Aboard Air Force One
En Route Seattle, Washington
10:42 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Remember this?
Q For the record, Jay Carney is holding up a sign that says “Congress To-Do List.”
MR. CARNEY: That’s right. It’s a handy pocket-sized graphic.
Q Is it because you need a reminder?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s because Congress needs a reminder. And it’s a reminder to you that that’s our focus this week on the economy, is the need for Congress to act on these items on its “To-Do” list to reward American jobs, not outsourcing; refinancing for responsible homeowners; tax credits for small business jobs; clean energy manufacturing; and veterans job corps. Those are the items on the President’s “To-Do” list for Congress.
Before I get started with your questions I wanted to note that today the White House announced a new executive order, making it a continuing obligation of our government to scrutinize rules on the books to see if they really make sense — the five final rules that will save nearly $ 6 billion in the next five years by eliminating outdated requirements and unjustified costs; a report from the Council of Economic Advisers examining the regulatory look-back that President Obama ordered in 2011.
I think this is an important and underreported fact that the President has been extremely aggressive in ordering his administration in an unprecedented way to look back at regulations, eliminate those that are no longer necessary, reduce the burden of those that need to stay on the books but can be adjusted so that the burdens are reduced. And that has produced significant savings, and the President wants that effort to keep up.
And with that, as we make our way to the great state of Washington, we’ll take your questions.
Q Jay, today the Obama campaign put out a web video that’s attacking Romney on his stance on rights for same-sex couples. Given that the President just came around on this, on the issue of gay marriage yesterday, doesn’t that seem hypocritical and politically motivated more than anything?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the campaign to talk about ads or videos that they put out. The President noted in his interview when it came up yesterday with Robin Roberts of ABC, that his opponent, Governor Romney, has a starkly different view of these issues, and a starkly different view of the policy issues, even prior to the President’s announcement yesterday that he had come to the conclusion that he personally supports same-sex marriage.
Governor Romney is for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enshrine discrimination into our founding legal document. The President thinks that’s wrong. So their positions were starkly different before yesterday.
Q The campaign or the President –
MR. CARNEY: If you want to ask the campaign about its tactics I think you ought to ask the campaign about its tactics. The President was very clear in his interview with Robin Roberts about what his personal beliefs are. The President’s record on these issues of supporting LGBT rights is long and impressive and clear, and he’ll continue to fight to expand and protect the rights of all American citizens.
Q Can you tell us whom — after he gave his interview, to whom has the President spoken personally, both on the gay advocacy side, and also perhaps on the other side in terms of any religious leaders or people who might want to get an explanation from him about his stance?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any conversations of the President to read out to you. The President had quite a busy day yesterday, and it continued to be busy after his interview.
Q And do you suspect that at any point he would just point that out?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t — I couldn’t predict on that.
Q Is the President excited to talk about this issue tonight now that he’s going to be doing a fundraiser in California among probably a lot of people who are very supportive of gay marriage? This is sort of the first chance he’ll have to talk about it since revealing his view.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President has always been clear about his support for LGBT rights and the actions that he’s taken, including repealing "don't ask, don't tell"; the fact that he has long opposed the Defense of Marriage Act; the fact that he and the Attorney General, and therefore the administration, have deemed Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional, and therefore the decision not to continue to defend it.
But look, the President’s focus, as I think he also said yesterday in his interview, has been and will continue to be on jobs and the economy. That’s been the — creating greater security for a middle class in this country that has been under stress for a long time, even predating the Great Recession, has been number-one priority. It was his number-one priority when he ran for office, for this office, and it has been his priority since he took the oath of office. And I think you will hear him focus on those issues just as he has — going forward, just as he has in the past.
Q Will he move to repeal DOMA officially, and have pro-gay marriage language in the Democratic national platform?
MR. CARNEY: Well, party platform issues are for the party to decide. That process is underway, and I refer you to the DNC on the question about the platform.
The President’s belief that DOMA ought to be repealed is well stated. I’m not aware of the status of the legislative efforts aimed at repeal, but the President certainly supports that and has for quite a long time. I would note that he opposed DOMA back in 1996 and has opposed it ever since.
Q Why not repeal it?
MR. CARNEY: He believes it should be repealed.
Q But why doesn’t he push to repeal to it?
MR. CARNEY: I said it every time I’ve been asked about the President’s record on the Defense of Marriage Act. I mean, it’s not a “why not” question, it’s a “yes, we know” answer.
Q Jay, the President is saying that this is a — and the White House is saying this is a states’ issue now. But will the President be outspoken when these issues come up in states about whether they should pass or not?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate about what he may say or statements he might issue. He has on occasion made his position known on actions by individual states, most recently in North Carolina, and I’m sure that continues to be the case. That will continue to be the case.
But I can’t predict when that will take place or with regards to what state issue. The President believes it is a matter for the states. He personally believes that gay and lesbian Americans ought to be able to — who are in committed, loving relationships ought to be able to marry. But he also — and I think it’s important to note — is respectful of those who disagree. He, after all, traveled some distance to reach this personal decision, and he understands that the whole country has been considering this issue and struggling with it. And we’ve seen a remarkable evolution in the broader public with regards to LGBT rights in general, and specifically with regards to same-sex marriage.
Q So if he respects people on the other side, why go after Romney?
MR. CARNEY: You can respect somebody and strongly disagree. And he absolutely disagrees with efforts to — this is the distinction, Jim: He’s respectful of those who don’t agree with him on same-sex marriage. He vehemently disagrees with those who would act to deny Americans’ rights or act to take away rights that have been established in states. And that has been his position for quite a long time.
Q Is the President disappointed in Russian President Putin’s decision not to go ahead and go up to G8? Do you feel is it a setback in any sort of significant way for what could be accomplished there? And are you satisfied with the explanation about other business in Russia?
MR. CARNEY: There’s a number of questions, but the broad answer is no, we’re not disappointed. The President and President Putin had a very good conversation. And the President looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Medvedev at the G8 and looks forward to meeting — his first meeting with President Putin in one month. It’s not as if it will be a long time before they do actually get a chance to meet.
And President Putin was just sworn into office and is obviously forming a government, and the President absolutely understands that.
Q But President Putin knew he was going to be sworn into office around this time, and that meeting in the Oval Office has been on the books for some time. So was it a surprise at all that he said he wasn’t coming? Does it feel like a snub?
MR. CARNEY: It was not a surprise, and it does not at all feel like a snub. It was something we understood and understand. And again, the President will be meeting with President Putin in one month, which is not much time at all. And he looks forward to that meeting.
Q Did it have anything to do with the possibility of Obama not going to the summit in Russia in the fall?
MR. CARNEY: No, not at all.
Q Can you comment on Syria — the breakout of further violence there?
MR. CARNEY: As we always do, we strongly condemn the attacks in Damascus. And we — just make sure I get the language right here, we — one second. Hold on. Sorry, folks. There we go.
Attacks like these that result in the indiscriminate killing and injury of civilians are reprehensible and cannot be justified. They also remind us of the urgent necessity of achieving a political solution before it is too late.
Q Does it make it harder to sustain a coalition against Assad, to pressure Assad, if you're having — like the other side adopting terror tactics?
MR. CARNEY: We do not believe this this kind of attack that you saw in Damascus is representative of the opposition. There are clearly extremist elements in Syria, as we have said all along, who are trying to take advantage of the chaos in that country, chaos brought about by Assad's brutal assault on his own people.
The fact of the matter is Assad needs to abide by his commitments to comply with the ceasefire, to comply with the Kofi Annan plan to withdraw his forces. We are very skeptical about his willingness to do that. We have seen very little evidence about — that suggests he will comply. But we support that plan because it has brought about some decrease in violence, and because it will help lay the foundation for a political transition that will take place eventually.
Q Jay, could you — real quickly, could you talk to us about the President's relationship with George Clooney? Does he expect to have any time with him alone today to discuss any policy matters? What does he feel that George Clooney brings in terms of the President's ability to get out his message either to donors or to supporters?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the campaign for questions specifically about the campaign. The President has met with Mr. Clooney on some of the issues that he cares deeply about, in particular the Darfur region in Sudan. And the President appreciates the work that George Clooney has done on those issues. And as is the case with all those who have supported his campaign, the President is very appreciative of Mr. Clooney’s support.
Q Jay, on tomorrow, four years ago, Nevada was suffering from the recession — housing foreclosures, construction workers out of work. The President was able to take advantage of that politically as well. You go back, four years later, the situation is still pretty dire in Nevada. Is the President hurting in Nevada? Or does he recognize that the state is in some real straits?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President absolutely recognizes that Nevada was hit extremely hard by the bursting of the housing bubble and by the crisis that befell the nation in 2008, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression. Again, questions about his political standing, I would refer you to the campaign for answers.
The President will focus tomorrow on the need for Congress to take up his refinance initiative to allow homeowners to have access to these historically low interest rates, to refinance their homes, to free up some capital, and ease some of the financial burden that they have endured. This is an important step that would benefit Americans in Nevada, but Americans across the country in states like Nevada that were very hard-hit, but across the country. And it is inexcusable for Congress to not take action on a measure like this that should garner bipartisan support. And he certainly hopes that Congress will act on it.
Q Four years ago, he didn’t have responsibility for what had happened there. But four years later, doesn't he bear responsibility for the continued problems in the state?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think this President has been very clear about his responsibility, which is to do everything he can, both working with Congress and acting with his administrative authority, to help the economy grow and to help it create jobs.
When he took office, we were in the worst economic free fall of our lifetimes, and we were only about halfway through the fall, as you remember. The fourth quarter of 2008 saw the economy shrink, we now know, by almost 9 percent. In January of 2009, when the President was sworn in, the economy lost roughly 800,000 jobs in that month alone. Since the President's policies have been able to take effect, as I think is demonstrated in my handy-dandy insert that I had moments ago, you've seen a dramatic reversal in the trend.
Here is the last year of the previous administration — a downward spiral in terms of jobs; hemorrhaging jobs. President Obama takes office — steady growth. Out of the hole, and then beginning to create jobs — 26 straight months of private sector job creation. We are not there yet. The recession was hideously deep and its effects profound across the country.
But the fact of the matter is, because of the policies that this President pursued, sometimes, against the advice of political observers, the economy has turned around, it is growing, it is moving in the right direction. It has created jobs for 26 straight months. It has been — the GDP has been growing for 11 straight quarters, and we need to continue that work.
The President, among other things, made a decision that was viewed as hugely politically risky to take action to ensure that General Motors and Chrysler were not liquidated and that a million or more jobs were not lost. He took that action and now GM and Chrysler are in many ways stronger than they've ever been, and GM is once again the largest car manufacturer in the world. Others would have made a different choice, regardless of what they now say in an attempt at revisionist history.
Q "Others" meaning Mitt Romney?
MR. CARNEY: Well, certainly Governor Romney has — but many others took the position that Governor Romney did in opposition to the actions that the President took. It is comical to assert that a plan that called for private investment rather than government assistance to save GM and Chrysler could have worked, because as all of you know, nobody was out there willing to help finance the managed bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.
If President Obama had not acted, GM and Chrysler would no longer exist. And that is a simple fact. It is widely recognized across the region that is so central to the production of American automobiles.
Q What was the President’s reaction to Governor Romney saying he should take credit for the auto rescue?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the interview the President gave yesterday. He was asked about this by Robin Roberts, and gave an answer that I could not improve on, although I just tried to moments ago.
Q Jay, you guys in a statement yesterday talked about the agenda for the NATO meeting. Can you talk a little bit about what will be on the agenda for the G8?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to take that question. Obviously, this is an important meeting every year. There continues to be matters of global economic importance that are on the agenda as well as national security issues. But beyond that, I’ll have to get back to you with a further preview.
Q Jay, we know that the President issued a statement after the results in Indiana the other night, but has he actually spoken with Senator Lugar? And can you tell us anything about that conversation if it’s happened? And then also, if we don’t get a gaggle tomorrow, can you give us any kind of week ahead now — or weekend ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I will — I don’t have a week ahead or weekend ahead for you. I will ensure that one of my colleagues provides that to you tomorrow.
I think the President’s statement regarding Senator Lugar speaks for itself, and his disappointment I think is clear from that statement.
Senator Lugar has served this country admirably for many, many years. And as a personal matter, the President appreciates the collegiality that Senator Lugar offered to him when he was first coming in as a senator and the wisdom that Senator Lugar brought to bear on all the issues of national security that he worked on.
And as the President has said, the President’s very high priority initiative of securing nuclear weapons around the world has been very much guided by the work that Senator Lugar has done.
Q Could you imagine a role for him, if there were a second term, in this Cabinet or his administration or on the commission?
MR. CARNEY: We’re a long way from talking about personnel decisions like that.
Q But you said that they have not talked.
MR. CARNEY: I will have to check on whether or not the President and Senator Lugar have talked. I’ll come back to you.
Q Could you tell us — did he mention anything this morning at all about how he felt about the announcement yesterday or the impact it’s having so far?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to read out internal discussions, but I think the President was glad to have the opportunity that he had yesterday to speak to the country about his views on this matter and about the journey he’s traveled on it — about the profound importance of equality, about the underlying principle that guided him as he came to this decision.
He cited the Golden Rule and the need to treat others as you would have them treat you. He spoke about sort of the three areas that affected him as he was dealing with this and thinking about it: conversations with friends and family and staff members, some of whom are in committed same-sex relationships. The effect that conversations he had with members of our armed services during the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And certainly his observation of and consideration of the various ways that states have been grappling with this issue, which he spoke about during his interview.
And I think those — all of those went into the process for him — a process that was a very personal one, as he discussed yesterday in his interview.
Q — the President came to that conclusion? I mean, we know he said to Robin Roberts in their interview that he had already decided to publicly take this position. So did he come to the conclusion weeks ago, months ago? When was that evolution complete?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific date for you. Like I said, this was a very — this was not a policy debate within the White House or the administration. This was a personal decision about his personal views. I think it’s fair to say that within the last several months he had come to the decision that he talked about yesterday and had concluded that he wanted to convey his views on this to the American people sometime in the next several weeks or months. It wasn’t going to be this week, but because of the considerable focus on the issue this week, the President decided it might as well be this week.
Q What effect did your — the grilling you got Monday at the briefing have on his sense of expediting this? Did he say anything to you about it?
MR. CARNEY: I think — part of my job, and I think it reinforced the fact that this had become an issue that was getting a great deal of attention and focus, but certainly not about me.
11:07 A.M. EDT