White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, March 5, 2014

En Route Hartford, Connecticut–(ENEWSPF)–March 5, 2014 – 11:45 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for joining us on our trip today to Connecticut and Massachusetts.  As you can see, I have with me the Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, who can provide for you at the top information about today’s event with governors in the region, focusing on the need to raise the minimum wage so that Americans who work full-time take responsibility for themselves and their families don’t have to live in poverty.

I will ask that you address your questions to Secretary Perez at the top, related to those subjects, and I will remain to take questions on other subjects.

Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY PEREZ:  Great.  Good morning.  As Jay said, a central pillar of the President’s opportunity agenda is that we should reward hard work with a fair wage, because nobody who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty.  That’s why the President has spent so much time urging Congress to pass an increase in the minimum wage and give Americans a raise.  And that’s why the President practiced what he preached when he issues the executive order directing federal contractors to pay the minimum wage.

But as the President made clear in his State of the Union address, he’s not going to wait for Congress to act on behalf of the American people.  And the President and a growing coalition of governors and business leaders from across the country believe that raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do and is the smart thing to do for businesses, for workers and for our economy.

I was in San Francisco yesterday speaking to the senior leadership of The Gap, who recently announced that they’re raising the wage of their workers to $10 an hour, setting the trend for the retail sector.  They said that it was the right thing to do and it was the smart thing to do, and it was a smart business decision.

And today, in Connecticut, the President will be joined by Governors Malloy, Patrick, Shumlin, and Chafee, who have endorsed the President’s call and are working in their states to give a raise to at least $10.10 an hour.  Governor Hassan would like to be here, very supportive of the effort, but she’s detained with state business.  These governors understand the importance of raising the minimum wage for their states’ economies, for the middle-class families they represent, as well as those striving to get into the middle class.  Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 will lift wages up for about a million New Englanders, as well as — including 200,000 people in Connecticut alone. 

These are people, like the person I met in Hartford just a week ago, who said to me, I have to choose between buying a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas; and the other person who said, I need to choose between taking my kid to the dentist or paying the electric bills.  Nobody should make these choices in America in the year 2014.  And that’s why these governors are leading by example to take steps to raise the minimum wage in their states and across the country.  Other states are doing the same.  Since the State of the Union, six states have already acted to raise the minimum wage, and more are contemplating the same.

And we will continue these efforts not only in Congress, but working with state and local governments, supporting business leaders who are doing the right thing, because Americans in deed deserve a raise.

Q    What’s the total number of states that have now acted?

SECRETARY PEREZ:  Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia.

Q    But that’s all different minimum wage increases, correct?

SECRETARY PEREZ:  Different minimum wage increases.  The state of Washington has the country’s currently highest minimum wage at $9.32, although California’s will go up to $10.  Other states are following the $10.10 lead.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  I thought I might have a little more time to prepare.  Fire away.
 Q    Jay, on Ukraine, the President spoke with Russian President Putin for over an hour and a half on Saturday.  That conversation, did it move the process forward?  Did it help in our relations in what the U.S. is planning to do or asking Russia to do, or did it actually hurt?  Because yesterday Putin actually accused the U.S. of being the part of the reason for the underlying issues going on in Ukraine.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it is true that the President spoke with President Putin for about an hour and a half, and expressed our deep concerns to President Putin about Russia’s clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and in violation of international law, and in violation of agreements that Russia is party to.

I think an evaluation of events since then would suggest that what you’ve seen is broad international support for the legitimate government of Ukraine; broad condemnation of Russia’s actions in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; efforts underway both unilaterally and multilaterally to support the new Ukrainian government and to support Ukraine in this difficult time economically; and multilateral and bilateral and unilateral efforts to consider actions to respond to Russia’s actions.

As was noted yesterday, President Putin has indicated a pause in some of the activities of Russian military units, and we are closely monitoring the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and broadly across Ukraine.  I think it’s, as I said yesterday, fair to — I mean, obvious to point out that the suggestion by Russian officials that they are acting, again, in violation of international law, in violation of their own commitments, in order to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine runs against every verifiable account we have seen about what’s happening in Ukraine.

And there is an easy way out for Russia, there is an easy off-ramp, which is to embrace an effort to bring U.N. or OSCE monitors to Crimea so that they can independently assess the situation on the ground, assess the status of ethnic Russians, and ensure that their rights are being protected — because we and many others have made clear that it is very important for the Ukrainian government to assure that the rights of all Ukrainian citizens are protected.  But again, there is an easy way out here for Russia, and we certainly hope they take it.

Q    Jay, Ukraine’s new leader said in an AP interview that while Crimea must stay part of Ukraine, that he’s exploring options for Crimea to have more autonomy, which seems to be a recognition that the stepped-up Russian influence in this area is not likely to go away any time soon.  Would that be an acceptable outcome to the United States?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it is not for us or any state besides Ukraine to decide what the relationship of any of its regions is to the rest of Ukraine or the capital.  That is for Ukraine to decide, for the Ukrainian people, for the Ukrainian parliament, for the Ukrainian government.  So I don’t have a view to express on that.

It is obviously the case that, as we have noted, that Russia has interests in Crimea and Ukraine.  Russia has a military base that it established there through an agreement between the Russian government and the Ukrainian government.  And we are simply, with our allies and partners, calling on Russia to ensure that its military forces are returned to their bases and that Russia comply with the agreement it has with Ukraine as to the status of its military presence in Crimea.

But there’s no question that there are ethnic Russians in Crimea, there are ethnic Russians in other parts of Ukraine.  And it’s an important part of our view in is that Ukraine needs to — the Ukrainian government needs to make sure that the rights of ethnic Russians are protected.  I would say that there’s no indication that those rights have not been protected, and, in fact, the Ukrainian government has — the new Ukrainian government has behaved very responsibly since it came into office.

Q    Do you have information for us on the status of Ukraine observers — observers proceeding in Ukraine, or the status of IMF loans and the EU’s commitment?  Any calls to read out, any updates on Ukraine?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can tell you a few things.  As you know, Secretary Kerry was in Kyiv yesterday and is in Paris today talking with the Ukrainians, our allies and partners, and the Russians.  He also worked with the United Kingdom and Ukraine to hold a meeting of the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum, to which Russia was invited but chose not to attend.  As you know, that document reaffirms the obligation set out in the U.N. charter that signatories respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

And I expect Secretary Kerry — either has just or will be, or is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well separately in Paris.  The President obviously has been in regular contact with allies and partners, as have other members of his national security team.  And we are working, as we noted yesterday, on a package of assistance to Ukraine that would complement an IMF effort.  But beyond the details we released yesterday, I don’t have anything new on that.  When it comes to the question of further action, sanctions and the like, we’re considering a range of options, but that work is still ongoing.

Q    Is that why Jake Sullivan is on the plane?

MR. CARNEY:  Jake Sullivan is a member of the national security team, a member of the President’s national security [team] advisor.  He’s the Vice President’s national security advisor.  And he’s traveling because it’s important to have a senior member of the national security team on board.

Q    Okay, switching topics, could I quickly ask —

Q    Can I —

MR. CARNEY:  Sorry, same topic?

Q    Sort of.  One on that same topic, and then Israel is saying that they intercepted a shipment of arms that was headed to Gaza coming from Iran.  Does the White House have any comment on that?  And does this complicate negotiations with Iran over a long-term nuclear agreement?

MR. CARNEY:  I can confirm the reports that the Israeli government interdicted a suspected shipment of illicit Iranian arms.  The United States and Israel have had routine communications about this issue through intelligence and military channels, as well as through our national security advisors.  Soon after becoming aware of the imminent movement of [the] suspected vessel, the White House directed the Department of Defense to monitor the vessel and to develop concepts of operation for a range of options to be prepared to take unilateral steps if necessary.  This is part of the robust presence that the President has directed that we continue to maintain in and around the Gulf.

Throughout this time, our intelligence and military activities were closely coordinated with our Israeli counterparts who ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms.  Even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region, in coordination with our partners and allies, and made clear that these illicit actions are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran’s U.N. Security Council obligations.

Q    How can you continue to have nuclear negotiations with them when it looks like they’re actively continuing to sponsor terrorism against Israel?

MR. CARNEY:  Josh, we’ve noted on multiple occasions that we are pursuing potential resolution of an enormous challenge, which is the challenge posed by Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and we are doing that through the P5-plus-1 process. 

We continue to have enormous issues with Iran, its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, its bad behavior in the region that manifests itself in many ways.  And we continue to take all the necessary steps to address those challenges.  But it’s entirely appropriate to continue to pursue the possibility of reaching a resolution on the nuclear program.

Q    Jay, a couple news organizations had articles today about the CIA monitoring Senate aides regarding this report that the Senate is putting together about torture.  The White House didn’t comment prior to the stories being run; I’m wondering what you can say about that now.  It looks like some senators have come out and sort of talked about it today publicly.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, for some time the White House has made clear to the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that a summary of the findings and conclusions of the final RDI report should be declassified with any appropriate redactions necessary to protect national security.  And as you know, the President has made clear that the program that is  the subject of the committee’s work is inconsistent with our values as a nation.  One of the President’s first acts in office was to sign an executive order, which brought an end to the program and prohibited so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

Q    And is the White House okay with the CIA perhaps spying on the Senate Intel Committee, or has the White House given the CIA any instructions in light of some of these allegations and revelations?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say a couple of things.  Regarding some of the allegations, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on any questions regarding a “criminal referral,” which was one of the subjects reported on.  And as a general matter, we are in touch with the committee and have made clear that we believe that a summary of the findings, as I said, and conclusions of the final report should be declassified.

Q    But you’re not saying — you’re not commenting on the CIA’s actions, then, regarding —

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything further on the report in the newspaper.  What I can say is that regarding some of the issues and allegations, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice —

Q    May I ask you one last one on Ukraine?

MR. CARNEY:  — and CIA, obviously, and the committee.

Q    When you say that Putin indicated a pause in escalation here, does that almost mean that the administration is pausing on its drive towards sanctions?

MR. CARNEY:  We’ve made clear that it is an absolute clear-cut violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity to take the steps that Russia has taken, and that’s why we urge Russia to very quickly and immediately begin a dialogue with the government of Ukraine, pull back Russia’s military forces to their bases, restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and allow for the urgent deployment of observers and human rights monitors, and that they resist making more threats and issuing more distortions.

The fact of what’s been described as a pause reflects some of what we’ve seen on the ground and certainly what President Putin described in his press conference.

Q    Prime Minister Harper has asked for a G7 meeting on this.  What does the White House think of that idea?  Is it open to that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’re coordinating very closely with all members of the G7.  As you know, collectively, we’ve suspended participation and preparations for the G8 in Sochi, and we’ll continue to work with members of the G7 going forward. 

I don’t have any announcements to make about potential meetings of the G7. 

Q    Are you concerned at all that the Europeans seem less interested in sanctions, and that the U.S., if it were to go down that route, might find itself isolated?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that we have worked very closely and continue to work closely with our European partners and allies on this matter.  We have issued — I mean, NATO has issued a statement, the G7 partners have issued statements, and all sounding the same notes of condemnation and concern, and urging Russia to roll back what it’s done and to avail itself of the way out, if you will, by allowing monitors into Crimea and other parts of Ukraine.

We are working with our European partners on actions that can be taken in response to this, and feel very good about the efforts that are undertaken in a cooperative way with the European partners.

Q    Jay, both of Pennsylvania’s senators have now opposed the President’s pick of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at DOJ.  They’re concerned about this person’s advocacy on behalf of a convicted cop killer in Philadelphia.  Does the White House have any reaction to those concerns?

MR. CARNEY:  Debo Adegbile is enormously qualified for the post of which he’s been nominated, and we urge the Senate to confirm him right away.

12:01 P.M. EST