Friday, January 13, 2012

White House Press Briefing Jan 12, 2012

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/12/2012

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


1:42 P.M. EST

Q Contacts?

MR. CARNEY: I’ll never tell.

Q Can you see?

MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.) Who’s that asking? (Laughter.) I was going to try to go for a run today, which is when I put in my contacts, but I had meetings scheduled instead, so here we go.

With that bit of irrelevant information, I will go straight to questions. I have no announcements to make.


Q Thank you, Jay. The administration yesterday condemned the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist unequivocally, and I’m wondering if the White House can say just as unequivocally that Israel had nothing to do with it.

MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we don’t speak for any other country, Ben. We had nothing to do with it. This has been expressed by officials at a variety of levels of the U.S. government. And we condemn the violence in Iran, but we’re not going to -- you should not take from this anything except that we’re not speaking for any other country when we make statements like that.

Q But the condemnation -- I’m correct in saying the condemnation from the White House extends to anybody behind it, any party, any country?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the condemnation is pretty clear. It is condemnation in and of itself of the act of violence in Iran. But again, our statement about -- in response to accusations that there was American involvement is categorical.

Q Okay. So you can’t say either way whether --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I won’t speak for any other country.

Q Did the President address the incident in his conversation with the Prime Minister?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we provided a readout to you -- has that gone out? Yes -- of the President’s call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Part of their regular communications on bilateral and regional issues.

The subjects were many, including the Middle East peace process, developments in the region, including in Iran. But I won’t get more specific than that.

(Cell phone rings.)

Q Sorry.

MR. CARNEY: I was going to welcome Jake back. (Laughter.)

Q What song is that?

Q That’s Snoop Dogg, yes.

MR. CARNEY: Fantastic.

Q Sorry, out of practice of putting it on silent.

MR. CARNEY: Actually, I kind of liked it. But yes.

Q Sorry, but I wanted to ask you about the video -- allegedly of Marines desecrating the bodies of the Taliban fighters. Can you tell us whether the President has seen that video and whether there’s a concern in the White House that this incident will give the military a black eye?

MR. CARNEY: Well, you’ve heard the I think quite strong statements or seen the strong statements from Secretary Panetta. We find this -- we’ve seen the video and what it depicts is -- or what it apparently depicts is deplorable, reprehensible and unacceptable. The alleged action is obviously under investigation. And as you know, Secretary Panetta spoke with President Karzai about it. But I don’t know whether or not the President has actually seen the video. He is certainly aware of it and shares in the sentiment expressed by Secretary Panetta.

MR. CARNEY: Jake, welcome back.

Q Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Do you have a question for me?

Q I do. I’d love to ask about the talks with the Taliban. I understand it’s probably restricted what you can talk about. But apparently the administration later last evening became a little bit more willing to talk about what’s going on. I thought in light of that you could maybe share what is the goal here. How do talks with the Taliban jive with the continuing military effort against the Taliban? And what would the overall message be to soldiers who, or families of soldiers, who -- I understand that you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends. But what would the message be about that such reconciliation?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think those are all very good questions. As you know, the administration’s position has been for a long time that we would support and participate in Afghan-led reconciliation initiatives as one key part of our overall strategy. As you say, you have to have a political solution at some point. And a political settlement is essential here. But it coexists with our military campaign. It is in fact our military campaign that has set the conditions for initial reconciliation discussions that we hope will begin taking place.

But to be clear, we will continue to energetically prosecute the military campaign as we pursue this political effort. And our role in this is to build confidence-building measures, to bring about a set of confidence-building measures that would allow both Afghan parties, the government and the Taliban, to demonstrate their seriousness in pursuing the process and eventually begin negotiating.

But the reconciliation process has to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We are helping facilitate that, but we are supporting an Afghan-led process.

Q And the message to the families or the troops that have served there?

MR. CARNEY: The service that our men and women in uniform as well as our civilians have provided in Afghanistan has been exemplary and the sacrifice has been enormous. And the whole point of the President’s strategy is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda, al Qaeda being the reason why we sent forces to Afghanistan in the first place and to create breathing room, if you will, space for the Afghan government to be able to build up Afghan forces so that Afghan forces can take the security lead, which as enunciated in Lisbon will happen by the end of 2014, and ultimately, for that country to succeed in the process of reconciliation that allows for peace in that very troubled land.

But reconciliation, as you know, is contingent upon some very important criteria, including laying down arms, renouncing al Qaeda, abiding by the Afghan constitution, including its provisions for minority rights and women’s rights. So this is not -- it is not without conditions that this reconciliation process would take place.

Q And lastly -- I’m sorry -- but the U.S. possible confidence -- the role that the U.S. might play in confidence-building measures may be the release of five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. I know that no decision has been made, but it’s certainly a possibility. What can you tell the American people about these five Taliban and why the U.S. feels it’s okay -- hypothetically, because it is being discussed -- why it might be acceptable to release them to the Afghan government or to release them to the Taliban?

MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of points. One, as you point out, we have not decided to transfer any Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay. Two, we’re not in a position to discuss ongoing deliberations or individual detainees. But our goal of closing Guantanamo is well established and widely understood. In general, any decision to transfer a detainee from Guantanamo would be undertaken in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with Congress.

The process of transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay has been ongoing -- this is broadly and not specific to your question -- but has been ongoing for a long time and obviously predates this administration. And each transfer is done, again, undertaken in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with the Congress.

Q Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Let me go up and back here. Cheryl.

Q Jay, this morning the U.S. Chamber had a big event where leaders spoke about their policy positions, calling on the administration to pass Keystone as quickly as possible to create as many jobs as possible. Where is the President on that?

MR. CARNEY: Well, it is a State Department-led process, as you know, Cheryl. The fact of the matter is, as you know, the provision that extended the payroll tax cut put this artificial 60-day deadline, if you will, on the decision-making process, and State Department -- the State Department has been very clear that that does not allow for the kinds of reviews that are necessary.

To underscore that point, I think it’s important to note that not only has no route been identified by the company, but the state of Nebraska, which will now do their own assessment of whatever the proposed alternate route is, has made clear in recent reports that their own environmental assessment would take six to nine months.

And the point I’m trying to make here is that there is a reason why this process has within it the duration required to properly review all the different aspects of a project like this and to weigh all the important criteria. And to try to circumvent that process is, as we said at the time, counterproductive, we believe, to even the goals stated by those who insisted on trying to do that.

Having said that, I have no new information and I’d refer you to the State Department about that process.


Q As you may know, Mitt Romney said to CBS in an interview yesterday that the attacks on Bain Capital and his business are a lot like -- are unfair given what the President has done in his effort to save General Motors and Chrysler. He said, “In the general election, I’ll be pointing out that the President took the reins at General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers as he tried to save the business.” Does the White House agree that in the case of the auto industry, it was necessary for some people to lose their jobs in order to save these businesses?

MR. CARNEY: The fact of the matter is, Jessica, as you know, is that the automobile industry in this country was heading over a cliff and would likely not have survived were it not for -- certainly not at its size and competitiveness -- were it not for the decision this President made, a decision which I believe certainly the candidate you’re referring to, but I believe all the candidates, for the Republican nomination, opposed.

So, I mean, I’d be delighted to recite to you, as I did the other day, the very impressive statistics about the revival of the American automobile industry, including the two major companies that this President acted to save, and in doing so insisted on the kinds of changes in those companies that would lead them to be more competitive and to have the kind of success that they’ve been having of late.

And I think the discussions you’re talking about are going on within the Republican primary process, which I’m not going to wade into from here.

Q Does the White House agree that it was necessary for some people to lose jobs in order to save the industry?

MR. CARNEY: I think what our action was designed to do and did do was prevent the elimination of up to a million jobs in the automobile industry and create a situation where that industry is now creating jobs again. So I think that’s an important story to tell.

Q And is that similar to what Mitt Romney did at Bain Capital?

MR. CARNEY: You know, I just -- I don’t have a comparative to give to you on that. I know that Governor Romney and all of the candidates for -- as far as I know, pretty sure of this -- all the candidates for the Republican nomination opposed the President’s decision to do what he did to save the automobile industry in this country, and that is certainly something that the President expects to debate when the time comes in the general election.

Q Finally, in his speech the other night, Mitt Romney accused the President of playing the “politics of envy.” Do you have any response to that or want to address it in any way?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what that means. This President is focused on providing opportunity and security to the middle class, a middle class that has been under great stress for years now, that saw its incomes stagnate or decline in the previous 10 years, even as those at the highest income levels saw their incomes grow substantially and their share of wealth in this country grow substantially.

And he is eager for everyone to succeed, and he wants to help build an economy that rewards hard work, rewards responsibility, that holds people accountable, and that insists that folks on -- in all the different parts of our economy and on all levels of the economic ladder play by the same rules. That’s why Wall Street reform was so important. That’s why appointing and installing Richard Cordray as our consumer watchdog was so important, because Wall Street needs to play by the same rules as Main Street. And then the opportunity for everyone to succeed becomes far greater, and that’s his approach.


Q Jay, I want to go back a week or so ago to the Defense Authorization Act. When the President signed it he issued a very strong statement saying he would never carry out the provisions that would allow him to -- allow any President to detain an American indefinitely without a trial. My question is, does the President intend to challenge that in any way and try to get that off the books, or leave that for some future President to exercise?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I would refer you to statements I made and others made about that at the time, when the President signed the bill into law. And our concerns about that provision within the defense authorization bill were well known as it was being developed in our consultations with the authors.

Some of those concerns were addressed, and addressed to the point where the President felt he could sign the bill because of its importance overall. And then, as you state, our approach to this has been further clarified and illuminated, but I don’t think I can improve upon what was said in the signing statement or --

Q But it does mean that the power will continue, the potential for that will continue for whoever the next President is.

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President, as you know, is focused on making sure that the law is implemented in a way that maintains the flexibility that our forces need to do their jobs and protect this country and protect American citizens -- and he’s committed to that.

I don’t have anything to say about future actions we might take legislatively or otherwise. I would just to point you to what he has said and I have said and what others have said about implementation of this law.


Q Hi, Jay. This is the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. What tangible results has this administration seen since giving funding for that country that’s still devastated?

MR. CARNEY: It is, as you note, the two-year anniversary, and the earthquake and the damage that was done was indeed devastating. What I can tell you is that there are signs of progress and promise in Haiti.

The significant portion of the rubble has been cleared. A large portion or majority of the folks who were living in tents and similar-type housing have been located into better places.

And I think -- I can give you more detail about the actions that this administration took, that this President took immediately, including establishing the -- I believe it was the Clinton-Bush Fund in reaction to Haiti. And we remain committed to Haiti and to its recovery from that terrible earthquake.

Q Since you say this administration remains committed, before the earthquake Haiti was considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And many people have had guesstimates saying that it would take more than a decade, decades even, to make it -- just to come back to where it was. Where is the guesstimate now? I mean, those guesstimates were right outside of the earthquake. What are the guesstimates now? How long does this --

MR. CARNEY: That’s an excellent question and I simply don’t have an answer. I can research it for you, or perhaps State might have -- the State Department might have more details. But the -- I mean, that country’s very difficult history obviously predates the terrible earthquake, and the earthquake did that country no favors. And the hardship there is well known and extraordinary. And we’ve been working very hard to assist Haitians in this very difficult time over the last two years. And again, progress has been made but circumstances there remain very challenging.


Q Jay, in your comments on the Marine video, did you intend to suggest that it may not be what it appears to be?

MR. CARNEY: As a legal matter, I don’t pass pronouncements. I think that the activity is alleged and what’s seen in the video is apparent. But I’m not going to from here go beyond that. It’s certainly -- what is apparently occurring in that video is deplorable and does not live up to the very high standards set for the United States Marines or broadly the United States military.

Q But you don’t have any suggestion that it’s not genuine?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not saying that. I’m simply saying it’s a matter under investigation and I’m not going to pass judgment, a legal judgment from here except to say that the apparent activity -- the activity that’s apparent in that video is truly regrettable and deplorable.

Q And on Cheryl’s question about Keystone, are you saying the President might be moving toward a statement where he blocks Keystone under the law, which he has to do by February 21st?

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the process for Keystone, as I’ve said on so many occasions from here, is conducted at the State Department on behalf of the federal government. And the State Department has been clear about the time necessary to assess any alternate route. That route hasn’t even been identified yet, as I said.

But the company and the state of Nebraska has said it needs six to nine months for the environmental assessment to be done after that route is identified. So I cite those facts because it goes straight to the point about the very political and arbitrary action taken by some folks in Congress, by Republicans in Congress, to try to play political games with the payroll tax cut. We said it was a bad idea at the time. It’s a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, including the ones I just laid out. But I don’t have any announcement to make about action that the State Department might take or the President might take.

Q But he’ll take action by the deadline in the bill that he signed?

MR. CARNEY: He signed a bill into law, so I would refer you to the State Department about how that will be taken under consideration.

Yes, Matt.

Q To keep you rolling on Keystone, some Republicans in Congress are working on a plan for legislation they say would force the issuing of a permit for Keystone, effectively bypassing the President or overruling the President if he fails to take action by February 21st. Does the administration see this is as a legitimate course of action?

MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s several layers of speculation about legislation that may or may not be written, that may or may not be submitted, that may or may not be voted on. I’m going to deal with the facts as we know them, which is that this is a process that long predates this administration that has a review like this conducted out of the State Department.

The timeframe for something like this is well established based on the kinds of procedures that need to be considered, the criteria that need to be weighed in a decision-making process like this. The decision to seek an alternate route necessitated a delay of the decision-making process so that route could be identified and then assessed. And the State Department is overseeing that process now.


Q Jay, two subjects -- one, on the insourcing event yesterday, the President was obviously very critical of outsourcing. Why then does he have Jeff Immelt of GE, who has been accused of a lot of outsourcing, as the head of his Jobs Council?

MR. CARNEY: The President had that event yesterday because there is a mighty important trend underway globally that greatly affects the American economy and American workers. And it is a very welcome trend and it is one that this President believes we need to enhance to ensure that the trend continues, which is American businesses making judgments about where to best invest and to hire workers are increasingly deciding that that place is here in the United States of America -- not abroad, not in China. The statistics are pretty overwhelming and very impressive.

And your viewers, everyone here has -- the audiences that you reach have been reading and seeing and hearing reports about outsourcing of American jobs for a very long time. And that’s because that process did happen and has happened. And it’s a very important reversal of that trend that’s underway here. And that’s why the President had the event that he had.

Now, we have global companies that are American. We have companies that do business around the world, and that’s a good thing, too. Now we want to focus attention on and increase the likelihood that American businesses will choose to invest here, but we also want our businesses to compete globally. So they do not cancel each other out.

Q On the Taliban, what did the Vice President mean a few weeks ago when he told Newsweek that the Taliban per se is not our enemy? Was that a way to try to get the Taliban to the table by saying you’re no longer the enemy?

MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question, which I remember answering at the time very clearly, which is the United States of America did not send military forces under George W. Bush to Afghanistan because the Taliban was in power. The Taliban had been in power. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan because attacks were launched against the United States by al Qaeda, located in Afghanistan, and that’s why we went in. His point is that there is not -- our number-one objective, as I just stated, in the President’s Afghanistan policy is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. I think the President’s focus on that goal has been clear to the American people now for quite some time both in the approach he’s taken in Afghanistan specifically and in the approach he’s taken in terms of taking the fight to al Qaeda, most memorably by the decision he made to remove Osama bin Laden from the battlefield.

What remains true, as I was saying earlier in answer to Jake’s questions, is that peace in Afghanistan will come through reconciliation. There has to be a political settlement. That has been the policy for a long time. Reconciliation of the Taliban is conditional and it would require any Taliban soldier or official to renounce the use of violence, promise allegiance to the Afghan constitution, disavow al Qaeda. But there needs to be a political settlement for all the reasons that I’ve said.

In the meantime, our military action -- the heroics of our military forces -- have helped create the conditions that allow for the possibility of negotiations to begin and we will not let up in that effort. So I think that is a fuller explanation of what the Vice President was talking about.

Welcome back. Everybody is back now. Did something happen? Is there a lull in the action or something?

Q I’m going to follow up on Iran. What is the stated U.S. policy when it comes to Iran’s attempt to gain this nuclear technology?

MR. CARNEY: The administration is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q So it’s fair to say that covert action would be on the table?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to discuss those kinds of things from here. But we have a policy that’s focused on working with our international partners collectively and then, obviously, unilaterally to put pressure on Iran to abide by its international obligations, to come clean about its nuclear ambitions. We have provided numerous opportunities for the Iranian government to act on the international community’s invitation to get right by their obligations. And we will continue to take action to add pressure, increase their isolation until they make the right call.

Q But you can say definitively that it wouldn’t be the policy of the United States to covertly assassinate people?

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I -

Q Or be involved in some sort of attempt like that.

MR. CARNEY: What we’ve said is that we deplore the violence, deplore the action --

Q This violence? Or the violence of all of the assassinations --

MR. CARNEY: Well, it is -- it’s a matter of U.S. policy in terms of the kind of action that you talk about, so I’m not about to revise that from here. This comes up in relation to a specific incident that we have made clear that we had nothing to do with. We’ve rejected those accusations. We are engaged in an effort to try to pressure Iran to live up to its obligations, to give up its nuclear ambitions -- nuclear weapons ambitions. And we will continue to engage in that effort.

Q How concerned are you about retaliation? Is the U.S. government concerned about retaliation?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve been categorical and clear about the fact that we were not involved in the death of this individual. Our concern about Iranian behavior is ever present. And we are very vigilant and mindful of various threats that can be -- that are made, whether they involve the Straits of Hormuz or other areas or issues. So -- but I don’t have a specific level of concern to convey to you.

Q If Iran decides to retaliate on Israel in a military way, U.S. response would be what?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we are absolutely committed to Israel’s security, as we made clear again today in our readout of the President’s phone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But I’m not going to speculate about what we might do if some action were taken by another country.

Q Was there any concern, by the way, of making that readout public, because it might feed the conspiracy theorists in Iran?

MR. CARNEY: Look, I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that we have an important and ongoing relationship with Israel. We have many important issues to discuss with the Israeli government. The President has many important matters to raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu and vice versa. So that’s -- those conversations are regular and ongoing.

Q And just one final question. Any reason why you kept cameras away from the President visiting his campaign reelection headquarters?

MR. CARNEY: It was an OTR. I think it was a brief -- a brief drop-by.

Q You guys love when we cover OTRs at delis, at barbeque restaurants.

MR. CARNEY: I think this was --

Q Campaign reelection headquarters, that’s not --

MR. CARNEY: -- on the fly and brief. The President was very gratified to have the opportunity. I think it underscores the point I’ve been trying to make from here in answer to questions about the President’s reelection campaign, which is that he is here in Washington focused on doing his job as President. He is --

Q So you weren’t concerned that pictures of this would make it look otherwise?

MR. CARNEY: Well, no. I mean, look, he obviously had campaign events last night in Chicago that you all covered. I mean, we’re not hiding the fact that he is engaged in some campaign activities. But as a --

Q A little bit. You try to minimize it.

MR. CARNEY: Mark, I try and tell you -- give you the facts, which is, the fact is, the President’s reelection campaign isn’t across the river in Rosslyn, isn’t in Washington. It’s in Chicago, halfway across the country. And that reflects the President --

Q And Chuck’s point is that if he makes a rare visit to his campaign headquarters --

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we can debate campaign access. We made clear that he went there. We made clear that he -- you guys come into his -- pools come into his -- when he speaks at these campaign events and will continue to do so.

We release, the campaign releases information about its campaign goals. And we’re not -- we’re obviously -- there is a robust effort underway, based in Chicago, to ensure that this President is reelected so that he can continue to take action to help the American economy grow, to help it create jobs, to protect the middle class and protect the country as a matter of national security. So we’re not at all shy about that.

Q Can I follow up on Chuck’s question?

MR. CARNEY: Let me move around. Julia.

Q Yes, thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: Up and back, as I do a lot. Yes.

Q I saw the Department of Justice memo that they okayed the appointment during recess of Richard Cordray, but the date was January 6th, it looks like it came to the White House. Cordray was appointed on the 4th, so then does that mean that the decision was made without the approval of the Department of Justice?

MR. CARNEY: No. The fact is the opinion was rendered verbally prior to the date of the opinion itself. The opinion was based on the advice provided by OLC, and it is very standard for -- especially a long -- as you’ve seen in the lengthy opinion that was put out, for those things to be developed over a period of time. And this is -- the timeframe for this is very similar to, in my understanding, to previous occasion.

So the decision was -- the opinion was rendered before the --

Q Verbally.

MR. CARNEY: -- decision made by the President.

Q Okay.

MR. CARNEY: That’s my understanding.

Yes, ma’am.

Q Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I wasn’t talking to Roger. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you. A couple of questions. Apparently there’s military exercises underway between Israel and the United States. Do you have any details? Is that part of a warning to Iran?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.

Q All right. And what’s the situation with the American who’s under arrest and accused of spying in Iran? Anything new on his --

MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve spoken to this a few times earlier this week with regard to the absolutely invalid accusations and sentence levied against him. So it’s -- we call on him to be released immediately.

Q Finally, on talks with the Taliban, are you pressing the Taliban to change their attitude toward women?

MR. CARNEY: I think, Connie, I’ve made clear today and on many occasions that reconciliation is contingent upon members of the Taliban laying down their arms, renouncing allegiance to al Qaeda, and abiding by the Afghan constitution, which includes provisions protecting the rights of women.

Q Jay, can I follow up on that?

MR. CARNEY: Let me get to Roger, then you, John. Yes.

Q Thank you. I was wondering if you had an update on when the debt ceiling request is going to the Hill.

MR. CARNEY: Days, not weeks. (Laughter.) That was true a couple of days ago, and it remains true. I don’t have anything more specific for you.

Q It’s imminent?

MR. CARNEY: Well, in that it’s not weeks, it’s imminent. But when we have something more specific we’ll give it to you.


Q Thanks. There are a number of Asian leaders who are going to be visiting the Gulf region -- Saudi Arabia, China’s Premier going there, and South Korean Prime Minister going as well to the region. Is the President satisfied with the progress that Geithner has made in terms of trying to get the oil issue resolved in Beijing? I mean, there’s been some progress with Japan apparently, but what about the Chinese position at this point?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been pleased with the progress that has been made. You noted Japan; I think it’s also worth noting Europe. And we are continuing to have discussions with other partners and allies around the world about the need to continue to put pressure on Iran so that it ceases its -- to behave outside of its international obligations. That process is ongoing.

Q Will he be meeting with Geithner?

MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?

Q Will he be meeting with Geithner? How soon will they talk about what was accomplished on that --

MR. CARNEY: “He,” being the President? I’m not sure when Tim returns, but Secretary Geithner is in these hallways quite frequently and sees the President quite often. But I don’t have a specific meeting to announce.

Q Jay.

MR. CARNEY: Yes, sir.

Q Regarding the reconciliation process. Has this administration been in contact or discussions with its allies, including Great Britain, regarding this process?

MR. CARNEY: I am sure that we are in consultation with all the ISAF countries and with all our allies on this matter. I don’t have anything specific to impart to you about that, but you can be sure, since this effort is an international effort, that we are consulting with and engaging with our allies.

Q Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: Kristen, I didn’t see you back there. How are you?

Q Good, thanks. Jay, can you confirm that the President plans to reprise his deficit reduction plans, which he first mapped out in September as a part of his 2013 budget proposal?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s budget proposal, nor do I want to get ahead of the President’s State of the Union address, but it is certainly fair to say that the approach the President laid out in September, a balanced approach to comprehensive deficit reduction, reflects how he believes we need to move going forward. So I don’t -- without getting into specifics about the budget, that approach is the one he still believes needs to be taken, and he would very happily endorse a decision by Congress to take up that approach.

The process that was put in place by the Budget Control Act that created the super committee that created the sequestration remains in place, minus the super committee. In other words, the sequester is designed not to happen. It is designed to be a forcing mechanism to force Congress to take action.

And it is simply incontrovertible that the only viable approach to comprehensive deficit reduction, viable both economically and certainly politically, is a balanced approach. That’s the approach that has been endorsed by bipartisan commissions. It’s the approach that at least some Republicans have said they support, and it’s certainly the approach that this President and the overwhelming majority of the American people support.

So we would greatly endorse a decision by congressional leaders, in particular Republicans, to take this approach.

Q But why consider reprising a plan that’s already been rejected?

MR. CARNEY: Well, no, that’s not how this works, though. I mean, you put forward -- first of all, I’m not getting into the specifics about what’s going to be in the budget. But that’s -- there is no other alternative here than a balanced approach to bipartisan deficit reduction.

Obviously, the specifics of how that were to work if Congress, in its wisdom, were to take it up and Republican leaders were to allow it to proceed, then the details would be negotiated.

But balance is essential so that no sector of American society has to bear the burden by itself, or unduly, of reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order for the long term. So that’s the approach that has to be taken. Hopefully it will be taken.

Q And Jay, going back to the insourcing event quickly, the President announced that he plans to put forward new tax proposals to reward companies that choose to invest or bring back jobs to the United States. Can you talk a little bit about what those proposals might look like, and will they be a part of the budget?

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of anything we might be announcing in the future. I think that what the President was expressing is his overall goal and intention of doing what he can to make sure this trend continues and to strengthen it, to bring -- to make it even more worthwhile for companies to invest in the United States and to hire here in the United States and build our economy and build jobs.

Because there are some fascinating facts about what’s happening out there and the assessments that are being made by companies about not just the labor cost, but the overall cost and efficiency comparisons that are being made about whether or not to locate a factory, if you will, overseas in China or somewhere else, versus locating it here in the United States.

And increasingly, businesses are making the judgment that the over -- and these are clear-eyed, bottom-line-minded businessmen and businesswomen who are making the judgment that it is a good time to locate those factories and jobs here in the United States. And that’s a good thing, and it’s a trend the President wants to strengthen and encourage.

Q Can I just follow up?

MR. CARNEY: Last one, Mike.

Q Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: And then Paula. I’m sorry, you had it up. So I’ll go Mike, Paula, and then I’ll get out of here.

Q I just want to get back to the DOJ memo. And in it they acknowledged that this was a novel area and that it possibly could lead to some litigation. And one of the reasons for the appointment that was given by the White House was that there was concern without a director in place the bureau would never be able to exercise all of its authorities. But why aren’t you concerned that this litigation might not hamper all of its efforts if they end up in court?

MR. CARNEY: Well, because we believe our legal argument is very strong, will absolutely pass muster. And the fact that, hypothetically, there might be a legal challenge to it doesn’t mitigate against the fact that Richard Cordray is the consumer watchdog; he is in place making sure that Americans are protected from payday lenders and non-bank financial institutions and student loan brokers and others, from the abuses that they were not protected against prior to him being installed by the President and recess appointed by the President.

So the absolute necessity of doing this remains as clear today as it was when he did it and prior to him doing it. And I think that the American people by and large -- in fact overwhelmingly -- support the existence of somebody here in Washington looking out for them; making sure that the institutions that have very well-paid lobbyists, armies of them here looking out for their interests, have somebody else to deal with here in Washington looking out for the interests of regular Americans in their financial dealings.

Q And is the administration ready for those fights when they do come?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just refer you to the OLC memo.

Yes, Paula.

Q Jay, the law says -- sorry, the memo says that the President has appointed him, but the memo does not address the underlying question of whether a recess appointment is the same as a confirmation. Because the 2010 law that established the bureau said the new powers come to an appointee who is confirmed. Is the President saying his recess appointment is legally the same as a confirmation by the Senate?

MR. CARNEY: The President is saying that in recess appointing Richard Cordray, Richard Cordray has absolutely the powers he needs to fulfill his responsibilities in that job. And there have been a number of rather enlightening instances in the past 24 hours of confirmation by unusual sources of the fact that the House and Senate are indeed in recess. In the very press release put out by a Republican congresswoman arguing against the recess appointment, she acknowledged that the Senate was in recess. I believe on the House Majority Leader’s website today it said the House was not in recess -- I mean, not in session.

So look, anybody who doubts this, any American who doubts that this is a recess appointment, should, through you, take a look at what’s happening on Capitol Hill and argue to -- and have Congress argue that they’re in session, they’re doing their jobs on Capitol Hill, when in fact they’re not even around.


Q The insourcing tax proposals, is it possible that this could be coming out as part of the overall corporate tax reform?

MR. CARNEY: I want you to repeat that so I make sure I get it right. Say that again.

Q The insourcing proposals that are to be coming out, is it possible that they may be coming out as part of the overall reform of the corporate tax system?

MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about that kind of issue. Urge you to stay very focused on what we’re doing here -- State of the Union address is coming up, the release of the budget is coming up. Lots of really interesting things to cover.

Q What is the state of the union? It’s good? Strong? Very strong?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re getting stronger.

Q Is that the wording that’s in the draft already?

MR. CARNEY: No! Thank you all very much.

END 2:26 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney and OMB Deputy Director for Management Jeff Zients, 1/13/12

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney and OMB Deputy Director for Management Jeff Zients, 1/13/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:26 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thanks for being with us for this off-camera gaggle, but on the record.  I have with me this morning, and I’d like to start with him, Mr. Jeff Zients.  He is the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget.  He is also the President’s chief performance officer, the first ever chief performance officer.

He has overseen the process, the review of -- the review that has led to the announcement this morning of the President’s proposal to request consolidation authority from Congress so that he can make our government more efficient and more effective for the American people.

So I will turn this over to Jeff, who will make a few remarks, take questions from you on this initiative.  And if you hold questions on other subjects until after Jeff leaves, I will remain and answer them, and then get you out of here in time for the 11:00.

Okay, with that, I give you Mr. Zients.

MR. ZIENTS:  Thank you, Jay.  Thank you, everybody.  Now, I thought I’d start just with a little bit of background, then as Jay said, open it up for questions.

Really, since the very beginning of the administration, the President has been focused on making government more accountable -- getting rid of waste, saving money and making government services more responsive.  It’s really what companies across America have done:  increase productivity, save money, and improve service quality.

And as you know, we’ve done a lot.  We’ve gotten rid of billions of dollars of unneeded real estate.  Contracting -- across the government total contracting actually decreased last fiscal year, fiscal year ‘10, for the first time in 13 years.  And we’ve reduced those improper payments. 

Those are the payments to the wrong people, the wrong place, the wrong time; those payments to people that are in jail.  As an example, they decreased by more than $20 billion.

Today, the President is asking Congress to pass consolidation authority, which is a critical next step in our efforts to continue to streamline government, save money and improve government services.

The government we have is not the government we need.  The last major reorganization of the whole government was done more than a half century ago, led by Herbert Hoover.  Since then, agencies have been layered on top.  Rarely has an agency been downsized or eliminated.  So we’ve added incrementally over time.

The President is asking for the reinstatement of the same authority that presidents had, from Hoover through Reagan, for more than 50 years.  And that is to submit to Congress specific proposals for a fast-track up or down vote.  But there’s an important distinction here, and that is that the consolidation authority requires any proposal save money and reduce the size of government.  Again, in the past, government has been added to incrementally.  Consolidation authority requires saving money and reducing the size of government. 

The bottom line is that the President, like any chief executive, needs the ability to streamline and modernize operations, and save money and improve service.

The President will also announce today that his first proposal, under the consolidation authority, would be to consolidate six agencies focused on business and trade.  I’ll run through those.

It’s the core business and trade components of the Department of Commerce.  Over half of the Commerce Department’s budget is actually NOAA, so NOAA would move to the Interior Department.  But the core business and trade business components of the Department of Commerce -- along with SBA -- the Small Business Administration -- USTR, Ex-Im, OPIC and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.  All six of those consolidated and integrated into one.

The most important reason for doing this is to better serve businesses, especially its small businesses.  Today, when a small business is thinking about exporting for the first time, there are multiple websites, forms and applications.  The consolidated department will have one website, one telephone number and one mission:  to help American businesses succeed and make it much easier for small businesses to access government services.

While we wait for Congress to act and pass consolidation authority, given the importance of small business to the economy, the President is elevating the Small Business Administration to his Cabinet.  The administrator, Karen Mills, will join the Cabinet.

With that background, why don’t I open it up for questions?

MR. CARNEY:  Why don’t we start with Associated Press?

Q    Jeff, just on this larger issue, it’s something a lot of the administrations have tried to do in the past, reorganize government, make government smaller.  Do you feel like you have a window of opportunity here?  I mean why is this time different, I guess?

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, first, as I said, for 50 years or so, presidents had this type of authority, so this is not new.  I think we would all agree we’re at a point where we need to make sure that every taxpayer dollar is well spent.  That’s a bipartisan belief, and I think we can all believe that making government operations leaner, smarter, more efficient is essential.  And consolidation authority is a very important tool for ensuring that we achieve a smarter, leaner government.

MR. CARNEY:  Matt.

Q    What happens --

MR. CARNEY:  I called on Matt, if I could just -- let me just do this in order.

Q    Sorry, the Republicans are already kind of scoffing at the idea of this being fairly modest relative to the size of the overall federal budget.  And they’re saying that the President has presided over one of the largest expansions of government ever.  So in view of that attitude, in view of the gridlock in D.C., what makes the administration think that they’re going to be able to get the up or down -- the authority for up or down votes to come from this Congress?  And maybe Jay would weigh in on that, because it’s kind of a political question, too.

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, again, presidents have enjoyed this authority for 50 years.  We’re at a point in time where we have to streamline government, make sure every dollar is well spent, improve the quality of government services.  The proposal that the President is outlining, which would be his first specific proposal, would be one of a series of proposals across time that collectively would save billions of dollars.

MR. CARNEY:  What was the political aspect of it?

Q    Well, considering the gridlock in D.C., the in ability to move legislative projects past the Congress with Republican resistance, I mean, you’re asking them to give the President somewhat of a carte blanche and move straight to the up or down vote without any kind of intermediary steps involving lawmakers.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, two points.  One, I think we do not share the pessimism about -- that others have expressed about an inability to get things through Congress.  We think this is the kind of thing that should have bipartisan support.  Republicans have expressed a desire to make government less costly, more efficient, more effective.  We agree with that assessment.  That’s what this is designed to do.

The consolidation authority would require, as Jeff said, that it would reduce costs overall, would save the federal government money.  That is something that we certainly would expect Republicans would want to agree to.  So every elected official in Washington has to explain to his or her constituents on this issue, as on others, why they oppose it, if they oppose it.
And we, again, think this is very common sense, this very much what we need to make our government more efficient and more effective, and we look forward to working with Congress to get it done.

Q    Can you clarify on the EPA?  I mean the SBA, sorry.  Moving it to a Cabinet agency requires what?  And nominating the administrator as a Cabinet Secretary means confirmation, right?


Q    No?

MR. ZIENTS:  The President has the ability to designate his Cabinet, and the SBA will be now part of his Cabinet.

Q    So it could get done?


Q    But just to clarify, so you would -- the President would lift the SBA into Cabinet status, but then with the consolidation authority eliminate the SBA as a separate agency?

MR. ZIENTS:  That’s right.  The SBA would be represented in the new agency by the secretary of the agency that is focused on business competitiveness.

Q    So it’s a short timeframe.

MR. ZIENTS:  We hope to get consolidation authority very quickly so we can begin to streamline government and save money and improve services.  The first specific proposal would be the one I outlined.

Q    Follow on that?


Q    Jeff, you just said the agency focused on business competiveness, is this going to be the Commerce -- I mean, is that going to be -- what is the --

Q    What’s the name of the agency?

Q    -- the name of the new agency?

MR. ZIENTS:  The name of the agency will be worked out through the process of submitting the specific proposal to Congress once we get the consolidation authority.

Q    And will John Bryson be the head of that department?

MR. ZIENTS:  The President will decide once the new department is created who the secretary is.

Q    Are you effectively eliminating the Commerce Department?  Is that what you’re saying?

MR. ZIENTS:  We are effectively taking the core business and trade components of Commerce and bringing those -- integrating those with the other five agencies that I mentioned in creating a new streamlined department that will save $3 billion and better serve businesses.

The other component of Commerce --

Q    NOAA --

MR. ZIENTS:  NOAA, which is more than 50 percent of the budget of Commerce, will go to the Interior Department.

Q    So what’s left of Commerce that goes into that?

Q    What about the Census Department?

MR. ZIENTS:  The Census will be part of the new department.  There will be a division of statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the Labor Department will be integrated into the Census and the BEA for one economics statistics department, which will save money and help modernize our -- continue to modernize our statistics.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me -- hey, Laura, let me just -- okay, go Laura, and then let’s get back to calling on people.  Go ahead.

Q    So the new statistical agency would include the Census Bureau and the Labor Department statistics?

MR. ZIENTS:  And BEA, which is part of Commerce today.

Q    Okay, and any of the other government statistic agencies?

MR. ZIENTS:  There’s one component from the National Science Foundation.

Q    And Commerce would cease to exist?

MR. ZIENTS:  I’m sorry?

Q    Commerce would cease to exist?

MR. ZIENTS:  Yes.  There will be one new department that integrates the six departments -- the six agencies.

Q    Which will be housed where?

MR. ZIENTS:  That will be --

MR. CARNEY:  Can you guys -- can we -- I just want to return to not just shouting questions and calling -- go ahead, Laura.

Q    If this proposal were to go through, would the SBA administrator remain in the Cabinet even though SBA would be part of the new agency?

MR. ZIENTS:  There would be one secretary of the new agency which is focused on small businesses, business and competitiveness.  That person will be part of the Cabinet.  Until then, given the importance of small business, the President has decided to put the Small Business Administration administrator on his Cabinet.

MR. CARNEY:  Kristen, then Christi.

Q    Thank you.  How many -- I just heard you mention the $3 billion figure for savings.  How many jobs could potentially be lost under this reorganization?  And also, the President talked about doing this initially during his State of the Union address?  Can you talk about why now?  Why not put forth this type of proposal sooner?

MR. ZIENTS:  The answer to the jobs component of it is 1,000 to 2,000, and that can be handled through attrition.

This is hard, important work, and we spent a lot of time out and about talking to businesses, particularly small businesses, hundreds of businesses, getting input on what works best and how can we make things work better, how can we streamline.  We spoke to the current heads of these agencies.  We solicited ideas from frontline employees through a website.

So this is based on a lot of work and analysis.  It’s an important decision, and one that’s well thought through, and it’s driven by how do we best serve our customer in this situation, which are businesses, small, medium and large businesses; and at the same time, how do we save money.

MR. CARNEY:  Christi.

Q    Two things.  The 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, what percentage is that of the total payroll of those agencies as they exist right now?

MR. ZIENTS:  It’s -- we can follow up with an exact number, but it’s a few percent.  Few percent.

Q    A few percent?


Q    So you’re talking about cutting the total by roughly what?

MR. ZIENTS:  It’s $3 billion over 10 years; on an FTE basis, it’s a few percent.

Q    And how long does it take that attrition to do away with the number of jobs you’re talking about?

MR. ZIENTS:  Across a couple of years.

Q    A couple years.  And also, could you just explain the consolidation authority a little bit?  Where does it derive from?  What happened to it?  Why did it go away?  How did it work?

MR. ZIENTS:  It sunsetted under Reagan.  And again, what we’re doing here is reinstating something that existed for that 50-year period of time, but with a very important change or requirement, which is that we will save money, reduce the size of government.  The history of reorganization authority is that it was used more to add to government than it was to streamline or save money.  Consolidation authority requires saving money, streamlining government.

Q    And why even go and ask Congress for this authority, given the resistance that it’s likely to face?  Why not instead -- wouldn’t there be a way to figure out how to do this through a “We Can’t Wait” initiative?

MR. ZIENTS:  We’re doing all we can.  To do this type of consolidation requires legislation, legislative authority to do it.  You can’t do this through executive action.

At the same time, the President, about 75 days ago -- because I know we’ve got 15 days left on our deadline -- ordered us, directed us to launch a one-stop website, which we will do in the next couple of weeks, which will allow small businesses finally to go to one website to understand the various services that different agencies can provide.

So we’re doing what we can do.  But to realize this cost savings, the $3 billion, and to integrate and create improved service, we need the authority and then the specific proposal for this new department to pass.

MR. CARNEY:  Dave.

Q    This might be better for Jay, I don’t know.  But in Hawaii a couple weeks ago you guys described the payroll tax cut as the final must-do legislation of sort of -- as we head into the rest of the year and possibly the election.  But would you add this to that?  And how would you describe how far the President is willing to go on this one to sort of engage in a real potential fight with Congress, or if they want to add their own --

MR. CARNEY:  That’s a good question.  The payroll tax cut must be extended or else taxes will go up on 160 million Americans at just the wrong time.  We fully expect Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for the remainder of the calendar year, to extend unemployment insurance for the remainder of the calendar year, and to do so without drama, with political brinksmanship, because it’s the right thing to do and it’s something that, in the end, as it should have in the beginning, garnered broad bipartisan support.

This is a proactive initiative that the President is putting forward.  We absolutely, as Jeff said, hope that Congress will act very quickly to pass the consolidation authority, because Democrats and Republicans alike have a keen interest in making government more efficient and in doing what this specific authority would require, which is reducing the size of government and saving money.

So we want this to happen as soon as possible.  It differs from the payroll tax cut in that it is absolutely essential that Americans’ taxes -- 160 million Americans don’t see their taxes go up on March 1st.

Q    Two questions.  One, I’m wondering whether this also reflects in any way a dissatisfaction with the way the Commerce Department functions as it’s currently organized.  And then secondly, is there any danger that by taking USTA and merging it into something else, you sort of make the trade agenda and the importance of reaching further trade deals or maybe even a global trade deal, you end up taking that position and appearing to diminish its importance?

MR. ZIENTS:  Good question.  The U.S. Trade Representative will maintain his Cabinet status, and this will strengthen our trade enforcement, our trade promotion, our export promotion, our financing for exports by integrating them into one department.  So this strengthens our trade position.

Your Commerce question, that’s a structural issue.  The Department of Commerce does a great job with the set of services it provides, but if you take something like trade enforcement, their trade enforcement functions at several different agencies in addition to Commerce, so bringing them all together will make us more effective and save money across the board.

MR. CARNEY:  Mike, and then Brianna.

Q    Yes, you said that this was the first major reorganization since -- and I’m sorry, was it Hoover, or FDR?

MR. ZIENTS:  Looked at the whole government, yes.

Q    How do you contrast that, though, with the reorganization that happened after 9/11 that created the Department of Homeland Security?  How is that different or more expansive?

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, the Hoover commission looked at the whole of government.  Obviously DHS was a new department around a set of agencies and bureaus.  This is a new department that will be very integrated, that will save money, that we’re going to plan for in advance in terms of how we realize the cost savings and the efficiency gains and the service quality improvements.  And when I -- I guess just lifting up again, DHS was the creation of one new department; Hoover was a look across government.  Consolidation authority gives the President to submit specific proposals like the one he’s outlining today that save money and improve service at the same time.

So once given consolidation authority, we anticipate this would be the first proposal, but there would be many thereafter.

MR. CARNEY:  A couple more for Jeff.  Yes, Lesley.

Q    You said that the consolidation authority sunsetted under President Reagan.  Has any other President tried to reauthorize it since then, and what was the track record on them?

MR. ZIENTS:  There have been some attempts -- we can get you more background -- I think President Bush -- obviously it has not been reinstated, and no one has positioned it as consolidation authority, which I think is essential in these times, that we do more with less, that we save money and improve services at the same time.

So I think that we can all -- it’s a bipartisan issue, as Jay said, to streamline government, make sure every taxpayer dollar counts.  I think we’re at a point in time where we all can agree that the chief executive needs this authority.

MR. CARNEY:  George, and then --

Q    I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t misread your answer just now on USTR.  USTR would be in this new department but would retain Cabinet status?  Wouldn’t be reporting to the new secretary of the --

MR. ZIENTS:  Be reporting both -- it’s similar to the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, in terms of reporting in to the Secretary of State and being part of the President’s Cabinet.  Similar here.  Part of the integration and making sure that we’re strengthening our trade and export strategies overall is that this be integrated into this new department at the same time the U.S. Trade Representative would maintain his or her Cabinet status.

MR. CARNEY:  This is going to be the last one for Jeff.  Donovan.  Oh, I’m sorry, Brianna and then Donovan.  I did call on her before and then forget.

Q    Thank you.  So the umbrella, sort of asking for the congressional authority and then specific votes on different proposals, this being the first, will the other proposals -- I mean, how quickly do you plan -- is there going to be a series?  And will you be looking for things that have what you would argue should be bipartisan consensus like this specific one, or are we going to see other ones that might not be --

MR. ZIENTS:  We’ll be looking for terrains that are fragmented, inefficient, where we can achieve cost savings and service quality improvement simultaneously.  So once we get the consolidation authority, first we will be working to get the very specific proposal in the terrain of trade and competitiveness and business that I outlined.  At the same time, we’ll be looking to our next terrains, and again, we’ll be looking for areas where we’re fragmented, inefficient, where streamlining can both save money, which will be a requirement, and improve service at the same time.

Q    So is that the sole requirement, or is it something that you think you could get buy-in from Congress?

MR. ZIENTS:  I’m sorry?

Q    Individual proposals.  I’m just wondering if there’s been partisan bickering over some of the proposals.

MR. ZIENTS:  You know, I think that it’s important that these be -- that you have the fast-track authority.  If not, you run into a lot of special interests, jurisdictional lines in Congress.  There’s a lot of resistance to this.  So having that fast-track authority, the consolidation authority is critical.

Q    How many proposals?  How many?  I’m just -- every month?  Every --

MR. ZIENTS:  I think it’s one step at a time.

Q    Are there several?

MR. ZIENTS:  Hopefully that first step comes very quickly, we get consolidation authority.  Once we get it, we just outlined what the specific proposal -- what the outline of the specific proposal would be, it would be much more detailed at that point working together with our agencies to make sure that we have a plan that’s fully integrated and that saves the money we talked about and provides better service.

MR. CARNEY:  And these are done, obviously, after careful review and consolidation that Jeff has led.

Q    So the fast-track is to avoid some of that jurisdictional and special interest lobbying, basically?

MR. ZIENTS:  The fast-track authority is needed to get these hard things done, and to make sure that this doesn’t get bogged down in amendments and special interests and all the rest.

MR. CARNEY:  Donovan, did you --

Q    Yes, mine is very bureaucratic.  Do you have any paper on this, on like -- you mentioned a lot of detailed things about this section.

MR. CARNEY:  11:15 a.m., I’m told, we’ll have paper.

Q    Thank you.
Q    Will you be sending this up or asking Congress to develop it?

MR. ZIENTS:  Consolidation authority, the bill, will be sent up in short order --

MR. CARNEY:  When Congress returns from recess.

MR. ZIENTS:  In short order.

MR. CARNEY:  Last one, and then I’m going to take questions.  We’ve got a few minutes until you guys have to go.  So if you have questions on other subjects -- is that a yes?

Q    Jeff, what are the costs associated with doing this consolidation with elevating SBA to Cabinet level?  I mean, is this --

:  There’s no cost associated with elevating SBA to Cabinet level.

Q    -- consolidated departments, the DHS consolidation turned out to be very expensive. 
MR. ZIENTS:  Factored into our cost savings is this transition period of time where we can handle, through the current budgets, the transition.  And then the cost-saving kicks in, and that’s the $3 billion. 

Q    There’s going to be a lot of concern on the Hill about consolidation of presidential power.  I mean, given that you were actually able to establish a whole new agency and a Department of Homeland Security without this authority, why do you necessarily need this type of fast-track authority to do this?

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, I think the DHS was in a period of crisis, and it was the creation of something new.  We’re talking about streamlining and saving money, and I think that’s always even more difficult to do.  And again -- and we don’t see one opportunity to do this, there’s going to be multiple opportunities to do this.  Given the imperative that we save money and improve government services, we need this authority.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you, Jeff.

MR. ZIENTS:  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.

MR. CARNEY:  We’ve got about five, six minutes on other subjects.
Yes, sir.

Q    Jay, on the New York Times piece this morning, has the administration directly told the Ayatollah that closing the Strait of Hormuz would provoke an American response?

MR. CARNEY:  We have a number of ways to communicate our views to the Iranian government, and we have used those mechanisms regularly on a range of issues over the years.

I’m not going to get into the details of those communications or mechanisms, but any message that we have delivered -- and this goes to your question -- to the Iranian government would be the same as what we’ve said publicly.

So we obviously have means of communicating with the Iranian government.  We use those means and methods and -- but our message privately -- we deliver the same message in private that we deliver in public.

Q    How serious does the administration take these threats?  Is there a concern that this may be tilting towards some sort of military action?

MR. CARNEY:  The United States and the international community have a strong interest in the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in all international waterways.  We have consistently communicated our views on that subject and concerns on those issues to the Iranians and to the international community broadly.

I wouldn’t want to characterize the nature of this issue right now beyond saying that our views are clear, we’re expressing them publicly and privately, and I’ll leave it at that.

Yes, Matt.

Q    Myanmar freed 200 prisoners, and they promise to free more in amnesty.  The U.S. has said that freeing political prisoners was crucial to even considering the lifting of economic sanctions.  Will that process now get underway of giving consideration to --

MR. CARNEY:  We have seen those reports, Matt, thank you for the question.  If true, that would be a positive development.  But I don’t have -- I have no new announcements with regard to that.

Q    Just back to Iran.  So does that mean, then, that the White House does agree that -- with Panetta and other administration officials who have said that any disruption or closing of the Strait of Hormuz would be considered a red line?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, without using -- I would refer you to the comments of the Secretary of Defense, but we are -- this would clearly be an issue because we have a strong interest in the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation there and around the world.  And obviously that’s a very important part of the world.

So I can almost anticipate other questions about how we might react, and I’m not going to -- we take no options off the table.  But we are engaged in the kinds of diplomatic efforts that you would expect in a situation like this and will continue to make our views on this known very clearly.

Q    But you won’t go so far as to call it a red line?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s not that I won’t, I’m just -- he kind of outranks me on issues like these, so I would just point you to his comments.

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s do two more, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Mark.  And then Brianna.

Q    Do you have any other announcements on Myanmar?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t.  That’s your question?  Awesome.  (Laughter.)  No, I don’t have any other -- I don’t have any -- but it’s a fair question.  I might have forgotten an announcement.  But no, I don’t.  Not at this time.  As I said to Matt, we’ll -- these reports suggest a positive development.  It is the kind of development that we expressed -- that we’ve made clear would be a good one if it were to take place.  And we’ll I’m sure have more to say about it as things progress.


Q    There’s a published excerpt of Michael Hastings’s new book out that quotes a State Department official talking about President Obama during a visit to Iraq complaining about taking photos with soldiers.  And I’m just wondering if you’re responding to that.

MR. CARNEY:  I saw that.  It’s just -- I know from my time with him that there is nothing he would rather do than spend time with the men and women in the military.  And so I -- anonymous, unnamed, single sources saying something ridiculous like that, I wouldn’t put too much credibility in.  So that’s all I have to say about that.
Thank you all very much.

Q    Week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  Coming shortly, sorry.
11:07 A.M. EST

Romney Boasts Missouri Endorsements

(Press Release Mitt Romney)
Mitt Romney today announced the support of Missouri leaders, including Congressman Billy Long.
“It’s an honor to have the support of so many conservative Missouri leaders,” said Mitt Romney. “This level of support shows that my message of restoring fiscal sanity to Washington is resonating with voters across the country. These supporters will be crucial to help me spread my message of creating jobs and cutting spending in the months to come.”

Barack Obama Proclamation on Religous Freedom Day

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Presidential Proclamation -- Religious Freedom Day, 2012

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For nearly four centuries, men and women have immigrated to America's shores in pursuit of religious freedom.  Hailing from diverse backgrounds and faiths, countless settlers have shared a simple aspiration -- to practice their beliefs free from prejudice and persecution.  In 1786, the Virginia General Assembly took a bold step toward preserving this fundamental liberty by passing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which brought to life the ideal of religious tolerance from the texts of the Enlightenment in the laws of state.  On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate this historic milestone, reflect upon the Statute's declaration that "Almighty God hath created the mind free," and reaffirm that the American people will remain forever unshackled in matters of faith.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute formed the basis for the First Amendment, which has preserved religious freedom for both believers and non-believers for over 220 years.  As our Nation has grown, so too has its diversity of faiths, cultures, and traditions; today, individuals of rich and varied beliefs call America home and seek to follow their consciences in peace.  Our long history of religious tolerance and pluralism has strengthened our country, helped create a vibrant civil society, and remained true to the principles enshrined in our founding documents.

Our Nation is committed to religious liberty not only for all Americans, but also for individuals around the world.  Internationally, we bear witness to those who live in fear of violence and discrimination because of their beliefs.  My Administration continues to stand with all who are denied the ability to choose, express, or live their faith freely, and we remain dedicated to protecting this universal human right and the vital role it plays in ensuring peace and stability for all nations.

Today, as we reflect on the many ways religious freedom enriches our country and our lives, let us lend our voice to all people striving to exercise their innate right to a free mind.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2012, as Religious Freedom Day.  I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation's liberty, and show us how we can protect it for future generations at home and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.