re Americans.  And Congress should act.

Q:   Will the President address the vote or the lack of votes in the Senate in his remarks today?

MR. CARNEY:  He might bring it up in his remarks, but it’s certainly not the focus of his remarks.

Q:    Agenda for his meeting with Senate Democrats?  What’s at the top of the agenda?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s basically to sync our watches on the policy agenda that the President has been putting forward and will add to in his State of the Union address.  So there will be a broad array of topics, including — as you heard him say yesterday at the Cabinet meeting — efforts we’re undertaking to work with Congress legislatively to move the country forward and efforts that he can undertake using the unique authorities and powers that a President has to make advances on behalf of the middle class and the American economy.  And today’s event in North Carolina is a perfect example of the President using that power and that authority.

Q:    Jay, speaking of today’s event, these manufacturing institutes, as you know, were an initiative announced at the State of the Union last year, and here we are two weeks before this year’s State of the Union.  Is there any frustration that it’s taken him close to a year to announce the establishment of the first one of what’s supposed to eventually be 45 of these institutes?

MR. CARNEY:  Not at all.  I mean, I think if we had announced everything in a week, you would have said it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t real, and the assessments made about where to launch these initiatives weren’t vigorous and substantive.

I think that we have seen extremely positive growth in our manufacturing sector.  We’ve seen areas with huge potential for further growth, especially in advanced manufacturing, in technologies and businesses that the United States can dominate, and by doing so can create high-paying jobs that support middle-class families here at home.

This is something the President is very committed to, and he’s very excited about today’s event.

Q:    “Year of Action” — his economic issues can we see — expect action on more health care actions, immigration, other issues on the President’s domestic agenda?

MR. CARNEY:  The answer is, yes.  I think the point that the President has been making and others have made on his behalf is that in many ways the American economy, as it has emerged from the recovery, has grown steadily and created 8.2 million jobs, is on a precipice of even greater strides forward.  And we want to do everything we can, using our authorities, the President’s authorities to take action through the executive and through the power of the pen and the power of the phone, as well as take action through and with Congress legislatively on immigration reform and so many other issues that we can work together on.

It bears notice that, despite all of our differences, despite our disappointment and frustration with the decision by Republicans to block UI benefits thus far, that there has also been steady progress on the omnibus legislation that is the product of a bipartisan compromise on a budget deal.  And that omnibus legislation, that funding bill protects some of the President’s key priorities, including in manufacturing, SelectUSA, including in early childhood education and others. 

So there’s a lot of positive things that can happen and are happening on behalf of the economy and the middle class and the American people, and we just need to keep moving forward.  So the President is going to talk a lot about, in the days ahead and in the State of the Union address, ways that we can use all the tools available to us to grow the economy and create jobs that middle-class families can depend on.

Q:    Can you talk about the significance of the phrase “Year of Action” compared to previous years, which seemed were also years of action?  Why are you pointing out that this year is a year of action? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s a profound question, Zack.  The fact of the matter is this President has throughout his time in office utilized the tools available to him.  But we’re going to reinvigorate that process.  We’re going to continue to look for creative and innovative ideas to do things like advance the cause of developing high-tech and other advanced manufacturing centers across the country; to expand access to early childhood education; to move forward with rebuilding our infrastructure. 

One other positive outcome of the omnibus legislation that’s moving through the Congress now is that it provides significant funds for TIGER investments — for TIGER grants.  And that goes right to the infrastructure needs that we have in this country.  And as you know, investment in infrastructure, as had been recognized by both Democrats and Republicans over the years, provide an immediate jolt to the economy, immediate job creation, as well as long-term positive benefits because of improved infrastructure. 

Q:    Jay, can I ask about Iran?  As you know and have reacted to, Iran’s foreign minister laid a wreath at the grave of a Hezbollah leader who was involved in a terrorist attack against Americans.  And we spoke yesterday about these reports of a Russian-Iran oil-for-goods deal.  You’ve made the case repeatedly of why you think Congress should wait and give diplomacy a chance.  Are you concerned that events like these, which you can’t control, could have a negative effect and sort of weaken the argument that you’re making with folks on the Hill that, look, you need to give us a window of time to try to get a deal done?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’d say a couple things.  On the matter of the Iranian foreign minister honoring Imad Mugniyah, the United States condemns the decision taken by the Iranian foreign minister to place a wreath at the grave of a former leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah responsible for heinous acts of terrorism that killed hundreds of innocent people, including Americans.  The inhumane violence that Mugniyah perpetrated and that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to perpetrate in a region with Iran’s financial and materiel support has had profoundly destabilizing and deadly effects for Lebanon and the region.

The decision to commemorate an individual who has participated in such vicious acts and whose organization continues to actively support terrorism worldwide sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region.

Now, I think this speaks to the fact that through the P5-plus-1 and the agreements that have been negotiated, and the process moving forward, we are addressing with our international partners the profound and important challenge of ensuring that Iran does not develop and obtain a nuclear weapon.  There are a host of vital national security interests at stake here, as well as the national security interests of our allies and friends.

Even as we pursue that and do it in a way that demands transparency and verifiability from the Iranians, we do not let up in our views and our positions when it comes to other activities, including the support of terrorist organizations that Iran engages in.

On the matter of the reports about the oil-for-goods deal with Iran that Russia may be engaged in, we’ve been very clear that we’re concerned about that.  When we saw those reports, press reports, it was immediately raised at the highest levels by Secretary Kerry, with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  And I can tell you that if that deal moves forward it would raise serious concerns as it would be inconsistent with the terms of the P5-plus-1 agreement with Iran and could potentially trigger U.S. sanctions against the entities and individuals involved in any such transactions.

So our disposition has not changed on these matters.  And that’s why it’s so important to be clear that the actions that Iran takes, the steps it takes to either comply with or not comply with commitments it makes are what we judge Iran by — not by statements meant for a domestic audience or by promises rather than action.  So we’re going to press forward. 

When it comes to the need to implement the Joint Plan of Action and engage in negotiations through the P5-plus-1 with the Iranians, it is absolutely the right thing to do to test whether or not we can resolve the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program peacefully.

The President retains all options, including military options, to fulfill his policy goal.  But it is absolutely preferable to him, to the American people, and to all those who demand that Iran forsake nuclear weapons that this be resolved peacefully.

Q:    The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a declassified report on Benghazi that found that — or concluded that the attacks there were preventable and based on known security shortfalls, and the explanations for what caused the attack were — inaccurately referred to the protests without sufficient eyewitness accounts or intelligence to base that on.  Is there any response to those findings today?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you know the administration has made extraordinary efforts to work with seven different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks, including testifying at 13 congressional hearings, participating in 50 staff briefings, and providing over 25,000 pages of documents. 

Today’s report largely reaffirms the findings reached by the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board, and a number of the recommendations are consistent with the work the State Department has taken to improve diplomatic security, including upgrading security cameras, improving fire-protective equipment, and increasing Marine security guard presence. 

I’d refer you to the State Department for the status on implementing each of those recommendations.  But as you know, the administration is focused on two pieces:  bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of four Americans; and making sure that we take the steps necessary to improve the security at vulnerable facilities so that our men and women serving overseas in diplomatic positions are — rather, to improve their security, as I said.

So I think this reinforces what other investigations have found, which is that there was not enough security to protect the four Americans who lost their lives and that there are things that we must do and that we are doing to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the security of Americans serving overseas, often in difficult circumstances and dangerous circumstances.

Q:    Jay, any details on the First Lady’s 50th birthday party?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don’t have anything on that.  I’d refer you to the East Wing. 

Q:    No Jay-Z, Beyoncé dance party?  (Laughter.)

Q:    Are you going?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’d refer you to the East Wing.

Q:    Have you been invited?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d refer you to the East Wing.  (Laughter.) 

Q:    Do you dance?

MR. CARNEY:  I do.  Anybody else?

Q:    One other thing.  Can you confirm that the President is going to nominate Maria Contreras-Sweet to head the SBA?

MR. CARNEY:  I can.  The President will do that this afternoon —

Q:    In his remarks?

MR. CARNEY:  No, upon return to the White House.  And I think if you look at her remarkable career, you will see that she is an excellent candidate for this position.  And the President is grateful that he will be able to nominate her today. 

Q:    One more for you.  What do the lobbying efforts look like from the White House on the fast-track TPA bill?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s a priority of the President’s, his entire trade agenda, and we’re working with Congress to move that forward.

Q:    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks.

10:55 A.M. EST