White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, March 21, 2012

En Route Boulder City, Nevada–(ENEWSPF)–March 21, 2012 – 10:57 A.M. EDT 

MR. CARNEY:  Okay, let’s get started.  I have no announcements.  I just want to welcome you onboard Air Force One for the beginning of this two-day, multi-state trip that’s focusing on American-made energy and the President’s all-of-the-above approach to our energy needs and energy challenges.  You have all the details.  I won’t torture you by reading again about the stops that we’re making and why we’re making them.  Instead I will invite you to ask penetrating but easy-to-answer questions.

Q    Jay, does the administration have any authority over the southern portion of Keystone?  I thought that was just a FERC issue.

MR. CARNEY:  I’d have to refer you to the agency and then — which has some, as I understand it, role to play in these kinds of domestic pipeline issues.  I just don’t have those details handy for you.

Q    — is reporting that the President is going to talk about some sort of expedited review.

MR. CARNEY:  I’ve seen those reports.  I don’t have anything new for you.  The President has been very clear, as he put out — we put out in a statement — about his support for the building of the pipeline, the so-called Cushing pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico because of the glut of oil in Cushing and the need to move that product to the Gulf for refining.  So he’s very supportive, and he — and the statement we put out the urged that it be expedited.  But I don’t have any more details to provide to you about that at this time.

Q    What authority would he have to expedite any reviews for the southern portion?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t — I haven’t reviewed the material on that.  I just don’t know.  I don’t have anything I can tell you about that right now.

Q    Jay, our first stop today will have to do with solar energy.


Q    Yesterday, the United States put some tariffs on solar panels from China, but the tariffs were lower than the industry expected and it ended up boosting Chinese shares.  Why were the tariffs so low?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re probably asking the wrong person in terms of the level of tariffs.  I can tell you that this administration, as you have reported yourself, is very focused on the need to ensure that, whether it’s with China or with other countries, that American workers, American companies are able to compete on a level playing field.

This administration has taken a number of steps to level the playing field both broadly and in actions related to specific industries and specific products.  It’s my understanding that this is one of them.  It is no mystery that there has been an issue with Chinese production of solar products, but beyond that I think I would refer you to the experts.

Q    But is it concerning at all that the President, especially on a day when he’s visiting a solar facility —

MR. CARNEY:  I would hesitate to evaluate the effect of an action like that based on one day — one day’s market reaction.

Q    But does he want to do more along the lines of trade or elsewhere to support the solar industry in the U.S.?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything specific for you on this particular industry, but he absolutely wants to do more and will do more, as necessary, to ensure that there’s a level playing field for American industries and American workers.

Q    Related to oil and gas drilling, the Republicans have criticized the President saying that he’s put a lot of obstacles in the way of drilling and that federal lands have not been as open to drilling as possible.  Does the administration feel that it’s done everything it can to increase the amount of drilling?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  The problem with that argument is that the facts prove otherwise.  It is a fact that U.S. production of oil has risen under President Obama to levels that we had not seen, based on the chart I’m looking at now, since the very early part of this century.  It is a fact that U.S. dependence on foreign oil has been declining since President Obama took office to levels we have not seen for many, many years, and certainly to levels well below we saw under the previous administration.  Indisputable, incontrovertible, immutable, inexorable facts.

So it is also a fact that under President Obama, production on public lands has increased — of oil — on public lands has increased.  It is also a fact that this President is committed to increasing production of domestic oil and gas in a safe and responsible way.  He doesn’t believe it’s an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and.  You can do it safely and responsibly, and you can increase production.  That’s true with oil and it is also true with natural gas.  He’s made clear that he believes natural gas plays a significant role in our energy future and that we can exploit our domestic resources in a way that’s responsible and increases our production.  On gas, our production is at an all-time high.

So I understand that, as we’ve seen for weeks now, there is a sustained effort to try to achieve some political gain out of the challenge presented to average folks out there by the price of gas at the pump.  But the reality is oil and gas production in the United States has increased under President Obama; reliance on foreign oil has decreased significantly under President Obama. We have made clear that some of the trend, especially in the increase in domestic production, is due to policies of the previous administration, but it is due also to the actions that this administration has taken. 

And those facts are hard to live with when you’re trying to make a political argument the Republicans are making.  I don’t expect them to stop making it, but we will continue to make our points and point to the facts.

Q    Is this trip merely sort of an effort to push back against that Republican argument?

MR. CARNEY:  This trip is designed to highlight for the American people the absolute importance of the President’s all-of-the-above approach to energy issues.  These are about policies that he has put in place, policies that he is continuing to push — because energy is such a central factor in our economic future.  It’s why the President finds it so baffling and disconcerting to hear Republicans and other — hear critics talk about clean energy in mocking terms.  I guess that means they’re just — they just assume that it’s okay for the Chinese, the Indians, the Europeans to corner the markets in the 21st century. Better to stick your head in the sand now, in 2012, and just assume that the U.S. cannot compete in what will indisputably be vitally important industries of this 21st century.  The President could not disagree more strongly, and that’s why he’s pursued the policies that he’s pursued.

Q    — the Republican budget, I think administration folks have said would make — cut pretty deeply into investments in clean energy.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that is an excellent point and I’m glad you raised it. 

Q    Senior administration officials have raised it.

MR. CARNEY:  Among the many serious problems with the Ryan budget, Republican budget proposal, is its dramatic cuts in some of the absolutely essential programs that we need to sustain and the investments that we need to make to secure America’s economic future.  Education, Pell grants is one; investments in clean energy is another. 

I mean, again, it is — you have to be aggressively and deliberately ignorant of the world economy not to know and understand that clean energy technologies are going to play a huge role in the 21st century.  You have to have severely diminished capacity to understand what drives economic growth in industrialized countries in this century if you do not understand that education is the key that unlocks the door to prosperity.  The budget proposed by Chairman Ryan and supported overwhelmingly already by Republicans suggests that those problems exist in the minds of the supporters of that plan.

That was a bad sentence, but you get my point.  I lost track because I was watching RG3 over there, future quarterback of my Washington Redskins.

Q    So you’re distracted, Jay.


Q    Jay, General Allen said yesterday that he doesn’t expect consideration on additional drawdowns after September.  Is that the timeframe that you understand?

MR. CARNEY:  Until September — before September, right?  Is that what you’re —

Q    Right, after the 23,000 withdraw in September, he said he doesn’t expect additional consideration until after the new year.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, I think — I would point you to General Allen’s testimony, and I think what we have made clear is that we are in the process of implementing the policy the President put in place that included surging up U.S. forces and drawing down those forces.  We are in the midst of drawing down significant numbers of U.S. forces.  That process will complete itself by the end of September — end of summer, middle of September.  And the President has made clear that he intends to continue to draw down U.S. forces.  But decisions about the pace of that withdrawal have not been made and options have not been proposed — contrary to some reporting by a major outlet.

Q    In the Rose Garden last week, the President said that the NATO leaders in Chicago will determine the next phase of transition when they meet.  But I understood you to say yesterday that they would not be talking about the pace of drawdown.  Does that —

MR. CARNEY:  There would be no announcements about numbers or timetables is my understanding.  And I think General Allen reflected — his testimony reflected that. 

Obviously, the strategy surrounding the transition will be very much a topic of conversation at NATO, and has been a conversation among defense ministers in the run-up to the NATO summit.  As we’ve been saying in the last several weeks, the Lisbon framework that will result in the full transfer of security lead to the Afghan forces by the end of 2014 will, as an interim step or interim milestone, produce transfer over of combat lead to Afghan forces in 2013.  U.S. forces will continue to partner with Afghan forces, but they will not be in combat lead.  The full transfer will happen in 2014. 

So this is part of the process that will be discussed in Chicago.  But we will not have decisions or announcements about the timetable for future drawdowns.

Q    There will be announcements of a timetable for drawdown, but will there be discussion at that level of detail among the leaders?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t expect discussions — there will be discussions about Afghanistan, the strategy and the implementation of the transition, but not — there will not be, as I understand it, decisions made about withdrawal timetables beyond the withdrawal that we’re currently undertaking.

Q    Can I also ask you, did the President vote by absentee in the Illinois primary yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  He did.

Q    Did his candidates win?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had the discussion with him about who his candidates were.

Q    Did he have a reaction to Tammy Duckworth’s —

MR. CARNEY:  You know, I haven’t — I spent some time with him this morning, but I didn’t — I haven’t spoken to him about that.

Q    Jay, on Syria, the U.N. Security Council has agreed to a Council statement that’s in support of Kofi Annan’s efforts to try to bring peace to the region.  Does the administration view that positively in the sense that it could show China and Russia maybe more supportive of the —

MR. CARNEY:  We do view it positively.  We think it’s an important — a modest, but important step.  And I think that it demonstrates the fact that there’s unanimity on the Security Council in support of Kofi Annan’s mission and demonstrates the building chorus of voices on the international stage that is insisting that Assad halt his brutal campaign against his own people, and that is obviously a good thing.

Q    Jay, will the President be looking at any personnel decisions in the next couple days?  For example, World Bank appointment?

MR. CARNEY:  You work for Reuters, right?

Q    I do.

MR. CARNEY:  You beat Bloomberg to the punch.  I have no updates for you on that process.

Q    Let me just give it one more shot.  Can we expect an announcement on Friday?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no updates for you on that process.

Q    Jay, Friday is the health care anniversary.  Is the President going to mark it in any way?  Is he going to say anything publicly about it?  And if not, why not, given that it’s become a political football and there will be a lot of discussion about it?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  I have no scheduling announcements to make today about Friday for the President.  I don’t anticipate a presidential marking of an anniversary that only those who toil inside the Beltway focus on. 

What this President is focused on and what his administration is focused on with regards to the Affordable Care Act is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  And we have been — I think you saw, at various levels within the administration we have been talking about and publicizing the benefits of and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act — Secretary Sebelius, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, most recently — and that effort will continue.

And if I may, as a layman, take issue with the knuckleheaded reporting that suggests or buys the critique that we’re somehow not proud of the accomplishment by -– referring you to Chicago,  on my own time, I did happen to see that excellent video that the campaign put out and you might note that it focuses on health care quite significantly.  So I’ll leave it at that.

Q    Did the upcoming Supreme Court case at all impact the decision whether or not to mark the anniversary publicly?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  I would simply say that we’re confident that the individual responsibility provision within the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.  I’m confident in our legal arguments.  I don’t have any comment on the Supreme Court’s case beyond that.  And I would just say again, the issue here isn’t the anniversary of a signing ceremony; it’s the implementation of a law that would provide affordable health care to 30 million people who didn’t have it, that has already provided tremendous benefits to young Americans, to seniors, to small businesses who are trying to provide health care to their employees, and will continue to provide benefits as implementation continues.

Thanks, guys.

11:13 A.M. EDT