James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Welcome back from what I hope was a fabulous weekend. And I have no announcements to make at the top. I think you probably saw, if you did not attend, the President’s announcement that he made his nomination for Secretary of the Treasury. Beyond that, I got nothing. I’m sorry, Secretary of Labor. There is a Secretary of the Treasury. Thanks. It’s still Sunday.
Q Thank you. What’s the U.S. take on this EU plan with Cyprus that would basically call on Cyprus’s government to raid the personal accounts of its citizens?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the Treasury Department. We’re obviously monitoring the situation right now. Our general proposition is that we believe it’s very important for Europe to take steps necessary, as they have been, to both grow and deal with sovereign debt issues. But as regards this particular situation, I’d refer you to Cyprus -- beyond saying that we’re monitoring it -- I mean, refer you to Treasury beyond saying that we’re monitoring it.
Q The markets, the global markets have obviously reacted negatively to this. Is there any concern, anything you would say to the American people about whether this might ricochet to the U.S. economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on markets. You might see if Treasury officials will comment on them. I would simply say that we have long said that a strong, stable Europe is in the interest of the United States, and that applies broadly to our approach to all of Europe and to all of the eurozone.
With regards to Cyprus, I would refer you to Treasury except to say that we’re monitoring the situation.
Q And then I’m wondering if the President had any reaction to Hillary Clinton’s announcement today that she publicly backs gay marriage now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that the President believes that any time a public official of stature steps forward to embrace a commitment that he shares to equality for LGBT Americans he thinks it’s a good thing. And I haven’t spoken with him about Secretary Clinton’s announcement, but I know that that’s what he feels in general when major figures in our society make their views known. And it’s testimony to how far this country and how quickly this country has traveled, as he has said.
Q Do you know if she gave the White House any heads-up that she would be making this announcement today?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware that she did. She is obviously a private citizen, and her views are in concert with the President’s, so I’m not aware that she gave any heads-up.
Reuters. Mr. Mason.
Q Thank you. Just to follow up on Cyprus -- and without commenting specifically, if you don’t want to, about what they’re looking at there -- does the U.S. -- would the White House intellectually support the idea of taxing people’s bank accounts for any reason?
MR. CARNEY: So you’re asking, without commenting on Cyprus -- (laughter.)
Q It’s my roundabout way of trying to get you to just comment on the overall theme. I mean, is there any more you can say about that particular piece?
MR. CARNEY: No, I can’t. I think that it is the wise course to defer to the Treasury Department and to note only that we are monitoring this closely, as you would imagine, but that our overall approach has been to support a strong, stable Europe because it’s in the interest not just of Europe but in the United States.
Q Will the President, when he makes further travel later this year -- G8, G20-related trips -- do any specific stops in Europe to discuss not just Cyprus but the EU crisis in general?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no specific scheduling announcements to make. Obviously, the President of the United States participates generally in meetings like the G8 and G20. And it is certainly the case that international economic issues are top of the agenda also -- often in these meetings and will be again this year.
The situation in Europe and the eurozone has been prominent in the discussions in the past several years that the President has had with his counterparts, and I imagine that will continue to be the case. But as part of a broader discussion of global economic issues, the need for all economies to take steps to grow, even as they deal with their debt challenges -- as is the approach that this President takes, as you know, which is to ensure that we implement economic policies that ensure economic growth and job creation, expansion of the middle class even as we tackle our deficit and debt challenges. That’s the sort of balanced approach he supports here.
But I can’t predict when these summits come around what will be absolutely top of the agenda, but that issue is certainly one that is frequently discussed.
Q I just one follow-up then on Tom Perez. There’s already some criticism today from Republicans that Mr. Perez was particularly political in approaching -- in his approach to the law and in aggressively seeking to allow the hiring of illegal workers. Are these concerns that you think may affect his ability to get Senate confirmation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that Tom Perez is enormously qualified for this position. His record is substantial; his resume is full. As you know, under Tom’s leadership at the Justice Department, the Civil Rights Division has settled the three largest fair lending cases ever on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending practices. The division has fought to protect the rights of every American student to achieve the quality education they will need to compete for the jobs of tomorrow. It has dramatically increased the enforcement of human trafficking laws, and stepped up its efforts to ensure our nation’s veterans do not lose their civilian job because they are serving our nation.
Prior to serving in his current role, Tom was the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which protects consumers and workers through the enforcement of a wide range of consumer rights, workplace safety, and wage and hour laws. And his record is impressive. His personal story is remarkable. You wonder if you’re one of five siblings and you’re the only one who’s not the doctor if you’re the failure in the family, but I think it’s pretty clear that he’s enormously talented and qualified for the position.
Q Thank you. I want to go at the Cyprus question again.
Q Good luck. (Laughter.)
Q Well, there have been a lot of positive signs about the trajectory of the U.S. economy. And I guess, if you can be specific as to what the administration’s concerns are that what’s happening there in Cyprus could potentially stall what is happening here in the U.S.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have said all along, through the last several years, that we need to address the issues that we can control, and we have done that repeatedly with the policy decisions that this President has made and has implemented. And that has led to a period of sustained economic growth, although not, in the President’s mind, enough economic growth, which is why we have work to do. It has led to three years of private sector job creation -- more than 6.3 million private sector jobs created, but not enough. And that’s why the President believes we need to press on with a jobs and growth agenda that ensures that even as we deal with our deficit and debt challenges, we’re continuing to grow the economy, and to do it in a way that enhances job creation, that strengthens the middle class, that protects seniors, that allows for investments in education, innovation, manufacturing, research and development that underpin our future economic development and growth.
So we take that approach in part because it helps insulate the United States as much as possible in a global economy from the impacts of various events around the world. But we do live in an international, global economy, which is why the President has engaged so regularly and consistently and aggressively with his counterparts around the world as we emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression -- a global economic crisis and financial crisis that affected nations around the world. And we continue to do that.
Now, I don’t have any specific comment on today’s news, except to say that we have long said that a stable, strong Europe is in the United States’ interest. And the President will continue to discuss with and coordinate with his counterparts to help in any way we can to help bring that about.
Q On another issue, Republicans are going through quite a bit of retooling, trying to become more inclusive, pull in a different kind of demographic. I’m wondering if -- any reaction at all from the President as there’s this big move in reacting to what happened in the 2012 elections.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll tell you a couple of things. First of all, as the President has said, he believes that a strong, two-party system is important in our democracy. It is also true, as he has noted and the Constitution requires, he will not be running again for office, so his view of this is a little different, probably, than it was a year ago or more. But I would say, again -- this is not coming from the President, but I think it’s important to note that the best way to increase support with the public for your party is to embrace policies the public supports. And embracing policies the public does not support or aggressively rejects makes it more difficult to earn the public’s support.
And when it comes, again, to matters like how we grow our economy and, as we grow our economy, how we deal with our deficit and debt challenges, as I’ve noted frequently, the public overwhelmingly supports a balanced approach to that challenge. The public does not support -- did not support last year, did not support the year before -- an effort to deal with our deficit challenges by asking seniors to bear the burden through voucherized Medicare; asking families who have to deal with disabled children or parents in nursing homes to bear the burden all so that the wealthiest can enjoy a massive tax break -- a tax cut.
The Tax Policy Center says the latest Republican budget out of the House would give a $5.7 trillion tax cut. Even in today’s numbers, that is a load of money, and somebody has got to pay for it. And there is no way to do it by any tax analysis that's credible without sticking it to the middle class if you believe you can do it in a revenue-neutral way. The middle class pays. The wealthy and well-connected benefit. That's not economic policy that makes sense for the economy. And it certainly doesn't make sense for the middle class.
Q And when can we expect the President to make his March Madness picks?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have an update for you on that, but I’m sure he will be, as so many sports fans will be, paying close attention when he can. As you know, he’s about to head off on a foreign trip. But he’ll, I’m sure, catch the news when he can.
Q He’ll have a lot of time on the plane to work his brackets. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, going back to the question about Hillary Clinton and her endorsement of gay marriage, there seems to be continued support, growing support for this. Republicans even today, as Dan mentioned, did, in fact, say they have to appeal more to gay voters. What is it going to take -- why does the President not promote now -- why does now not promote federal legislation to make gay marriage legal nationwide instead of going state by state?
Q I think the President addressed this, and I would refer you to his words, his views on this matter, his views on the decision to file a brief in the Proposition 8 case, his views about how that brief addressed the question the Court was asking, but that on the broader principle, in his view, as to whether or not a state could present a reason to discriminate against LGBT Americans that was constitutional, he could not imagine it. But again, the brief filed responded to the case at hand.
So I’m not going to get ahead of the President, but I would encourage you to look at his remarks on that matter.
Yes, Mr. Rosen, welcome.
Q Good to be back, Jay. Thank you. Two subjects, if I may. First, on the Perez nomination, this nomination comes shortly after the issuance of a report by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, which touched on Assistant Attorney General Perez’s conduct. I’m paraphrasing the report, but faithfully. (Laughter.) It states that the investigators did not find that Mr. Perez misled them but that his testimony before them did not capture the essence of the matters under investigation, and that by the common understandings of the English language, he should have known better, in essence. That’s the thrust of the report. Was this report a factor for the President in his decision to nominate Perez? Did anyone read this report before nominating him?
MR. CARNEY: You can be sure that in any nomination process, all the necessary background research is done. And I would say that the criticism in the Inspector General report, as you noted, of the Civil Rights Division -- well, as you didn’t note, but I will -- largely predated Tom Perez and even this administration. In fact, the report concluded that in the wake of the improper hiring practices that took place in the previous administration, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez restored nonpartisan, merit-based hiring to the Civil Rights Division.
The Inspector General concluded that voting rights enforcement decisions made by leadership were not due to improper racial or political considerations. After a number of past incidents of harassment of voting section career staff based on perceived political affiliation, mostly occurring between 2004 and 2007, the Inspector General reported that Mr. Perez has taken a number of steps to foster a more collegial and professional workplace. That’s from page 133 in the report.
The Inspector General report found that the Civil Rights Division handled the new Black Panther case -- I’m beating you to the punch here -- that they handled it properly. The OPR “conducted an investigation of the new Black Panther party case, and issued a report dated March 17th, 2011, which found that the attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately in the exercise of their supervisory duties.” And I could continue with the quotation.
So the President --
Q Are you reading -- you were reading?
MR. CARNEY: I am. Isn’t that amazing? (Laughter.) Yes, I’m reading from a report, James. And I think the --
Q Could you address the part of the report that I brought up then?
MR. CARNEY: Which is?
Q Which is that the investigators found that Perez did not intentionally mislead them but that by the plain understanding of the English language, he should have testified in a way that captured the essence of the matters under investigation and that he did not do so.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the operative sentence is the first part, which is Mr. Perez did not mislead, and that was the finding of the report.
Q Different subject, if I may. I checked for this in recent briefings and didn’t find that it had been addressed, at least on camera. Does the White House take a position on whether the various lawmakers who have been seeking access to the Benghazi survivors should, in fact, have that access?
MR. CARNEY: As I said on your air the other day, the White House is certainly not preventing anybody from having access to any of the survivors of the Benghazi attack. I think it’s worth noting that government employees -- in this case, some of them in highly sensitive positions -- have responsibilities that existed before and exist after an attack like that. But investigation is ongoing. Cooperation with and briefing of members of Congress continues in the investigation, as appropriate, and has been in keeping with the incredible amount of cooperation we have provided to Congress, and all of their inquiries with regard to the Benghazi matter.
So I’m not sure what else to say about this. I know that some general assertions had been made. But the fact of the matter is it’s under investigation and certainly nobody at the White House is preventing anybody from talking to anyone.
Q One last question, if I may. When I traveled with Secretary Kerry earlier this month, I had a chance to interview him overseas, and I asked him when we will hear from the Benghazi survivors. And Secretary Kerry disclosed for the first time publicly that he, in fact, had gone to Walter Reed and met with one of the survivors himself. To your knowledge, has President Obama made any effort to meet with or speak with any of the Benghazi survivors himself?
MR. CARNEY: We don’t talk specifics in terms of the President’s visits to Walter Reed. I can --
Q Or elsewhere?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that. I don’t know the answer to that question.
Q Jay, according to a recent poll taken in Israel, 10 percent of Israelis view President Obama favorably. What type of reception is he expecting? And what’s his message going to be to the people there to try to change that perception of him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President will visit Israel with a message about the enduring relationship between the United States and Israel, about the unshakeable commitment the United States has to Israel’s security -- a commitment that is measured not just in the amount of assistance, but in the strong bonds that our people share.
When it comes to this administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, I think I could point you to comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu, by Ehud Barak, and others who have offered their opinions about the fact that no previous administration has done so much for Israel’s security as this administration has. And the President will certainly talk about that.
He looks forward to speaking about the future of the relationship, especially with Israeli youth. This is, as you know, just an incredible country that has this ancient history and yet a vibrant democracy and a vibrant economy, especially an economy that is innovative and filled with entrepreneurs. And the President will certainly look to highlight that. And I can tell you he’s very much looking forward to this trip. He’s looking forward to his meetings with Israeli leaders, as well as Palestinian leaders and the King of Jordan. So I think it’s going to be a very important and worthwhile trip.
Q According to some foreign policy experts with whom we’ve spoken, they’ve said that the best that the President can hope for in this trip is to really convince the Israeli people that he stands with them, that he is on their side. Is that a fair assessment? And if not, what are his other expectations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that he, again, looks -- I think I would answer it the way I just did. He looks forward to this trip. He looks forward to engaging with Israeli leaders, as well as Israeli youth and other Israelis to talk about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, to talk about Israeli security and our commitment to Israel’s security.
The fact of the matter is when it comes to our relationship and this President’s commitment to the security of Israel, I would -- you don't have to take our word for it or his word for it. I would point you, again, to statements made by prominent Israeli leaders about the nature of that commitment, which is as firm and strong as it has ever been.
Q And one on immigration, Jay. The RNC report also called for Republicans to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. Does that, in any way, impact, move the efforts to get immigration reform passed forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know that that does. What moves it forward is what we continue to see as encouraging progress in the Senate with the so-called Group of Eight. It’s an important reminder that even as we deal with other challenges like our budget and deficit issues, that there is a broader agenda, an agenda that is shared not just by the President but others who believe we need to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. We need to move forward on measures to reduce gun violence. We need to move forward on investments infrastructure and education.
And those trains, if you will, keep moving in a positive direction. And it is worth noting that there are signs of continued progress from Gang of Eight on comprehensive immigration reform. The President, as he has said in the past, believes that's very important and will continue to encourage that progress and look forward to the development of and passage of a bipartisan bill that he hopes he will be able to sign, because that's good for the country.
Q Has he identified a specific deadline by which he would like to see legislation proposed, and if not, that he will put forward --
MR. CARNEY: We have not identified a deadline. The President has said that he sees no obstacle in moving quickly. And he has encouraged the Congress to move quickly, the Senate in particular to move quickly. And there has been steady progress. The tripwire, if you will, is more about whether or not that progress is seen to have slowed or stopped. And that has not happened. In fact, the opposite is true; it seems to be continuing. And that is viewed here by the President and the rest of us as very positive.
Q Jay, if the President's commitment to Israel is the unshakeable commitment of the U.S. to Israeli security and that's the message he wants to bring, why is he not speaking to the Knesset, as every other U.S. President recently has done?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President will be meeting with Israeli leaders and will be giving a speech that will be covered by all of the Israeli media to Israeli youth. And I think that's entirely appropriate to the idea that --
Q Why can't he do both?
MR. CARNEY: The notion that Israel's security is of concern only to members of the Knesset I think would be challenged by pretty much every Israeli over the age of five or six.
Q I didn’t say that. I said why can't he do both?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're doing a lot. The schedule is very packed, I can tell you, with meetings and events and a speech. So it's going to be, we think, a trip that will reflect the President's commitment to Israel's security and to Israel's future, as well as his commitment to --
Q Well, sure, but --
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I'm just telling you -- we chose, the President chose to --
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress. Why doesn't the President speak to the Knesset?
MR. CARNEY: We're speaking to -- the President will speak to all of the Israeli people in front of an audience of young Israelis who have it within their hands the power to shape Israel's future. And he thinks that's entirely appropriate. And he will be meeting with Israeli leaders and government officials, of course. And the President's I think message will be heard by Israelis who are both members of the Knesset and who are not.
Yes, sir. Yes, Jon.
Q As the President heads in one direction, there’s -- the other side of the world there are some very provocative actions and comments and statements being made by the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. Has the President been in contact with his allies, with his support system over there in Japan, et cetera -- in South Korea, as well as China, regarding the latest comments and the latest actions, including the rescinding of the Armistice during the 60th anniversary of that taking place?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that the President is very focused on this issue, and that his senior national security team is focused on this issue. As you know, with U.S. leadership at the United Nations Security Council, a resolution sanctioning North Korea passed unanimously with Russian and Chinese support -- a not insignificant occurrence. The fact of the matter is we remain committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And this means deterring North Korean aggression, protecting our allies, and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States. We obviously, as you know, made an announcement recently about developments in our missile defense program that reflects what we consider the increased threat from North Korea. And we continue to work with all of our allies and partners on this issue to pressure and isolate North Korea, to make clear to North Korea what its options are and how it needs to proceed in order to rejoin the community of nations. And our position is quite firm on that.
Mr. Nakamura, haven’t seen you in a while. Welcome.
Q Hey, Jay. I’ve been out. Thanks for having me back.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. (Laughter.) The door is always open.
Q Thank you. Two questions on immigration. Number one --
MR. CARNEY: As long as you have your pass.
Q Yes, the -- bright red. (Applause.) Two questions on immigration. The Gang of Eight talks in the Senate on the immigration bill, I know that there’s a general sense that the senators are potentially looking to make changes to the way the family visas are allocated, maybe to put a little less emphasis on family connections and more of an emphasis on work skills. Philosophically speaking, does the White House think that sort of a rebalancing of those priorities is necessary, is the right way to go? I think right now, two-thirds of the visas given are for family reasons, and only 14 percent for employment reasons. Republicans are saying we need to do more for the economy, this is a way to prioritize, because there is a huge backlog. Is that the right way to go?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to judge the bill or the work of the Group of Eight before it has emerged. And --
Q Just philosophically, I mean. Is that the right way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, philosophically, the President thinks both are important. I would point you to his blueprint for his views on these issues. And it is obviously important to ensure that people from abroad who are coming -- young people from abroad who are coming and getting educated here with engineering degrees and the like, who have an interest in starting businesses or contributing to the American economy here, should be welcome to do that here, and that’s the President’s view. But it is also obviously important that family relationships be honored, and I think that an approach that takes both into account is one the President would support. But I don’t want to judge an outcome here when it’s just in train, if you will, not -- it's not a completed effort.
Q One other related question, or tangentially related. The Chamber of Commerce came out last week and said that they were -- they felt that the negotiations with the AFL-CIO on immigration, as asked by the Senate and the White House to maybe come to an agreement on a guest worker program, had bogged down. The Chamber says that they’ve asked for 400,000 new visas for guest workers, brand-new visas, and that the Chamber responded -- or that the AFL-CIO responded but with maybe a much lower figure of 10,000. Forget figures for a second. Does the President -- is the President and the White House concerned about where those negotiations stand? Do they think they can still come to an agreement? And where do you all stand on a guest worker program that was not included, like, in your principles, and the President, as you know, in 2007, as a Senator, voted to sunset such a bill, or such a program?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. As we’ve said, we hope that the Senate will work on the issue of guest workers and we have noted the discussions that the Chamber and labor have had. Again, this is -- I think in general we are seeing positive progress when it comes to the overall effort towards producing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and there’s no question that there are issues and challenges that remain for those who are working it out. But I don’t want to prejudge an outcome when we’re not there yet.
Q Is the White House involved? The Chamber seemed to indicate that it was mostly the Senate making the decision -- helping negotiate that and making decisions on their bill. Is the White House involved with the Chamber and the AFL-CIO in a really active way?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any role to elucidate here for the White House in that effort. I can tell you that we believe that the Senate can address this. Our broader principles have been laid out in the President’s blueprint, and as you know, the President has prepared, if progress stalls in the Senate, to move forward with putting his own bill on the table. His hope is that progress continues.
And we believe, based on the evidence and the reporting of you and others, that that progress does continue, that there does seem to be at this stage real interest by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate on finding a negotiated solution to this big challenge that could produce bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation. And that would be a very welcome development, and we hope that's where it heads.
Q So you are not against a guest worker program? You're for --
MR. CARNEY: Right, we’ve said that we --
Q You’re for one?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re -- I don't -- I mean, what I’ve said in the past is that this is being worked on, and we hope it will be worked on in the Senate. It was not included in our blueprint, as others have noted in their questions, but we would look to the Senate and outside groups to work on this issue.
Q Okay, but just because it wasn’t in your blueprint, that doesn't mean you're against it?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q Okay. And against a program that would be permanent, not sunsetted?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't want to -- you’re talking about things that haven’t been decided. I’m not going to draw lines about what has to be in the bill. What I would point you to is our blueprint. And on this issue, I would point you to the work being done by the Senate and others on it.
Q Jay, the Republicans have come out with a plan for outreach. They’re spending $10 million for outreach, particularly for the black community. Does the Democratic Party, particularly this White House, feel that it has to vie for the black vote?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. I would say that as a principle that the President had when he was running for election is one that I think everybody who runs for office should have, which is that you have to make a case for your election with every voter. Now, I’m not -- that's sort of out my territory, but that's certainly reflecting the President’s views from the past. He himself obviously is not running again.
For questions about the counterpart to the RNC, the DNC, what their view is, I would refer you to the DNC.
Q And with current issues, particularly as it comes to Cabinet posts that are up for the new nominations or appointments, is there concern in this White House from the community? Have you been talking to the African American community about the lack of black appointments in this Cabinet for this second term so far?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t speak to others, and you could direct your questions to others in the White House who do that kind of outreach. I would only say what I’ve said in the past, April, which is that this President is committed to diversity. He believes that diversity is valuable because it enhances the decision-making process in the Cabinet, and it’s important within his senior staff for the same reason. And the President is obviously continuing to make personnel announcements, both for his Cabinet and other positions, as he did today, and that process is not finished yet.
Q So you said the process is not finished -- are you leaving the door open to say there could be an African American appointed to a Cabinet post before it’s --
MR. CARNEY: I’m simply noting that posts that will be empty have not all been filled.
Q Thanks, Jay. Vice President Biden in Italy this morning made some comments about the Mideast peace process, and he said that when the President goes to Israel, he will be delivering the message that the U.S. plans to be “very engaged” in the peace process. And I know you have said that really the focus is on the Palestinians and the Israelis sitting together and having direct one-on-one talks. Can you describe a little bit what the White House really expects its role to be going forward in the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, obviously the United States has been -- under this President and previously -- an important player in the process that has sought as its end goal peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And that is true in this administration.
The President’s view and our policy is built around the notion that on the issues that divide them, Israelis and Palestinians need to have direct, face-to-face negotiations. That doesn’t mean that we have no role -- far from it -- but it does mean that neither we nor others can negotiate those issues on behalf of the Israelis and Palestinians, and hope to reach a solution. The Israelis and Palestinians have to sit down together and have face-to-face negotiations.
And it is why we have made so clear that with regards to either side, unilateral actions that make returning to direct negotiations more difficult are, in our view, unhealthy and unproductive to the process -- unhelpful and unproductive the process. But certainly we have and will continue to be engaged in the Middle East peace process.
Q Jay, Syrian main opposition is meeting today in Istanbul, Turkey to form an interim government and select a Prime Minister. Do you have a message to them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t gotten anything specific. With regards to that meeting, I can tell you that we support the Syrian opposition. We have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition. And we continue to work with our partners to provide both humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.
We believe strongly that Syria’s future will -- has to be without President Assad; that he has blood on his hands, and he is in no way to be a part of Syria’s future, as the Syrian people have decided. And we’ve seen increasingly, albeit too slowly, signs of progress by the opposition and erosion of the regime’s position.
It is absolutely the United States’ position that, working together with our partners on this issue, we will continue to support the opposition, support the Syrian people, pressure and isolate the Assad regime to help bring about the day that Syrians can chart their own future, a more democratic and prosperous future.
Yes, sir. Voice of America.
Q Thank you. Jay, there are two messages out of Israel today. One was some remarks by Netanyahu seeming to hold out a hand to Palestinians. The other one was a remark by the Housing Minister saying that they intend to go ahead with the current pace of settlement building. I mean, is that kind of -- is that a helpful thing to have on the eve of the President’s visit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything specific on that particular announcement, except what our general position is, is that unilateral actions that make it more difficult to engage -- to resume face-to-face negotiations, direct negotiations, are not things that we view favorably. And that was true of unilateral efforts at the United Nations by the Palestinians, and it’s been true of actions by the Israelis.
It is in our view and it’s the position of the Israeli leadership that a two-state solution is the preferred goal here for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that all of us who are party to that process, but in particular the Israelis and Palestinians, ought to take steps that enhance the prospect of progress. But beyond that, I haven’t gotten any specific reaction.
Q Jay, have you heard anything about attempted hack of the Justice Department website? And do you have any comment on it?
MR. CARNEY: No, I haven’t neither heard of it and therefore I do not have comment on it.
Q One question from Colorado.
MR. CARNEY: From Colorado, sure.
Q All right. I wanted to follow up on this young woman’s question about the high unemployment out in places like Colorado, all around the country, especially in the minority communities -- exceptionally high unemployment. And when there is government workers who may be furloughed, millions of Americans unemployed, and family budgets that have been cut, how does the President justify lavish vacations and a golf trip to Florida at taxpayer expense? And does he plan to cut back on his travel?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that this President is focused every day on policies that create economic growth and help advance job creation. We have presided over the past three years over an economy that’s produced over 6.3 million private sector jobs, and we have more work to do. And this President’s number-one priority is growth and job creation. When you come to --
Q But it’s not working in the minority communities.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the fact is unemployment has come down. It has not come down nearly enough. And what we need to do is embrace policies that advance job creation, make secure the middle class, and create ladders of opportunity for those who aspire to the middle class. We certainly do not need to embrace economic policies that shift the entire burden of deficit reduction onto senior citizens, middle-class families, Medicaid recipients. The proposal coming out of the House would slash Medicaid by a third.
Q But it doesn’t affect inner-city jobs.
MR. CARNEY: It doesn’t? You don’t think it does?
MR. CARNEY: People who depend on Medicaid to help take care of their kids who are disabled. People who depend on Medicaid to take care of their parents who are in nursing homes. People who are not in the middle class but aspire to it, who depend directly on Medicaid. I think you need to examine what the Medicaid program actually does.
Q Jay, could you just respond to what Speaker Boehner said over the weekend on ABC News? He was asked if revenues are still on the table, and he said the President got his tax hikes on the 1st of January; there’s not going to be any more talk about revenues. I’m paraphrasing that, too, but also again faithfully.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. No, no, you are. I appreciate the question. And this will be -- I should go. I’ll let you guys go. But here’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen some positive comments from Republican lawmakers, especially in the Senate, about the idea that they could go along with a balanced approach to deficit reduction -- a balanced approach that the President has embraced, that Democrats in the Senate have put forward, that bipartisan commissions have suggested is the right way to go, and which the American people overwhelmingly support.
There’s been some interesting reporting about Republican views on the budget in the House and how a number of them, including Chairman Ryan and John Boehner said last year, that the people will decide in the election in the fall which course we ought to take, whether it ought to be the House Republican approach to the economy and budgets and deficits, or the President’s approach. I don't think it’s a mystery what the results of that election were.
But here’s the thing: The President believes there’s an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation when it comes to deficit reduction. It is wholly unacceptable, not just to him but to the vast majority of the American people, to say that the well-off and well-connected should not have to do any more, that only senior citizens, middle-class families, people trying to send their kids to college, people trying to take care of parents in nursing homes, they bear the burden. And you know what? In addition to bearing the burden, they're going to pay for more tax cuts for the well-off and well-connected.
Q But didn't he get his tax cuts on the 1st of January?
MR. CARNEY: The President put forward a proposal that includes revenue that was far exceeded, obviously -- or exceeded the roughly $600 billion that came with the rate increase for those making $400,000 or $450,000 a year. Now, that may affect some folks, especially in the front row, but it does not affect the vast majority of the American people who had their tax cuts extended permanently.
It is absolutely the case that the President believes what John Boehner said last December. There are ample loopholes that we could close that benefit the wealthy and well-connected. There are substantial tax provisions, special provisions for those who have lobbyists, that we can limit or eliminate, and that by doing so that we can produce revenue that helps reduce our deficit. It is an entirely conservative position that we should close the loopholes that John Boehner says we should close; we should cap the deductions that John Boehner supposedly says we should cap, although we never see specifics; and use that revenue towards deficit reduction as opposed to tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.
That's a very conservative position. Let's embrace a balanced approach that includes entitlement reform and savings from it, tax reform and savings from it -- put it together, reduce our deficit, hit or exceed that $4-trillion target, and do the right thing by not just the economy in a macro sense, but for individual middle-class families across the country. That's the President's belief.
Q Is the charm offensive over?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. (Laughter.) The President will continue to engage with members of Congress. Look, you cited John Boehner. I think others have cited Senator Corker. The fact of the matter is there are Republicans who go along with the notion supported by the vast majority of the American people, including a majority of self-identified Republicans, that we can move forward on deficit reduction in a balanced way. And that includes tough choices for Republicans as well as tough choices for Democrats.