Provided by www.whitehouse.gov
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:07 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. I wanted to give you a little information before I take your questions in this off-camera gaggle.
Well, first of all, as you know, the President will be speaking in an open press event to House Democrats in Leesburg later today, so you’ll have that to look forward to.
Also today, senior administration officials will meet with businesses association groups and small business association groups here at the White House. Valerie Jarrett, Jeff Zients, Gene Sperling, and Alan Krueger will be in attendance. The larger business association meeting takes place right about now. How about that? And it includes representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Business Roundtable, the Financial Services Roundtable, and the National Retail Federation. I think we provided you a full list of participants, so I will not take up time reading them.
In the afternoon, the same senior administration officials will meet with representatives from a number of smaller business associations, including the Small Business Majority, the NFIB, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and others. The groups will discuss the President’s efforts to find a balanced approach to reduce the deficit and avoid the devastating effects of the sequester along with the discussion of the President’s approach to comprehensive immigration reform and how it fits into our broader economic agenda.
And with that, I go to your questions. Mr. AP.
Q Thanks, Jay. Senator Hagel’s confirmation vote has been postponed with Republicans saying they need more information from him. Should Senator Hagel provide Congress with more information about his past activities?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Senator Hagel has provided extensive information about his activities. I’m not sure which activities you’re referring to. I think there’s been a question about past speeches. And as you know, Senator Hagel has conducted an exhaustive search for all of his speaking engagements over the past five years, as the committee requested. He has provided all available prepared texts and transcripts from those speeches to the committee. There are some speeches that Senator Hagel gave for which there were no prepared remarks and no transcripts. A list of those speeches has also been provided to the committee.
So the broader issue here is we continue to expect the Senate to act quickly to confirm Senator Hagel. As you know, since his confirmation hearing, more senators on both sides of the aisle have announced their support for his confirmation. That includes Senators Johanns, Harkin, Gillibrand, Begich, Udall, Hagan, and Blumenthal.
We continue to urge the Senate to move quickly. This is a uniquely qualified nominee for the position of Secretary of Defense, A. And B, the position of Secretary of Defense needs to be filled. It’s a vital position at a time when we are still at war in Afghanistan with 66,000 men and women in uniform. And with all the other issues that our Defense Department has to deal with, we need that position filled.
Q But you don’t feel that his confirmation might be expedited if he provides a little more information that these people are saying --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think he has provided extensive information. If someone gives a speech within -- I know I have in my life given a speech without any prepared remarks, and prior to this elaborate setup, nobody was transcribing them. I know that he’s provided exhaustive information to this committee and will continue to do so.
Q Senator Wyden says that the President told him last night that he’s going to launch an extensive public discussion about how the government can or cannot target Americans. Can you explain what a public discussion about such a sensitive security topic would like?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that discussion has already been underway, as I’ve noted in recent days, because the President believes these are weighty matters and that the questions about how we move forward in our counterterrorism efforts are so important, and the need to build a legal structure that guides those efforts, that survives and -- in place beyond this administration.
Because of his interest in this, senior administration officials -- among them the Attorney General, John Brennan, counsel from the Defense Department and others -- have given public remarks about this issue that have been part of the very conversation, the discussion in public that the President believes needs to be had. And that will continue. So I think that’s what Senator Wyden was referring to.
Q So will he now personally be involved in that? I mean, will he be personally talking publicly about this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, on October 18th, 2012, the President told an interviewer that “One of the things that we’ve got to do” -- and I’m quoting him -- “is put a legal architecture in place and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any President is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making.” He says -- he goes on to say, “Now there are some tradeoffs. I mean, there are times when there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world and you’ve got to make a call and it’s not optimal. But when you look at our track record, what we’ve been able to do is say we ended the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’ve gone after al Qaeda and its leadership.” This was in response to a question from an interviewer.
So he has talked about this publicly. I’m sure he will talk about it publicly in the future.
Q Is the “Daily Show” a proper platform for a foreign policy discussion like that?
MR. CARNEY: When the President is asked a question, he answers it. And I think it is worth going back to the interviews that the President gave during the campaign, and I think you would note that that interview was more substantive than many others.
Q So what was the thinking behind the release of -- the decision to release the classified documents to the intelligence committees, and this being done on the eve of Brennan’s confirmation hearings? And was there some concern here that the failure to do so might jeopardize the vote for his confirmation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in answer to your second question, we believe that John Brennan with his 30 years of service to this country, 25 years at the CIA, his remarkable career in this effort to keep America and Americans safe makes him an ideal candidate to head up the CIA and that he will be confirmed.
As part of the President’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the President directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional Intelligence Committee’s access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper that we’ve been discussing these last several days.
Since taking office, the President has been committed to consulting Congress, pursuing greater transparency, and building a durable legal framework around our CT efforts -- as I just noted, he’s talked about this publicly. That’s reflected in recent speeches by the Attorney General and John Brennan and by the disclosure that the military has taken direct action against al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia.
With regards to the decision last night, the President believes that scrutiny and debate about these issues is healthy, and he has said previously that he wants Congress to be a part of our efforts to build a durable legal framework for our counterterrorism efforts. And we’d note that this is an extraordinary accommodation because of the unique subject matter at issue.
Q Do you know was this strictly coincidental that he releases it on the eve of Brennan’s --
MR. CARNEY: No, I think we -- there has been heightened interest in this -- I mean, there has always been some interest, obviously, but there has been heightened interest. I think that what you've seen in the -- because of the public disclosure of the white paper, is that that interest reached higher levels than in the past, and therefore this decision was made to make this extraordinary accommodation to provide classified Office of Legal Counsel advice.
The fact of the matter is, as I pointed to the public statements by senior administration officials, the effort to consult with Congress has been ongoing on these matters. I would point you to an interview that Chairman Rogers gave -- I think I’ve got it here -- the other day, where he spoke about the fact that the necessary members of Congress have been provided information on these matters in advance of specific actions. And that’s, again, part of the process that the President believes is important.
And then I would point to the publicly-disclosed now white paper from the Department of Justice, which was another effort provided to Congress to explain the legal reasoning -- detached from specific operations -- the legal reasoning that undergirds the matters that we're discussing.
Q Jay, did the classified information being provided to the Senate answer Senator Wyden's questions this morning about whether -- about how much evidence the President needs, whether the person targeted is given a chance to surrender, and whether or not he can order such an attack inside the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won't discuss classified information. I would point to comments that I saw from Senator Wyden that he thought this was a very good development in his view.
Q Well, he called it a step in the right direction, but will it answer his questions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would ask you to ask those questions of Senator Wyden. What I can tell you is that the information is classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of targeted attacks that was discussed in the Department of Justice white paper. We believe that it will provide information to members of Congress that they are seeking. And I would note, again, pointing to what Chairman Rogers has said, this does not represent the first time that members of Congress have been provided this kind of information.
Yes. Sorry, go ahead.
Q Jay, two questions. Do you intend -- does the administration intend, in light of this, to release publicly any form of this document -- redacted form of this document so that other interested parties can also participate in this discussion? And are you going to provide them to the Armed Services Committee and the other committees in Congress that have jurisdiction over other parts of the military that are prosecuting the war on terror?
Q This is not an open-ended process. This is a specific and unique accommodation in this circumstance. The fact is, when it comes to public disclosure, we have been -- not with the kind of attention that’s been given it this week -- but we have been publicly discussing these matters at the highest levels of government for the very reason that I’ve given, which is the President understands that these are core issues about how we conduct ourselves in war, how the President of the United States -- any President -- balances his constitutional obligation to protect America and American citizens, and his obligation to do so in a manner that is lawful under the Constitution and reflects our values.
The President takes these issues very seriously, and he believes that the conversation about this is valid and that the questions about it are legitimate. And that's why he has been leading this process internally to -- as has John Brennan, by the way -- to provide public information as much as possible, mindful of the fact that we are talking about here very sensitive matters, and that these kinds of things -- they’re classification -- information is classified for very legitimate reasons that go right to our national security interest.
But within that, there is an effort underway to provide Congress information -- those who have oversight over these matters -- classified information as well as unclassified with the white paper and the public information as much as possible.
Q But so, there are legal groups obviously that are highly interested in the sort of fundamental questions that you talked about and the debate you say the President is interested in who say that there is no way to really have those kinds of legal arguments without some form of the documents in question. So the answer is that those folks should not expect to be seeing any --
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is an extraordinary accommodation because of the unique subject matter at issue, and this is provision of classified OLC advice to members of Congress who have oversight. The fact is, if they're looking for legal rationales, there has been an effort, and that effort will continue. I’m not saying that the effort to provide information and engage in this discussion will not continue. It will. I’m just not going to address specific classified information beyond the action that was taken last night.
Q If the President wants a legal architecture, especially one that survives this administration, why doesn't he -- or is he drafting, or is someone here drafting a law?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been working with Congress on these issues, and we’ll continue to work with Congress. The broader set that includes, for example, the closure of Guantanamo Bay requires congressional action and congressional cooperation. So one of the issues here is the need for combined action with Congress to help build that legal structure.
Q So is someone here drafting a law that they would like to see --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to get into specific actions -- I called it modalities yesterday -- about how what’s -- (laughter). I mean, you guys have dictionary.com on your --
Q The cameras aren’t on, so you don't have to reuse those big words with us. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: But the microphones are on. No, but we don't have to -- I can't -- I’m not going to send everybody scurrying after somebody writing a piece of legislation. That's not what I’m talking about here. I’m just talking about the overall effort here that has, at the President’s direction, been underway to try to develop a framework that, as the President said last fall, reins in not just his authority but Presidents in the future, their authority, and that will guide those who make decisions about these issues well into the future. The people who hold positions of power now here in the executive branch, but also in Congress, won't be there forever, and there need to be -- but the conflicts that we have, sadly, won't go away in the near term and the methods of war will continue to be with us. So we need -- the President believes we need to develop a legal architecture to guide that.
Q So I'm right in thinking he would like to see a law at some point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't know what you mean by “a law.” Because there are a variety of issues that need to be addressed here, including, for example --
Q An architecture is -- it means a law.
MR. CARNEY: Well, legal architecture doesn’t mean a law necessarily; it could mean several laws, but it also means guidelines and procedures and processes when it comes to, as we've seen with closing Guantanamo Bay, that requires congressional action because this President remains committed to that, but there has obviously been strong resistance in Congress.
Q Is he going to give a speech on this?
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about possible remarks.
Q Thanks. How much concern is there in the White House about the spike in tensions in Asia -- territorial tensions? Yesterday there was an incident between a Japanese and a Chinese boat. Today there’s a Russian incursion into Japanese airspace.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have anything in reaction to those specific incidents. It’s something that we have been monitoring regularly and engaging with our allies in the region about. We've spoken about the need for peaceful resolution of these disputes in general -- and I'm not referring to any specific one. But it’s something that we're very focused on because we have an important role to play as a Pacific power and, therefore, we're very engaged in it.
Q Jay, can you confirm that President Obama has committed to do at least 14 Democratic fundraisers this year?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q And they’re split between the Senate and the House committees -- Democratic committees?
MR. CARNEY: That sounds right. I don't have the details laid out, but that sounds roughly correct.
Q How active will he be politically this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, again, I would just point you to your own numbers that you just cited, that that -- and then gauge that on your activity meter compared to past Presidents. (Laughter.) I think only you probably copyrighted the meter, so it’s -- (laughter) --
Q It’s still in development.
MR. CARNEY: You need to get a patent on a lot of your work to make sure that none of your colleagues here borrow from it.
Q This week there have been a lot of White House meetings with business leaders both on immigration and on fiscal issues. And I wonder, apart from hearing their ideas, what are you looking for from the business community? What do you want to come out of these meetings from them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we gather a lot of information, valuable information in these meetings and discussions with leaders from businesses, small and large. We discuss a range of topics. Immigration reform is something that is of great interest to business leaders. The sequester -- the potential for the sequester kicking in is of great interest and concern as we discussed the other day to business leaders in the defense industry, in particular, but others.
And then, as with all of our engagements with those outside of Washington and outside of this administration and Congress, we’re looking to listen and learn as well as encourage participation in the process of political discourse or policy discourse.
Q Are you specifically asking them to make public statements or engage the members of Congress in areas where they’re based? I mean, do you want them to become advocates?
MR. CARNEY: No, not that I’m aware of. I think this is more about -- these are leaders of industry, in some cases leaders of businesses. These are not people who need to be directed. When they are passionate about an issue they tend to make their views clear, and that is a good thing in our view, in general. But when it comes to the specific issues of the need for comprehensive immigration reform or the need to avoid the sequester and the incredibly harmful effects to our economy that would occur if the sequester kicked in, having folks in the business community express their views on that is certainly welcome.
Q What’s the President’s message to House Democrats today? And is he likely to focus on some of those same themes that we’ll be hearing in the State of the Union?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to preview the President’s State of the Union address, and I don’t need to preview the President’s remarks to the House Democrats since they’re open press, but I think that in general you can expect the President to talk about the issues that confront Congress, the issues that confront the administration.
He is particularly concerned these days, as you heard from him the other day, about the apparent willingness -- almost seeming desire -- by some Republicans to allow the sequester to kick in. For those not familiar with Washington speak, these are draconian across-the-board spending cuts both in defense and nondefense that would result, if allowed to take place, in substantial job loss and a real hit to the economy and middle-class families, seniors and others.
The President made clear the other day that he thinks we should -- first, his overall goal is to achieve a big deal with Republicans on the remaining items that he put forward in his negotiations with the Speaker. Unfortunately, the Speaker walked away from that, but that deal remains available, is on the table.
He also believes that it is imperative that we avoid the sequester, which kicks in in just a few weeks. And to do that, it is simply a matter of doing what Congress did two months ago, which is agree to a set of -- a balanced set of spending cuts -- and we're talking smaller scale, because we're just buying down the sequester for a short period of time -- but a balanced set of spending cuts and revenues that would avoid the sequester, avoid the economic harm that that would create, and give Congress time to work on a bigger deal through the budget process.
There is no reason to do this. Unfortunately, we heard I think overnight in some reporting that the Speaker has come up with a list of demands that -- of cuts that would have to be in place for him to agree to buy down the sequester. And guess what? They're terrible. They reflect, I think -- I mean, they sort of fly in the face of this whole apparent effort, which seems to be a public relations effort and not a policy effort, to change the way the Republican Party is viewed on these matters. Because asking -- if you look at the list, and there was an article about this, it's a series of measures that basically say that seniors, middle-class families, disabled kids and others will solely bear the burden of buying down the sequester while the wealthiest get held harmless.
I don’t know where Republicans have been of late, but that is not a winning approach. It is not an approach that the American people support, and it is not an approach that this President will accept.
We need balance. It is not acceptable to say, seniors, the bill is in the mail; bail us out, but those who enjoy the benefit of a loophole for their corporate jets or get subsidies for their large and profitable oil or gas company, we're not going to ask anything of you; but a senior citizen in her 70s on a fixed income who depends on Medicare, or a senior citizen at 65 -- you're going to pay the bill. That’s what apparently House Republicans are saying, and it's like, we've heard that before. And the American public said no, thank you.
So we need -- we can make tough choices but we have to do it in a way that is balanced and fair for everybody. That’s the President's approach.
Last question. Brianna.
Q So the Fellowship Foundation, which hosted the prayer breakfast today, has obviously views that are -- they're in support of anti-homosexual measures, including this Ugandan law. That’s obviously not in line with what the President thinks and he said as much, but why did he still think it was important for him to go?
MR. CARNEY: I confess that I haven't focused on this. The President, as his predecessors have, participates in this. He's not responsible for the views of every organization or person who participates. His views on these issues, as you just noted in your question, are quite clear.
Q But what is the point of going? Like, when he goes, what is he -- he obviously goes for a reason.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he speaks about the importance that faith plays in his life, that faith plays in the lives of so many millions of Americans. And that’s why he goes. But thank you.
Q Jay, one more? State of the Union?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, I've got to run.