Provided by www.whitehouse.gov
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:52 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the James S. Brady White House Briefing Room for your daily briefing. I know we have some visitors I believe from the United Arab Emirates. I want to welcome you here and thank you for being here.
I have just a couple of things I want to announce at the top, some of which you know about, others you may not. Today, as I think you know, the President is meeting with small business owners. Also today -- let me just back up --
Q Right now?
MR. CARNEY: He's meeting with -- it is not happening right now. I believe it -- at 2:30 p.m., I'm reliably informed. He'll be meeting with small business owners as part of discussing with them the importance of extending tax cuts for the middle class, for 98 percent of American taxpayers, because of the impact that raising taxes on 98 percent would have on businesses around the country. He will also discuss with them the measures that he has put forward to assist small businesses, including hiring tax credits and the like that will help the engine of our economic growth to continue to produce jobs and increase our -- grow our economy.
Also this afternoon, senior staff, including Jack Lew, Valerie Jarrett, Gene Sperling, Jeff Zients, Bruce Reed, also Secretary Geithner, will meet with leaders of Fix the Debt -- that includes Maya MacGuineas and Erskine Bowles. Tomorrow the President will have an event with middle-class Americans, again, to talk about and highlight the importance of extending tax cuts to the middle class, to 98 percent of American taxpayers and 97 percent of small businesses.
This is vital. It is something that everyone in Washington agrees must be done, and it is something that the House of Representatives could do today or tomorrow, if they so chose, because the Senate has already passed the bill that extends those tax cuts. If the House were to pass them, the President would sign it right away, and that would create certainty for 98 percent of American taxpayers -- middle-class families around the country, 97 percent of America's small businesses, and would go a long way, or a significant way, towards dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff.
Also tomorrow, the President has another meeting with business leaders, following on the one he has prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. And Friday, as I think you know, he'll be traveling to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, to visit a business, again, to talk about the need to extend these middle-class tax cuts because businesses around the country depend on America's middle class to buy their products. And as I think Alan Krueger effectively outlined yesterday, and that I think you read about in the report that he co-produced, the impact of raising taxes on the middle class would be significant to our economy.
With that, I'll take your questions. Ben.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Each encounter will be bitter-sweet from now to the end, Ben.
Q I appreciate that. Bill Plante outlasts another one of us. (Laughter.)
Q Is that a compliment? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Does everyone know that Ben is leaving? Very sad.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions on fiscal cliff first. Senator Durbin said today in a speech that progressives ought to talk about viability of Medicare and Medicaid, but that "those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff." Doesn’t that complicate the President's position here? He himself has talked about balance. He's talked about the willingness to put entitlements on the table as part of a broad package. And now he's got a leader from his own flank saying that that shouldn’t be part of the discussion.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t seen those comments from Senator Durbin. I think it is certainly the case that there are two distinct issues here that are related, which is the fiscal cliff, the deadlines essentially that we have in place that if action isn’t taken will result in significant tax hikes on the one hand and across-the-board spending cuts on the other. That's the fiscal cliff.
The other challenge is one that we've been dealing with for a long time now, which is the need to come to an agreement on a broad, balanced, and comprehensive plan to reduce our deficits and debt, and put us on a sustainable path economically, in a way that protects the middle class, protects seniors and other vulnerable Americans, and continues to invest in our economy so that it can grow and create jobs.
The President's belief is that we can address both of these in a broad deficit reduction package. But there's no question that they are in many ways distinct. That's why when we talk about an immediate action, a distinct, discreet action that Congress could take if the House of Representatives -- if Republicans in the House of Representatives would agree to it, is to pass the tax cut, extending the so-called Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people -- let's do that right now. That's obviously not as comprehensive solution, but it is a significant step towards a solution to the fiscal cliff. Let's get that done.
Everyone in Washington, I daresay the vast majority of the American people, agree with the proposition that we should extend tax cuts to 98 percent of taxpayers, and we should not hold those tax cuts hostage to an insistence that millionaires and billionaires, the top 2 percent of America's taxpayers, have to have a tax cut, too. Because, as you know, over the past dozen years or so, that segment of the American populace has done very well at a time when the middle class has been squeezed.
So I don't see a contradiction here. I see distinct challenges that are related. And the President is very committed to the proposition that we can deal with these challenges if we come together and adopt a balanced approach.
Q A quick follow on that, and then I have a last question. Every signal we've gotten from the Hill, including out there on the driveway after the last meeting with the President, and also from what you just said, is that essentially the fiscal cliff and a longer-term package on debt and tax reform are combined. They all have to -- they're all going to happen at once. So when someone like Durbin says, yes, deal with the fiscal cliff but not entitlements, doesn’t the President at some point have to win over members of his party to say, call it what you want, but we're doing this and they are on the table?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it's hard for me to specifically respond to questions about the comments that Senator Durbin made according to you. I can simply say that it is the President's position that when we're talking about a broad, balanced approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, that that includes dealing with entitlements. And the President's budget, as you know, includes $340 billion in savings from our entitlement health care program. So he has demonstrated yet again his commitment to the principle that we need to include as part of our balance approach savings from entitlements.
But in order to be balanced -- because there's never been a debate about that -- Republicans on Capitol Hill have been very focused on trying to extract savings from entitlement programs while insisting that millionaires and billionaires need not just the tax cuts that they already have but extended tax cuts -- the President has long insisted that as part of the three legs of the stool that we talked about yesterday, revenue has to be part of that. And one of the positive developments in the post-election period has been signs of acknowledgment among Republicans that revenue has to be part of this discussion. And the President welcomes that.
Q Thanks. On the question of Susan Rice, she's been meeting, as you know, with Senators on the Hill to come to some better meeting of the minds about Benghazi and her public comments on that. Leading critics have come out, including Senator Graham, and said afterwards that they're even more disturbed. They have more questions now than they did before. I'm wondering what your reaction is to that and whether this outreach effort to the Hill is amounting to anything.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say two things. First of all, Ambassador Rice has put out a statement; I would refer you to that. Secondly, I would simply say there are no unanswered questions about Ambassador Rice's appearance on Sunday shows and the talking points that she used for those appearances that were provided by the intelligence community. Those questions have been answered. The questions that remain to be answered and that the President insists are answered have to do with what happened in Benghazi, who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans including our Ambassador, and what steps we need to take to ensure that something like that does not happen again.
These are distinct issues. As the President made clear, Ambassador Rice has no responsibility for collecting, analyzing and providing intelligence. Nor does she have responsibility, as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, for diplomatic security around the globe. The focus on -- some might say obsession on -- comments made on Sunday shows seems to me, and to many, to be misplaced.
I think, again, I would refer you to Ambassador Rice's statement where she discusses the meeting she had today with Senators McCain, Graham, and Ayotte from New Hampshire with
Acting CIA Director Michael Morell to go over exactly the very questions that those senators had and the very clear facts about what information she was using -- where it came from, the fact that all of us who had to answer questions about the events in Benghazi were provided the same information. And that information was based on the best assessments of our intelligence community at the time. It also included caveats that those assessments would evolve as more information was collected.
We need to focus on -- as the President has said -- bringing to justice those who killed four Americans, taking steps to ensure that our embassies and diplomatic facilities are secure and that nothing like what happened in Benghazi happens again.
I’d like to move it around a little bit. I know yesterday I spent a great deal of time on the front row. But I will come back to the front row.
Q Can you confirm that Secretary Geithner is really leading these negotiations on the fiscal cliff? And how much leeway does he have to come up with a solution?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm that Secretary Geithner is -- as he has always been -- a leading participant in negotiations like these. He will play a leading role in discussions with Congress on this matter. And he will be working with Jack Lew, the Chief of Staff; Gene Sperling, the Director of the NEC; Ron Nabors, our congressional liaison, and others in that effort. Ultimately, the leader is the President of the United States, and this is his team. And I know that other members will be working -- other members of his team will be working on this issue.
But Secretary Geithner obviously has a very important role to play here and will be working with others to help bring about that broad agreement that the President seeks.
Q You didn't answer her question. Is he the lead of it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is the lead in the sense that --
Q -- in discussions with negotiators.
MR. CARNEY: -- in terms of discussions with Congress. But he is not alone. We would not send him out alone to the Hill. So I think we have a very strong team of people who have a great deal of knowledge and experience on this issue, and that includes Secretary Geithner, but also many others.
Q Back on the Susan Rice issue, her critics -- Senator McCain among them -- are not backing off. And they are threatening to block her nomination if the President were to choose her for Secretary of State or any other Cabinet position that would require a confirmation. And although I'm sure you're not going to be giving us a short list on who's being considered, can you give us a sense of the timeline of what the President is looking at for choosing a new secretary -- successor to Secretary Clinton? When is she expected -- will she stay on through the Inauguration? And at what point would the President be hoping to make a nomination?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any information for you on timelines or short lists or nominees -- potential or otherwise. Secretary Clinton, I think has addressed her plans in terms of how long she'll stay. So I would refer you to her comments.
As I said yesterday, the fact of the matter is that Ambassador Rice is enormously qualified for the position she holds and for the position -- for a variety of positions in the foreign policy field if the President were to decide to nominate her for another position. And I'm simply quoting the President from his press conference.
Q A while ago, you gave a comprehensive list of everything the President is doing this week, who he's meeting with, but nowhere there does it mention the President will be meeting with anyone from any of the congressional leadership. Can we expect that there will be a meeting sometime this week? And is the President holding these phone conversations behind the scenes with any of the leadership?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can't remember if you were yesterday, but I did confirm that the President spoke with the Speaker of the House as well as the Senate Majority Leader over the weekend. He will continue to have discussions with those two leaders as well as Leader Pelosi and Senator McConnell in the days and weeks coming forward. I don't have a schedule for those conversations to provide to you, but he will speak with them and meet with them as appropriate.
He has -- as we just discussed -- designated a team to engage with conference in these negotiations. And those conversations are taking place. But he will continue to both engage with congressional leaders as well as business leaders, labor leaders, civic leaders, middle-class Americans as this process continues.
One thing we talked about yesterday that I think is very important and it reflects some of his schedule this week is that it is vitally important that ordinary Americans actively engage in this debate, because the outcome of these negotiations and the hopeful product of these negotiations or the product that we hope emerges from these negotiations will profoundly affect their lives. That includes making sure that middle-class Americans don't see their taxes go up on average by $2,200 next year, which would be the result if Republicans insist on holding those tax cuts hostage to their insistence that those making more than $250,000 -- the top 2 percent of American earners -- get a tax cut that we cannot afford and which is not economically -- as economically useful as tax cuts for the middle class.
So the President will engage across the board, not just with congressional leaders but with a broad array of people from different communities who have a great stake in the outcome of these negotiations.
Q And so will the team led by Secretary Geithner will be doing the heavy lifting, and then the President steps in if things aren't going well? Or will --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the President is actively engaged in the numerous ways that I've already described in the meetings that he's already had and obviously in meetings with his team. So he is doing some heavy lifting himself and will continue to do that.
This is a team effort, however, and when it comes to discussions happening with both members of staff and members of Congress up on Capitol Hill, the President has asked Secretary Geithner and others to engage in that process.
Q You probably heard Senator Mitch McConnell yesterday criticizing the President, calling for leadership on this issue. And specifically today, he went after the President on the trip that he's taking to Pennsylvania on Friday. And he said, rather than sitting down with lawmakers of both parties and working out an agreement, he's back on the campaign trail presumably with the same old talking points that we are all quite familiar with. I just wanted to get your reaction to this criticism from --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes very strongly that the American people matter in this debate, because this debate is about them. The question of whether or not taxes go up on 98 percent of American taxpayers is very important to ordinary Americans. It is not just a matter for discussion between the President and the Senate Minority Leader or other congressional leaders. It is simply a fact that in the recently concluded campaign this topic was perhaps the most debated, the most discussed, the most analyzed for a year.
And I think the election was pretty conclusive in terms of which path a majority of the American people want to take, which is -- when it comes to dealing with our fiscal challenges and dealing with the fiscal cliff. And that is a balanced approach, one that includes not just spending cuts, not just entitlement reforms and savings, but revenue. I think the data that we’ve all seen could not be more conclusive.
So the President will continue to engage with the American people on this subject because we are all here -- those of us in the administration and those who have been elected to Congress -- to serve the American people. So to suggest that we should -- now that the election is over -- stop talking to them about these vital issues I think is bad advice.
Q One final question on Ambassador Rice. Beyond the President's feelings for her and how she conducted herself after the Benghazi attacks, what does he think about this whole back-and-forth about something that's a hypothetical nomination at this point?
MR. CARNEY: The President addressed this in his press conference I think quite well, and I can’t improve upon that.
Q I think he spoke about her and the good work that she has done.
MR. CARNEY: And I think he spoke very clearly that -- about the prospect of proposing her for a different position if he so desires. So I would refer you to his comments on that.
Q Right, but it’s not about that. Just the whole theater surrounding the back-and-forth about someone who hasn't even --
MR. CARNEY: I think he believes, as he said, that the focus on Ambassador Rice’s comments on some Sunday shows -- now, I know that Sunday shows have vaunted status in Washington -- but they have almost nothing to do, in fact, zero to do with what happened in Benghazi. And certainly Ambassador Rice, as I made clear moments ago, has no responsibility for providing intelligence -- that is the intelligence community’s responsibility. And she, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, does not, as part of her portfolio, have responsibility for diplomatic security around the world.
So, thank you for that. She is a principal on the President's foreign policy team. And it is convenient I think for a lot of people, especially from -- well, I won’t say that -- but it is convenient for some to forget the context in which Ambassador Rice appeared on those Sunday shows, which was a period in which there were threats to embassy facilities around the region and the country and the globe. And it was entirely appropriate for Ambassador Rice to appear on the air, to take questions about the President’s approach to and policy towards the unrest that was occurring as a result of -- largely as a result of the video that --
Q Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for Secretary Clinton or for Tom Donilon or --
MR. CARNEY: There are many able members --
Q I mean, this is somebody from the United Nations.
MR. CARNEY: Right, and she is one of the President’s --
Q -- a little bit of a one-off at the time.
MR. CARNEY: Can I just say, Chuck, that this is -- what is the point of the focus on this? It could have been me. It could have been Ambassador Rice. I mean, I took questions on this, too, and we all relied on information from the intelligence community, which the IC has made clear was based on initial assessments and made clear at the time with caveats that those assessments would change as more information was collected.
So, again, the focus on a Sunday show appearance is entirely misplaced, and it represents less interest I think in what happened in Benghazi than in political dynamics in Washington.
Q I wanted to follow up on both of the areas we’ve been talking about. First, since we’re on it, Ambassador Rice in the statement that she released today and to which you have referred us, she says something which marks the first time that she has said this, which is, and I quote, “In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community and the initial assessment upon which they were based were incorrect in a key respect. There was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”
And yet, references to this protest that never occurred and these demonstrations that never occurred in Benghazi were a staple of President Obama’s pronouncements about Benghazi for all the way on through September 25 at the United Nations. Why?
MR. CARNEY: James, I appreciate the question and there have been some very interesting answers to these questions of late, but I would make the point that, as Ambassador Rice makes clear in this statement, that those initial assessments were wrong in one key respect. There was no protest outside the Benghazi facility. To this day, it is the assessment of this administration and of our intelligence community and certainly the assessment of your colleagues and the press who have interviewed participants on the ground in the assault on our facilities in Benghazi that they acted at least in part in response to what they saw happening in Cairo and took advantage of that situation.
They saw what was the breach of our embassy in Cairo and decided to act in Benghazi. And as you know, the breach of our embassy in Cairo was directly in response to the video and was started as a protest outside of our embassy in Cairo. Again, what your question seems to suggest is that it is more important that I or others used talking points provided by the intelligence community than actually what happened in Benghazi.
Q No, that’s not a supposition of my question, and --
MR. CARNEY: No, but it is a supposition of many folks out there who have focused on this for what appear to be political reasons when the issue that matters is what happened to those four Americans and who was responsible and what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And nothing that occurred on a Sunday show, nothing that I said or others said based on assessments by the intelligence community relates to our need to find out who was responsible, as the President has made clear he wants to do and insists we do, and making sure that we take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Q I’m sure you would agree it’s reasonable for members of the news media and members of the public to ask questions about the public statements of their top elected officials and his aides in the aftermath of an event like this.
MR. CARNEY: No question.
Q So that’s why people are asking about it. I’m sure some have political motives, but you don’t have to impugn the motives of the questioner when we ask those questions.
My other point I wanted to raise with you on Ambassador Rice, and then I want to move to fiscal cliff, is the presence of the acting CIA Director in this meeting. Whose idea was that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure whose idea it was. The fundamental issue here, unless this is all about politics, is what information was Ambassador Rice provided, and by whom, and what was it based on when she went out on television to take questions about what happened in Benghazi, and what was happening around the region and the world. Because the talking points that she relied on and others relied on were provided by the intelligence community, I think it’s entirely appropriate that the Acting Director of the CIA participate in these meetings.
It has been repeatedly said by some of the critics on this issue on the Hill that the White House provided talking points. That has been categorically refuted not just by us, but by the intelligence community and yet it’s still periodically said on the air. And it’s just wrong. And I think it is more -- again, more evidence to the fact that people are more interested in talking points for a Sunday show of several months ago than they are in finding out what happened in Benghazi, bringing to justice who was responsible, and ensuring that we take action that prevents something like that happening again.
Q Last question, this is on the fiscal cliff. You have the President hopping on Air Force One this week and going outside the Philadelphia area to rally public support for his position on the fiscal cliff. We have Speaker Boehner announcing today that in the coming days and weeks Republican members will hold events and visit local small businesses. You were in a position just now when Dan asked about this to provide no details about any upcoming meetings with the leadership. If we look back to November 16 when the leaders were here, Minority Leader Pelosi spoke about projecting confidence to consumers and the markets in the short term by having on the President’s desk a blueprint for action by the week after Thanksgiving and potentially something for him to sign by Christmas. None of that appears to be in the cards, and as we see the President now getting on his airplane and the members drumming up going over the -- it seems like they’ve abandoned each other, and what I’m saying is it seems like these talks have effectively broken down. Am I wrong about that?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re wrong. Again, the President spoke with Speaker of the House Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid over the weekend. Our team is continuing discussions with their congressional counterparts on this matter and it is entirely appropriate, I would say, both for the President and for leaders in Congress, to have this discussion not just among themselves, but with the American people. And that’s what the President is doing. That’s why he’s meeting with business leaders -- I assume you wouldn’t -- or critics would not suggest that as a mistake -- or meeting with civic leaders or labor leaders, because everyone the President is meeting with has both I think useful ideas and a substantial stake in the outcome of these negotiations because it is vitally important that we take action to ensure that, for example, middle-class Americans don't see their taxes go up by an average of $2,200 next year.
There’s no reason for that to happen because as you know Democrats and Republicans alike believe those tax rates should not go up. So let’s act on what we agree on. Let’s demonstrate to the American people that Washington can function; that when everyone agrees on something, we can actually act on it; and then continue to debate whether or not it is the right policy to extend low tax rates for those making more than $250,000 and millionaires and billionaires who make substantially more than that.
Q So why not stay in town and just hammer it out and get a deal done? Why is everyone jumping on their airplane for photo ops outside the Beltway?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that I find disparaging when you suggest that talking to the American people about their --
Q Didn't they speak in this election? Didn't we hear from them? Didn't they --
MR. CARNEY: The conversation continues, James. I mean I think it’s very important to continue that conversation with the American people both for the President and for members of Congress, and it’s important to continue that conversation with business leaders and with small business leaders and with civic leaders and labor leaders because everybody has a stake in this; and with ordinary middle-class Americans, with whom the President will be meeting tomorrow.
So it certainly doesn't prevent and won’t prevent work continuing to be done on the various ideas that people have about how to bring about the policy that we need to ensure that we don't go off the fiscal cliff, and more broadly that we deal with our fiscal challenges.
Q But, Jay, isn’t everybody just killing time --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q -- until the deadline comes? I mean it just seems like everybody is just --
MR. CARNEY: It doesn't feel like killing time to me, Chuck.
Q Everybody is just killing time until the final week -- and the jet fumes from National Airport. (Laughter.) People get out of school, and the holidays come, and then everybody will actually sit down and hammer this out.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, here’s a fact, the President has on the table a proposal that reduces the deficit by $4 trillion; that does it -- does so in balanced way; that includes substantial cuts to discretionary nondefense spending -- over $1 trillion; that includes revenue and includes $340 billion in savings from our health care entitlement programs. That is substance. So he has not waited for people to start smelling the jet fumes at National Airport. He has actively put forward a plan that --
Q Is Geithner at Boehner’s office today?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know of Secretary Geithner’s precise whereabouts, but I can -- at this moment. He was here earlier this morning. I can tell you that members of the President’s team are continuing to work on this issue as are members of Congress’s team and the congressional leaders’ team. So it does not I think make a lot of sense to simply say, never mind, the American people and business leaders and small business leaders and civic leaders and labor -- cut them out of the process and stop the conversation with them. The President thinks that's a big mistake.
Q Wouldn’t it send a signal to the American people and to markets that -- to see the President meeting here with congressional leadership? That would be a signal that Washington can function.
MR. CARNEY: The signal that Washington can function is the result. Only inside the Beltway do people think that sitting in a room for a photo spray will solve, necessarily, problems. The work has to be done, and that work is being done. And everybody needs, as the President said, to agree to the principle that compromise will require tough choices by each side. And the President is willing to do that and has demonstrated his willingness to do that.
I would remind you that when it comes to entitlement reform savings that Republicans spent two election cycles, hundreds of millions of dollars beating the stuffing out of Democrats and the President for the $716 billion in savings that was achieved out of health care entitlements through the Affordable Care Act; savings which contribute to the fact, as the Congressional Budget Office, has made clear and independent economists have made clear that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit in the first decade and reduces it by more than $1 trillion in the second decade. So beyond the President has put forward in his budget an additional $340 billion in savings from health care programs.
So let’s then back up and say who is serious? Who has been -- who has demonstrated his willingness to make tough choices and suffer the consequences politically of doing so because they're the right things to do for the economy?
Q So you think if there had been progress since that November 16th meeting, there wouldn’t be a meeting -- another meeting this week, the following --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t said there won’t be a meeting this week. I said I don't have a scheduling update for you.
Q So there is still the possibility of a meeting this week with the President and the congressional --
MR. CARNEY: I think -- I just don't have a scheduling update for you.
Q Just to change subject to the drought in the Midwest, the governors of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and 15 senators and 62 members of the House have sent a letter to the administration calling attention to low water levels in the Mississippi River, and that's threatening $7 billion worth of commercial traffic. And they're requesting a presidential declaration of emergency to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on a project that would immediately help raise the water levels of the Mississippi. What kind of consideration is the White House giving to that request?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I’d tell you that President Obama has been committed to ensuring that his administration takes every step possible to help farmers and ranchers affected by this disaster, the drought that you referred to.
And as you know, the administration has taken a variety of actions to that end. The President has also been clear that Congress must pass a comprehensive, multi-year farm bill that no longer -- or rather that not only provides much needed disaster assistance, but gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they deserve while enacting critical reforms.
With regards to the specific request, I would refer you to the Army Corps.
Q But it’s a request for a presidential declaration.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything for you on that. I think the Army Corps is the place to go.
Q Don't you think that if anything were being done that you’d want to let us know given the fact that we’re all sitting here saying, doesn't look like anything is being done? You say work is being done, but there are no meetings scheduled. There’s nothing to signal to the public, never mind us, that there’s actual progress being made. And you still have Democrats suggesting that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we went over for a day or a week or so.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Bill, I would point to comments by members of both parties that demonstrate I think significant movement towards compromise; that, as we’ve seen and as you and others I’m sure have reported on, demonstrated change in tone at the very least by some Republicans when it comes to the issue of revenue and the need for balance in a comprehensive package. And I think that is a sign -- those are signs of progress.
Additionally, there are discussions. There is work being done. And the President is continuing to meet with stakeholders and others and will continue to have conversations with congressional leaders on this issue. It is also the case, as I said yesterday, and I cited Senator Corker on this, that we have spent a great deal of time collectively in Washington dealing with these issues. There has been an enormous amount of brain power applied to the challenges we face, numerous proposals from a variety of corners. And there is a growing consensus around the fundamental principle that a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan that continues to help the economy grow and create jobs, that protects middle-class Americans and protects seniors and other vulnerable populations would include cuts to discretionary spending -- non-defense discretionary spending, would include savings from entitlement reforms and include revenue.
That basic principle was enshrined in Simpson-Bowles. It was enshrined in Rivlin-Domenici. It was in enshrined in basically every credible bipartisan attempt at this, so --
Q All of those were ignored.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, in fact, the President’s proposals have always been modeled on that principle, and so have Senate bipartisan proposals and others. So we know what needs to be done. We’re not diving into this either here or on Capitol Hill for the first time.
The contours and parameter and even the specifics of what a balanced agreement would look like I think are known by all sides. And the President made clear that he is not wedded to every detail of his plan. He understands that compromise requires making tough choices, and he welcomes every credible, mathematically sound idea that gets us from here to there.
Q Where do you see the progress?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just cited a number of public indications of progress. And clearly there are discussions that are going on and work that's being done that hopefully will lead to a positive result for the American people.
Q There was a poll yesterday that suggests that the Republicans would be blamed if we actually went off the cliff by about -- a good majority of Americans. So that seems to encourage some Democrats at least to suggest it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we did.
MR. CARNEY: Well, but that’s not the President’s position. The President believes that we need to solve the challenges that confront us, and we need to do it in a balanced way. And the means to get there are very clear to all of us, the how we do it, the policy proposals that are on the table -- have been on the table for a long time or have been evident, at least on the shelf for a long time -- and we ought to take action to do it. Now is the time to act.
Q A number of the Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014 are from Republican-leaning states. How might that fact complicate the President’s efforts to build support to raise taxes on the wealthy?
MR. CARNEY: We just had an election -- (laughter) -- and one thing I can tell you with constitutional certainty is that the President doesn’t face another election and that he is very committed to trying to get a bipartisan agreement that is in keeping with his principles. And that means balance and that means not asking the middle class or seniors or families with disabled children to bear the brunt of deficit reduction. That’s the antithesis of balance, and that is the essence of the debate that we’ve had over the past year.
So I think the President made clear in his statements and at his press conference after the election that he is hoping that a majority, enough members of Congress of both parties put politics of the kind that you just described aside for a moment and do what’s right for the country. And he actually believes that that is good politics for everyone. And he pursue this in that spirit.
Q President Morsi yesterday appeared to have stuck by his emergency declaration after the meeting with the Egyptian judiciary. Does that deepen the concerns about what’s going on in Egypt that you spoke about yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have seen reports regarding the discussions between Egypt’s leaders, elected officials, and members of the judiciary as you mentioned, and are closely following what is obviously a still unfolding political situation. As we have done since first learning of the recent decisions, we urge an inclusive dialogue between the government of Egypt and all Egyptian stakeholders.
As I said yesterday, one of the aspirations of the Egyptian revolution was to ensure that power is not overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or any institution. The current constitutional impasse is an internal Egyptian situation that can only be resolved by the Egyptian people through peaceful, democratic dialogue and we call on all Egyptians exercising their right to freedom of expression to do so peacefully.
We continue to urge the adoption of a constitution that respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international obligations and commitments, and that is written through a consultative, inclusive process. Democracy depends on strong institutions and on the important checks and balances that provide accountability.
Q This White House and previous White Houses used to call on Mubarak to lift an emergency law, which was temporary, on the last decades. What’s the difference here? You said it was an involving situation. Do you think this is -- got more to play out? Is there not a danger to this becoming the same thing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would say is that much has changed since Mubarak was in power, as you as well as anyone in this room understands. And as I tried to express yesterday, we need to step back and look at the transformation that has been occurring in Egypt since the revolution began there. And we have raised our concerns about the decisions and declarations that were made on November 22. Secretary Clinton has spoken directly with Foreign Minister Amr. She did that yesterday to convey U.S. concerns. And Ambassador Patterson has also been in regular contact on these issues with Egyptian officials.
We believe firmly that this has to -- that this needs to be resolved internally as part of a transition to democracy and the building of institutions that create checks and balances in an Egypt that will be -- that will have, as a government, an entity that is more responsive to the will of the people in Egypt and more democratic. And where we have concerns we raise them, but we also understand that this is an internal Egyptian process.
Q Jay, procedurally and qualitatively, can you discuss how this administration views intelligence, information as it first comes to this White House?
MR. CARNEY: I need something more specific than that.
Q Okay. A four-star retired general told me in October, he said, normally, when you gather information it’s considered information at the beginning because they know the beginnings of the information is wrong. So then they try to pull together once it is assessed and all put together and sent to the White House, it is considered intelligence. So how does this administration view initial information, considered intelligence, presented to them by the CI or whoever?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m obviously not going to get too far into the weeds on the process of gathering and assessing intelligence.
Q Am I correct? Is that general correct in his assessment?
MR. CARNEY: I will say -- not that, necessarily, initial assessments are wrong, but that initial assessments are initial. And as was the case in Benghazi, I and others made clear that those initial assessments were subject to change as we gathered
-- as our intelligence community gathered more information. And we provided clarity as it became available to our picture of what had happened in Benghazi.
But it is certainly the case that initial assessments of an event like -- as what happened in Benghazi are just that and that investigation and further assessments need to be made. That's why we made clear that the answers that we were giving in the early days after the events in Benghazi were based on initial assessments and incomplete information, and that investigations were continuing and are continuing to this day.
Q And it took two weeks?
MR. CARNEY: James, I think I've answered your questions on this.
Q Wait a minute. You told Dan that the President answered some information at the press conference with reporters. There's been a lot of movement since that press conference, particularly today with Ambassador Rice on the Hill and with the CIA talking about the intelligence issue. It's countering everything that's been said. So what say you about the CIA information that they're talking about that's countering what she said and what you guys -- I mean, what's going on?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the DNI and to the CIA about the intelligence assessments that were provided not just to the administration, but to members of Congress in the immediate aftermath and in the days after the attack in Benghazi. I really think these questions have been answered.
And the focus should be on what happened in Benghazi, who is responsible for the deaths of four Americans including a U.S. ambassador, bringing those responsible to justice and taking action to ensure that we have the necessary security at our diplomatic facilities around the globe especially in dangerous areas so that something like this doesn't happen again. The focus on talking points is misplaced.
Q One more question, one more question.
MR. CARNEY: I want to give others a chance.
Q I understand, but this is important. We talked about issues of faulty intelligence back when we went to war with Iraq. Now, are we still dealing with issues of faulty intelligence?
MR. CARNEY: Again, April, I think I answered this question. It was clear in what I cited from Ambassador Rice's statement. One key element of what the intelligence community assessed at the time turned out to not be the case, that there were protests on the site outside the Benghazi facility prior to the attack.
As I made clear and others made clear -- Ambassador Rice made clear -- those initial assessments were just that. They were initial assessments and they evolved as more information was gathered.
Q I have a quick question on a fiscal issue, but I want to follow up on April for one quick question. Can you update us -- you talked about the questions that the President continues to have about the events in Benghazi. What is the updated status of when he expects to get answers to those questions?
MR. CARNEY: He looks forward to the completion of the investigation by the FBI, as soon as that investigation is complete and conclusive. He also looks forward to the assessments of the Accountability Review Board, which was put in place by Secretary Clinton at the President's direction to look at the broader issues of security around our diplomatic facilities.
I don't have a timetable for the completion of those investigations. I would refer you to the FBI or the Department of Justice on the one hand or the State Department on the other.
Q Okay, just a quick question. About this time last year, the President took his campaigning or his message about the payroll tax out to the American people. Can you describe what he learned from that experience that he may be applying to this situation? Because he came back to deal with House Republicans in a different way after doing that.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that it is extremely important to speak with the American people about these incredibly important policy decisions that are being made in Washington on behalf of the American people. There are a few things that affect American families more directly than the prospect of a $2,200 on average tax hike for 98 percent of us beginning on January 1st, if the House of Representatives refuses to extend the tax cuts from the Bush era for the 98 percent and for 97 percent of small businesses.
It's very important to engage. As we've seen in election cycles and as we've seen in between election cycles, the American people care deeply about policy decisions that are made in Washington by leaders of both parties.
And I think you've heard the President talk about some of the lessons he learned from the early part of his presidency when with the cascading crises that he was confronted with, he was making decision after decision to try to prevent a Great Depression; making decision after decision to deal with our security challenges and two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as elsewhere; and his feeling that he needs to continue to communicate with the American people about what his vision is, what his policy proposals are, what the nature of the debates is -- the nature of this debate is, in particular -- but all the policy issues that we have. So you can expect the President to continue to do that going forward, both in the waning weeks and months of his first term and throughout his second term.
Q The President is going to Pennsylvania, a blue state that he's carried the last two elections.
MR. CARNEY: This is not about politics, David.
Q But why not go to a --
MR. CARNEY: It's about a policy debate that's happening in Washington.
Q You said the conversation -- this conversation about fiscal issues has been had during the months and months of the campaign. But the President only visited seven to 10 swing states, states that he was really interested in to have this conversation. Why not go to like a deeply red state right now and make --
MR. CARNEY: Firstly, that's entirely inaccurate. He visited far more than seven to 10 states. Secondly --
Q Not for rallies.
Q Why not go and have the conversation with people who might be standing --
MR. CARNEY: -- I recall a very long, detailed and well-received economic policy speech given to many, many people in Kansas, which last I checked was not a blue state.
Q It wasn't a rally.
MR. CARNEY: Well, how do you define a rally? There was a huge audience, people cheered. (Laughter.) I call that a rally. What you will hear from the President on Friday is --
Q -- he going to go again? Does he plan to?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling updates for you. The President will travel all around the country in his second term, and looks forward to it, talking about the incredibly important challenges that we face as a country and the decisions that the elected leaders that the American people sent to Washington are making on the American people's behalf.
And he thinks that is absolutely the right thing for him to do. He believes it's important for members of Congress to do, because I think as we see in people's evaluation in Washington and in particular their assessments of Congress, I don't think there's a lot of faith that a bunch of people sitting around a table in a room are going to solve problems on behalf of the American people if those people aren't communicating; if those sitting around the table aren't also communicating and engaging with the American people to find out what they believe the right answers are.
Thanks very much, guys.
1:46 P.M. EST