Aboard Air Force One
En Route Las Vegas, Nevada
11:38 A.M. PDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One, as we make our way from sunny Los Angeles to sunnier Las Vegas. I understand it will be quite warm in Las Vegas.
As you know the President will be speaking today at UNLV about the absolute importance of Congress taking action to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling in just a few short weeks. Congress needs to act. There have been some positive signs that Republicans agree with the President that we need to get this done so that more than 7 million students don't have the rude surprise of seeing the rates on their loans double. But the work is not yet done and it needs to be completed.
He will go beyond that to talk about the broader array of proposals that he has put before Congress that Congress should act on, and if it were to act on them, it would have the intended positive effect on the economy on both growth and job creation that outside economists have said they would.
These include elements of the American Jobs Act, which have been sitting on the desks of leaders in Congress for many months now, since September -- elements that were not passed, that were opposed by Republicans, unfortunately, that would put many tens of thousands of teachers back to work, many tens of thousands of construction workers, teachers, first responders and others -- hundreds of thousands -- so elements of the American Jobs Act that taken together, outside economists said at the time and the same holds true today, would put more than a million people to work. Congress should take that action now.
So you will hear from the President about that in Las Vegas. With that I will take your questions.
Q Jay, I know that you put out a statement on Syria earlier today in which you talk about how the continued defiance to the Annan plan by the Syrian regime has no justification. But I guess the question for the U.S. now is what is the U.S. and the international community’s justification for continuing with the Annan plan?
MR. CARNEY: The justification for it?
Q Yes. I know the monitors is a big part of that, but the monitors now are having trouble getting where they need to go as well.
MR. CARNEY: Right. Well, there is no question, as we have acknowledged, that the Assad regime is failing to live up to its obligations under the Annan plan, and that fact and its brutal, persistent attacks on its own people -- including the outrageous targeted killings of civilians, including women and children, in Hama Province report just recently -- make clear to the entire world and to the nations of the world that the Assad regime is illegitimate and needs to go.
And that is why it is so important for all the nations of the world to come together to take action, to bring about the democratic transition in Syria that the Syrian people demand and that is essential. And it cannot take place when you have a tyrant like Assad in power who is ruthlessly murdering his own people in order to stay in power.
Q Given all that, can you still justify sticking with the Annan plan?
MR. CARNEY: What is clear is that if the Annan plan is to succeed, it will only be with the full weight of the international community's pressure placed on the regime. We are prepared to work with any country, as long as that work begins with the basic premise that Assad and his regime must give way to a new democratic Syria.
And, look, I think we've been clear about our skepticism that the Annan plan can work. It's an important step towards bringing the international community together. And there are elements of the Annan plan that have helped make the world more aware of Assad's brutality, as well as in some areas reduced some of the violence -- although the violence continues at an appalling level -- as well as helping create a sturdier foundation for a political transition when that transition continues.
But, look, as I've been saying for a number of days now, we are appalled by the violence. We think that violence should make it abundantly clear to every nation in the world that supporting the Assad regime and defending the Assad regime is a bad decision, because by doing so you align with a terrible tyrant whom history will judge poorly, to say the least.
Q Jay, on the concerns about the leaks of national security information, has the President issued any kind of directive recently calling for greater sensitivity in handling classified information on national security matters?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are not going to comment on any of the specific information that was contained in the article that brought this issue to the forefront. As a general matter, to address your question, the President feels very strongly that we much prevent leaks of classified or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations.
This administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations. Any suggestion that the White House has leaked sensitive information for political purposes has no basis in fact and has been denied by the authors themselves, as one of the authors of The New York Times story on Obama's counterterrorism record said, "The notion that the White House prompted the story or controlled our reporting and writing is absurd."
Q And what about these investigations --
MR. CARNEY: One of your colleagues. One of the authors of the story.
Q What about these investigations? Is the White House going to fully cooperate with these investigations?
MR. CARNEY: I know there was a press conference today and I just don't have enough information about it. But this President is fully committed to preventing leaks of classified information, as well as sensitive information that could jeopardize our counterterrorism efforts. And that policy and that approach is communicated widely through the White House and the administration.
Q There have been calls from Congress for an independent counsel to investigate that. Is that something the President would agree to?
MR. CARNEY: No. As I said, the President takes this very seriously. I refer you to agencies that are tasked with investigating these kinds of matter. And, again, this is something that the President insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations.
Q Jay, on the flipside of this, on the leaks issue, how does the President feel about all the attention to the fact that his -- despite his 2008 campaign promising transparency and attacking some of the practices of the Bush administration on national security, that he has surpassed all past administrations, for instance, in prosecution of people suspected of leaking information, and in general, the activities in the region of which you will not confirm --
MR. CARNEY: You're covering a lot of topics, Jackie. I would say two things. One, the President has demonstrated his commitment to transparency through the variety of steps he has taken, unprecedented in American presidential administration history, to enhance transparency.
But he is also President and Commander-in-Chief, and he will not countenance the leaking of classified information that can harm our men and women in uniform, harm Americans who work on our national security, harm counterterrorism operations. I mean, I think that you have an absolute obligation as President to take that position and I think he is committed to both propositions.
Q House Speaker Boehner has said that the House next week is going to plan to vote to extend all the Bush tax cuts for one year. I know you talked about this extensively yesterday, but now that he said that, what’s the White House’s reaction?
MR. CARNEY: You know the President’s position. It has been his position for a long time now. He would sign tomorrow a bill that permanently extended the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people, for all middle-class Americans. But Republican have opposed that. They basically held hostage those tax cuts for the vast majority of the American people because of their insistence that the wealthiest 2 percent of the American people get tax cuts that, as the President has said, they do not need and haven’t asked for.
I hope, and I know the President hopes that there will be a willingness in Congress to address the need to extend the middle-class tax cuts and to acknowledge the fact that we cannot afford to extend tax cuts that in the previous decade contributed mightily to the fiscal situation that the country is in today.
You know, I covered that campaign in 2000, and the stated reason for the massive tax cut -- the initial Bush tax cut that was later passed in 2001 was that the government had so much in surplus that it should give that money back. I think anyone in this country who cares about surpluses, cares about deficits, cares about the budget, would have to say that was a terrible decision, at least when it comes to the high-income tax cuts, because what we saw in the eight years prior to this President taking office was a situation where the very wealthiest Americans, because of these tax cuts and other aspects of our tax code and the policies of the previous administration, saw their incomes rise dramatically, saw their share of the nation’s wealth increase dramatically, while everyone else -- every hardworking American, every middle-class family out there -- saw their economic situation stagnate or decline. That's not good economic policy.
Again, a Democratic President handed over surpluses as far as the eye could see to a Republican President and a Republican Congress. Eight years later, those surpluses had vanished and we had record deficits. We also had the worst financial calamity that any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.
Q Jay, can you tell us why the President hasn’t responded to the letter that the congressional Republican leaders sent last week about their alternative ideas for offsetting the cost of keeping the Stafford loan interest rate at 3.4 percent?
MR. CARNEY: We believe -- the President believes, Secretary Duncan believes that there has been progress and we will get this done, that Congress will eventually do the right thing, including Republican leaders, and ensure that these loan rates do not double.
That letter that you mentioned was I believe sent just a couple of days, if that, after the Speaker of the House referred to this as a "phony issue." A week or two after the Speaker’s spokesman said that focusing on the doubling of student loan rates was an attempt to distract from the real issue, the economy, which I think demonstrates with great clarity the difference in perception here because obviously this President believes very strongly that education and the capacity of young Americans to go to college is very much an economic issue.
Q He was referring to the fight over the financing mechanism being the phony issue and --
MR. CARNEY: It's not a phony issue.
Q But don't the leaders deserve a response to their ideas from the President?
MR. CARNEY: We're working with Congress to get this done, and we believe it will get done, because as has consistently been the case, when the President speaks about an issue like this that affects millions of Americans, that's important to millions of Americans, and he brings that conversation to the American people around the country, it has forced Congress to act. Doing that has forced Congress to act.
And writing a letter and saying you should come back and sit around a table and talk to us -- the reason why the President is going to speak today about this issue is because, whether it was the payroll tax cut extension or other elements of the Jobs Act that Congress did eventually pass, or other measures that Congress passed in a bipartisan way earlier this year, it has only ever come about when the President has made the case to the American people, and the American people have then made it clear to their representatives and their leaders in Congress that they want action. And so that's the approach the President is taking today.
Q -- because he hasn’t responded to their letter in the affirmative, saying, thanks I love these ideas, I’m going for it -- that there’s like nothing really to say in a response and that's why he hasn’t responded?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just want to say that we believe this can be worked out and done in a way that ensures bipartisan support for a measure that would prevent these interest rates from doubling.
Q Any updates on Europe?
MR. CARNEY: Any updates on Europe? Nothing since yesterday in terms of -- I have no calls to read out at this time. We read out the calls he made yesterday. We are obviously very engaged in this, consulting with our European counterparts, our friends in Europe as they wrestle with what is obviously a difficult situation that presents a number of challenges but that requires quick action.
And we’ve noted a sense of urgency in Europe among European leaders, and we hope that urgency will lead to expedited action in the coming days and weeks, in the run-up to the G20 in Mexico.
11:55 A.M. PDT