James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming to the White House for your daily briefing. I want to welcome -- we have a group of Haitian journalists here visiting. I want to welcome you to the White House briefing room.
I have a couple of things I’d like to read out to you before I take questions. First, I wanted to mention that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must spend at least 80 percent of your premium dollars on health care and not overhead, executive bonuses and advertising. If insurance companies fail to meet that standard, as you know, they must provide a rebate to their consumers. Provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report, which found that thanks to the President’s health care law, 15.8 million Americans will receive $1.3 billion in rebates -- an average rebate of $127 per enrollee in the individual market. Today’s news is yet another sign of how the Affordable Care Act is already strengthening the health care system for millions of Americans.
On a second matter, I just wanted to let you know that as part of his regular briefings on homeland security and counterterrorism, the President met today with members of his national security team to review the threat picture as we head into the anniversary of the bin Laden takedown.
At this time, we have no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. However, we asses that AQ’s affiliates and allies remain intent on conducting attacks in the homeland, possibly to avenge the death of bin Laden, but not necessarily tied to the anniversary.
The President thanked his team and directed them to continue taking all necessary measures to protect the American people.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Ben.
Q Thanks, Jay. Couple questions. First, on the Secret Service. They’re now investigating another alleged incident involving agents and prostitutes. There’s one in El Salvador during the President’s trip. I know you defer questions about investigations to them, but I’m wondering if the President directly has ever been assured by Director Sullivan that what happened in Colombia was isolated. Or has there been an understanding here that there might have been other incidents?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the President was briefed by Director Sullivan. I do not have a point-by-point readout for you of that meeting. He was briefed on the investigation specifically into the incident in Colombia.
That investigation is continuing. Although, as you know, action has been taken with regard to a number of individuals. I don’t have anything more for you on that. I would refer to you, as it relates to the reports that you just mentioned, to the Secret Service. I simply don’t have anything for you on that from here.
Q Has the President in any way directed the Pentagon in its investigation to be completely forthcoming? I ask because Senator McCain said today that the Secret Service seems to be forthcoming in its review. But as it relates to the military members, he said the Pentagon has completely stonewalled.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the Defense Department. I’m not -- I’m aware of the reports of what Senator McCain said, but I obviously am not familiar with the briefing they received.
The President’s position, as he explained it when he was taking questions in Colombia, is that he believes that every American who travels abroad, representing the United States, should behave himself or herself in accordance with the highest standards of probity and dignity. And I think that applies to representatives from all different branches of the government and agencies within the administration.
Q Okay. One other question on the student loans. You’ve talked about how this issue shouldn’t partisan, but it is. Boehner said -- Speaker Boehner said the President has turned this into a political one, not just by pushing for his idea but by traveling, going to campuses. And one of his quotes was -- today from Speaker Boehner was, “This is the biggest job in the world, and I’ve never seen a President make it so small.” I’m wondering if you have any reaction to that, and whether, more broadly, you think we’re sort of in another one of these low points in this town.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I understand that Speaker Boehner and Republicans on Capitol Hill are busy backing and filling, trying to explain how they can support -- how they now support fixing the student loan interest rate problem, when they all voted in favor of a Republican budget, the Ryan budget -- their governing document -- which explicitly took another course of action and would have allowed interest rate loans on -- Stafford loans to double. So they can’t have it both ways.
We are absolutely pleased that -- because the President has raised this issue, because he’s taken it out to the country, because he’s talked to students and others across the country about the need to ensure that these interest rates don’t double, Republicans are now saying that they agree. Well, that’s good.
And I know that there is some suggestion that, well, even though they voted for the Republican budget that made it a fact, if had become -- if it were to become law, that these student interest loan rates would -- student loan rates would double, they were going to fix it; that was always their plan. They just didn’t tell anyone. It was a secret. And maybe they were just going to announce that -- spring it on the American people sometime late in June. Well, I know none of you believe that.
And in fact, there was a vote in a committee on this issue, during the deliberations over the Republican budget, where a Democrat on the committee offered an amendment that would have fixed this problem, ensured that the lower interest rates continued beyond July 1st. Republicans voted unanimously against that.
So we know what their position was. We are glad they changed it. And they changed it, in large part, because the President took his argument out to the country and they felt that pressure. The American people understand -- and in a way, I guess the Speaker doesn’t -- that education is an essential element of the American economy. Making sure that our kids get a quality education is elemental not just to their individual future, but to the future of the American economy. That’s why it’s so important. That’s why the President is out there pushing this issue, and that’s why he is happy to see Republicans now -- a little Johnny-come-lately -- supporting the position that he's taken.
Q I wanted to follow in the same vein. One of the other things that Speaker Boehner said today was depicting this dispute over student loans as a fake fight, as something that the President amplified by going out into the country to speak about it. But you've just said that you think by going out into the country, that that actually caused the change that was -- that you were wanting.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Just wondering if you could discuss -- is there not also a thought of engaging directly with Congress, having meetings here, having the President go to Capitol Hill instead of to North Carolina or --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we've seen -- and we saw it in the payroll tax cut issue debate that resulted in Republicans ultimately doing the right thing and making sure that millions of Americans didn't have -- hardworking Americans didn't have their taxes go up this year -- that when the American public is behind an idea, that Congress respond, at least on some occasions. And that hopefully is the case here.
Now, we're not there yet. There's obviously an effort to continue to politicize this, to try to refight old ideological battles and -- rather than just acknowledging that this is the right thing to do and working together to get it done.
Again, I want to go back to the fact that -- the suggestion that this is a manufactured battle is belied by the overwhelming support that Republicans have evinced for the Ryan/Republican budget, which uses the money that would be gained by doubling these interest rates as part of their -- as part of how they provide tax cuts to the wealthy and reduce spending overall. So either -- you can't have it both ways. You can't say America has got the equivalent of the stage 3 cancer of socialism because the federal government is tampering in all kinds of stuff it has no business tampering in -- Congressman, Republican, from Missouri, referring to this policy and the President's position on the need for Congress to take action to ensure these rates stay low -- and then say you were for it all along. It's just not credible.
Let me move around. Jessica.
Q The committee vote you're referring to, just to be clear, allowed a pay-for that would have -- the Democrats' proposal would have paid for this through closing corporate loopholes on jets, oil subsidies to oil companies. So when you talk about fighting old ideological fights, it seems the real battle here is over how to pay for this. Republicans object to the Democrats' proposal. Why is the White House objecting to the Republicans' proposal?
MR. CARNEY: Let's be clear: The real fight here -- there is a negotiation that should and hopefully will take place to decide how to pay for this in a constructive way that everyone can agree on. But your assessment -- the premise of your question would be true if Republicans heretofore had proposed -- if there was any evidence of any initiative by Republicans to lower these interest -- keep these interest rates low.
Q They've said that they can plan to negotiate on this and --
MR. CARNEY: They said that after the President made an issue of it. It is not in the Ryan/Republican budget. There was a committee vote where they rejected an effort to ensure that these interest rates stayed low.
Q It’s also not in the President’s budget after next year. So he only extends it for --
MR. CARNEY: Look, that’s right, he did it for a year, and obviously we would assess it again in a year. It is absent from the governing document of the Republican Party that every Republican in the House voted for, that every leader in the Republican Party supports. So you can't then say you were always for it.
Second, on the pay-fors, we support the Senate Democratic proposal as one alternative. There are other options to pay
for it; many of them are available in the President’s budget proposal. We are willing to negotiate this. It is not -- the thing I read at the top of this briefing about the billions of dollars of savings the American people have already received because of one provision in the Affordable Care Act, and yet Republicans want to somehow -- because they’ve lost this battle over the need to ensure that students don’t have their interest rates double -- want to kind of messy the water -- stir up the waters here by making this about health care, having a pay-for pulled out of the Affordable Care Act.
We’ve seen this before. We watched this movie during the payroll tax cut debate. It didn’t end well for them, and that’s because the American people overwhelmingly support this action. They overwhelmingly support the pay-fors that we propose. And they need to just -- if they want to fight about -- look, we know what the Republican position is on the Affordable Care Act. They want to repeal it. They have no alternative, but they want to --
Q This is a lot less money than the payroll tax cut debate.
MR. CARNEY: But hold on, they want to repeal it. We understand that. They will argue that in this campaign. They will argue that insurance companies will once again be able to dictate to consumers the rules of the road in terms of their insurance, their health care coverage. They will argue that the benefits that I just talked about at the top of this briefing should not be given to the American people, and that is fine. And let the election decide that. Let’s solve the student loan rate problem now and focus on pay-fors that are reasonable and acceptable.
Q The President said that the Republicans certainly wouldn’t let student loan rates double overnight if they really cared about this issue. Does the President believe Republicans really don’t care about this issue?
MR. CARNEY: I think we saw the other day in a statement by the spokesman of the House Republicans -- the House Speaker, the Republican leader in the House, when he suggested that the President was talking about this issue to avoid talking about the economy, to avoid his economic record. And I think it unintentionally revealed a perspective about what the economy is that stands in stark contrast to what the President’s perspective is.
Education is essential to our economy. It’s essential to our future economic growth. The economy is not just the tax rates that the wealthiest individuals, hedge fund managers, law firm partners and big corporations pay. It’s average folks out there who are trying hard to make a living, people who are trying to get an education so they can start a business, or be a teacher or be an engineer. That’s a perfect inadvertent declaration of the difference, I think, in perspective that we have about this.
So, yes, education is essential. Ensuring that these kids don’t have their interest rates doubled on their loans is essential, and the President is going to keep pushing it.
So many hands. Amy.
Q Can you respond to the allegations -- a lot of Republicans are saying that you guys are flying all over the country on taxpayer dollars. Can you respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: I will respond to that with alacrity. I will note a couple of things. One, as all of the questions so far in this briefing prove, we are talking about a policy issue that needs to be acted on by Congress. The President supports, and Congress needs to act on it. Because of the efforts by the President to go out in the country to talk about this, to raise awareness about this looming deadline and the potential for payments that students have to make to go up, this has gotten a lot of attention. And Congress, hopefully, will act because of that.
So I think it is eminently obvious that the President was out talking about a policy issue. This is official business. And he did it effectively. It is also, to me, ironic that the arguments about this are coming from people who know that we assiduously follow all the rules in terms of the delineations between campaign travel and official travel, just as our predecessor did.
And I would note that the Speaker of the House, one such critic, praised a trip by President Bush to Ohio in 2004, to talk about education, as absolutely the right thing to do. So I understand that there’s an effort to politicize this, an effort to hide the fact that they have a policy problem on their hands. But our interest, the President’s interest, is ensuring that this matter be taken care of on behalf of American college students.
Yes, sir, in the red tie.
Q So just to clarify this, when Speaker Boehner says that the President is campaigning on this issue and when he says that the President should pay back the Treasury on this issue, what’s the response from the President’s team or from the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, my response is what I just gave. We follow these rules by the book. We -- just the same rules that -- although there have been some changes that have been written about that you could argue aren’t even advantageous to us, but the -- we follow the rules. And it was the same rules that were in place when President George W. Bush was in office and running for reelection in 2004, the same rules that were in place when President Clinton was running for reelection in 1996.
It is a simple fact -- as Republicans have acknowledged when there’s been a Republican President in office -- that when you are President, you are President 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You do not leave the office behind. And when you take -- when you make campaign travel, which this President has and will, you have to obviously travel on Air Force One, and you have security and communications requirements that come with the office, and staffing requirements that come with the office. You can't -- that’s an essential, elemental part of it.
But all the rules that we follow are the ones that our predecessors followed. And going back to this trip, I think as this discussion shows very clearly, the President was arguing on behalf of a policy that he believes is essential. He was calling on Congress, and will continue to call on Congress to act, to fix a problem that if not fixed will negatively affect millions of students across the country. And he’ll continue to do that as part of his job. It’s an important part of his job.
Q Following up on Ben’s question about the alleged incident with Secret Service agents in El Salvador, was the President aware that there were allegations like this before the news report this morning?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think so. I doubt it. I don’t know that any of us were aware of it until we read newspaper reports.
Q I guess my question is, if we’re learning about this from the media, this alleged incident, is it not possible that the Secret Service is not actually doing a thorough investigation of previous incidents as well?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Secret Service for questions about their investigation. We have said that when that investigation is complete, they may have things to say about questions regarding overall culture or issues with the Service, if there are any, that extend beyond this particular incident in Colombia. But certainly for the time being, we’re not going to comment on unconfirmed reports that appear in the newspaper about potential other incidents. I think the Secret Service is handling this and that’s where you should direct your questions.
Q But are they? Are they looking into other possible reports?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you should ask them what direct questions --
Q But we have. And the first statement the Secret Service gave this morning was something along the lines of unconfirmed reports, we’ll look into anything credible. Well, I guess the question is, is it up to the media to investigate what the Secret Service might have done, or is the Secret Service taking the lead on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would refer you to what the Secret Service said. I don’t have anything more for you on it.
Q All right, just one other issue. Could you comment at all on the Department of Labor rule requiring 90 hours of training for safety, for children that might be working on farms? This has offended some people in rural communities. And I’m wondering, why did the administration feel like this rule was necessary? What’s the reasoning behind it? And how much were rural communities consulted before it was issued?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, I’m not familiar with it. I’ll have to take the question. Thanks.
MR. CARNEY: Norah.
Q How is the President going to be assured that this is not a pattern of behavior by the Secret Service?
MR. CARNEY: Norah, I will answer your question as I have others, which is the Secret Service is still engaged in an investigation. The issues that may or may not emanate beyond the specifics of this case I think are ones that you should, if you have questions about it, should address to the Secret Service.
While this is an ongoing investigation, we’re not going to comment more broadly. And we’re certainly not going to comment upon rumors or speculation that appears in the media about either this incident or other potential incidents.
Q Would the President like to make sure that it’s not a pattern of behavior?
MR. CARNEY: The President made clear that he believes that those of us who work for the U.S. government, whether at the White House or in an agency of the administration, or for Congress or in the military, when we travel abroad on official trips we are representing the people of this country and we should do so by conducting ourselves in an appropriate manner.
Q When the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, was asked about it today, whether this was a pattern of behavior and what should be done, his response was hire more women. Does the President believe that’s the answer?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think this goes to a broader question about the nature of the agency, culture of the agency. I think for now, anyway, those questions are best addressed to the agency itself.
Q And then, finally, Secretary Napolitano on the Hill yesterday said that over the past two and half years, the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility has not received any such complaint of wrongdoing. Is that sufficient, having not received a complaint that there’s no wrongdoing at all?
MR. CARNEY: I would just refer you to Secretary Napolitano, obviously whose department oversees this agency.
Q Can you give us a bit of a preview tomorrow, travel to Fort Stewart, Georgia? What’s the message?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, where are we going?
Q Fort Stewart, Georgia.
MR. CARNEY: Georgia? How come you guys aren’t asking, why are we going to Georgia?
Q How many times --
MR. CARNEY: It’s a battleground, that’s why. It’s in play.
Q Trying to go to blue states? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think I mentioned yesterday on Air Force One, in response to a question about this, that the subject matter of the trip, which is an official trip, is the President and First Lady’s commitment to our veterans and military families. It will be related to that. I think we’ll have more specifics for you on the trip later today in a call that you can join.
Q Do you know if he’ll be talking about the status agreement talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I just gave you a little bit of preview of the subject matter, which seems a little different from what you just asked. But for more details, I urge you to call in. I will give you information for that call a little later.
Q Can I just follow up on that for a second?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q You mentioned the briefing he got today about OBL anniversary. Biden mentioned it today at NYU. Is he going to do anything on Tuesday --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any advanced scheduling announcements for you, for next week. I’m sure we’ll have more information about next week for you tomorrow.
Q But it sounds like he’s not going to be talking about it tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’ll have more information about tomorrow’s trip. I did, perhaps a little prematurely, show a little ankle on the subject matter yesterday. So I’m confirming what I said yesterday that it will be related to veterans and military family issues. But beyond that, we’ll have more information for you later.
Q Jay, on that same thing, is there any discomfort at the White House about politicizing the decisions and everything else that surrounded the takedown of bin Laden?
MR. CARNEY: I think -- I’m not sure what your question -- I think you need to ask a more specific question.
Q Well, in Biden’s -- it was a highlight of the Biden speech today. And I’m just wondering, to what extent is this going to become a political issue?
Q He said it was the bumper sticker for your campaign.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that foreign policy will obviously be discussed in the campaign. I would refer you to the campaign for more on the Vice President's speech, which was a campaign speech. But I think that we have, and the President has, discussed the mission that resulted in bin Laden's death and the extraordinary work of our military and intelligence services in bringing it about. And the -- in terms that I think are very sober and reflect the reality of the fact that al Qaeda was and is our number-one enemy; that al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, launched attacks against this country that took thousands of lives. And that fight continues to this day.
So it's a part of his foreign policy record, obviously. But it's also part of a very serious endeavor to keep our country safe.
Q So how do you strike a balance between all of what you just said and taking it out on --
MR. CARNEY: I think the way that we've handled it is -- represents exactly the balance you need to strike.
Q Can I just follow on him?
MR. CARNEY: I'll go to Ed.
Q Jay, an EPA official has apologized now for what he says was a poor choice of words when he said in 2010 his philosophy on oil and gas enforcement was to be like the Romans and find the first five guys and crucify them. Now, the person has apologized, as I said. Does the administration have any concerns that this tape was doctored in any way? Have you done any investigation to see whether it's accurate? There have been other cases where tapes like this have been selectively edited. I just want to be clear up front, do you challenge the accuracy of this at all?
MR. CARNEY: I have not heard suggested that there is an issue with that. I think that you noted correctly that the individual here apologized and made clear that those comments are an inaccurate way to characterize the work EPA does. And in fact, he's right -- they are entirely inaccurate as a characterization of the work that EPA does.
I would notice that just -- note that just recently there was a rule put out by EPA, affecting natural gas, that was supported by both industry and environmentalists, demonstrating the kind of approach that we take on matters like this. And I would note that since the President took office, oil and gas production has increased each year. Oil is currently at an eight-year high, and domestic natural gas production is higher than at any time in history. On federal lands and waters alone, oil production is up 13 percent since the President took office. And in 2010, for the first time in 13 years, imported oil accounted for less than 50 percent of the oil consumed in America.
So our -- the President's approach, his all-of-the-above approach to our energy needs, I think, documents and proves that those comments do not reflect his policy or the approach that the EPA has taken.
Q Republican Senator Inhofe, who has been a long-time critic of the EPA -- many, many years -- says, however, that there have been actions taken by the EPA in states like Pennsylvania, where they've accused natural gas companies of contaminating water. He and other Republicans think it's been trumped up. Does this not call into question some of those actions when you now have this tape of an official letting his hair down and saying, let's crucify them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the official's comments not only are inaccurate as a representation of -- or characterization of the way that the EPA has operated under President Obama, they are provably inaccurate by our record on these issues.
As I just mentioned, oil production is up 13 percent on federal water -- federal lands and waters. Oil is currently at an eight-year high of production here. And domestic natural gas production -- the issue that you're talking about -- is at an all-time high.
So clearly, there is not an effort of the nature that you talk about. Quite the contrary, there is a commitment to ensure that natural gas is an essential part of our energy future, and the President believes very strongly that we can exploit that resource in a safe and responsible way.
Q So last thing -- if that is your policy, and if the President's approach -- going back to the '08 campaign -- was about hope and change and setting a new tone -- of setting a new tone -- somebody saying we should crucify the industry, why is that person still working at the EPA as a political appointee of the President? Are you going to fire him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he's apologized and he's -- what he said is clearly not representative of either this President's belief in the way that we should approach these matters or in the way that he has approached these matters, either from this office here in the White House or at the EPA.
Q Jay, what was the President's reaction when he heard about the allegations out of El Salvador?
MR. CARNEY: I have not spoken to him about them. Again, you're talking about a rumor in a newspaper that, as far as I know, is not confirmed, and I would just refer you to the Secret Service.
Q It wasn’t a rumor.
MR. CARNEY: Well --
Q I mean, it was an investigation by -- there was a source and then --
Q And the Secret Service has said that --
MR. CARNEY: And reporters never -- like investigations, they never get it wrong. (Laughter.)
Q At least somebody is investigating it.
MR. CARNEY: No, fair enough. But I haven't talked to him about it. I don't have a reaction for you.
Q And going back to Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano's comments yesterday, she also said that not everybody else was doing it, and that, second, this behavior is not a part of the Secret Service way of doing business. To be fair, she also said the investigation is continuing. But is there any concern that some of those comments may have been premature?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think the President has said, and said as recently as two nights ago, that he believes very strongly that the vast majority of the men and women who work for the Secret Service conduct themselves in an entirely professional manner, and they conduct themselves that way as they carry out a responsibility that is dangerous and difficult and essential to our democracy.
This does not excuse any occasion where those standards have not been met. But the President believes, and I think Secretary Napolitano reflected this in her remarks, that the vast majority of those men and women who work for the Secret Service are absolute professionals committed to their mission, and that their work is very important.
Q Shifting topics, Jay -- Senator Marco Rubio has proposed his own DREAM Act of sorts, which the administration, I believe, feels doesn't go far enough to create a path to citizenship for some children of immigrants. Has the President reviewed this plan --
MR. CARNEY: I think that's actually not a quite accurate representation of his loose proposal, which is not in legislative form. But in terms of the path to citizenship --
Q Has the President reviewed this plan?
MR. CARNEY: Has the President --
Q -- reviewed this plan?
MR. CARNEY: Have you? I don't think it's ever been presented, to my knowledge. But the --
Q Has the President --
MR. CARNEY: Let's just -- well, let's go back to what we're talking about here. The President has repeatedly made clear that he is a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform in order to restore accountability and responsibility to a badly broken immigration system, which is something that's vitally important to building an economy that has the foundation for -- necessary so that America can compete and win in the 21st century. And that position includes his very strong support for the DREAM Act. And it's important to remember that the only reason the DREAM Act is not law right now, the only reason that immigration -- comprehensive immigration reform is not law right now is because Republicans have consistently demagogued the issue and blocked action in Congress.
Now, if Republicans are ready to recognize that we can work together on this issue, and if they want to start with the DREAM Act and give young people who have been raised as Americans a path to citizenship so they can serve in our military, put their talent to work in our schools, work in our labs and start businesses, then we should do that. And let's give them a rigorous and thorough process to get right with the law, but one that provides a pathway to citizenship. And I think this is an issue here.
That's what makes sense. And the President is ready to sign into law such a bill tomorrow. We need to do this in a bipartisan way -- that's been proven. I mean, we had a situation where, with comprehensive immigration reform, one of the major proponents of it abandoned his support for it on the Republican side.
So the President is willing to work with any member of Congress who is willing to work constructively on this issue, and he's going to continue to fight for this much needed reform.
Q Jay, General Gantz of Israel was quoted on an interview yesterday saying that he does not think Iran was going to build a nuclear bomb. What does that --
MR. CARNEY: Saying what, I'm sorry?
Q Does not believe Iran is going to build a nuclear bomb, seemingly taking a position less strident, perhaps, than Prime Minister Netanyahu's assessment of the situation. How does the White House look at this? Does that change or affect in any way how you all view that issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, it doesn't. We are firmly committed, Peter, to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is the focal point of our policy.
When the President came into office, the world was divided about this issue and about the appropriate approach to it. Because of the policy approach the President has taken, the world is now united at making -- in making clear that it is Iranian behavior that is the issue; it is Iran’s failure to demonstrate to the international community that it does not seek a nuclear weapon that is the issue.
And what the P5-plus-1 talks represent, essentially, is an avenue for Iran to change that equation by demonstrating that, in a verifiable way, that they will forsake their nuclear weapons ambitions. And if they do that, there is a path open to Iran to rejoining the international community of nations, ending their severe isolation and ending the punishing sanctions that have been imposed upon them because of their bad behavior.
Q But does the United States share General Gantz’s view that, in fact, Iran is not likely to build a nuclear bomb?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think we’ve discussed various assessments by this administration or this U.S. government on Iran’s programs and intentions. We have said that they are some time away from having the capacity to build a weapon. But we are very clear-eyed about Iranian intentions, and that is why we insist on verifiable action as opposed to promises in rhetoric.
Q Another topic, real quickly -- the Judicial Watch says it’s received documents from you all, from the administration, the government, showing that Mrs. Obama’s trip to Spain in 2010 cost the taxpayers $467,000. Do you all have any comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that. I think we addressed this issue a long time ago, but I’ll have to -- I don’t think I have a comment on it, but thanks.
Q I know you were asked about this two days ago on Air Force One -- you said you’d look into it. But when the President --
MR. CARNEY: I hope I did. Sorry. (Laughter.) I sometimes forget.
Q When the President -- or if the President was briefed on the Bo Xilai scandal that’s been going on in China?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think -- I want to make clear a couple of things about this. One is, this is obviously something that’s in the press, and I’m sure that he is aware of it through that. He gets briefed regularly on both things that aren’t in the press as well as things that are, that are matters of concern or just matters that are out there on the national security horizon.
This is an issue within China. And I think the State Department is a good place to ask questions about this. This is not a White House matter, particularly. So when you asked me, when was he briefed on it, I mean, I think he -- I don’t know that he was. I’m not in the habit of ticking off the subject items in every intelligence or presidential daily briefing he gets. But this is not an item that requires presidential action or attention.
Q I mean, this is a leadership issue in China. They’re a huge economic power. I mean --
MR. CARNEY: But -- so if you’re asking me if he’s aware of it, I’m sure he is. But beyond that --
Q Has he been briefed on it? I guess that’s --
MR. CARNEY: I just -- I don’t know. But again, this is not a policy matter for the United States or -- it is obviously a story that if you read the newspapers you’re following, but beyond that I just don’t have really a comment on it.
Q And then yesterday, Chairman Bernanke said that the Fed would not be able to I guess offset the fiscal cliff that would happen at the end of the year if the Bush tax cuts weren’t renewed and the payroll tax cut weren’t renewed. And I wonder if that complicates the President’s effort to try and make sure that those -- that the Bush tax cuts themselves aren’t extended.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that’s exactly how I understood his comments. But what I think -- I think what his assessment and the assessments of others, including the President, make clear is that we need to take concerted, bipartisan action to address our deficit and debt challenges. And we need to do it in a balanced way. We need to do it in a way that bipartisan commissions that have addressed this problem have all said is essential.
You have to look -- I mean, this is not -- there’s been enough attention and enough study of this issue of late, that I think everyone understands that it’s actually not that complicated in the broadest sense. You need to reduce nondefense discretionary spending pretty significantly, and we’ve done that. Lowest levels of nondefense discretionary spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President, before most people in this room were born, okay?
Second, you need to deal with, in a responsible way, reductions in defense spending. The President has proposed that. You need to deal with reform of entitlement programs in a way that ensures that the essential benefits and guarantees represented by Medicare and Social Security remain available to future generations of Americans, but that reform those programs so that they retain their solvency going forward. The President has proposed that.
And you need to -- as a matter of essential balance, so that you don’t have to gut everything else -- you need to increase revenues. You need to look at tax expenditures. And the President has proposed exactly that.
The one missing element in all of this has been -- in embracing that comprehensive, balanced approach -- has been Republicans, by and large, and elected Republicans. Republicans out in the country support it. Republicans who used to be elected but are retired now support it. Republican statesmen support it. But members of the House in particular, but also the Senate, don’t. And I think that is severely at odds with American public opinion and it’s severely at odds with common-sense policy. So that’s our position.
Wow. Voice of America, more foreign policy, please.
Q Thank you, always enlightening. To go back to your statement about the assessment of continuing intent by al Qaeda affiliates -- I’m asking about Yemen. We’ve seen an escalating conflict there between government troops and al Qaeda forces. And we’ve seen a lot of deaths and wounded there. The FBI director was there the other day. What should Americans think about that situation at this point? Should they think it’s improving, in terms of the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we remain very focused on supporting a peaceful transition, political transition in Yemen. And we’ll continue to stand by the Yemeni people as they take steps to realize a more secure, prosperous, and democratic future. It is obviously a very important place, and we have made that clear with regards to our national security.
Our approach to Yemen is comprehensive. And we will continue, as the transition progresses, to meet the needs of the Yemeni people by delivering humanitarian and economic aid, as well as providing security and counterterrorism support, to combat the common threat of violent extremism. As I said earlier, which I think you made reference to, al Qaeda, despite the successes that we have achieved in the fight against it, remains a threat to the United States.
And AQAP is in particular a threat, as we see it. So that’s why we have the relationship that we have with Yemen in terms of our joint efforts to fight the threat of violent extremism, and that’s why we’ll continue to do that.
Q Are the drone strikes helping --
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know I’m not going to comment on counterterrorism authorities or intelligence matters, but we do obviously cooperate.
Q Foreign policy --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Jon-Christopher.
Q According to satellite imagery being collected here in the U.S., there is unambiguous evidence that the Sudanese military are once again bombing unarmed South Sudan folks, civilians there. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I actually addressed this the other day, but -- and my answer is the same today as it was then, which is that we strongly condemn that violence, assaults on the South Sudanese, and we call on all sides to refrain from taking military action. We are working very closely with our international partners on this issue and monitoring it very closely.
Q One more?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Yes, with the camera, sure.
Q Thank you. A few days ago, the U.S. President made a statement on the Armenian Remembrance Day in which he avoided directly characterizing what has happened to Armenians in 1915 mass genocide -- although that was one of his promises during the election campaign that he would do so and he would describe what happened to Armenians -- mass genocide. So your comment on this -- why these discrepancies?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the statement. The President’s position on this is well known, and I think the statement was fairly comprehensive.
Q Can I quickly follow up?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q There was a U.S. President who actually did describe the event of 1915 mass genocide. That was Ronald Reagan who did that back in 1981, in April. He was already in this building. So I wonder if the records -- the institutional memory of this building has kept this file that --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just point you to the President’s statement and the fact that his position on this issue is well known.
All the way in the back.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Secretary of State today announced that she’ll be traveling to India next month, early next month, along with China. This was not in the trip initially. Is she carrying any message from the President on the India trip?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department on that. I don't have any information on her trip.
Thank you all, very much.
Q Thanks, Jay.
1:40 P.M. EDT