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Aboard Air Force One
En Route Johannesburg, South Africa
10:06 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us onboard this pretty remarkable flight to South Africa. As you know, in addition to the President and the First Lady, we have former President Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush onboard. We also have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In addition, from the President’s administration, we have National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the Attorney General, Eric Holder.
Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications is with us today, and he can give you some information about a bunch of (inaudible) when we get to the Johannesburg. And we will obviously keep you updated as developments require along the way.
With that, I turn it over to Ben.
MR. RHODES: I won’t add much to what Jay said other than we’ll let the South African government speak to the details of the program. We do expect President Obama to speak as part of the program. So again, they’ll have the full run of show. But in terms of the President’s participation, we do expect him to deliver remarks.
And with that, we’ll take questions.
Q But do you guys have any plans for Obama to meet with members of the Mandela family or any of the other world leaders who might be there?
MR. RHODES: We’ve been in touch with the Mandela family and are seeking to see if there is time for them to meet. Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain because things are so fluid on the ground. But we would certainly like the opportunity for the President to pay his respects to Graça Machel and the broader Mandela family. Beyond that, we don’t expect any bilateral meetings of any sort. I presume that he will certainly see President Zuma, have a chance to speak to him, but not in any kind of formal way.
Q Is there any possibility the President might meet with the Iranian President while there? Apparently, they were trying to work out Rouhani’s visit.
MR. RHODES: I wouldn’t expect any -- first of all, any bilateral meetings. I’m not even so sure who’s going for the Iranians. But we’re not anticipating any meeting.
Q Can talk with us a little bit about whether what the U.S. delegation is for this part of the memorial service, and also whether there will be a formal U.S. delegation on the 15th, and who some of those people will be? Normally, there would be a bigger delegation on this flight; I know it’s size-limited.
MR. RHODES: Yes, well, look, we’ve really been driven in our decision-making by the wishes of the South African government. Obviously, there are enormous amounts of people in the United States who would like to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela. So again, at the same time, they have very strict space requirements. I think they are certainly accommodating to heads of state, former heads of state, which is what compromises principally our delegation. But I think their indication is that they wanted this to be an opportunity for the people of South Africa really to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, and we’re very respectful of that.
So obviously, under different circumstances we could have brought any number of people as part of a delegation. That was not possible given the logistics of this particular event. However, I do expect that there will be representatives for the President in the delegation at the event in Qunu. We'll keep you updated as to who will compromise that delegation. There's also going to be an event in Washington at the National Cathedral that people will be able to participate in.
And then, in terms of this event, I believe there's also a congressional delegation that we've sought to coordinate with so we can provide them with support. So for us it's the President and the First Lady, the Attorney General, Susan Rice, Valerie Jarrett, former President Bush and Laura Bush, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. I know President Carter is going with The Elders group that he is a part of that of course Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel have been affiliated with as well. And then there will be the members of Congress who are going as a part of their congressional delegation. And then we'll keep you updated about Qunu.
Q Did you guys have any thought about going to the Qunu ceremony, or was that just logistically not possible?
MR. RHODES: Yes, I think, first of all, our understanding from the South African government was many heads of state who are attending this event at the stadium. And, secondly, when we had looked at this, Qunu does present challenges. And, frankly, it’s always a balance; we don't want to be disruptive with the footprint that travels with the President. We want to be respectful of what will be a very profound laying to rest of Nelson Mandela. So this certainly was the right event for the President to attend, to speak at, and to pay his respects to Nelson Mandela.
Q Are there any concerns about security at this event?
MR. RHODES: We have not heard any concerns. I'd say, number one, the South Africans hosted the World Cup, so they have experience hosting significant crowds and managing events like this. Although, this is obviously a very unique event really in world history, given the number of leaders coming to pay their respects, as well as the people of South Africa.
But we’re in good touch with the South African government at a logistical level, and we’re confident in their ability to make sure that this is an appropriate sendoff for one of the truly extraordinary statesmen of the last century or of any time.
Q In general, what’s the President going to say, and how long will he speak?
MR. RHODES: I’d anticipate -- I don’t put an exact time on it, but in the 10-15 minute range. And I think, for the President, he’ll reflect on what Nelson Mandela meant to the people of South Africa, to him personally as well.
You’ve heard him speak in the past about Nelson Mandela and the impact he had on the President. I think also, though, remembering the various different roles that Nelson Mandela played over the years. He obviously is cemented in our memory as an icon, but he was an extraordinary political leader, an extraordinary leader of a movement to bring about change. Under very difficult circumstances he was an extraordinary example to the world when he was in prison. And then, of course, even in his post-presidency he was a figure of reconciliation not just in South Africa, but around the world.
I think remembering him as a truly multifaceted figure with a wide array of different skills and abilities reminds us that his success wasn’t preordained -- it had to be earned over a lifetime. Sometimes when you look back, when the story has a happy ending, it all seems as if it was meant to be. I think one of the points the President will make is that it took decades of persistence and talent and a wide range of very unique skills to make Nelson Mandela the figure that he was and make him capable of bringing about that change.
Q But had he been working on this speech before? I mean, this is kind of something we knew was coming. Or is this something he’s put together just in the past couple of days?
MR. RHODES: No, we actually have not. We had not done any work on this particular speech before the passing of Nelson Mandela. At the same time, he has reflected on him many times. He wrote a forward for his book, "Conversations with Myself." On our last trip to South Africa, he obviously spoke frequently about Mandela over the course of that trip. He was able to go to Robben Island, which was a very powerful experience for him to stand in that cell again.
But in terms of this particular set of remarks, we waited until we had an indication from the South African government that he may speak, and then he has been working on it over the weekend. And I'm sure he'll continue to work on it on the plane.
Q Ben, can you detail the most recent contacts between the Presidents -- between Mandela and President Obama -- and how substantive they were?
MR. RHODES: I'd have to check on the absolutely most recent one. I recall him speaking to Nelson Mandela after the death of his grandson, around the time of the World Cup. But I'll have to check if there were any calls since then.
I think that, generally, when they did speak, since the President took office, they didn't delve deeply into substantive -- more dealt with how each of them were doing, asking after Nelson Mandela's health and family. And I'd also note that the President was grateful that the First Lady and his daughters were able to see Nelson Mandela, even very late in his life. So I'll check the most recent contact, but I think in addition to the occasional phone call, I know that visit was meaningful for the First Lady and the Obama family.
Q What was his most recent contact with anybody from the Mandela family? Can you describe that?
MR. RHODES: Yes, he spoke to Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela's wife, the other day -- I believe the day after Nelson Mandela passed -- and just said that his prayers were with her, that he hoped to see her at this event or any time she is in Washington. And, frankly, she is an extraordinary figure in her own right, and so he thanked her for all that she did to make the last years of Nelson Mandela's life a time of comfort.
On our last trip here to South Africa, the President was able to meet with a broader number of members of the family, including some of the daughters and grandchildren of Nelson Mandela at the Foundation. So I would anticipate similarly, if he has time with the family on this trip, he'd want to see both Graça Machel and of course some of the other members of the family.
Q Can either of you guys give us any kind of color or kind of paint a picture about what's going on back there with the former President and former First Lady, the former Secretary of State?
MR. RHODES: I'll just say that I know that the President has been able already to spend time with the Bushes. The President and the First Lady have been able to spend time with the Bushes and with Secretary Clinton. And so I think it's a unique experience obviously. And I think they all are remembering their different interactions with Nelson Mandela and his family, because again, he is a leader that intersected with so many different American political leaders of both parties over the years, and so each of them has their own experience with Mandela.
MR. CARNEY: I would just add that that in the conference room, which I think most of you have seen, the Secretary, President and Mrs. Bush, the First Lady, and President Obama, as he comes and goes -- because he’s also in this office doing some work -- there have been very good conversations in that room. Attorney General Holder as well, Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice.
Q So they’re all in the conference room?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not where they’re all sitting for the flight, but people have kind of congregated there. And I think it's just -- it's a very I think enjoyable experience certainly for the President and First Lady. And they're both grateful to be able to have former President and First Lady, former Secretary of State on board.
Q Ben, can I ask you a quick question on another subject? Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments to that same conference where President Obama spoke, talking about the need to press forward with new sanctions on Iran -- were you disappointed in those remarks? And do you feel that if those remarks are directed at the U.S. Congress, that that’s him trying to inject himself into the American political system?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, as a general matter, I thought Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that the U.S. and Israel could work through the differences we’ve had on the Iranian nuclear negotiations as friends, and focus on the final agreement and what we are seeking to achieve in that agreement. So I thought there were certainly constructive elements of his remarks that sought to reinforce that there’s far more that unites the United States and Israel on this and other issues than whatever tactical differences we may have had.
With respect to sanctions, we have repeatedly said that we would move to sanctions if the Iranians violate the terms of the agreement or if we’re not able to reach a comprehensive resolution. At the same time, sanctions during the course of the negotiations would be seriously counterproductive. It could unravel the unity of the P5-plus-1 partners that is so necessary to trying to achieve the deal that we want. It could complicate Iran’s participation in those negotiations by reinforcing some of the more hardline elements of their system. And frankly, it could ultimately undermine the sanctions regime itself, because the purpose of sanctions was to reinforce a negotiation. We’re in that negotiation now. We have an opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully.
If the U.S. is seen as not pursuing that negotiation in concert with our partners, ultimately the participation that we need from other countries in the sanctions regime to continue reducing their purchases of Iranian oil and continue to work with us to apply this pressure could be put at risk. And I think it’s important to remember that it’s not just unilateral U.S. sanctions that have had the impact on the Iranians; it’s the ability of the entire world to come with us in imposing this pressure.
And I think it’s also -- the last point I’d make is we are going to continue enforcing sanctions throughout the course of the negotiation. So Iran will be denied far more revenue over the course of six months than they are going to achieve through the limited relief that we’re talking about. So we don’t think there’s a need to move to new sanctions now. We’ll pivot to new sanctions if the negotiations don’t succeed, but now is the time to test whether a peaceful diplomatic solution is possible.
Q And just to follow up, is your position the same with respect to triggered sanctions that either would kick in at a date certain or kick in if there was some abrogation of the six-month agreement?
MR. RHODES: Yes, we are confident in Congress’s ability to move quickly to pass a sanctions bill should the Iranians violate the terms of the agreement or should we not get an agreement at the end of the day. So therefore, I think we want to coordinate with them to move to sanctions at that point.
The other thing I’d say about that is we will have more leverage on the Iranians with the international community to move to sanctions if the Iranians violate the agreement or if they can’t get to yes at the end of six months. So at that point, not only could we work with Congress to get a new sanctions product passed, but we could do so in a way that’s coordinated with the international community, which would ultimately be more effective.
So tailoring that sanctions strategy around the negotiation both gives diplomacy a chance to succeed, or it could allow for a more effective application of sanctions.
And the last thing I’d say about this is, this is the venue for diplomacy. There’s not another alternative course of action at some point where we’re going to pursue a diplomatic resolution with the Iranians. This P5-plus-1 process is a negotiation. It’s more serious than it’s ever been, and we have to be I think serious about testing whether we can resolve this issue peacefully. And that’s what the sanctions have put us in a position to do, but at the same time we don’t want to do anything that would foreclose our opportunity to resolve this peacefully through diplomacy.
Q Ben, on that same conference, the President and John Kerry spoke about the security guarantees that Israel could expect under any final deal. The Palestinians today have said that the kind of things that are being talked about would be a dead end and could kill the process. How concerned are you that the stringent measures that Israel would expect would be impossible for the Palestinians to accept in any kind of meaningful state?
MR. RHODES: I think, first of all, we’ve always been very clear that any agreement is going to have to take into account Israel’s security concerns. And so that’s why General Allen worked in a very methodical way to lay out planning that could be associated with any agreement. I think as a general matter, ultimately an agreement is going to have to address the concerns of both sides, and both parties are going to have to agree amongst themselves. I think dealing with it comprehensively, however, if the Palestinians feel like they are having a legitimate state of their own with the type of territory and contiguity that they’re interested in, seeing security as part of that package is different than security independent of that package.
And so that’s why we want both parties to get to all the final status issues as part of a discussion of an agreement. But ultimately, there’s no agreement that is going to be successful and that is going to be reached unless Israel knows its security concerns are met, and that’s why we initiated the process with General Allen.
Q Jay, do you want to comment on the status of budget negotiations in Congress? Any thoughts about not repealing the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: Any thoughts on what?
Q Them not fully repealing the sequester, with what’s being leaked out over the weekend?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get ahead of the negotiations or comment on reports about what that status is, except to say that it is certainly the President’s position that Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to come together through regular order to reach a budget agreement to make sure that we’re making the necessary investments to help our economy grow, that we’re dealing with some of the across-the-board cuts that have done harm to our economy and harm to the functioning of our government, and to avoid the kind of scenario that led to a shutdown of government in October and to the threat to default for the first time in history.
But we remain hopeful that these discussions, these negotiations will be productive and bear fruit.
Q Any thought of rescheduling the congressional and White House holiday balls, since the President won’t be there?
MR. CARNEY: No, my understanding is that in consultation with congressional leadership, the decision was for the congressional balls -- or congressional parties to go forward and as well as the other events, including some White House staff -- or at least one White House staff event without the President and First Lady. And so that’s going to happen.
10:27 A.M. EST
5 hr, 18 min ago
In a phone call today with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Vice President Biden expressed his deep concern about the situation in Ukraine and the growing potential for violence. The Vice President underscored the need to immediately de-escalate the situation and begin a dialogue with opposition leaders on developing a consensus way forward for Ukraine. He noted that violence has no place in a democratic society and is incompatible with our strategic relationship. The Vice President reaffirmed the strong support of the United States for Ukraine’s European aspirations and welcomed President Yanukovych’s commitment to maintaining this path. He underscored the close alignment of the United States and the European Union, and welcomed the upcoming visits of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and State Department Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland to Kyiv.
6 hr ago
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
Pursuant to section 233(e)(1) of the Social Security Act, as amended by the Social Security Amendments of 1977 (Public Law 95-216, 42 U.S.C. 433(e)(1)), I transmit herewith an Agreement on Social Security between the United States of America and the Swiss Confederation, signed at Bern on December 3, 2012, (the "U.S.-Swiss Agreement"). The Agreement consists of two instruments: a principal agreement and an administrative arrangement, and upon entry into force, will replace: the Agreement between the United States of America and the Swiss Confederation on Social Security with final protocol, signed July 18, 1979; the Administrative Agreement between the United States of America and the Swiss Confederation for the Implementation of the Agreement on Social Security of July 18, 1979, signed December 20, 1979; and the Supplementary Agreement between the two Contracting States, signed June 1, 1988.
The U.S.-Swiss Agreement is similar in objective to the social security agreements already in force with most of the European Union member states, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Norway, and the Republic of Korea. Such bilateral agreements provide for limited coordination between the United States and foreign social security systems to eliminate dual social security coverage and taxation and to help prevent the lost benefit protection that can occur when workers divide their careers between two countries. The principal updates encompassed in the Agreement include amendments to rules for entitlement to Swiss disability pensions paid to ensure equality of treatments between U.S. and Swiss nationals, updates to personal information confidentiality provisions, and modifications necessary to take into account changes in U.S. and Swiss laws since 1988.
The U.S.-Swiss Agreement contains all provisions mandated by section 233 of the Social Security Act and other provisions that I deem appropriate to carry out the purposes of section 233, pursuant to section 233(c)(4) of the Social Security Act.
I also transmit, for the information of the Congress, a report prepared by the Social Security Administration explaining the key points of the U.S.-Swiss Agreement, along with a paragraph-by-paragraph explanation of the provisions of the principal agreement and administrative arrangement. Annexed to this report is the report required by section 233(e)(1) of the Social Security Act on the number of individuals affected by the Agreement and the effect of the Agreement on the estimated income and expenditures of the U.S. Social Security program. The Department of State and the Social Security Administration have recommended the U.S.-Swiss Agreement and related documents to me.
I commend the U.S.-Swiss Agreement on Social Security and related documents.
6 hr, 2 min ago
5:20 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good evening, everyone. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. This is truly one of our favorite nights of the year, and not just because of everyone who visits the White House -- this group also usually wins “best dressed” award. (Laughter.) All of you look spectacular. I am a little disappointed that Carlos Santana wore one of his more conservative shirts this evening. (Laughter.) Back in the day, you could see those things from space. (Laughter.)
I want to start by thanking everyone who dedicates themselves to making the Kennedy Center such a wonderful place for the American people to experience the arts -- David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center trustees, and of course, Michael Kaiser, who will conclude 13 years of tremendous service as the president of the Kennedy Center next year. (Applause.) So on behalf of Michelle and myself, we want to all thank Michael so much for the extraordinary work that he has done.
As always, this celebration wouldn’t be what it is without the enthusiasm of the co-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, George Stevens. George. (Applause.) And his son, Michael. And together, for years they’ve put on this event to honor the artists whose brilliance has touched our lives.
President Kennedy once said of such creative genius that, “The highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.” Now, that’s easy to say when -- as they do for these artists -- the chips usually fall in your favor, whether at Woodstock or the Oscars or elite venues all over the world.
But the fact is that the diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven’t just proven themselves to be the best of the best. Despite all their success, all their fame, they’ve remained true to themselves -- and inspired the rest of us to do the same.
Growing up in Harlem, Martina Arroyo’s parents told her she could be and do anything. That was until she said that she wanted to be an opera singer. (Laughter.) Her father -- perhaps not fully appreciating the versatility required of an opera singer -- said he didn’t want his daughter to be like a can-can girl. (Laughter.) In her neighborhood back then, opera was not the obvious career path. And there weren’t a lot of opera singers who looked like her that she could look up to.
But Martina had a dream she couldn’t shake, so she auditioned relentlessly and jumped at any role she could get. Along the way, she earned money by teaching and working as a social worker in New York City. And when she got a call from the Metropolitan Opera asking her to fill in the lead for “Aida,” she was sure it was just a friend pulling her leg. It wasn’t until they called back that she realized the request was real, and she just about fell over in shock. But in that breakout role she won fans around the world, beloved for her tremendous voice and unparalleled grace.
Martina has sung the great roles: Mozart’s Donna Anna, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, and, of course, Aida. She’s played the world’s stages, from Cincinnati to Paris to Israel. She’s broken through barriers, broadening our notion of what magnificent artists look like and where they come from.
And along the way, she’s helped people of all ages, all over the world, discover the art form that she loves so deeply. For a lot of folks, it was Martina Arroyo who helped them see and hear and love the beauty and power of opera. And with her charitable foundation, she is nurturing the next generation of performers -- smart, talented, driven, and joyous, just like her. For moving us with the power of her voice and empowering others to share theirs too, we honor Martina Arroyo. (Applause.)
Herbie Hancock played his first concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 11 years old. Two years later, he heard a classmate play jazz piano at a variety show and thought, “That’s my instrument, and he can do that? Why can’t I?” It turned out he could. (Laughter.)
By 23, Herbie was playing with Miles Davis in New York and on his way to becoming a jazz legend. And he didn’t stop there. In the seventies, he put his electrical engineering studies to work and helped create electronic music. In the eighties, his hit “Rockit” became an anthem for a fledging new genre called hip-hop. At one recent show, he played alongside an iMac and five iPads. (Laughter.) And a few years ago, he became the first jazz artist in 43 years to win a Grammy for best album.
But what makes Herbie so special isn’t just how he approaches music; it’s how he approaches life. He tours the world as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. He’s done so many benefit concerts that Joni Mitchell once gave him a watch inscribed with the words: “He played real good for free.” (Laughter.) And we know this because he’s played here for free a lot. (Laughter and applause.) We work Herbie, I’m telling you. (Laughter.)
But we just love the man. Michelle and I love this man, not just because he’s from Chicago. Not just because he and I had the same hairdo in the 1970s. (Laughter.) Not just because he’s got that spooky Dorian Gray doesn’t-get-older thing going on. (Laughter.) It is his spirit, it is his energy -- which is relentless and challenging, and he’s always pushing boundaries. Herbie once said of his outlook, “We’re going to see some unbelievable changes. And I would rather be on the side of pushing for that than waiting for somebody else to do it.”
Well, Herbie, we are glad that you didn’t wait for somebody else to do what you’ve done, because nobody else could. For always pushing us forward, we honor Herbie Hancock. (Applause.)
When a 22-year-old Carlos Santana took the stage at Woodstock, few people outside his hometown of San Francisco knew who he was. And the feeling was mutual. Carlos was in such a -- shall we say -- altered state of mind that he remembers almost nothing about the other performers. (Laughter and applause.) He thought the neck of his guitar was an electric snake. (Laughter.)
But that did not stop Carlos and his band from whipping the crowd into a such frenzy with a mind-blowing mix of blues, and jazz, and R&B, and Latin music. They’d never heard anything like it. And almost overnight, Carlos Santana became a star.
It was a pretty steep climb for a young man who grew up in Mexico, playing the violin for tourists, charging fifty cents a song. But as a teenager, Carlos fell in love with the guitar. He developed a distinctive sound that has drawn admirers from Bob Dylan to Herbie Hancock. And he gave voice to a Latino community that had too often been invisible to too many Americans. “You can cuss or you can pray with the guitar,” Carlos says. He found a way to do both. (Laughter.)
And today, with 10 Grammys under his belt, Carlos is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. And he’s still attracting new fans. Back in 2000, his album “Supernatural” beat out Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to get to the Number 1 on the charts. Kids were listening to Carlos who hadn’t even heard of Woodstock.
But despite all his success, Carlos says he still feels blessed to “be able to play a piece of wood with strings and touch people’s hearts.” So for blessing all of us with his music, we honor Carlos Santana. (Applause.)
Now, when you first become President, one of the questions that people ask you is, what’s really going on in Area 51? (Laughter.) When I wanted to know, I’d call Shirley MacLaine. (Laughter.) I think I just became the first President to ever publicly mention Area 51. How’s that, Shirley? (Laughter and applause.)
We love Shirley MacLaine. She’s unconventional, and that makes her incomparable -- with nearly 60 years of reign as one of the most celebrated stars in movie history to prove it. “There are some performers that are indelible,” said one fan about Shirley. “We fall early and we fall hard for them and we follow them for the rest of their lives.” Now, that fan just happens to be a legend in her own right, who we honored here two years ago -- Meryl Streep. But Meryl is not the only one who fell hard.
Shirley has been drawing fans, including me, since -- well, not since she first lit up the big screen -- because in 1955 she was in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry,” but she’s still spitting fire with the same old spunk, most recently playing the American grandma in “Downton Abbey,” which Michelle I think got some early previews for. (Laughter.) Along the way, Shirley has racked up just about every Hollywood award that is out there. That’s why her nickname, “Powerhouse,” is so fitting. The truth is Shirley earned that nickname for hitting the most home runs on the boys’ baseball team when she was a kid. But I’d say that it still works pretty well to describe her today.
And that’s because Shirley MacLaine’s career isn’t defined by a list of film roles and musical performances. Through raucous comedies, and stirring dramas, and spirited musicals, Shirley has been fearless and she’s been honest, and she’s tackled complicated characters, and she’s revealed a grittier, deeper truth in each one of those characters -- giving every audience the experience of cinema at its best. It’s a motto she has lived by: “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where all the fruit is.” For her risk-taking, for her theatrical brilliance, for her limitless capacity for wonder, we honor this American powerhouse -- Shirley MacLaine. (Applause.)
And finally, in a world full of brilliant musicians, there’s only one Piano Man. The son of a Jewish father who left Germany for America to escape the Nazis, Billy Joel started piano lessons as a boy growing up on Long Island. His father was a classical pianist, so that was Billy’s training too -- until the night he and millions of Americans watched The Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show. Most people thought, “I want to hear more music like that.” But Billy thought, “I want to make my own music like that.” And from then on, it was all rock and roll to him.
With lyrics that speak of love and class and failure and success, angry young men and the joy of becoming a father, he’s become one of the most successful musicians in history, selling more than 150 million records.
Above all, Billy Joel sings about America: About the workers living in Allentown after the factories closed down. About soldiers home from the war, forever changed, bidding “Goodnight Saigon.” Commercial fishermen struggling to make a living in the waters off of Long Island, sailing the Downeaster Alexa. The sights and sounds of that city like no other, which can put anyone in a “New York State of Mind.” And of course, the rag-tag bunch of regulars at the bar where he started out, shouting at him again and again to “sing us a song.”
Billy Joel probably would have been a songwriter no matter where he was born. But we are certainly lucky that he ended up here. And the hardworking folks he’s met and the music that he’s heard across our nation come through in every note and every lyric that he’s written. For an artist whose songs are sung around the world, but which are thoroughly, wonderfully American, we honor Billy Joel. (Applause.)
So, Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Joel -- each of our brilliant honorees has given us something unique and enriched us beyond measure, as individuals and as a nation. Together they bring us closer to President Kennedy’s vision of the arts as a great humanizing and truth-telling experience.
Their triumphs have lifted our spirits and lifted our nation and left us a better and richer place. And for that we will always be grateful. So we thank you all.
God bless you, and please join me in saluting one more time our remarkable 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees. (Applause.)
5:36 P.M. EST
I am pleased to welcome the announcement from Bali, Indonesia, of the first fully multilateral trade agreement in the 20-year history of the World Trade Organization.
This new deal, and particularly the new trade facilitation agreement, will eliminate red tape and bureaucratic delay for goods shipped around the globe. Small businesses will be among the biggest winners, since they encounter the greatest difficulties in navigating the current system. By some estimates, the global economic value of the new WTO deal could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
The WTO’s Bali agreement also represents the rejuvenation of the multilateral trading system that supports millions of American jobs and offers a forum for the robust enforcement of America’s trade rights. As such, we are proud of the United States’ leadership role in reaching this accord and congratulate WTO Director-General Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo and our fellow WTO members on this achievement.
1:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello! (Applause.)
MR. SABAN: How are you doing?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm good. Hello, everybody.
MR. SABAN: One of your staffers said you are in a great mood this afternoon, so --
THE PRESIDENT: I am.
MR. SABAN: -- we're doubly blessed here. So that's terrific.
I'd like to thank you very much for being here today, Mr. President. The Forum, and I personally, are honored to have you join us in this conversation. And I am personally honored that you insisted that I have this conversation with you, even though I never set foot for any conversation for 10 years. (Laughter.) So thank you. I'm very honored.
Shall we start with Iran?
THE PRESIDENT: We should.
MR. SABAN: Okay, good. (Laughter.) Mr. President, polls indicate that 77 percent of Israelis don't believe this first nuclear deal will preclude Iran from having nuclear weapons, and they perceive this fact as an existential matter for them. What can you say to the Israeli people to address their concern?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, before I answer the question, let me say to you, Haim, thank you so much for the great work that you’ve done. I think the Saban Forum and the Saban Center has done outstanding work, and it provides us a mechanism where we don't just scratch the surface of these issues. Obviously the challenges in the Middle East are enormous, and the work that's being done here is terrific.
So I want to also thank Strobe for hosting us here today, and all of you who are here, including some outstanding members of the Israeli government and some friends that I haven't seen in a while. So thanks for having me.
Let me start with the basic premise that I've said repeatedly. It is in America’s national security interests, not just Israel’s national interests or the region’s national security interests, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
And let’s remember where we were when I first came into office. Iran had gone from having less than 200 centrifuges to having thousands of centrifuges, in some cases more advanced centrifuges. There was a program that had advanced to the point where their breakout capacity had accelerated in ways that we had been concerned about for quite some time and, as a consequence, what I said to my team and what I said to our international partners was that we are going to have to be much more serious about how we change the cost-benefit analysis for Iran.
We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, cut their oil revenues by more than half, have put enormous pressure on their currency -- their economy contracted by more than 5 percent last year. And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we should trust him or anybody else inside of Iran. This is a regime that came to power swearing opposition to the United States, to Israel, and to many of the values that we hold dear. But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically. And that is the deal that, at the first stages, we have been able to get done in Geneva, thanks to some extraordinary work by John Kerry and his counterparts in the P5-plus-1.
So let’s look at exactly what we’ve done. For the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear program. We have not only made sure that in Fordor and Natanz that they have to stop adding additional centrifuges, we’ve also said that they’ve got to roll back their 20 percent advanced enrichment. So we’re --
MR. SABAN: To how much?
THE PRESIDENT: Down to zero. So you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu made his presentation before the United Nations last year --
MR. SABAN: The cartoon with the red line?
THE PRESIDENT: The picture of a bomb -- he was referring to 20 percent enrichment, which the concern was if you get too much of that, you now have sufficient capacity to go ahead and create a nuclear weapon. We’re taking that down to zero. We are stopping the advancement of the Arak facility, which would provide an additional pathway, a plutonium pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.
We are going to have daily inspectors in Fordor and Natanz. We’re going to have additional inspections in Arak. And as a consequence, during this six-month period, Iran cannot and will not advance its program or add additional stockpiles of advanced uranium -- enriched uranium.
Now, what we’ve done in exchange is kept all these sanctions in place -- the architecture remains with respect to oil, with respect to finance, with respect to banking. What we’ve done is we’ve turned the spigot slightly and we’ve said, here’s maximum $7 billion out of the over $100 billion of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions, to give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction, a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they’re not producing nuclear weapons.
MR. SABAN: I understand. A quick question as it relates to the $7 billion, if I may.
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
MR. SABAN: How do we prevent those who work with us in Geneva, who have already descended on Tehran looking for deals, to cause the seven to become 70? Because we can control what we do, but what is the extent that we can control the others?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Haim, this is precisely why the timing of this was right. One of the things we were always concerned about was that if we did not show good faith in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically, then the sanctions regime would begin to fray.
Keep in mind that this was two years of extraordinary diplomatic work on behalf of our team to actually get the sanctions in place. They’re not just the unilateral sanctions that are created by the United States. These are sanctions that are also participated in by Russia, by China, and some allies of ours like South Korea and Japan that find these sanctions very costly. But that’s precisely why they’ve become so effective.
And so what we’ve said is that we do not loosen any of the core sanctions; we provide a small window through which they can access some revenue, but we can control it and it is reversible. And during the course of these six months, if and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further.
But here is the bottom line. Ultimately, my goal as President of the United States -- something that I’ve said publicly and privately and shared everywhere I’ve gone -- is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I’ve also said is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that.
It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months, understanding that while we’re talking, they’re not secretly improving their position or changing circumstances on the ground inside of Iran. And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them.
If, on the other hand, we’re able to get this deal done, then what we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.
MR. SABAN: Let’s all hope we get there.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
MR. SABAN: You have hosted Passover dinners at the White House.
THE PRESIDENT: I have.
MR. SABAN: And you know this famous saying, “Why is this night different than any other night?” In that context, I would like to ask you a question.
THE PRESIDENT: Please.
MR. SABAN: With the best intentions and all efforts, President Reagan vowed that Pakistan would not go nuclear. Didn’t happen. With the best intentions and all efforts, President Clinton vowed that North Korea won’t go nuclear. Why is this nuclear deal different than any other nuclear deal? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we don’t know yet. No, we don’t know yet. I think it’s important for everybody to understand this is hard. Because the technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet; the knowledge of creating a nuclear weapons is already out there. And Iran is a large country and it is a relatively wealthy country, and so we have to take seriously the possibility that they are going to try to get a nuclear weapon. That’s what this whole exercise is about.
Having said that, if you look at the history, by the time we got an agreement with North Korea, they essentially already had a nuclear weapon. With respect to Pakistan, there was never the kinds of inspection regimes and international sanctions and U.N. resolutions that were in place. We have been able to craft an international effort and verification mechanism around the Iran nuclear program that is unprecedented and unique. That doesn't mean it’s easy. And that’s why we have to take it seriously.
But I think one of the things that I’ve repeatedly said when people ask, why should we try to negotiate with them, we can’t trust them, we’re being naïve, what I try to describe to them is not the choice between this deal and the ideal, but the choice between this deal and other alternatives.
If I had an option, if we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it. But --
MR. SABAN: Next question --
THE PRESIDENT: Sorry, Haim, I want to make sure everybody understands it -- that particular option is not available. And so as a consequence, what we have to do is to make a decision as to, given the options available, what is the best way for us to assure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.
And the best way for us to assure it is to test this diplomatic path, understanding that it’s not based on trust; it’s based on what we can verify. And it also, by the way, does not negate the fact that Iran is engaging in a whole bunch of other behavior in the Middle East and around the world that is detrimental to the United States and detrimental to Israel.
And we will continue to contest their efforts where they’re engaging in terrorism, where they’re being disruptive to our friends and our allies. We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we’ve made that perfectly clear. And our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct, and they understand that. They don't have any doubt about that.
But if we can negotiate on the nuclear program in the same way that Ronald Reagan was able to negotiate with the Soviet Union even as we were still contesting them around the world, that removes one more threat -- and a critical, existential threat -- takes it out of their arsenal. And it allows us then to ultimately I think win them -- defeat some of their agenda throughout the region without worrying that somehow it’s going to escalate or trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world.
MR. SABAN: Unfortunately, you’re right -- it would. Tom Friedman had an interesting perspective in one of his columns. He said, “Never negotiate with Iran without some leverage and some crazy on your side. We have to out-crazy the crazies.” Do you think he has a point? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Tom is a very smart observer. And I know that my friend, Bibi, is going to be speaking later, and if Tom wants to characterize Bibi the way you just described, that’s his --
MR. SABAN: I didn't say that.
THE PRESIDENT: -- that's his prerogative, that’s not my view. (Laughter.)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and I have had constant consultations on these issues throughout the last five years. And something that I think bears repeating: The United States military cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our support of Israel’s security has never been stronger. Whether you’re talking about Iron Dome, whether you’re talking about trying to manage the situation in Gaza a little over a year ago, across the board, our coordination on the concrete issues facing Israel’s security has never been stronger. And that’s not just my opinion; I think that’s something that can be verified.
There are times where I, as President of the United States, am going to have different tactical perspectives than the Prime Minister of Israel -- and that is understandable, because Israel cannot contract out its security. In light of the history that the people of Israel understand all too well, they have to make sure that they are making their own assessments about what they need to do to protect themselves. And we respect that. And I have said that consistently to the Prime Minister.
But ultimately, it is my view, from a tactical perspective, that we have to test out this proposition. It will make us stronger internationally, and it may possibly lead to a deal that we’ll have to show to the world, in fact, assures us that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon.
It’s not as if there’s going to be a lot of capacity to hide the ball here. We’re going to be able to make an assessment, because this will be subject to the P5-plus-1 and the international community looking at the details of every aspect of a potential final deal, and we’re consulting with all our friends, including Israel, in terms of what would that end state look like. And if we can’t get there, then no deal is better than a bad deal. But presuming that it’s going to be a bad deal and, as a consequence, not even trying for a deal I think would be a dire mistake.
MR. SABAN: Well, personally, I find a lot of comfort in the fact that even though the United States and Israel may have red lines in different places, we are on the same place as far as the bottom line goes --
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
MR. SABAN: -- and Iran will not have nuclear weapons. Fair to say?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. That is more than fair.
MR. SABAN: Good. Thank you. Should we move to these Israeli-Palestinians --
THE PRESIDENT: We should.
MR. SABAN: Okay. (Laughter.) Very obedient President I have here today. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: This is the Saban Forum, so you’re in charge. (Laughter.)
MR. SABAN: I wish. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Or Cheryl is in charge.
MR. SABAN: You’re more on now, Mr. President. It is Cheryl who is in charge.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right.
MR. SABAN: Anyway. (Laughter.) First of all, before I ask the first question, I would be remiss if I didn’t, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your continuous effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. Thank you so very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. SABAN: So people talk about an imposed American solution. We’ve heard these rumors rumbling around for a while. The U.S. has always said it doesn’t want to impose. What would you propose?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, this is a challenge that we've been wrestling with for 60 years. And what I've consistently said is that the only way this is going to be resolved is if the people of Israel and the Palestinian people make a determination that their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren will be better off with peace than with conflict. The United States can be an effective facilitator of that negotiation and dialogue; we can help to bridge differences and bridge gaps. But both sides have to want to get there.
And I have to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for the courageous efforts that have led to very serious conversations over the last several months. They are not easy. But they come down to what we all know are going to be the core issues: territory; security; refugees; Jerusalem.
And there are not a lot of secrets or surprises at this point. We know what the outlines of a potential agreement might look like. And the question then becomes are both sides willing to take the very tough political risks involved if their bottom lines are met.
For the Palestinians, the bottom line is that they have a state of their own that is real and meaningful. For the Israelis, the bottom line is, to a large extent, is the state of Israel as a Jewish state secure. And those issues have been spoken about over the last several months in these negotiations in a very serious way. And I know Tzipi Livni is here and been participating in that, and we're very grateful for her efforts there.
And I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes better to move forward than move backwards. Sometimes when you're climbing up a mountain, even when it’s scary, it’s actually easier to go up than it is to go down. And I think that we're now at a place where we can achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side-by-side in peace and security. But it’s going to require some very tough decisions.
One thing I have to say, though, is we have spent a lot of time working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his entire team to understand from an Israeli perspective what is required for the security of Israel in such a scenario. And we -- going back to what I said earlier -- we understand that we can't dictate to Israel what it needs for its security. But what we have done is to try to understand it and then see through a consultative process, are there ways that, through technology, through additional ideas, we can potentially provide for that.
And I assigned one of our top former generals, John Allen, who most recently headed up the entire coalition effort in Afghanistan -- he’s retired now, but he was willing to take on this mission -- and he’s been working to examine the entire set of challenges around security --
MR. SABAN: Has he concluded anything?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he’s come up to -- he has arrived at the conclusion that it is possible to create a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s core security needs.
Now, that's his conclusion, but ultimately he’s not the decision-maker here. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli military and intelligence folks have to make that determination. And ultimately, the Palestinians have to also recognize that there is going to be a transition period where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank. That is unacceptable. And I think we believe that we can arrive at that point where Israel was confident about that, but we're going to have to see whether the Israelis agree and whether President Abbas, then, is willing to understand that this transition period requires some restraint on the part of the Palestinians as well. They don't get everything that they want on day one. And that creates some political problems for President Abbas, as well.
MR. SABAN: Yes. Well, I'd say my next question of what was the reaction of the Prime Minister to General Allen for John Kerry.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ask John Kerry, or ask the Prime Minister.
MR. SABAN: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to speak for him. (Laughter.)
MR. SABAN: They won't tell me, but, okay. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's probably true.
MR. SABAN: My last question: The Palestinians are two people -- one in the West Bank, led by President Abbas that is negotiating the deal; and one in Gaza, led by Hamas that wants to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. President Abbas, as far as I know, says he won't make a deal that doesn’t include Gaza, which he doesn’t control. How do we get out from this labyrinth?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is going to have to happen in stages. But here’s what I know from my visits to Israel, my visits to the West Bank: There are people of goodwill on both sides that recognize the status quo is not sustainable over the long term, and as a consequence, it is in the interests of both the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve this issue.
There are young people, teenagers that I met both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories that want to get out from under this history and seek a future that is fundamentally different for them. And so if, in fact, we can create a pathway to peace, even if initially it’s restricted to the West Bank, if there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank Palestinians are able to live in dignity, with self-determination, and suddenly their economy is booming and trade is taking place because they have created an environment in which Israel is confident about its security and a lot of the old barriers to commerce and educational exchange and all that has begun to break down, that’s something that the young people of Gaza are going to want. And the pressure that will be placed for the residents of Gaza to experience that same future is something that is going to be I think overwhelmingly appealing.
But that is probably going to take place during the course of some sort of transition period. And the security requirements that Israel requires will have to be met. And I think that is able -- that we can accomplish that, but ultimately it’s going to be something that requires everybody to stretch out of their comfort zones.
And the one thing I will say to the people of Israel is that you can be assured whoever is in the office I currently occupy, Democrat or Republican, that your security will be uppermost on our minds. That will not change. And that should not mean you let up on your vigilance in terms of wanting to look out for your own country. It does -- it should give you some comfort, though, that you have the most powerful nation on Earth as your closest friend and ally. And that commitment is going to be undiminished.
Q That was my last question.
THE PRESIDENT: I promised -- we worked something backstage where as long as Haim’s questions weren’t too long, I’d take a couple of questions from the audience. And he was very disciplined -- (laughter) -- so let me take one or two.
This gentleman right here. Why don’t you get a microphone so everybody can hear you?
Q Mr. President, I used to be a general in the Israeli Air Force, in intelligence, and now running a think tank in Tel Aviv. Looking into the future agreement with Iran -- I put behind me the initial agreement, and what is really important is the final agreement. Two questions. What is the parameters that you see as a red line to ensure that Iran will be moving forward -- moving backward, rolling back from the bomb as much as possible? And what is your plan B if an agreement cannot be reached?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, with respect to the end state, I want to be very clear there’s nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich. We’ve been very clear that given its past behavior, and given existing U.N. resolutions and previous violations by Iran of its international obligations, that we don’t recognize such a right, and if, by the way, negotiations break down, there will be no additional international recognition that’s been obtained. So this deal goes away and we’re back to where we were before the Geneva agreement, subject -- and Iran will continue to be subject to all the sanctions that we put in place in the past and we may seek additional ones.
But I think what we have said is we can envision a comprehensive agreement that involves extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and intrusive inspections, but that permits Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program.
Now, in terms of specifics, we know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordor in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.
And so the question ultimately is going to be, are they prepared to roll back some of the advancements that they’ve made that would not justify -- or could not be justified by simply wanting some modest, peaceful nuclear power, but, frankly, hint at a desire to have breakout capacity and go right to the edge of breakout capacity. And if we can move that significantly back, then that is, I think, a net win.
Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the Prime Minister, that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil. Period. Full stop. End of conversation. And this takes me back to the point I made earlier. One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone. I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. (Laughter.) I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful. (Laughter.) But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected? What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take?
And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.
Theoretically, they might still have some. But, frankly, theoretically, they will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this.
And with respect to what happens if this breaks down, I won’t go into details. I will say that if we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community and the P5-plus-1, then the pressure that we’ve been applying on them and the options that I’ve made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for. And we’ve always said that. So that does not change.
But the last point I’ll make on this. When I hear people who criticize the Geneva deal say it’s got to be all or nothing, I would just remind them if it’s nothing, if we did not even try for this next six months to do this, all the breakout capacity we’re concerned about would accelerate during that six months. Arak would be further along. The advanced centrifuges would have been put in place. They’d be that much closer to breakout capacity six months from now. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to try to test this proposition.
I’ll take a couple more. Yes, sir. Right over here.
Q Mr. President, Israeli journalist from Isreal Hayom daily newspaper. Mr. President, I covered the negotiations with Iran, nuclear negotiations -- Geneva 2009, Istanbul 2010. And I came back now from Geneva again, where you could see the big change was not only on Iran’s side, but also on the P5-plus-1 side, meaning they were very eager to reach an agreement. Coming back from Geneva, we learned, and some of us had known before, the secret talks America had with Iran. And we know the concern you have on the Israeli security -- e’re very grateful. But how does it coincide with your secret negotiations Washington had with Tehran? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: The truth is, is that, without going into the details, there weren’t a lot of secret negotiations. Essentially what happened -- and we were very clear and transparent about this -- is that from the time I took office, I said we would reach out to Iran and we would let them know we’re prepared to open up a diplomatic channel. After Rouhani was elected, there was some acceleration leading up to the U.N. General Assembly. You’ll recall that Rouhani was engaging in what was termed a charm offensive, right, and he was going around talking to folks. And at that point, it made sense for us to see, all right, how serious are you potentially about having these conversations.
They did not get highly substantive in the first several meetings but were much more exploring how much room, in fact, did they have to get something done. And then as soon as they began to get more technical, at that point, they converged with the P5-plus-1 discussions.
I will say this: The fact of Rhouhani’s election -- it’s been said that there’s no difference between him and Ahmadinejad except that he’s more charming. I think that understates the shift in politics that took place in this election. Obviously, Rouhani is part of the Iranian establishment and I think we have to assume that his ideology is one that is hostile to the United States and to Israel. But what he also represents is the desire on the part of the Iranian people for a change of direction. And we should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world.
There’s a lot of change that’s going to be taking place in the Middle East over the next decade. And wherever we see the impulses of a people to move away from conflict, violence, and towards diplomatic resolution of conflicts, we should be ready and prepared to engage them -- understanding, though, that, ultimately it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.
And we have to be vigilant about maintaining our security postures, not be naïve about the dangers that an Iranian regime pose, fight them wherever they’re engaging in terrorism or actions that are hostile to us or our allies. But we have to not constantly assume that it’s not possible for Iran, like any country, to change over time. It may not be likely. If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50. But we have to try.
Last question. And I think it’s -- the young lady right there.
Q Mr. President, I’m a reporter for Israeli Channel Two. I have been listening to your analysis of the Iranian deal, and I can only imagine a different -- a slightly different analysis given by our Prime Minister Netanyahu.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s probably a good bet. That’s more than 50/50. (Laughter.)
Q Israelis are known for their understatement. (Laughter.) And I try to imagine a conversation between you two. And he would ask you, Mr. President, I see this deal as a historic mistake -- which he has already stated -- and I think it’s the worst deal the West could have gotten. And you would have told him, Bibi, that’s where you go wrong. What would you have told him? That’s one thing. And then, perhaps to understand the essence of your conversation, he would ask you, Mr. President, is there one set of circumstances under which you will order your B-52s to strike in Iran? What would you tell him? (Laughter.) Is there any set of circumstances in which you will order your fighter pilots to strike in Iran? What would you tell the Prime Minister?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me make a couple of points. Number one, obviously, the conversations between me and the Prime Minister are for me and the Prime Minister, not for an audience like this. And I will say that Bibi and I have very candid conversations, and there are occasionally significant tactical disagreements, but there is a constancy in trying to reach the same goal. And in this case, that goal is to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.
As President of the United States, I don't go around advertising the circumstances in which I order pilots to launch attacks. That I think would be bad practice. (Laughter.) I also would say, though, that when the President of the United States says that he doesn't take any options off the table, that should be taken seriously. And I think I have a track record over the last five years that indicates that that should be taken seriously.
It’s interesting -- in the region, there was this interesting interpretation of what happened with respect to Syria. I said it’s a problem for Syria to have chemical weapons that it uses on its own citizens. And when we had definitive proof that it had, I indicated my willingness potentially to take military action. The fact that we ultimately did not take military action in some quarters was interpreted as, ah, you see, the President is not willing to take military action -- despite the fact that I think Mr. Qaddafi would have a different view of that, or Mr. bin Laden. Be that as it may, that was yesterday, what have you done for me lately? (Laughter.)
But the point is that my preference was always to resolve the issue diplomatically. And it turns out, lo and behold, that Syria now is actually removing its chemical weapons that a few months ago it denied it even possessed, and has provided a comprehensive list, and they have already begun taking these weapons out of Syria. And although that does not solve the tragic situation inside of Syria, it turns out that removing those chemical weapons will make us safer and it will make Israel safer, and it will make the Syrian people safer, and it will make the region safer.
And so I do not see military action as an end unto itself. Military action is one tool that we have in a tool kit that includes diplomacy in achieving our goals, which is ultimately our security.
And I think if you want to summarize the difference, in some ways, between myself and the Prime Minister on the Geneva issue, I think what this comes down to is the perception, potentially, that if we just kept on turning up the pressure -- new sanctions, more sanctions, more military threats, et cetera -- that eventually Iran would cave. And what I’ve tried to explain is two points: One is that the reason the sanctions have been so effective -- because we set them up in a painstaking fashion -- the reason they’ve been effective is because other countries had confidence that we were not imposing sanctions just for the sake of sanctions, but we were imposing sanctions for the sake of trying to actually get Iran to the table and resolve the issue. And if the perception internationally was that we were not in good faith trying to resolve the issue diplomatically, that, more than anything, would actually begin to fray the edges of the sanctions regime. Point number one.
And point number two -- I’ve already said this before -- you have to compare the approach that we’re taking now with the alternatives. The idea that Iran, given everything we know about their history, would just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military threats, and ultimately just say, okay, we give in -- I think does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people or the Iranian regime. And I say that -- by the way, I’m not just talking about the hardliners inside of Iran. I think even the so-called moderates or reformers inside of Iran would not be able to simply say, we will cave and do exactly what the U.S. and the Israelis say.
They are going to have to have a path in which they feel that there is a dignified resolution to this issue. That’s a political requirement of theirs, and that, I suspect, runs across the political spectrum. And so for us to present a door that serves our goals and our purposes but also gives them the opportunity to, in a dignified fashion, reenter the international community and change the approach that they’ve taken -- at least on this narrow issue, but one that is of extraordinary importance to all of us -- is an opportunity that we should grant them.
Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed this. (Applause.)
MR. SABAN: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve been very generous. (Applause.)
2:00 P.M. EST
Seoul Grand Hyatt
Seoul, Republic of Korea
9:30 A.M. KST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just very briefly will cover the meetings yesterday that the Vice President had, particularly the meeting and lunch with President Park, and then take your questions, and then also maybe have a couple minutes off the record on two or three issues where we can add a little context.
The Vice President and President Park spent about two hours, two and a half hours together between a bilateral meeting and a small lunch, and covered a range of alliance issues and regional issues, including obviously North Korea and the recent Chinese announcement of the air defense identification zone, including issues related to the management of the alliance as we go forward, including issues related to nonproliferation more broadly. They discussed the Iran nuclear deal and they discussed regional relations -- Korea-Japan, Korea-China, the role of the United States and the rebalance. And the Vice President had the opportunity also to share with Park some of his impressions from the meetings in both Tokyo and Seoul on the issues of common concern.
One item that is now coming into the press that I wanted to take a minute to describe in a little bit more detail is related to the air defense identification zone. The Vice President and President Park discussed the Chinese announcement. They agreed that this was a destabilizing act that increased tensions. They reaffirmed that we don’t recognize the zone and that it won’t affect either of our operations. And they also discussed implications for the Korean air defense identification zone. The Vice President expressed understanding for Korea’s approach to China’s announcement, including potential adjustments to its zone, and both of them talked at some length about the importance of freedom of overflight and the lowering of tensions.
In this context, the Vice President also strongly reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Republic of Korea’s security. Now, obviously we’re going to leave it to Korea to discuss the specifics of their proposals. But let me say that we’re closely coordinating with them as they consider next steps, and we’re on the same page in terms of the importance of consultations with neighbors, in terms of taking actions that are consistent with international practice, and in terms of ensuring that any measures don’t escalate tensions in the region.
So beyond that, sort of obviously we leave it to the Koreans to lay out how they plan to proceed, but we will remain, following on the Vice President’s conversation with President Park, closely coordinated with the Koreans as we move forward.
I think I will leave it at that, unless I missed any significant issues that -- oh, I did, yes. My apologies. The Vice President and President Park also had the opportunity to spend some time on both Korea’s expression of interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the implementation of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And that set of trade and economic issues was obviously important to mention on this stop, and it occupied the bulk of the time that the Vice President spent with the prime minister and also a considerable amount of time that he spent with the president. And as he said publicly in his remarks, the United States welcomes Korea’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We think that their entry will add more momentum to not just that agreement, but to an overall effort led by the United States to produce new rules of the road for the 21st century in terms of trade and commerce.
So the -- yes, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They also discussed bilateral issues, including security cooperation in implementing the Strategic Alliance 2015, noting this is the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and touched on the ongoing program of work between us on security cooperation leading up to the expected Security Consultative Meeting to be held in the fall of 2014.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me close with just one sort of bit of texture. The U.S.-Korea -- U.S.-ROK alliance is really at a high-water mark. And these meetings reflected the common approach that the United States and Korea have on a number of critical issues, and the commitment of the leadership on both sides as we implement the framework and vision of the alliance going forward to make sure that, as potentially cheesy as it sounds, that the next 60 years are as effective as the last 60 years have been and that we have modernized the alliance to take account of the challenges and opportunities of the first half of the 21st century.
So there was a real warmth and intensity to the conversations in terms of our shared interests and trying to move the ball forward on some pretty substantial items. So with that, we’ll take a couple of questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Did you mention North Korea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I did.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, sorry.
Q Can I just ask on the question of South Korea and Japan, how the Vice President did frame the issue of that relationship and what sort of a response he got from the president?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll ask my colleagues to jump in, but the Vice President had one-on-one conversations with both Prime Minister Abe in Japan and with President Park in Korea -- private conversations on this subject. He indicated to both leaders the strong U.S. interest in two of the region’s leading democracies, Japan and Korea, having improved relations with one another, that that is in our interest. And further, that trilateral cooperation, especially trilateral security cooperation, among Japan, Korea and the United States is of crucial importance as well.
They were able to have discussions -- by “they” I mean the Vice President and Prime Minister Abe and the Vice President and President Park -- about the future, and given the sensitivity of these issues, I’m not going to go into any more detail about what exactly that entailed. But I will say that we will continue to follow up as a result of the Vice President’s conversations with each leader.
Q By “private conversations,” do you mean separately from the sort of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One on one.
Q Okay. And on the South Korean ADIZ, understanding you don’t want to read out their side of the conversation, but can you say, was the Vice President’s message to them, “We really don’t think that you should be expanding this, it’s just going to throw another log on the fire”?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, as I’d laid out in my comments before, they had an extensive discussion on this. The Vice President expressed understanding for Korea’s approach, including with respect to potential adjustments to its zone. And as a result, not just in the conversation we had with President Park, but consultations that we’ve had with the Koreans over the course of the past two weeks, 10 days, he walked away from that conversation feeling like we were on the same page with respect to the key issues at play here, which include some pretty important elements -- consultations with neighbors; taking actions consistent with international practice; ensuring that any measures don’t escalate tensions.
So it is obviously up to the Koreans to both lay out and execute any steps it plans to take in response to China’s announcement, but we had a very good set of conversations about this yesterday and we’re on -- we’re in extremely close communication and coordination on it.
I don’t know if you guys want to add to this?
Q To ask sort of a nuanced question, because Mark asked the -- I was going to ask about Japan. But the Vice President in his comments yesterday spoke about the United States not leaving the region, and made reference to the fact that we’ve been here for so many years. And that kind of statement used to be very controversial in Korea because it created this notion of permanent basing, and there were enormous protests at places like Yonsei about U.S. bases, the behavior of servicemen. And I’m interested to know whether in the dynamic between the president and the Vice President, there was any expression of sensitivity about how one maintains a forward base presence of the United States but yet doesn’t seem to undermine the sovereignty of the Korean people, and whether that was sort of managed at that level and what our general policies are on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Fascinating question, and in effect you’ve answered it yourself by referencing the fact that whereas 20 years ago, you would have been seeing Molotov cocktails garlanding the perimeter of Yonsei University during the visit of a Vice President, instead what you saw were throngs of cheering crowds. And that’s indicative of the extremely strong support both for the U.S.-ROK alliance, but also for relations with the United States that’s manifest in polling and more broadly in public attitudes.
So the issue of U.S. bases, whether it’s a question of the legitimacy or the burden, was not discussed between the president and the Vice President precisely because it’s not a point of friction. There are, of course, always discussions about the ongoing process of U.S.-ROK cooperation on a range of security alliance-related programs, of which basing is one element. But I think you’re pointing to a very good news story, that the presence of the 28,500 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula is no longer seen as an infringement of sovereignty. Instead, it’s seen as a core element of the U.S.-ROK partnership.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I want to make sure we have time to do a few minutes off the record, so we can do it now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I understand.
Q That’s great. One thing if I would ask real quickly while we’re still on background: Given the many differences between the situations in North Korean and Iran that you’re all familiar with, what was the nature of discussing those two things in relation to each other?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think here, we discussed this a bit with respect to the conversation with -- between the Vice President and President Xi. Here, I didn’t mean to suggest in my opening that these were directly linked. They discussed both issues on their own terms. There are obviously some overlaps and some connections that came up, but the North Korea conversation really sort of stood on its own and was an opportunity for the Vice President and President Park to compare notes on our approaches, and those approaches are entirely 100 percent aligned. We both have the same view that the only way that we get back to dialogue is if the North Koreans take steps to show that they are serious about -- concrete steps to show they are serious about it and that it won’t just be talks for the sake of talking.
And in a sense, in both the meeting and the lunch, the Vice President and President Park were finishing each other’s sentences on North Korea. That’s how sort of aligned the two of them saw it. And when the Vice President spoke with the prime minister, the Vice President made his presentation on our policy towards North Korea, and the prime minister said, “You just read the points I was going to make, so I have nothing more to say.”
So on North Korea there was a real alignment. The Iran piece was an opportunity for the Vice President to talk to them about our impressions of where that is headed, and also to underscore the point that it was pressure that brought the Iranians to the table in the first instance, and continued pressure is going to be crucial to setting the stage for a final agreement, and Korea is an important part of that.
So yes, we can go off the record.
9:44 A.M. KST
WASHINGTON, DC—In this week’s address, President Obama said that before Congress leaves for vacation, they should extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million hardworking Americans who will lose this lifeline at the end of the year. For families, unemployment benefits can mean the difference between hardship and catastrophe, and it is also one of the most effective ways to boost our economy. This holiday season, Congress should do the right thing for the American people and make it easier for our economy to keep growing and adding jobs.
The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, December 7, 2013.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
The White House
December 7, 2013
Hi, everybody. The holiday season is a time for remembering the bonds we share, and our obligations to one another as human beings.
But right now, more than one million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it.
Our top priority as a country should be restoring opportunity and broad-based economic growth for all Americans. And yesterday, we learned that our businesses created about 200,000 jobs in the month of November. That’s more than 8 million new jobs in the last 45 months. And the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in five years.
But we need to do everything we can to help businesses create more good jobs that pay good wages even faster. Because the hole that we’re still digging out of means that there are still millions of Americans looking for work – often because they’ve been laid off through no fault of their own.
We also have to look out for the Americans working hard to get those jobs. That’s why, as a country, we offer temporary unemployment insurance – so that job-seekers don’t fall into poverty, and so that when they get that job, they bounce back more quickly.
For many families, it can be the difference between hardship and catastrophe. It makes a difference for a mother who suddenly doesn’t know if she’ll be able to put food on the table for her kids. It makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is looking for a new one. Last year alone, it lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty, and cushioned the blow for many more.
But here’s the thing: if Members of Congress don’t act before they leave on their vacations, 1.3 million Americans will lose this lifeline. These are people we know. They’re our friends and neighbors; they sit next to us in church and volunteer in our communities; their kids play with our kids. And they include 20,000 veterans who’ve served this country with honor.
If Congress refuses to act, it won’t just hurt families already struggling – it will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy. When people have money to spend on basic necessities, that means more customers for our businesses and, ultimately, more jobs. And the evidence shows that unemployment insurance doesn’t stop people from trying hard to find work.
Just this week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that allowing benefits to expire will be a drag on our economic growth next year. A report by the Department of Labor and my Council of Economic Advisors estimated that it could cost businesses 240,000 jobs. And without the ability to feed their families or pay the bills, many people currently looking for work could stop looking for good.
So extending unemployment insurance isn’t just the right thing to do for our families – it’s the smart thing to do for our economy. And it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. For decades, Congress has voted to offer relief to job-seekers – including when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today.
But now that economic lifeline is in jeopardy. All because Republicans in this Congress – which is on track to be the most unproductive in history – have so far refused to extend it.
So this holiday season, let’s give our fellow Americans who are desperately looking for work the help they need to keep on looking. Let’s make it easier for businesses to attract more customers, and our economy to grow. And together, let’s keep doing everything we can to make this country a place where anyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead
Thanks, and have a great weekend.
The War Memorial of Korea
Seoul, Republic of Korea
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s a great honor to be here. I was thanking the director for keeping alive the memory of some of these brave Americans who gave their lives for the freedom of the Korean people. And I was surprisingly moved by looking down at the -- as I laid the wreath -- the names of Delawareans. Two family members I know -- not my family members. A fellow -- a great athlete I played ball with through high school, his dad’s name is on there, and others. And so it brings home how real and how necessary our continued presence here is.
There is a piece of good news. The DPRK today released someone they should never have had in the first place, Mr. Newman. I’m told -- tried to get in contact with him -- he’s on his way or in China now.
I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there’s a direct flight to San Francisco, his home. So I don't blame him. I’d be on that flight too.
And it’s a positive thing they’ve done, but they have Mr. Bae, who is
-- has no reason being held in the North; should be released immediately. And we demand his release as well.
So -- but this is one bright piece of sunshine today that Mr. Newman will be returned and reunited with his family.
Q Have you talked with him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we were trying -- we tried to get a hold of him. We communicated the offer of a ride back on Air Force Two, but it was pointed out I guess by State Department. I’m not sure who Mr. Sullivan talked to, but he said, look, there’s a direct flight in three hours directly to his home in San Francisco.
Q Did you play any role in securing his release, Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I played no direct role. Thank you very much.
Q Mr. Vice President, do you have word about why, why he was released?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
This afternoon President Obama spoke by phone with Mrs. Graça Machel to express the condolences of the Obama family and the American people on the passing of her husband, Nelson Mandela. The President thanked Mrs. Machel for the profound influence that Nelson Mandela has had on him, and underscored the power of President Mandela’s example for the people of South Africa and the entire world. President Obama expressed gratitude and thanks for the joy that Graça Machel brought to Nelson Mandela’s life, and the commitment to a peaceful, fair, and loving world that she and President Mandela shared.
This afternoon President Obama spoke by phone with Mrs. Graça Machel to express the condolences of the Obama family and the American people on the passing of her husband, Nelson Mandela. The President thanked Mrs. Machel for the profound influence that Nelson Mandela has had on him, and underscored the power of President Mandela’s example for the people of South Africa and the entire world. President Obama expressed gratitude and thanks for the joy that Graça Machel brought to Nelson Mandela’s life, and the commitment to a peaceful, fair, and loving world that she and President Mandela shared.
6:16 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas, everybody! Well, this show is always a great way to get in the holiday spirit. Every year, I rehearse my own little act, just in case. But it seems like, yet again, they couldn’t find space to squeeze me into the program. (Laughter.) You are lucky I’m not singing.
First of all, let me thank Secretary Jewell and welcome her to her first Christmas Tree Lighting. She is doing a great job for our national parks. She used to run one of America’s biggest outdoor recreation companies, and now she’s charged with protecting the great outdoors for all of us. So we appreciate her and we want to thank Neil Mulholland and the whole National Park Foundation and National Park Service team for helping to put this beautiful production together.
Let’s also give it up for Jane Lynch and all the great performers who are doing an incredible job putting us in a festive mood tonight. (Applause.) And to all Americans who are here today and watching at home, we are so glad to be part of this wonderful holiday tradition.
For 91 years, the National Christmas Tree has stood as a beacon of light and a promise during the holiday season. During times of peace and prosperity, challenge and change, Americans have gathered around our national tree to kick off the holiday season and give thanks for everything that makes this time of year so magical -- spending time with friends and family, and spreading tidings of peace and goodwill here at home and around the world.
And this year, we give a special measure of gratitude for Nelson Mandela, a man who championed that generosity of spirit. (Applause.) In his life, he blessed us with tremendous grace and unbelievable courage. And we are all privileged to live in a world touched by his goodness.
Each Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a child who came into the world with only a stable’s roof to shelter Him. But through a life of humility and the ultimate sacrifice, a life guided by faith and kindness towards others, Christ assumed a mighty voice, teaching us lessons of compassion and charity that have lasted more than two millennia. He ministered to the poor. He embraced the outcast. He healed the sick. And in Him we see a living example of scripture that we ought to love others not only through our words, but also through our deeds.
It’s a message both timeless and universal -- no matter what God you pray to, or if you pray to none at all -- we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to make a difference that is real and lasting. We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper.
And so in this season of generosity, let’s reach out to those who need help the most. In this season of reflection, let’s make sure that our incredibly brave servicemembers and their families know how much we appreciate their sacrifice. And there are several military families and servicemen and women here tonight. We are so grateful to you for all that you do. (Applause.)
In this season of hope, let us come together as one people, one family to ensure that we're doing everything we can to keep America the land of endless opportunity and boundless optimism for which we're so thankful.
So on behalf of Malia, Sasha, Marian, the First Lady Michelle, plus Bo and Sunny, I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a joyful holiday season. God bless you. God bless our troops. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
6:16 P.M. EST
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I want to wish you all a happy Friday, even though it’s raining, and say that I have a topper.
Today, as part of our daily messaging effort to highlight specific benefits of the health care law that are already making a big difference for families and our economy, the White House and supporters of reform are focusing on how, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, growth in health care costs is at historically low levels along multiple dimensions.
According to the most recent projections, health care spending grew at the slowest rate on record over the last three years. Real per-person spending grew at just a 1.3 percent rate. And this slow growth was seen in Medicare, Medicaid and in private insurance. Health care price inflation is at its lowest level in 50 years.
The health care law is contributing to this progress through provisions that reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare. The law is also reducing costs and improving quality through a variety of innovative reforms, including by providing incentives to hospitals to reduce the readmission rates. In fact, today, HHS is announcing new data showing that these incentives have avoided 130,000 readmissions for people following a hospital stay over the last two years.
High readmission rates, which is the percentage of patients being discharged from the hospital and then having to be re-hospitalized is costly for patients, insurance companies, and if the patient is on Medicare, to taxpayers too. It also can be a sign of low-quality care.
So this new data is another step in the right direction for patients and for taxpayers. Overall, these trends are encouraging news for families, businesses, and our economy. When families spend less on health care, they feel more secure in their own budgets. When businesses spend less on health care, they can hire more workers. And over the past 45 months, as you know, businesses here in the United States have created more than 8 million new jobs -- which is a perfect segue to something I just wanted to note.
Today, as you know, of course, from information that was released earlier this morning, is Jobs Day. And figures on job creation in November were announced. And I think it’s worth noting, when you look at this graph, that not only obviously was the economy in free fall, and job loss was terrible at the end of 2008 and early 2009 when President Obama took office, and not only has the trajectory since then been consistently in the right direction, but if you note when we first began on a monthly basis positive job creation in the wake of the Great Recession, it was right around when the Affordable Care Act passed.
Now, this is obviously not a direct correlation, but we're moving in the right direction. The information I cited in the beginning about the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act on reducing the growth in health care costs combined with the steady job creation we've seen now for so many months reinforces a number of things about the Affordable Care Act and about the need that the President spoke of a few days ago to continue to focus on those trends, making the move in the right direction, and increasing job growth even further.
With that, I'll take your questions. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the President's travels to Africa for Nelson Mandela's services -- one, I wondered if you could give us more specific details on what the timing might be; as you know, there's a memorial service, there's also a funeral; Mr. Mandela is also lying in state. And will the President invite other former U.S. Presidents to accompany him on this trip?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for those questions, Jim. And I should have noted at the top, obviously for those of you who didn’t hear the President speak in the wake of the news of President Mandela's death, I would point you to those remarks.
All I can say at this point is that President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events. At this point, I don’t have more information for you on logistics or the timing of the travel. That is all being worked out. And in terms of others who are going to make that trip, I would refer you to them at this time.
We'll have more information. We hope to have it fairly quickly, and when we do we'll be able to provide it to you.
Q But I mean, yes, it's up to others whether they go, but would the President invite them to travel on Air Force One?
MR. CARNEY: Again, at this point, I just don’t want to get ahead of a process that’s being worked on as I speak in terms of the timing and logistics for the whole trip. And when we have that information, we'll get it to you right away.
Q On the jobs numbers, you've been there and other White House officials have told us that the shutdown and the sequester were going to have dire consequences with job growth and with economic growth, and today's numbers obviously are a welcome surprise for you guys. Is some of the austerity simply just not having the effect that you all predicted?
MR. CARNEY: I would not look to what we said about it and have predicted about it, but to what outside private economists have said about the effect of the sequester on job creation and of course of the shutdown on jobs and economic growth. You're talking about trying to prove a negative or a counterfactual, but they say, those economists, that absent those impacts, the picture would be even better than it is.
And let me just be clear: No one in this building, no one who works on these issues in the administration is satisfied even with the steady progress that we've been making and the positive news today. It's nowhere near enough for the President, as you heard him talk about just a few days ago. We need to keep working on this problem.
Seven percent employment, just like 7.3 percent -- I mean, unemployment -- just like 7.3 percent unemployment is far too high. And we need to keep doing everything we can here in Washington to make sure that we're not inflicting any wounds on the economy, not setting it back, which is what happened with the shutdown, but investing in it and making the right choices about it so that we can build the foundation necessary for further economic growth, for further private sector job creation. That's what the President is focused on.
And something that these numbers don't address but that the President talked about the other day is of a continuing concern to him and to so many around the country, and that is the growing inequality and the diminishing ability for Americans who are born in the lowest quintile, the lowest 20 percent, to move up, move up the economic ladder. That upward mobility has been something so elemental to America’s economic experience and Americans’ identity that it’s something that merits a great deal of attention and focus, as the President discussed the other day.
Q In terms of the long-term unemployed, do you still believe --
MR. CARNEY: This is a problem.
Q Well, and should that -- the CBO estimates $25 billion is the cost for UI extension. Should that be paid for? Or is the White House position that it’s an emergency issue and --
MR. CARNEY: We've had a plan put forward on this and I would refer you to that plan. The President made clear the other day, and I will again, that we believe Congress ought to act on this. Congress has in the past, in a bipartisan way. I noted the 7 percent unemployment rate, which has ticked down from 7.3 percent, which is good news, but it is still far too high and it is still significantly higher than the 5.6 percent unemployment rate, which compelled President George W. Bush to sign an extension of unemployment benefits when he was in office.
And on the long-term unemployed, I think that the news we have today reinforces that we need to address this problem and to extend those unemployment insurance benefits to those individuals, because this is a persistent problem. As I noted, when President Bush signed the law extending unemployment insurance benefits, the average person was unemployed for a period of I believe 17 weeks, and now it’s 36 weeks. And what we saw today is that for that portion of the unemployed, even though the overall number of unemployed Americans fell in November, the number of long-term unemployed stayed pretty steady. And that is more evidence that we need to address this problem and that it would be terrible to tell more than a million families across the country just a few days after Christmas that they’re out of benefits.
So we hope that Congress will, as it has in the past, address this challenge.
Q Without offsets?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just point you to our plan.
Q We're a week away now from the deadline for lawmakers to come to a budget deal. How close does the White House feel lawmakers are getting to that? And is the White House insisting that part of that deal include something on extending UI?
MR. CARNEY: I'll start with the second part first. We, as the President said, believe Congress should extend unemployment insurance. The vehicle that they use to do that is less important than the fact that they do it. So I'm not going to negotiate from the podium about how that gets done.
And on the ongoing discussions and negotiations in Congress on the issue of a budget agreement, I would simply say that we hope and expect that they can reach one. But I don't want to characterize the progress in any way except to say that any sense that there is a return to an ability for each side to come together and to reach a compromise on budget matters would be welcome.
And that is certainly what we've talked a lot about and we talked a lot about this over the course of the year -- a return to regular order. But I don't want to prejudge any work that's being done or make any predictions about how successful they will be, except to say that we obviously hope they will be.
Q How's the White House involved in this, if at all?
MR. CARNEY: We are regularly involved in discussions with those on Capitol Hill who are engaged in this process. But this is something, as we've talked about before, that needs to be worked out by the relevant committees and the relevant leaders in those chambers who need to reach a compromise so that we can move forward, avoid another government shutdown, address some of the self-inflicted wounds that have occurred over the past, including the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that the sequester imposed that both Democrats and Republicans have noted as a problem.
So we're engaged. We provide information. We consult regularly with those working on this process. But this is something that Congress needs to achieve.
Q We're also about a week away from the anniversary of the shooting at Newtown, and I was wondering if the President is going to be doing anything next week to talk about that issue, gun violence?
MR. CARNEY: That day for him and I think for all of us will stick in our memories forever. In terms of what he or we will be doing around that anniversary, I don’t have any information to provide today. But it certainly will be a somber occasion.
I want to do what I did the other day, just because I realized for going on three years now, because of my habit of -- maybe because this is my better side, that I start over here -- that I've been getting to the right a little late here, and I'm all about getting to the right. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. So we'll start on the --
MR. CARNEY: And then I'll do Jim. I'm going to do -- okay.
Q Just a couple of things to go through some of the busy work in terms of Nelson Mandela's passing. Can you tell us the last time the President did have contact with Nelson Mandela? We know they spoke occasionally with letters and calls. When was the last time they actually spoke or communicated?
MR. CARNEY: I think we're looking at this. I don’t have a specific date. I believe it might have been 2010 or 2011, by phone. I know that Nelson Mandela called the President when he won the presidency in 2008, and I know they spoke by phone on several occasions after that. But I'll have to get, and I'm sure we have, the last occasion on which they spoke.
You probably also know that the First Lady and the Obamas’ daughters traveled to South Africa and met with Nelson Mandela. I believe that was in 2011. But on the President's last conversation, we'll have to get that information to you.
Q And then it's still a work in progress in terms of plans for your South Africa trip. Are there any plans in the works to go to the South African Embassy here where there's a statue that honors Nelson Mandela and some --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling updates involving the President of that nature to provide. And I want to forewarn you that because of the logistics that are still being worked on, I will not have a week ahead to give to you at the end of this briefing. But we'll get one to you when it's all prepared.
I did myself drive by that yesterday, and the number of people obviously had already gathered as well as the media. And it's -- that statue just went up. It's pretty great to have it here in Washington.
Q Digressing to a couple other separate topics. On the Affordable Care Act, the Government Accountability Institute, the GAI analysis shows that between July of 2010 and November, the end of November of this year, the President's public schedule was released showing that there were zero one-on-one meetings with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, though there were 277 other one-on-one meetings with other members of his Cabinet. That draws some questions about the President's leadership skills as the chief executive. And I'm curious what the White House response --
MR. CARNEY: Peter, I wish you had called me beforehand because I'm in a very charitable mood today, so I won't go too strong on this. But that report -- not the report you cited -- but the published report that was written by an advocate is based on a ridiculously false premise. As those of you who remember stories about WAVES records that supposedly indicated that Hillary Clinton, then-Secretary of State, met surprisingly infrequently with the President, showed that, with a little digging -- which most of you know -- Cabinet Secretaries don’t regularly get entered into the visitors logs because they come frequently. And Kathleen Sebelius comes frequently, and she meets frequently with the President.
I will refer you to the Department for more information and more detail. But she’s here a lot and meets with the President with regularity. And with the exception of when you look at public calendars and things, there are standing meetings for the secretaries of Defense, State and Treasury that this President has that are regular things, but he meets with other Cabinet secretaries in one-on-ones and small groups all the time. And I would note that those calendars may never show a meeting I’ve had with the President -- I had two yesterday. So that’s how it works.
Q And I have one final question then on the topic that we started with, which is Nelson Mandela. And I guess the question a lot of people will be thinking about when we consider the life of Nelson Mandela and the challenges that exist in our own country is, what lessons Washington can learn from the example of Nelson Mandela? I’m curious. Because I know you’ve had conversations within the White House, and what you think the message that we can learn is.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President put it very well yesterday and in remarks he made when he was in South Africa earlier this year about the remarkable example that Nelson Mandela set when he was released from prison and made clear that he would embrace those who jailed him and that he would seek to help build a South Africa that judged every person by his or her character and not by his or her skin color. And I think that sort of spirit of reconciliation, as the President said yesterday, is one that should imbue the work that all of us do here -- at a professional level and, as the President said, on a personal level. But I cite the President here because he said it best.
Q Picking up on Peter’s question about Nelson Mandela, it just sort of struck me that the President talked about this great impact that he had on his life, but he only met with Nelson Mandela one time face-to-face. I was just curious, for people who are wondering, if you could provide more details about Nelson Mandela’s influence on the President’s life. Have you had a chance to talk to him about this? I know he made some comments about this yesterday. People might just be wondering. They only met one time, but yet he had a big impact.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that Nelson Mandela had a profound impact on millions and millions of people around the world, and beginning with the citizens of South Africa -- millions and millions of people who have never met him -- who never met him. And the President, as senator, had the good fortune to meet him. But I don’t think that’s the reason why he had an influence on Barack Obama. That influence extends, as he said yesterday, well back in time.
And I know those of us who were in college in the ‘80s remember the debates and protests that were happening on college campuses over divestment in South Africa because of apartheid. I think that’s what the President was referencing in his own experience. I know I had a similar experience in college during that time. And it was a profoundly important issue internationally. And the amazing transformation that happened from that period to his release, and then not much time later, just a few years, to his election as President was part of an era of historic change around the world that I think will be remembered as such for a long, long time.
So I know that’s the -- the President has spoken a lot about this, not just last night, so I would point you to what he has said in the past. But it’s a remarkable thing, and you guys all in broadcast and in print have been doing a terrific job of celebrating his life and noting how unique he is in world history. I mean, there is just -- there is no debate around the world about the fundamental goodness of this man. It wasn’t always that way, but it is today.
Q And we’re getting really close to -- Roberta was talking about dates -- but to December 23rd, when people have to sign up for insurance to have coverage starting on the first of the year. January 1st, which is a date when a lot of people are just going to be focused on, well, is the system actually working the way it should be working -- any concerns at all about these dates that are coming up?
MR. CARNEY: We’re extremely focused on it, and especially the teams at CMS and the tech teams that Jeff Zients is working with -- because, as I noted earlier, that even though we met the goal that we set with the website for the end of November, we’re still engaged in a lot of work and we still have a lot of work to do to make sure that we continue to address whatever problems remain with the website so that it is functioning as effectively as it can for the millions of Americans who want to use it, and that we’re doing all the other things that we talked about to improve this period of implementation and enrollment.
That includes what CMS is doing to reach out to everyone who has chosen a plan to make sure they’re communicating with their issuer and know that they need to, if they enrolled for insurance to kick in on January 1st, that they obviously need to meet whatever premium deadline is set by their issuer. They’re making sure that everyone who enrolled is enrolled, in fact, and addressing the challenges that were particularly keen in the beginning of this process -- on the backend, the 834 forms.
This process is still going on, and we’re obviously encouraged by the progress that’s been made. But there continues to be a lot of work to do, and the work is not about -- somebody I spoke to today, a reporter, was sort of asking about corners being turned and things and what that means for the President. It’s what it means for the people who are trying to get insurance. And what is remarkable --
Q Do you feel like you’re turning a corner?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying I feel like we’re making progress.
Q Are you seeing the corner?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet and we’re not going to suggest that we’re there yet, because this is about making sure that the millions of Americans who have persistently showed that they want what the exchanges offer are rewarded with an experience that allows them to shop and select the coverage that they think suits their lives best and their pocketbooks best. So that's the work we're undertaking, and that's what the President is focused on and everyone else.
Last one, Jim.
Q Can I get one more question in there? The President was asked by Chris Matthews about choosing between the Vice President and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is the President just going to stay out of it? Is he just going to stay to the sidelines here?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, it's 2013. And what I can say is that --
Q We can't help ourselves.
MR. CARNEY: I know, I know. I couldn't either when I was a reporter. But the fact of the matter is the President -- I'm echoing the President here, that the President is enormously grateful for the service of Hillary Clinton as his exceptional Secretary of State in the first term, and is ever grateful for the extraordinary service that Joe Biden provides as Vice President that we've seen just this week on his very important foreign trip.
The President feels lucky to have had Hillary Clinton on his team and to have Joe Biden on his team, and that's what he's focused on.
I'm going to do a little in the back, Jon, and then I'll get you next. Voice of America.
Q Thank you. Ambassador Rice had a very heartfelt statement about Nelson Mandela, and she also had this major address of human rights the other day, which got some attention. Did she consult -- how closely did she consult with the President on that speech?
MR. CARNEY: On that speech itself? Oh, I know he was aware of it, and they meet every day. I don't know how much they talked about it. But I know she felt strongly about the speech, and encourage everyone here who hasn't seen it to read it. But as you would expect, because she's the National Security Advisor to the President, they spent a lot of time together. So I'm sure they discussed it.
Q Can I ask you about one aspect of that? On Iran, she said, “As we test the potential for a diplomatic resolution on the nuclear issue, another key test is whether we begin to see progress on human rights.” So are human rights -- people who assume that human rights will be a separate track completely -- has human rights issues been raised at all, or will they be raised over the six-month period between now and --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we raised the issue of human rights with regards to Iran and other countries, where we have profound issues with their poor track record on human rights. And we will always do that and consistently do that.
I think what Ambassador Rice was referencing is that the progress we've seen out of Tehran, in terms of their willingness to proceed with negotiations and to engage with the P5-plus-1 and to reach the agreement, the preliminary agreement that they reached, is important. It is all based on actions, as far as we're concerned, and that's why it's so important that compliance is upheld, and all the verification measures are there to ensure that. And that will be true all the way through to the completion, if there is one, of a comprehensive agreement.
But if that's achieved, that will be a good thing for the world and we think for Iran, but there are obviously other issues. I think the people of Iran very much demonstrated in the election and have demonstrated since that they want improved relations with the world, that the isolation, their pursuit of a nuclear weapons program has brought onto them has been unwelcome. But there's more to it than that. So I think that's what she was talking about.
Q On that one meeting that the President had with Nelson Mandela, have you ever talked to him about it? Have you ever heard him reflect on that meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I have.
Q And what -- is there anything --
Q I would let him discuss it. But I think if you -- I can't remember if you were with us, but if you look at the occasions that he spoke about Nelson Mandela when we were in South Africa, I think it reflects his feelings about the example Nelson Mandela set, and how remarkable his life is, how unique he was. So I wouldn't -- I would just point to what the President said, because there's a pretty long public record of comments about it.
Q And then just a follow-up on the question of meetings. So you’ve referred us to HHS. Will HHS be able to tell us how many times --
MR. CARNEY: I don't know. Again, because --
Q Because they tend to refer us back to here.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I think on this case --
Q They'll be prepared.
MR. CARNEY: -- they'll have information for you. The point I'm trying to make here is -- as I was making to a reporter earlier -- is that there's obviously a lot of folks out there who have been rightly critical of healthcare.gov, and in general, opponents of Obamacare and the whole effort who have made arguments, and that's fine.
This one is just based on bad information. That's the only point I was making.
Q And I just wanted to make sure we can get the correct --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have all the figures in front of me, but if you think about the Cabinet and the importance of, in this presidency, in particular, health care matters and health care reform, it's safe to say that Kathleen Sebelius has been one of the more frequent visitors to an attendance of meetings with the President.
So I don't have the figures, but if you -- there's the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as Department of Homeland Security, to be sure. And they all have spent a significant amount of time with the President and met with him on the issues that they oversee. But because of the preeminence of health care and health care reform in this administration, first-term and second, it's safe to say that Secretary Sebelius spent a lot of time here.
Q So could you just explain, though, how does -- because you mentioned that on the schedule we see that the standing meetings with Secretaries of Defense, State, Treasury, and the other meetings don't show up on the schedule. How do you determine what you decide you're going to publicly notice, and what you're not going to?
MR. CARNEY: I think we endeavor to put as much as we know in advance, and as much as we can on the public schedule that we release the day before. We talk often about meetings that have happened that either are thrown on in the last minute. I mean, when I mentioned that I was in to see the President a couple of times yesterday, they're not things that I knew I was going to be seeing him on the day before. So I think it's a lot -- it's probably kind of like your lives, that, even though he's President, it's pretty fluid, and -- maybe not like your lives, but -- (laughter) --
Q Ours is a little different.
MR. CARNEY: But also, obviously, there are some meetings that he has that are private, and we don't put them on the public schedule for a variety of reasons.
But I think especially those numbers that Peter was citing are based -- a lot of them are based on those standing weekly meetings, like the Vice President's standing lunch, weekly lunch, that are imprinted on there, and those numbers show up.
Q I know the details are still coming together, but is it anticipated and has the President been invited to deliver remarks or a eulogy for Nelson Mandela?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have any more details for you on that question or any of the other logistics around the visit the President and First Lady will be making.
Q By that, you’re not trying to imply he might not give remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not trying to imply anything on this. (Laughter.) No, honestly, because this is, for obvious reasons, still being worked on. And I promise you we'll get that information to you. I know obviously for a lot of you and your organizations when it comes to coverage, is the sooner the better in terms of information and we'll get it as soon as we can.
Q In the New Republic this morning there’s a posting that says the error rate for 834 processing is now down to 10 percent -- this is the kind of the topic we brought and discussed yesterday. I wonder if you can tell me if that is a verifiable or verified-internally statistic that you are confident in discussing or amplifying, and if that’s the beginning of a greater, if not floodtide, at least larger data set on this 834 question that we can expect, if not today in the coming days.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the data sets would be coming from CMS, and I know they’re working on this issue broadly. All I can say what I know with confidence -- and I try to deliver this information from here, only that information that I know with confidence and that I've checked out myself -- that we are confident that the error rate, which is a complicated thing, but that the overall number of errors and problems with the backend of the system and the 834 forms has been decreasing significantly since the October 1st launch date, and significantly over the course of November.
As I mentioned earlier this week, one of the major fixes that went in over the weekend prior to the change in the calendar to December was one that addressed some of these backend issues. But I don't have a percentage figure to put on it. I think that the only thing from that report that I can confirm is that we do know that it’s better now than it was. We do know that there are still issues we need to work on, which is why CMS has stood up a regular meeting of experts with issuers to address these specific problems on the backend, because it’s very important that we make sure that every 834 is accurate, both past and present, and we're going to do that.
Q And I want to follow up on Steve Collinson’s question from yesterday, because you mentioned the Vice President’s trip to Asia. There is a sense in those dissecting not only the Vice President’s words, Secretary Hagel’s words and others, that though the United States formally rejects the ADIZ, that there is nothing it can do about it and may, in fact, be accommodating itself to its reality, even though it objects to it. Is that a fair characterization?
MR. CARNEY: I tried to be as clear as I could, and I would point you to the Vice President’s remarks today about this matter. We, the United States, do not recognize and do not accept the newly announced East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. And it will not change -- will not change -- how the United States conducts military operations in the region. It does not have any practical effect on U.S. government operations.
We have been very clear about our view on this, and have been clear not just in our public pronouncements but in the -- as the Vice President said -- in his meetings with Chinese leaders.
So the broader point I think we're trying to make to the Chinese is that this is not how major powers conduct themselves and that there is enormous danger in these kinds of provocative actions in a region of the world that --
Q Picking up on that, it sounds as if the U.S. posture is to say to China, don't do anything like this again that could create any confusion, misunderstanding, or lead to a confrontation; and that though it doesn’t want to accommodate itself to it, it may in fact have to.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure where you're seeing that. Obviously, China made an announcement. It is for China to not implement it, which is what they're calling -- we're calling on them to do. We don’t recognize it, we don’t accept it.
So an announcement is an announcement. And the fact of the matter is, we've been very clear about our view of it and how we will react to it. And our broader concern about the tension in the region and how these kinds of provocative actions could lead to miscalculation and to further tension in the region, which is not in the interest of any of the nations involved.
Q On health care, I wanted to ask a couple. You said yesterday and again today that in order to make sure people who have tried to sign up actually get their insurance starting on January 1st, that the administration is endeavoring to contact these people in some way to get their paperwork in order. Wouldn’t that suggest you have some sort of enrollment figures? If you're contacting people, you know that they enrolled. So what are the enrollment figures for November? We haven't heard those yet.
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is, as was the case for October, that those numbers are being verified, scrubbed, data is being checked. There's a lot to come in from states, and that HHS, CMS will provide those figures in the middle of the month, which I think is next week, consistent with the need to make sure that those numbers are tight.
Obviously, we know October, and they can see who's pressed some buttons and reach out to them, and maybe they find out that this was part of the process -- you find out that maybe there was an error or duplication in that effort. So in the release of numbers, we're going to be very consistent, which is to make sure they're as accurate as possible before we release them. And that requires some time, especially in a circumstance like this where you have the federal site, which is administering the marketplaces on the number of states that it is, and then you have the individual states that are running their own marketplaces and providing data. So that’s all being combined. And we'll get it to you when it's ready, HHS will.
The broader thing that we've been talking about -- I mean, I'm not -- I haven't disputed or confirmed any numbers out there because we're waiting for the hard, verified data. I think that the reports that we've seen reflect what we believe based on the early information that we have, which is that the system is working much more effectively; that many more people are successfully enrolling, getting from beginning to end in the process; that the number of problems with the site has been reduced significantly, and that includes the frontend and the backend, but that we continue to work on it.
And these teams are working hard -- as hard this week as they were in previous weeks.
Q Republican Darrel Issa has been releasing documents for weeks now. He’s got more today that he says suggest that the small business exchange -- that the administration knew as early as August that the small business exchange would not be ready by October 1st. I think there were -- it was indicated that there might be problems with it in September, but it was not until late November that you said we’re going to have to delay that small business exchange. Was there any intent to --
MR. CARNEY: I think it was September that they --
Q But that you knew in August that there were problems and that -- their charge is that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I’m confident in is that there are dribs and drabs of information that come out that partially reflect what’s happening at CMS and HHS. I don’t have any specific information on this latest release of information. But anything that reinforces the fact that the site had problems in October is probably something we’ll agree with.
Q And it was mentioned in the MSNBC interview -- the President was asked about holding Cabinet secretaries and the Cabinet accountable, and is this a reflection of his personal management style, and he said it’s actually about these big government agencies that are outdated, they need to be fixed.
MR. CARNEY: I think he was talking about procurement issues and IT issues, which he has talked about from here.
Q But he said that these agencies are not designed properly. My question is, is he passing the buck? Is there not any changes that need to be made at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, no, no. He has stood before you, and believe me, there are people who think he has --
Q But he hasn’t talked about changes at the White House.
MR. CARNEY: Well, are you asking me --
Q Are there going to be changes at the White House -- management, structure?
MR. CARNEY: I have no personnel announcements to make. What I can say is that a lot of reporting around this has been inaccurate.
Q Well, what’s that?
MR. CARNEY: Here is what I can tell you. The President believes very strongly that we ought to be functioning effectively at all levels of the government on behalf of the taxpayers. And he has put forward -- in fact, Jeff Zients helped run that process -- put forward a pretty significant streamlining of some of our government agencies in a very sensible proposal that he certainly hopes Congress would act on. Now, that has to do with agencies not related to the Affordable Care Act implementation. But I think the broader view that it reflects is that the President thinks we ought to bring up to date the functionality of all of our activities here, and make it better, faster, more efficient and more responsive to the consumer -- and in this case, the consumer is obviously the taxpayer.
Q Last one. This interview was conducted at American University with students in the audience; the day before, the President went to a youth summit. Harvard University put out a poll this week that got widely cited about young people seeming to be disillusioned with the health care law, maybe disillusioned with the President’s leadership. My question is, is he concerned by going to the youth summit, engaging these students? I know he’s done it before, but this week, as you unveil this PR campaign on the health care law, how concerned is this White House that the President’s base, particularly young people who supported him big time in ’08 and 2012, are abandoning him on health care?
MR. CARNEY: I’d say a couple of things. The outreach to young Americans regarding enrollment and implementation of Obamacare has to do with a longstanding observation and a plan around it that we need young people to enroll. And that is true regardless of polling data on the Affordable Care Act. It was always going to be true, and it’s always going to be important, and it was always the case, as I think we’ve discussed here in this room, that young people in particular were more likely to wait until later stages in the enrollment process to enroll.
And so this effort is part of a broader effort that is and will be undertaken to make sure that young Americans around the country understand the advantages of having insurance and the need to have it and all the options available to them.
The poll you cite, I think I’ll leave it to folks on the political side who have looked at that. There are some -- it’s in pretty stark disagreement with a whole series of other polls by organizations represented here, particularly on youth and the Affordable Care Act. There are good polls and bad polls. It’s not worth --
Q There’s no fear that he’s losing his base?
MR. CARNEY: Look, it’s not about fear or whatever. There is no question that the problems we’ve had with implementation of the Affordable Care Act have created obstacles in the way of our efforts here. I think a poll today -- something I saw today said that basically the percentage of Americans who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act has not changed at all in the last couple of months, and I think that speaks to the kind of entrenched political nature of this debate over the past several years.
So it has always been in our view the case that you have to set aside those issues, those political issues, and focus on delivering the benefits of the law. And we’ve been talking about that. I talked about the improvements in health care costs, the reduction in the growth of health care costs that we’ve seen since the Affordable Care Act was passed. That’s a sort of macro deliverable from the Affordable Care Act. But we talked about preexisting conditions and the fact that the Affordable Care Act, beginning January 1st, ensures that no one with a preexisting condition can be denied insurance. And already for a long time now because of the Affordable Care Act, children with preexisting conditions have not -- cannot be denied, have not been able to be denied coverage.
So we’re focused on delivering the benefits. We know from similar data that breaks down what people say they like and want in health care reform that the benefits are broadly supported. And we’ve seen, because of the remarkable resilience and grit of the American people, even when they’re trying to get insurance, that even when we, because of the troubles we’ve caused with the healthcare.gov site that it was entirely incumbent upon us to fix, that they’re still there demonstrating in high volume the fact that they believe that this is something they need and want and want to know more about.
So that’s why we’re focused on delivering those benefits to them. We’ll see down the road how people view the Affordable Care Act and the benefits that it provides. Right now, we’re going to just get about the business of delivering.
Q Thank you, Jay. I know you have said and the President has said he wants to extend unemployment insurance. Do you have ideas about how to pay for that? I know that Jason Furman told Reuters in an interview today that the White House has ideas for paying for it.
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve put forward a plan. I mean, this is something that we’re not new to the game on. And I would just point -- I don’t have the details of it. I know that we’re looking to Congress to do what it has in the past, which is sit down and figure out a way to get this done because of the need not to throw -- the imperative of not depriving or withholding benefits to over a million families right after Christmas, A; B, because of the economic impact, positive impact that supplying these benefits would provide.
So I can take the question and point you to Jason and others who have more detail on it.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions. First of all, earlier you observed that job creation started around the passage of the ACA. Are you suggesting any relationship there? Or if not, why mention it?
MR. CARNEY: As I said, I’m not suggesting a direct correlation.
Q So why mention it?
MR. CARNEY: Because there is an argument out there -- and I’m, again, in a charitable mood today, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it -- but there is an argument out there that the ACA is a job killer, and the data would suggest otherwise. I’m not saying it’s creating these jobs, but there’s been an argument out there that the ACA is going to drive people into part-time employment.
But the data -- you’ve got to -- it’s one thing to make an argument. You’ve got to back it up with some data. And the data suggests the opposite, or suggests that that is not true, because there’s been very positive -- the trend is very positive when it comes to increasing full-time employment versus part-time employment. In fact, the recovery from this recession, the percentage of people going into full-time jobs rather than part-time jobs is actually better than average.
So again, I’m not saying that’s because of the Affordable Care Act, but I’m saying that the arguments that the Affordable Care Act is causing these problems don’t hold up when you look at that data.
Q And my second question is, in March and in September, when we faced continuing resolution and government shutdown questions, the White House set a standard of, if negotiations to find something better fail, we won't ever advocate a shutdown, we will let current law take place. Is that the position going forward?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that it's a good time not to predict failure. So we think that Congress ought to do what it's been doing, which is working collaboratively to reach a compromise and a budget arrangement. So we certainly oppose a shutdown, and I think -- I’m certain that our view of what happened in September and October has not changed and will always apply, which is that the harm done by a shutdown is wholly unnecessary and was a decision made for pretty expressively political reasons back in September and October by Republicans that turned out to be very bad for the economy.
Q For the jobs numbers that are out today, the President, even just a couple days ago, in the economic speech at THEARC, we're not seeing new policy initiatives being pushed out by the White House. So is the President comfortable with the decrease in unemployment as it has been?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all.
Q Or does he want to whittle it down sooner or faster or at a greater pace? And what's he doing to achieve that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, and I would point you to what the President said the other day. We need to invest in our infrastructure. Republicans used to support that with Democrats. We needed to get that done. We need to -- when the President has put forward an idea of doing that, and also lowering our corporate tax rate and eliminating loopholes in a way that would be a better bargain for jobs in this country. We need to invest in universal pre-K.
We need to continue to do the things that the President has put forward to attract jobs to America from overseas and to bring home jobs from American companies that are located overseas, bring them home, to build on those trends. We need to continue to build on the trends, the positive trends, we've seen in the manufacturing sector in this country, represented by the automobile companies but also by a host of other positive signs and developments in manufacturing.
So, no, the President is not the least bit satisfied or complacent with where we are. That's why he really believes that we ought to have a spirited conversation about what are we going to do to reduce inequality, what are we going to do to increase the number of jobs overall, but in particular the number of jobs that pay a middle-class wage and provide middle-class security to families across the country.
And he said in that speech that he believes that we can get some of this done with Congress. And where Congress refuses to move, he will take action that he can on his own, because this is his fundamental preoccupation.
Q Is he waiting until the State of the Union or some other future date to roll out a specific legislative package? I just feel like Congress is --
MR. CARNEY: Jared, I promise not to bore you with the numerous legislative proposals that are already out there, reflected in his budget and elsewhere, that would grow jobs now and create the foundation for further job growth in the future. He noted that in his speech, that he has a number of proposals that he will again focus on -- because, as I was noting, a lot of them are of the nature that in the past have enjoyed bipartisan support and should in the future.
And he looks forward to -- he calls on everyone in Congress of both parties to put forward ideas. If they have ideas that they think are better, that they disagree with the President's approach to narrowing the gap that we've seen, the growing gap when it comes to inequality, or increasing upward mobility, he's all ears, and looks forward to having that conversation.
Zack. I mean, sorry, Isaac, and then --
Q Has the President given any new consideration --
MR. CARNEY: I called on Zack already.
Q It's all right.
MR. CARNEY: You guys kind of look like, do you know that? (Laughter.)
Q He went to the same high school --
MR. CARNEY: Really?
Q Yes. Has the President given any new consideration to the executive order proposed to raise the minimum wage on federal contractors?
MR. CARNEY: We strongly believe -- and I neglected to mention this, Jared, and this gives me the opportunity -- that Congress ought to act on the longstanding precedent of bipartisan cooperation when it comes to raising the minimum wage, because that will have an immediate positive impact on the lives of millions of Americans and on our economy. And as the President noted the other day, the counterarguments upon scrutiny don't hold up, as studies show about raising the minimum wage. So we ought to do that as soon as possible.
So he thinks there is the opportunity, given the history here, given the interest that has been expressed by some Republicans in getting this done to do it, and to demonstrate to the American people that we here in Washington can take action. Remember, the studies out there show it doesn't have an adverse impact on businesses or job creation or growth -- quite the contrary. And it doesn't cost the taxpayer to do it. So we ought to do it.
Q But progressives in Congress say that he should lead by example on the federal contractors in raising the minimum wage there, doing something that he can do on his own, and not waiting for Congress to act.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I've said, broadly speaking, not addressing this, that the President is always looking for ways to move the ball forward where Congress won't work with him to do that. But he believes this is an opportunity for Congress to work with him in concert towards a goal that will help millions of Americans and help the economy.
Q So he won't sign it before --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to speculate about a hypothetical like that. I think his focus, as he said the other day, is on Congress taking action.
Q Jay, just to follow up on something else the President said on that, I guess you call it, TV talk show yesterday. (Laughter.) He said he was going to be proposing some --
MR. CARNEY: It's not like a newfangled thing. (Laughter.)
Q I don't know exactly what that show was. I watched it, but I couldn't quite figure it out. But he said he was going to be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA. Where does that process stand?
MR. CARNEY: It's underway. And the President is continuing to review ideas. And I think it's important that he noted an important point yesterday -- it's not well said -- but he made an important point yesterday that I know he believes deeply that the work done by NSA and others in our intelligence agencies is vital to keeping America and Americans safe, as well as keeping our allies safe, and we can't lose sight of that.
But I think the President said in those comments yesterday things that reflected and echoed what he said in the past about things that we can do and reforms that we can make that are wise, without forgetting the fundamental mission that is undertaken by our intelligence community is designed to and does make Americans and America safer.
Q We understand he’s going to get a report next week from the advisory group that he named about the NSA. Is that sort of the pivot point on --
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have any scheduling announcements on that issue to provide today. But he’s actively engaged in this process.
Q Since we're talking about legislative agenda, after the shutdown there were three things that the President said he wanted to see -- immigration reform, a farm bill and a budget. And the House is about to leave. Is there any sort of timetable on those, or is there any way to get those, or is it just an ongoing process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we talked about budget negotiations that are underway. And when it comes to the farm bill and the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the President still believes that Congress can act and should act as soon as possible, and could act right away -- the House could -- when it comes to these issues. So on the farm bill --
Q They could, but they’re not with us.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's a shame if that’s the case. They’re not gone yet, and they ought to do something between now and their departure that could signal to the American people that, in the case of the farm bill, that we have all the necessary elements of that important legislation taken care of on behalf of our agricultural sector as well as on behalf of Americans who depend on food and nutrition assistance.
And when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, as I've said in the past and conservatives have said in the past, there are many things about comprehensive immigration reform that conservatives could take to the hustings and make a strong case for, including strong economic growth; including bringing people out of the shadows and making sure that they get to the back of the line in the process to become citizens and that they’re paying all their taxes; including holding businesses accountable so that everybody plays by the same set of rules; including and making further improvements to our border security; including making necessary reforms to our legal immigration system so that our high-tech industries in particular can take advantage of the talent that we see in American universities with foreign students who want to stay here, want to start businesses, want to go work for startups.
So there’s a lot to like in comprehensive immigration reform and a lot that Republicans and conservatives could like. And a lot of Republicans support it. Let’s not lose sight of that. It passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority, a strong one. It has support from across the political spectrum -- law enforcement, evangelicals, business, labor. It has support from very, very senior Republican lawmakers and a former President and governors. So there’s a real opportunity here for getting something significant done for our economy and our future that could be heralded as a bipartisan success story.
Ann, I'll give you the last one.
Q Thank you very much. Back on the NSA. When the President volunteered the phrase yesterday that he will recommend “self-restraint” on the NSA, does that indicate that even if he hasn’t gotten this report yet that he believes the NSA’s overall surveillance program is important enough that he doesn’t think it needs to be reined in to the extent that many of those who worry about --
MR. CARNEY: Is this like a dissection of different verbs? I think what he said is pretty clear and I think it reflects his belief -- as I was saying earlier to Peter -- that there are steps that we can and should take to make sure, as he has said in the past, that we're not -- that we are doing everything we need to do and collecting all the information that we need to collect -- because we should collect it for our safety and security and because we should and can do it within the confines of the law, but that we're not doing it just because we can.
And that's the sort of umbrella under which these reviews have been taking place and how he is evaluating the options available to him when it comes to the changes that are going to be made.
Thanks, all. Have a great weekend. I will -- we'll get you a week ahead as soon as we can and more information about next week as soon as we can. Take care.
2:06 P.M. EST
Seoul, Republic of Korea
11:45 A.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT PARK: (As interpreted) Mr. Vice President, I sincerely welcome you to Korea.
And indeed, your visit to Korea marks the first of its kind in 10 years by a U.S. Vice President, and I believe that this visit to Korea adds further significance to the 60th anniversary of our alliance partnership that we mark this year.
At a time when we have recently been seeing growing volatility and tensions in Northeast Asia, one can say that it’s very helpful for certain -- in Northeast Asia to have a Vice President with such profound insights in foreign affairs travel to this region.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of our alliance partnership and look back over the last 60 years, we can -- say that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been serving as the lynchpin for stability and prosperity not only on the Korean Peninsula but also in Northeast Asia, and we hope to further build on the trust that we have built over the last six decades to further deepen our relationship and to take it forward, and may your visit, Mr. Vice President, offer a precious stepping stone in that direction.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Madam President, and your entire delegation, thank you. It’s an honor for my colleagues and I to be able to be here with you today.
As I said to your colleagues, Madam President, in the other room, your visit to Washington had a profound effect upon the members of the United States Congress and the American people because you communicate with such sincerity the warmth and the affection you feel and your people feel for the United States.
As your ambassador to the United States knows, that same feeling exists in the United States toward Korea -- the Republic of Korea.
You were very gracious suggesting I have a profound insight for foreign policy. It was vastly exaggerated. But what is not exaggerated is my profound respect for the people of the Republic of Korea, my profound respect for what you have accomplished in the last 60 years.
In an incredibly well received speech you made to the joint session of the United States Congress, you talked about the last 60 years and the journey that we are on together the next 60 years; a journey not only on the peninsula, not only in Northeast Asia, but in the region and the world.
That's why I’m here, to talk about that journey. We have much to talk about, and we have much to plan. I want to make one thing absolutely clear. President Obama’s decision to rebalance the Pacific Basin is not in question. The United States never says anything it does not do. Let me say that again. The United States never says anything it does not do.
As I said in my visits thus far in the region, it has never been a good bet to bet against America. It has never been a good bet to bet against America. And America is going to continue to place its bet on South Korea.
Again, thank you for your warm welcome. And I look forward to our discussions.
12:02 P.M. (Local)
Seoul, Republic of Korea
2:46 P.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much, Mr. President, for that generous introduction. And what a great honor it is to be here at such a fine university.
I was telling the president and the provost as I met them in the back when I walked in that, as a tradition in American universities, and I'm sure it's the same here, is students only have to wait 10 minutes for an associate professor. They can leave class after that and not be marked absent. (Laughter.) And 20 minutes for a full professor. The only full professor in my family is my wife, Dr. Biden, who is a university professor. So I can't tell you how much I'm going to brag at home about the fact that this many students waited more than 20 minutes to hear me speak. (Applause.) I thank you very, very much, and I apologize for being late.
In the States, when I'm late I always turn and say, it's the President's fault. (Laughter.) Well, I can actually say it's my fault for spending so much time with your President, and that's the reason I ran over. So I do apologize. Thank you for waiting.
Before I begin I'd like to take a moment to remember a man who I had the great privilege of knowing, spending some time with over the years, who changed the world and the way we see it -- Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela said, a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. A good head and a good heart are a formidable combination. In Mandela's case, he lifted a nation to freedom. He had wisdom, compassion, and courage. And maybe the hardest thing to possess -- forgiveness.
I remember when I met him first -- he came to my office. I tried to visit him when he was in prison. I went to South Africa with a group of members of Congress to make a point that we wanted to visit him. We were stopped, as you might not be surprised. When he was released, he came to my office to see me -- I was what we call the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It was a great honor. And during our conversation I said to him, Mr. President, I don't understand why you don't feel more resentful and hateful for being kept in solitary confinement for the most productive years of your life. And let me tell you what he said to me.
He said, "Senator, I became good friends with my jailors. They were just doing their job. When I left, Senator, they all lined up to shake my hand and wish me well. They're my friends."
A much better man than me. A much better man than almost any man or woman I have met in my whole career. He inspired us. He challenged us to do better. He was a good man. And he met -- the excuse as we say in the United States Senate, a point of personal privilege -- he met my mother's test -- and I mean this sincerely -- what constitutes a good and great person. My mother used to say, you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty. Few people I've ever met in my life -- and I've had a chance to meet every major world leader in the past 35 to 40 years -- have met that test like Nelson Mandela. His courage was undeniable, and his loyalty to all the people -- all the people -- of South Africa was redeeming not just for him, but for South Africa.
I'd ask you to join me, to pause to honor Nelson Mandela with a moment of silence.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need women and men like Nelson Mandela in this moment of great change that's taking place in the world. We meet at a moment when the course of Asia Pacific affairs in the 21st century is still being written. The rise of economies up and down the Pacific Rim are literally remaking the world. But with this growth have come new risks and tensions above and beyond the enduring threats that we face. And the rules and norms that help advance security and prosperity are still evolving to keep pace with the remarkable changes of the 21st century.
Earlier this year, I had the great honor as the presiding officer in a joint session of Congress to sit behind your President, President Park, as she addressed the Congress assembled. She spoke both eloquently and passionately. She spoke of her vision for all our countries -- Korea and America. She said -- and I quote -- "The shared journey toward peace on the Korea Peninsula, toward cooperation with Northeast Asia, and finally, toward cooperation around the world -- that's the journey we're on together." A journey we've already embarked upon -- and that's not hyperbole, it's a fact. And we could not -- we, the United States, could not have any better partner to share that journey with than the Republic of Korea.
Today, I'd like to take a few moments to speak to you about our vision, President Obama's vision and my vision, for what that journey holds. Sixty years ago -- sixty years ago -- sixty years of progress and inspiration, from poverty to prosperity, from authoritarianism to democracy, from isolation to total integration in the global economy.
And how did your parents and grandparents do that? They did it by betting on you. By betting on ordinary Koreans -- not the elite, not a special class, but ordinary Koreans. Because they know what we know in America: Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things if you give them an opportunity. They did it by trusting your parents with freedom. They did it by investing in education and opening your economy, although sometimes slowly, to global competition.
The result? The "Miracle on the Han River" that the whole world is aware of, that many nations emerging today from chaos and authoritarianism are attempting to replicate. We, the United States and Korea, we've grown together as our alliance has, as well -- an alliance born out of blood, sweat and tears of our warriors and yours, standing side-by-side six decades ago, defending the integrity of this country.
To this day, the American people still support, to the tune of billions of dollars, without complaint -- 28,500 of our sons and daughters standing side-by-side with their Korean brothers and sisters; standing watch, without complaint.
My son is a Major in the United States Army. Millions of mothers, like his mother watched him deploy to Iraq, watched his brothers deploy to and from South Korea, because they know -- they know, as difficult as it is, it's necessary, in our interest. Imagine you deploying, all of you sitting here, the age of my son -- almost 30,000 of you deploying, and your fathers before you for 60 years, to another country without complaint.
So you might not be surprised I find -- I'm somewhat incredulous when people question our staying power, question whether America means what it says, and does what it says. It's because of our shared commitment to democracy both at home and abroad, our shared passion to educate our children, allowing them to be the most competitive in the world. Reflecting that fact is this great university, as well as there are more Korean students studying in my country than the students from Canada and Mexico combined. A shared conviction that our economic partnership, although sometimes of rough patches, is overwhelmingly in the interest of both our people, creating jobs not here just in Seoul, but in Montgomery, Alabama, and our common sense of pride, a justified pride, in our people -- our parents and our grandparents -- and the sacrifices they made.
President Obama and I -- and it's really President Obama who did it -- we're proud to name for the first time a son of Korea -- Sung Kim. Stand up, Mr. Ambassador. Where are you? -- the Ambassador to the Korea Republic. (Applause.)
President Park's vision of our journey is already taking shape, our alliance as a lynchpin for peace and security in the Asia Pacific. I was criticized by some a couple of years ago when I said in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing that America is a Pacific power, a resident Pacific power, and we are going nowhere -- nowhere. We not only stand side-by-side in the Korean Peninsula with all of you, we stand watch around the world. Korean sailors are fighting piracy off the shores of Somalia. Korean troops are showing their mettle alongside our own in Afghanistan.
But the vision is not just limited to security. Together, Korea and the United States -- the Republic of Korea and the United States are fighting around the world disease, illiteracy, hunger, championing the rights of women. Witness the response to the crisis in the Philippines. The Republic of Korea is one of the only countries in the world whose development budget has actually gone up over the past years. You have not forgotten, apparently, what allowed you to rise again.
The Koreans and Korean-Americans have assumed positions of world leadership. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations; Jim Kim, president of the World Bank -- I could name -- the list goes on. And now you're getting the Winter Olympics. Congratulations. (Laughter.) Give yourself a round of applause. (Applause.)
October is the 60th anniversary. Think of it. The last 60 years has been remarkable. Now, for you students, you say, my God, 60 years, that's four lifetimes. (Laughter.) But it's been remarkable. But as much progress as you've made in the last 60 years, we can make even greater progress together in the next 60 years if we're wise, trust one another, and are willing to make some sacrifices, shaping a peaceful and prosperous Pacific region. This is one of those inflexion points in history. We actually have a chance -- a chance to bend history just slightly.
That's why our administration adopted a policy of what we call "rebalancing" to the region. Rebalancing economically, diplomatically, and, yes, militarily -- and Barack, the President, and I and the American people are all in. We're determined to strengthen our alliances, cultivate new partners in the Pacific Basin, build constructive relations with China, pursue major agreements that further integrate our economies, and join and strengthen the institutions of the Asia Pacific and of the East Asian Summit -- APEC, ASEAN and others.
President Obama is absolutely committed to rebalance. And to make the point again, no one should underestimate or question our staying power. Just look at the last 60 years in Korea. Ask the people of Japan -- the Mutual Defense Treaty since 1960 and still going strong. Ask the people of the Philippines -- American helicopters, small ships, medical services, road clearing -- all responding on the backs of U.S. Marines when one of the most fierce tropical storms in history devastated their country. We were there and so was Korea.
And as I speak, my son has just boarded -- my grown son has just boarded a plane, an aircraft -- he’s heading to the Philippines. His name is Hunter Biden. He’s Chairman of the World Food Program U.S.A, and he’s going there out in the field, like so many of you did. I’m so incredibly proud of him, and the tens of thousands of young people around the world who either went or wanted to.
Or ask the people of Burma. When their leaders bravely chose to change their country’s path, they looked to America. And Secretary Clinton was there, and President Obama was there, not only to extend a hand but to help and commit, helping the people of Burma find a better future. Our commitment to rebalance starts with growing our economies, the lifeblood of this region.
By the way, when we talk about rebalance here, for years, as the General knows, I was in charge of the Senate of U.S.-European, U.S.-NATO, and U.S. then "Soviet relations.” All my European friends are saying, what does this mean for us? Are you leading? Let me make clear what rebalancing means. It means adding to, not subtracting from, existing commitments we have around the world.
What we seek is an open, transparent economic order to deliver the growth for all -- because in growth resides peace. And we believe the way to sustain and enhance the region’s remarkable economic progress is not just make sure it is physically secure, but to eliminate trade barriers at and behind borders, protections for intellectual property, one set of rules that applies to all companies, domestic or foreign. These are the principles behind the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Trade between our countries has already grown 65 percent from $80 billion a year in the year 2000 to $130 billion in 2012. That means employment. That means the ability to live a middle-class life. That means stability. That’s what’s happened. But before it went into force -- our Free Trade Agreement went into force -- now, it’s in force. Now that it is, bilateral trade will continue to grow if we fully implement it, and we still have implementation to do.
There’s more work to be done. We have to end the bureaucratic hurdles that close off trade in key sectors like autos and agriculture. We have to agree on final regulations that allow financial institutions to operate fully. And the United States welcomes Korea’s interest in joining the Transpacific Partnership. The negotiating taking place now literally encompasses 40 percent of the world’s GDP. That’s without Korea. With Korea added, it will be impossible for the rest of the world to resist moving toward sane 21st century rules of the road.
The 21st century demands new standards for trade and commerce. Think about it -- we talk about 60 years. At the end of World War II, before the Korean War, our grandfathers and grandmothers, they set in motion an entire new set of rules for economic intercourse and progress, from Bretton Woods all the way up to evolving WTO and so on. They didn't do that; we did that.
But the world has changed. It bears virtually no resemblance. You know, your parents used the phrase “global economy.” Your grandparents did. But they don't fully appreciate it like you do. I knew the economy was truly global when I was sitting at a computer at my home and my -- I get up to leave and the next thing, I came back and my seven-year-old granddaughter was sitting at the computer with a credit card. (Laughter.) We live in a little pond, and she had been out on the pond in this little kayak and she had lost the paddle, it went over the dam. And she was worried her uncle would find out. So she’s sitting at the computer, and she is buying a kayak paddle from Korea to replace it. (Laughter.)
I said, baby, what are you doing? She said, “Pop, this imputer” -- she called the computer "imputer" -- “this imputer is really good, Pop.” (Laughter.) Actually, she was six years old -- it was Naomie.
This is truly a global economy. And there's a need for new standards on state-owned enterprises, on foreign-direct investment, on fair labor standards, on the environment.
A number of nations have resisted the call to do more on environmental protection. But I have an expression that my staff always kids me about -- I guess I overuse it -- I say, reality has a way of intruding. I was just in Beijing. Ten years ago, five years ago, I couldn't get any discussion on standards for clean air. But since 4 million people a year are dying from air pollution, that it was remarkable the two days I was there people talked about they could see the sun. I’m not being facetious -- the idea that’s a remarkable occurrence that you can see the sun. Reality has intruded. One of the biggest bilateral efforts we’re trying to move forward with China is renewable energy, reduction of carbon consumption.
The point is the world has changed. Of course, all that we hope to accomplish economically for our people depends upon our physical security. And that starts with our alliances -- South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand -- all in the Basin. We’re modernizing our alliances to meet the demands of the 21st century. And we’re promoting better cooperation among our allies. The entire region will be more stable and more secure if -- if -- the leading democracies -- Japan, South Korea and the United States -- are able to improve their relations and cooperation with one another.
Along with our allies, we’re building new security partnerships with the ASEAN on emerging challenges -- maritime security, nonproliferation, disaster relief. We’re also working to get our relationships with China right, with the right standards. We’re committed to sustain a positive, cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship -- because, again, we’re at one of those inflexion points. It is not written anywhere that this competition is destined to be conflict. I reject that notion. Leaders make a difference. It’s not only in our interest, it’s in the interest of the region, the interest of the world that we get that relationship right with China. As I said, there will be competition, but the President and I refuse to accept the proposition that it’s inevitably going to result in conflict. We don’t believe that.
We’re determined not to repeat the patterns of the past. And that requires direct, straightforward, and extremely candid discussions with one another. I’m sure you’ve read, to the extent you read anything about me, that I’m known for being candid. (Laughter.) No one ever doubts that I mean what I say. The problem is sometimes I say all that I mean. (Laughter.)
You know, you’re studying international relations and you hear about what the most important elements of good relations are. In international relations, all politics is personal -- I presume to say to you professors -- because it’s all ultimately based on trust. And trust only flows from personal -- not friendly -- personal, candid relationships with your counterpart, so you don’t have to wonder about intentions.
That’s how my many hours of discussions with the Chinese leaders this last week were conducted. They were very direct. I was very direct about my country’s position on China’s sudden announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone. This announcement, to state the obvious, has created considerable apprehension across the region. But I was absolutely clear on behalf of my President: We do not recognize the zone. It will have no effect on American operations. Just ask my General. None. Zero.
I’ve also made it clear that we expect China not to take action that increases tensions at the risk of escalation. And I was crystal-clear about our commitment to our allies, Korea and Japan. More broadly, I’ve made clear that there are practical steps countries can take and should take to lower the temperature, to reduce the risk of conflict, including avoiding actions that seem provocative, establishing lines of communication between militaries to manage incidents and prevent escalation.
My dad used to have an expression -- he’d say, “Joe, the only conflict worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended.” The possibility of miscalculation, mistake is real, and could have profound consequences for your generation.
I discussed this today with President Park, and we agreed on the need for continued close coordination among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. Countries across this region -- whether the issue is the East China Sea or the South China Sea -- have to develop a common understanding of what constitutes acceptable behavior: No intimidation; no coercion; and a commitment, backed by actions, to reduce the risk of mistake and miscalculation.
There is one overreaching issue, though, that not only unites Korea and the United States of America, but unites the entire international community -- and that is the clear and present danger posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But no one knows this better than the citizens of the Republic of Korea. Let there be no doubt: The United States is committed to do what it takes to defend our allies and ourselves against North Korean aggression -- period. The United States and the world have to make it absolutely clear to Kim Jong-un that the international community will not accept or tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. That is the consensus that unites us, whether in Tokyo, Beijing, or in Seoul.
Each head of state with whom I’ve met reaffirmed their determination to see the denuclearization of North Korea. And North Korea needs to understand that it cannot return to the old pattern of seeking rewards for bad behavior. We are prepared to go back to six-party talks when North Korea demonstrates its full commitment to complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.
The simple fact is this: North Korea can never achieve security and prosperity so long as it pursues nuclear weapons -- period.
But this is about more than weapons. We will never forget that Koreans –- North and South -– are one people, equally deserving to be treated with dignity. And we will never accept the notion of the permanent division of the Korean Peninsula. And you can clap on that. (Applause.)
We will not stop working with you for the day when families are finally made whole and Korea is whole. As we work together to build prosperity and security across this Asia Pacific, we have to do so on a foundation of the values that we share: Freedom of speech and assembly; freedom of religion; democratic principles. These are the values that will power success for countries in the 21st century. And it’s what’s allowed my country and yours to succeed.
I recently was in Singapore at the end of this summer, and I asked to meet with Lee Kuan Yew -- he’s 92 years old, I believe, now. He was frail, but his mind was as alert and sharp as a 20-year-old. I asked him, I said, Mr. President, tell me what’s going on in China -- and I asked about other countries, as well. And he looked at me and said something unusual -- he speaks perfect English -- he looked at me and said, “They’re in America looking for the black box.” That’s a quote. And I said, black box? And he said, yes, you know, like data recorders when there’s an aircraft that goes down. He said, the black box that contains the secret that allows America to be the only country in the world that every generation or so is able to remake itself.
I said, I can tell you what’s in that black box -- two secrets. The first is we are a country of immigrants, constantly -- constantly revitalized by not minor infusion, significant infusion of different cultures, religions, ethnicities from around the world. That literally is our strength.
That’s one of the reasons, whatever problems we have with our education system, there’s not a student in America that doesn't have stamped into their DNA the notion that they are rewarded, not criticized, for challenging orthodoxy. (Applause.) The only way -- and the reason we remain the most innovative nation in the world is the only way you can create a new model is to break the old one. A constant stream of immigration has allowed us to do that.
For example, the woman who runs my office was born here in Seoul. Her parents emigrated. Her attitude is one of absolute, positive, unvarnished optimism. Oh, sometimes we retreat, like is going on now. But on balance from 1789 on, there have been those who want to pull the ladder up and say, “no more,” but those who say, “come” always prevail.
And the second thing that’s in that box is what I already mentioned. Unlike any other country in the world, there’s a high premium for students and individuals who challenge orthodoxy. You are never criticized -- hear me -- never criticized for saying, I don't accept that model.
The United States is back. We have rebounded, like you have and others, from the worldwide recession. And we are ready and we are anxious to compete. We have created 7.8 million new jobs in 44 months. We’ve reduced our operating deficit by half. We are on the road to energy independence. By the year 2022, North America will be energy-independent, and by the early 2030s, the United States will be totally, completely energy-independent. We’re the world’s largest producer of petroleum and natural gas on the Earth, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
These are some of the many reasons why we’re optimistic. Most of the reason we’re optimistic is because of our people. They’re like you.
Let me close where I started -- reflecting on the lessons of Nelson Mandela, a great man we lost today, who taught us so much about human potential, about what we could become when we refuse to accept the limitations of cynicism and fear. That’s the story of the history of the journey of my country -- the refusal to accept anything as inevitable -- the absolute refusal; and the determination, although we have not been able to do it and maybe never will, the determination to make a more perfect union, a more peaceful and prosperous world.
I am absolutely convinced that the future belongs to societies that are open, where women are treated exactly equal to men with no exception -- none. None based on culture. None based on religion. None based on any assertion. (Applause.) My grandson -- my granddaughters are capable of doing every single, solitary thing without a single exception that my grandson can do.
There’s a writer in America named Kristof. He referred to women, and he said, they are half the moon. My sister -- who is smarter than me, and my best friend, and managed every one of my campaigns -- points out, why in God’s name will we waste half the brainpower, half the imagination, half the initiative, half the capacity of a country or the world? And nations, as I’ve said twice already, where orthodoxy challenged is rewarded, where your future is not determined by where you were born or what you look like, the color of your skin -- it’s what’s in your mind, what’s in your heart.
That's why I am so confident, so confident that Korea and the United States will continue to be allies and kindred spirits for a long time to come. It’s not merely our economic, our political and our strategic necessity for one another; it is ultimately based on shared common values.
And so I think your future is bright. I’m always quoting Irish poets, as the American press is tired of hearing. (Laughter.) They always think, and my colleagues think, I quote Irish poets because I’m Irish. I am. (Laughter.) But that's not the reason. I quote Irish poets because they're the best poets in the world. (Laughter.) That's why I quote them.
My favorite poet, who just passed away, Seamus Heaney, wrote in a poem called “The Cure at Troy,” about his Ireland, metaphorically. But there’s a stanza in that poem that I think should become the anthem of all of you -- not just you young people. If you notice if you ever follow the American press, I’m always referred to as the White House Optimist, like -- as my grandpop would say, like I’m the guy that fell off the turnip truck yesterday. I’ve been there longer than all of them. But I’m more optimistic than I was when I was elected as a 29-year-old senator a month before I was constitutionally eligible to take office under our Constitution because I know the history of the journey of my country. But Heaney said it best in his poem. He says, “History says, don't hope on this side of the grave. But then once in this lifetime, that longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up and hope and history rhyme.”
You have a chance. We have a chance to make hope and history rhyme so that your children and grandchildren will never live through a period like your grandparents and great grandparents lived through.
God bless the Republic of Korea. May God bless the United States and may God protect our troops.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
3:29 P.M. (Local)
Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” Mandela’s wisdom and compassion were formidable enough to change the world. First his courage and then his forgiveness inspired us all, and challenged us to do better. In the words of the South African poet Peter Horn, he “dreamed the world another way.” I saw his world the way it used to be when I visited South Africa as a 34 year old Senator. When I exited the plane I was directed to one side of the tarmac, while the African American congressmen traveling with me were sent to the other side. I refused to break off, and the officials finally relented. When I tried to enter Soweto township with Congressmen Andrew Young of Atlanta and Charles Diggs of Detroit, I remember their tears of anger and sadness. Because of Nelson Mandela’s courage, and compassion, that world has been transformed. One of my favorite Irish poets, Seamus Heaney once wrote: “History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.” In the hands of Nelson Mandela, hope and history rhymed. This is a better world because Nelson Mandela was in it. He was a good man.
8:03 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. (Applause.) Welcome to the White House and Happy Hanukkah. I should say that normally we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year we’re hosting two. We have so many friends to celebrate with we had to do it twice. I welcomed a whole other group this afternoon. But I want you -- don’t tell them, this is actually my favorite group right here. (Laughter.) It’s our own little Hanukkah miracle -- the party was supposed to last for one hour and it's lasted for eight. (Laughter.)
I want to welcome so many friends and leaders from throughout the Jewish community. We are honored to be joined by one-third of our Supreme Court: Justice Ginsberg -- (applause) -- Justice Kagan, who is here somewhere -- (applause) -- there she is. And Justice Breyer is here. (Applause.) We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress, members of my administration with us, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Matt Nosanchuk. (Applause.) Where's Matt? Matt is out here somewhere.
I also want to welcome representatives from the State of Israel who are joining us. As some of you recall, I had just an extraordinary, magical visit to Israel earlier this year and was proud to reaffirm the alliance between our two great democracies. (Applause.) I also had the opportunity to go to an expo where I saw the best of Israeli technology. And there's been such a burst of innovation and creativity that's taking place -- including, by the way, I saw a robot that served me matzah. (Laughter.) We were thinking about having that robot here to serve latkes, but we couldn't get him -- (laughter) -- so maybe next year.
Obviously, on a note of seriousness, tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family in South Africa. They're grieving the loss of a man, a moral giant who embodied the dignity and the courage and the hope, and sought to bring about justice not only in South Africa, but I think to inspire millions of people around the world. And he did that, the idea that every single human being ought to be free and that oppression can end and justice can prevail. (Applause.)
That’s what --
JUSTICE: Yes. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That was a Supreme Court Justice who said "yes." (Laughter.) That's what Nelson Mandela taught us, and it’s that same spirit that brings us here tonight.
And over the last eight days, Jews around the world have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah and retell the story that has been kept alive for more than 2,000 years. And it's a story of miracles, of a light that burned for eight days when it should have only lasted for one and a people who surmounted overwhelming odds to reclaim their historic homeland, so they could live their lives in peace and practice their religion in peace.
It’s a story that has been repeated countless times throughout Jewish history. And as we light the candles tonight, we’re reminded that we’re still writing new chapters in that story today. In 1922, Abraham and Hayyah Ettinger donated this menorah to their congregation in a small town that's now the Czech Republic. And tragically, the Ettingers -- and their prayer hall -- were lost in the Holocaust.
Yet even in the face of tragedy, Jewish communities around the world kept alive a light that would not be extinguished -- the hope that freedom would triumph over tyranny. And tonight, we’re honored that the menorah that once belonged to the Ettingers will be lit by two Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia -- Margit Meissner and Martin Weiss. (Applause.) The triumph they represent and the triumph this menorah represents, the progress that it represents, the notion that we can join together here tonight reminds us that we can never take our blessings for granted and that we always need to keep working for peace and the freedom that we seek.
And that’s why we continue to stand up for our values around the world. That's why we stand alongside and partner with those allies who share those values, including the State of Israel. Together with our Israeli friends, we're determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And we’re testing whether it's possible through diplomacy to achieve that goal, understanding that we have to remain vigilant.
For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. And key parts of the program -- (applause) -- key parts of the program will be rolled back, even though the toughest of our sanctions remain in place. And that’s good for the world and that's good for Israel. Over the coming months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy with the goal of achieving a comprehensive solution that deals with the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons once and for all. And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain iron clad and unshakeable. (Applause.)
Building a future of security and peace is not easy. But the story of Hanukkah, of survivors like Margit and Martin -- leaders like Nelson Mandela -- remind us that those who came before us overcame even greater obstacles than those that we face. So let’s take strength from their struggles and from their sacrifice. Let’s give thanks for miracles large and small. Let’s recommit ourselves to building a future that shines with hope and freedom and peace. I want to thank all of you for the contributions you've made to communities across the country and the many friends who have been so supportive to Michelle and myself during these years.
And with that, I want to welcome Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, to say a blessing. (Applause.)
RABBI SHERWIN: Thank you, Mr. President. As Hanukkah formally ends this evening, it is appropriate for us to gather to remind ourselves and the world the true meaning of this holiday. In that spirit, at this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings as we kindle these lights -- the she-asa nissim, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world and for the leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedom in our days just as the Maccabees did in ancient ones.
The second bracha -- we'll all join together in the shehecheyanu, the simple yet powerful prayer of thanks giving for the blessing of life, for the gift of light and for the privilege of celebrating this Hanukkah together. I invite you to join me.
(Prayer is sung.)
THE PRESIDENT: They came in a little late, but that's okay. (Laughter.) There is only one last piece of business that I need to do. This was prepared for us. Some of you may be aware that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah converge only every 70,000 years. (Laughter.) So presumably, this is the first and the last time that this may be used. (Laughter.) This was prepared for us. This is called a Menurkey. (Laughter.)
And I just wanted to make sure that those of you who were not familiar with the Menurkey -- (laughter) -- that we had our own here in the White House. (Laughter.) Enjoy the reception, everybody. Thank you so much. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
8:15 P.M. EST
President Obama spoke by phone this evening with South African President Jacob Zuma to express his heartfelt condolences on the death of Former President Nelson Mandela. The President conveyed how profoundly Mandela’s extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness, and humility influenced his own life, as well as those of millions around the world. President Obama reaffirmed that the strong and historic partnership between the United States and South Africa will continue to draw strength from Mandela’s legacy as we work together to promote equality, reconciliation and human dignity, and to build a more just and prosperous world.
DEATH OF NELSON MANDELA
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Today, the United States has lost a close friend, South Africa has lost an incomparable liberator, and the world has lost an inspiration for freedom, justice, and human dignity -- Nelson Mandela is no longer with us, he belongs to the ages.
Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man. His own struggle inspired others to believe in the promise of a better world, and the rightness of reconciliation. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, he transformed South Africa -- and moved the entire world. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings -- and countries -- can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the life of nations or our own personal lives.
While we mourn his loss, we will forever honor Nelson Mandela's memory. He left behind a South Africa that is free and at peace with itself -- a close friend and partner of the United States. And his memory will be kept in the hearts of billions who have been lifted up by the power of his example.
We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. It falls to us to carry forward the example that he set -- to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; and to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice. For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived -- a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
As a mark of respect for the memory of Nelson Mandela, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, December 9, 2013. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:46 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, friends. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions I have a couple of toppers. The first -- which goes with this graphic -- today, as part of our daily effort to highlight the benefits of the health care law, we are focusing on the Affordable Care Act’s protections for consumers with preexisting conditions, which can include conditions as common as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, for the first time insurance companies will be prohibited from denying health coverage for the up to 129 million Americans living with preexisting conditions. Insurance companies will also no longer be able to charge higher premiums based on a consumer’s health status or history. In fact, in Virginia, where I grew up, almost 3.5 million adults and children have preexisting conditions, and now those people and their families will have the peace of mind of knowing that they cannot be denied coverage or charged higher premiums due to their health.
Unfortunately, this is also the same number of people who would lose these vital new protections if opponents of reform had their way and repealed the law. Just yesterday we saw a particularly egregious example of Republicans who to this day say they want to repeal the law or are trying to sabotage or undermine it and the protections provided by the Affordable Care Act. A Republican insurance commissioner in Georgia compared having a preexisting condition to being an irresponsible driver who illegally chooses not to get insurance and then causes an accident. “It’s your fault,” he said. It’s your fault. So it’s your fault if you have asthma or cancer, or some other preexisting condition. That kind of language is obviously wrong.
Almost half of Americans under age 65 say that they or a family member has a preexisting medical condition. That means almost half of you have a preexisting medical condition. And I want to take a moment to draw your attention to one example close to home, here in our White House family. Deputy Cabinet Secretary Michael Robertson, a remarkable 36-year-old who has worked for the President since his days in the Senate, came forward today to tell his story of being diagnosed 16 months ago with stage 4 cancer. Michael details his brave fight in an incredibly moving essay available now on whitehouse.gov, which I encourage you to read.
Next topper, on a different subject: In the latest step under his Climate Action Plan, President Obama today signed a memorandum directing the federal government to more than double the percentage of electricity that comes from renewable sources, to 20 percent by the year 2020. Today’s announcement builds on an executive order the President signed in 2009, directing the federal government to become a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency. As a result, the federal government has been able to reduce energy use and pollution in its operations and to save taxpayer dollars.
The presidential memorandum issued today caps off a week of announcements under the President’s Climate Action Plan. On Tuesday, the administration expanded its Better Buildings Challenge and released a new fuel economy guide that provides consumers reliable, user-friendly information that can help them choose the right fuel-efficient vehicle for their family and business and to save them money at the pump. And yesterday, the Department of Agriculture launched a new energy efficiency loan program, working with rural electric cooperatives to help businesses and consumers cut their energy bills by making energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.
Thank you for your patience. I will now take your questions. Nedra.
Q Thanks, Jay. I want to ask you about a couple of developments on the Hill. Speaker Boehner said today that he would support a one-month extension of the farm bill. Would the President sign such an extension?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the President has mentioned and made clear that there is an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation on a comprehensive farm bill and he hopes and expects that that can be achieved before the end of the year. So I’m not going to speculate about what would happen if Congress were to fail to achieve that. The President hopes that work will continue on that and that a bipartisan compromise is reached. We support the Senate bill, as you know, and hopefully there will be some resolution to that.
Q Will the President support cuts to food stamps that are greater than the $4 billion over 10 years that are in that Senate bill?
MR. CARNEY: I think our position is clear: We support the Senate bill. And I think that on the broader issue of food stamps, you heard the President talk about it yesterday. It is unconscionable what the House of Representatives did by separating it out, and the cuts that they envision would be enormously harmful to families across the country.
So the President has been clear on this. He talked about it again yesterday. And we believe there should be, as there has in the past, bipartisan support for a broad farm bill that includes the very important nutrition assistance and food programs that are provided under SNAP.
Q And also, what is the White House position on the Murray-Ryan budget deal that’s emerging?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that there are ongoing negotiations, as has been reported, but we don’t have any comment on suggestions of a deal. We’ll wait and see what emerges from those negotiations. We are actively engaged with the Congress on this, but this is something that, as the President has said, can be and should be worked out in a bipartisan way between the Senate and the House.
So there’s no reason that we should go down the path the Republicans chose to take us down in October, and the President hopes that Republican leaders who have said that won’t happen again, that they won’t shut the government down because of their ideological opposition to health care reform or for any other reason, will hold true, and that they’ll instead negotiate a responsible compromise that makes sure that we invest in areas of the economy where we need to invest, that we make the right choices about how we deal with our longer-term fiscal issues, and that we approach all of our budget issues in a balanced way.
Let me go to Peter.
Q Quick question if I can. Right now, we know across the country in a hundred cities there are protests taking place where fast-food workers are calling for a minimum wage hike to $15. The President has in the past endorsed plans up to $10 and change. What is the President’s opinion of the $15 request being made?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that, as the President said in his State of the Union address and as we have said clearly about the Senate bill, the Senate proposal for $10.10, which we support, that the minimum wage needs to be raised. In real terms, it is at a true low. I don’t have the specific comparative year, but it is very low comparatively over the past several decades.
And this is something that there is ample proof, as the President discussed yesterday, that would not have negative impacts on job creation or economic growth; in fact, would have positive impact on economic growth. And when you look at what the President spoke about yesterday and the fundamental idea that if you work hard you ought to be able to get a living wage, raising the minimum wage is an essential part of that.
Another thing I note -- because I saw some stories today about discussions among House Republicans about how better to I guess comport themselves in dealing with women candidates or issues of women -- and I would simply say that the problem that Republicans have had with women isn’t about language, it’s about policies. One way that they could support women today is to vote to raise the minimum wage, because women disproportionately benefit from increases in the minimum wage.
One thing they could do to support women in America is to stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and instead work with lawmakers who want to make it work as effectively as possible, because the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from charging women double for the same insurance policies that men receive. And there are a long list of policies that the President supports and obviously Democrats support that I think are concrete examples of concern for women.
Q But in terms of the $15-an-hour number that’s being thrown around today, there’s no position?
MR. CARNEY: We support the Senate bill. I don’t have a position on these protests beyond the fact that the President quite explicitly and passionately supports the need to pass an increase in the minimum wage.
Q You spoke about some Republicans on the Hill, but congressional progressives -- the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Democrats, have written a letter to the President urging that he circumvent Congress and sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers employed through federal government contracts with private companies.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that, Peter. I would simply say that for those who watched or heard or read the President’s speech yesterday, you know how strongly he supports raising the minimum wage. This has always been done legislatively, and it has been done with support from Republicans and not just Democrats in the past.
The fact of the matter is, as the President cited yesterday, there are a lot of studies that show that there is no significant or measurable impact -- negative impact when you raise the minimum wage, and there are enormous positive benefits when you raise the minimum wage. And he credited those states that have taken action on their own, and he is calling on Congress to take action, because the benefits would be significant to hardworking Americans across the country.
Let me move around. Christi.
Q Jay, on that, can you imagine a scenario in which that Senate bill could pick up enough Republican support to pass, and how much energy is the President willing to put into making that happen?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply point to what the President did yesterday in his speech -- a speech that was, more broadly, about what he considers a fundamental challenge of our time, which is -- in domestic policy, which is the need to address growing inequality and diminishing opportunity. And raising the minimum wage is part of an approach that he believes we have to take as a nation to address this fundamental challenge.
So you will, as he said -- you will see from him, as he said, a focus on these issues every day for the remainder of his presidency. And I would note to those who might suggest that he was making a pivot yesterday that the themes he spoke about yesterday are entirely consistent with what you heard him talk about in the State of the Union, what he said in Osawatomie, and what he ran on in 2007 and 2008. It is the fundamental issue that motivates him when it comes to the future economic growth and prosperity of this country and of the middle class.
Q Does he think the most effective thing that he can be doing toward that -- on that cause is speaking about it publicly and making that case publicly? Or is he also tasking a legislative team with making it a priority?
MR. CARNEY: Both.
Alexis, then Jim.
Q Jay, in the past couple of days, the President has taken on --
MR. CARNEY: Go ahead. I'm just jumping ahead. But go ahead, Alexis. Sorry.
Q The past couple of days, the President has directly taken on Senator McConnell, as the Minority Leader of the Senate, and had some harsh rhetoric directed toward him. I was going to ask you, is the President feeling free to do that, to call him out directly, because he feels that his agenda and his need to work with Senator McConnell is over?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all. I think what you heard the President say is that he -- that yesterday was -- I think he took note of the fact that Kentucky is a state where we've seen a significant number of people sign up, based on what Kentucky is reporting, for the Affordable Care Act under the state exchange, and that instead of calling on Congress to repeal or for Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he ought to listen to his own constituents who are demonstrating, by their actions, that they want and need affordable, quality health insurance.
And I think the singular fact of this debate over the last many years has been that, unfortunately, the Republican position has been not to offer alternatives, not to acknowledge that there are problems that need to be fixed, but to simply call for repeal. And what repeal means is a return to a world where women can be charged up to double for the same insurance policy that men receive; where insurance companies can deny you coverage because you have a preexisting condition; they can set annual or lifetime limits on your benefits; they can give you policies that carve out and exempt coverage on specific conditions that just happen to be the ones from which you suffer or that in the small print deny you coverage for hospital visits and the like.
So this is the fundamental debate and what is I think, for those of us who have been here a little longer, kind of frustrating or disappointing about it is there was a time not long ago -- including in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor -- where Republicans actually had very specific and good ideas about how to reform the health care system that were certainly middle-of-the-road or even conservative. During the debates about health care reform in the first term of the Clinton administration, Republicans like Senator Chafee from Rhode Island and others were putting forward their own health care reform plans that, ironically, today look a lot like the one that the President signed into law three years ago.
Q So by singling out Senator McConnell as being, in his view, wrong on the Affordable Care Act --
MR. CARNEY: I think that Senator McConnell has spoken out about this a lot recently. He's also the leader of Republicans in the Senate. So I don't think he's -- I don't think we or he or anyone is suggesting that -- unfortunately, that he's alone in taking the position he takes among Republicans.
Q But I want to ask, is the President also trying to speak to Kentucky voters to suggest that he is supportive of Ms. Grimes as the opponent --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I see, this is about electoral politics. I didn't get what your question was coming -- that it's about the election. No, this is about policy. This is about policy and the fact that Senator McConnell is the Republican leader.
And to your question about whether the President wants to or can continue to work with Republicans who oppose him on specific policy ideas, of course he answers, yes -- because that's been the case for a long time, including when Senator McConnell said it was the principal objective of Republicans to ensure that the President did not win a second term, and yet they managed to work together to get a few things done.
Q On China, the United States has urged China not to implement its air defense zone in the East China Sea. Would you like to see the zone implemented in a way that will minimize the chance of conflict, or would you like to see it rescinded altogether?
MR. CARNEY: We, the United States, do not recognize it and we do not accept it. And it will not change how the U.S. conducts military operations in the region. It does not have any practical effect on U.S. government operations.
To underscore, China's announcement was a provocative unilateral action that raises tensions in one of the world's most geopolitically sensitive areas, including territory administered by another state. It clearly increases the risk of a dangerous miscalculation or accident that could escalate quickly and dangerously.
Vice President Biden, who was just in China, was candid and direct with President Xi yesterday on these points: One, the zone should not be implemented -- I think that answers your question -- two, more broadly, China should refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region, and three, China should work with other countries, including Japan and South Korea, to establish confidence-building measures, including emergency communications channels, to address the dangers its recent announcement has created, and to immediately lower tensions.
If I could go on, our message to China is that this type of provocative behavior is not consistent with the actions of a major power that upholds international norms and promotes peace and stability.
So I think -- I appreciate the opportunity to be very clear about our position.
Q Do you think you've been clear up until now?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I do. I think that there was -- because of the reissuance of longstanding guidance to commercial airlines, there was some misunderstanding -- or just misunderstanding of what our position is. Our position is very clear.
Q Is that guidance to the airlines changing?
MR. CARNEY: The FAA? No, the FAA -- I think I addressed this yesterday and the day before -- our policy with regards to U.S. government operations has not changed. I think that has been demonstrated by action, by the fact that I have and others have made clear it is unacceptable and that we do not recognize it.
Q And on a budget question, would the President sign a bill that does not extend unemployment insurance past December 31st?
MR. CARNEY: What I can't do is negotiate budget compromises from here. The President strongly supports the extension of unemployment insurance benefits. I think it's worth noting that when President George W. Bush signed into law an extension of unemployment insurance, he did so because the unemployment rate was something like 5.6 percent and when longtime -- the average person who was unemployed was unemployed for 17 weeks. Now, even though the unemployment rate has come down significantly from its high because of the Great Recession, it is still much too high at 7.3 percent -- considerably higher than when it was the right thing to do for President Bush to sign into law an extension of unemployment insurance and the average person is unemployed for something like 36 weeks.
So if it was right then, it is certainly right now to do. And as the President discussed and others have discussed and experts have noted, the benefits of extending unemployment insurance are significant for the economy as well as obviously for those families that depend on the benefits.
Q Does the White House have any proposal on how to pay for that?
MR. CARNEY: We are working with Congress. I would note that for the last several years, we have successfully -- or Congress has successfully found a way to extend unemployment insurance in a way that the President can sign and that was paid for. So I would simply say that this is and should be very doable, and we hope that Congress will take action appropriately.
Q Jay, getting back to the President's speech on the economy yesterday, he said the combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream. Hasn't that happened on his watch?
MR. CARNEY: No. In fact --
Q Isn't he responsible for that?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, as I think you know, since he ran on this issue in 2007, the answer is, of course, that these are long-term trends. He talked about it in great detail. And I appreciate everyone's concentration and patience through what was a substantive economic speech, but he talked about data that I think that -- the hinge point, if you will, was 1979, when he talked about what had happened since 1979. So this is a -- these are trends that have been long in the making, and they have to do --
Q These trends stabilized when he became President. Obviously, the Great Recession had a major impact on all of this.
MR. CARNEY: When he took office, our economy was in free fall, and we were shedding jobs at the rate of 800,000 per month, and our economy was shrinking at the fastest rate since the Great Depression. All that aside, I guess is your question -- and since the President’s policies have been implemented, the economy has been growing consistently for a long time now and been producing jobs consistently.
But the President didn’t run for office simply to get us back to where we were, on the verge of the Great Recession. He ran for office, as he talked about as early as 2007, because there was this problem and there is this problem with growing inequality and reduced upward mobility. And that has been his focus since he ran for this office, and it’s why he made clear that it remains his focus, his principal priority as President, and will be throughout his term.
Q A big part of his speech yesterday was about income inequality. I mean, he said this is one of the driving motivations for the remainder of his presidency. But that disparity has been exacerbated as he’s been in office.
MR. CARNEY: No, to the contrary. I'm sure you were here, you saw that for the first time in decades, because of the President, we reduced unfairness in the tax code and addressed the imbalance through the deal at the end of last year or January 1st of this year.
Q Economists saying Wall Street is feeling the benefits of this recovery, as it stands right now -- that people on the streets right now protesting because they want a higher minimum wage.
MR. CARNEY: Which the President supports.
Q They’re saying they’re not feeling it.
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I really urge you to look at the President’s speech, look at the data. The fact is the President has long supported policies and continues to support policies and has taken action on policies that go right at this issue. That work is not done. And there’s no question that when he took office that job, for all of us in Washington and for everyone who is concerned about this issue, was made enormously more difficult by the worst economy that we've seen in our lifetimes, the result of, in part, some truly poor policy decisions that had been made in the previous administration.
So this is the principal focus when it comes to domestic policy of his presidency. It has been since he took office, and what the President made clear yesterday is that it will continue to be while he remains in office.
Q And those enrollment numbers that came out yesterday, 29,000 people enrolled, roughly -- numbers need to be scrubbed -- in the first couple of days of this month. Republicans up on Capitol -- I'm sure you're aware -- were saying yesterday that that is not fast enough to make up for all of these millions of people who are getting cancellation letters. Is this White House concerned that you may not be able to get all of those folks enrolled?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that there has been, because of the steady progress that's been made on improving the website, a significant improvement in the functionality of the website and, therefore, a significant increase in the number of visitors to the website and the number of people who have been enrolling. When we have scrubbed hard data it will be released, but we're confident that those numbers are increasing.
And that's what we're focused on, is delivering the product. Republican are spending a lot of time rooting for failure, and when there’s improvement here they say, “yes, but what about this?” What we're doing is addressing this and this and making sure that the obvious and demonstrated desire by millions of Americans to get this product, get the security that comes from being able to enroll in and receive quality, affordable health insurance is achieved and that we do it.
And we made that work a lot harder on us because of the problems with the website and other issues. But we're focused on fixing the problems, not repealing the law so that things can go back to where they were; not on denying people the benefits that they’ve already received under the Affordable Care Act. That so far has been the Republican message. We're focused on making the fixes necessary.
And I know it’s hard, probably, for Republicans to take that the website is improving -- it takes away some talking points, forces them to look at other issues, as opposed to maybe trying to actually improve people’s lives through finding a way for them to get the kind of quality, affordable health insurance they deserve.
Q And really quickly, on the American killed in Libya, has the President been briefed on this?
MR. CARNEY: The President was briefed on it during his morning briefing. And all I can say right now is I can confirm that a U.S. citizen was shot and killed in Benghazi, Libya. We offer our condolences to the victim’s family. The State Department is in contact with the family and is providing consular assistance. We are following events closely, and at this point no individual or group has claimed responsibility. We look to the Libyan government to thoroughly investigate this killing.
Out of respect for the privacy of the family, we have no further comment at this time.
Michael, and then Ann.
Q Does the President have any reaction to the theft and then eventual recovery of radioactive material in Mexico, apparently in some very lightly secured because it got taken out by people who may not have known what it was? And does he have any sense, or do you guys have any sense that the sort of transportation of such material in this country needs to be reviewed to see whether it’s secure enough as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, these are separate issues, but let me just address the situation in Mexico with the stolen vehicle. Our national security team monitored that situation involving the stolen vehicle and medical equipment very closely yesterday. Throughout the day we were in tough -- close touch with Mexican officials. We also took appropriate precautionary steps along our shared border with Mexico, and we are pleased that the vehicle and equipment were recovered and that the situation was resolved.
The President was briefed by Assistant to the President Lisa Monaco yesterday morning and was provided updates throughout the day. I'd refer you to Mexican authorities on their investigation, but at this point, we do not have any reason to believe that the stolen vehicle ever posed a threat to the United States. Again, what’s most important is that the vehicle and equipment were recovered and the situation was resolved.
On broader issues about transportation safety, I don't have -- I would refer you to the relevant agencies on that. I don't have anything on that as it relates to the Mexican incident.
Q When will the President deliver his State of the Union address? And will it be -- was yesterday kind of a rough draft of the kind of approach he'll take, including his call for government engagement to make the economy move forward?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a date for you on the State of the Union address. That's something that obviously a President is invited to do, as I recall, and we'll have an announcement --
Q So it will be next month?
MR. CARNEY: Next month? It will be early next year. I don't have a date for you, Ann. But it is safe to say that the themes that the President spoke about yesterday will be reflected in the State of the Union as they were in his last State of the Union address, and as they have been often throughout his presidency and candidacy for President, because they are so elemental to why he believes -- why he ran for President and why he believes we need to take the action that we should take on economic policy moving forward.
So I don’t have any more of a preview for the State of the Union address. As he joked yesterday, yesterday was not a State of the Union address. It was not as full of new or specific policy proposals that State of the Union addresses often are. But it certainly -- those issues will absolutely be central to a major address he might give sometime early next year.
Q Thirty-million Americans are in the path of this extreme cold storm system moving across the country. Does the President have any worries that there are enough resources at either the Weather Service or at the Federal Emergency Management Agency? Has the President gotten request from governors for any help in what's proven to be a deadly storm?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that regarding the President. I know that -- I'm sure that FEMA is the agency best suited to answer those questions about federal resources positioned for potential emergencies, weather-related emergencies. That is the work that they do, and do extremely well. So I don’t have any updates from the White House on that, but I know that these are the kinds of things that the administration as a whole, with FEMA taking a lead, monitor very closely.
Mara, then Major.
Q Just to follow up on Jim's question -- the President said yesterday these trends have been going on for a very long time and they're certainly going to be around when he leaves office. Probably the middle class won't be any better off than before he took office. My question is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're not willing to concede that. (Laughter.)
Q All right. Well he listed -- he gave a long list yesterday --
MR. CARNEY: I'm disappointed that you are.
Q He listed the initiatives that he's mentioned before that he thinks could make a difference --
MR. CARNEY: By the way, let's just stipulate that you're wrong. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The middle class, in January of 2009, was faced with the prospect and predictions of 25 to 30 percent unemployment in America, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1930s. The middle class was at the heart of a storm that was causing this economy to shed 800,000 a month. The middle class saw their home values, their savings, everything that had sustained them diminish dramatically during that terrible recession.
So I think it is not too bold a thing to say that while there is much work to be done, that we as a nation, including the middle class, are better off today than we were then, as we were being dragged into the worst recession, dragged towards 10 percent unemployment and all of the terrible impacts that that had on the middle class and every other American family -- but that we have a lot more work to do, and that if we continue to make the steady progress that we've made, and if we take the necessary measures to invest in our economy so it grows even faster and creates even more and better-paying jobs, that we will be better off and the middle class will be better off in three years, in five years, in 10 years. And that’s what the President was talking about.
Q But in terms of the things he listed that he wants to do, like universal pre-K, and investing in education and infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, what realistically does he think are his chances of getting any of them passed between now and the end of his term?
MR. CARNEY: I think he thinks his chances are very good, because in the end, when it comes to raising the minimum wage, this is something that Republicans and Democrats have supported in the past -- not always -- but have in the past. And there is just so much ample evidence that it's the right thing to do for our economy. And you've seen it in states across the country, and you've seen it from some Republicans across the country, an interest in doing this and an interest -- and a recognition that it is sound economic policy.
Universal pre-K -- this is something that shouldn’t be political or partisan, providing that start to your education for children across the country. As the President said yesterday, there’s no better predictor of income and future economic security than education. So, look, there are a lot of Republicans out there -- governors, former governors, others -- who recognize that and understand that education and investment in education is key to our future economic growth. So there’s no reason to accept that these are not things that can’t be done.
And that’s true also of investments in our infrastructure and other areas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support precisely because they are the kinds of investments that create jobs in the near term and build a foundation for future economic growth and job creation.
So the President is convinced that we need to act on these, that Congress can and should work with him to act on these, and that where Congress won’t, he will where he can.
Q Jay, you mentioned that you hope the Libyan government investigates the killing of Ronald Smith. As is not a secret to this White House, the Libyan government has, charitably, a tenuous level of interaction in Benghazi. It is largely a lawless place in Libya with militias running rampant. Is it too dangerous a place for Americans to be?
MR. CARNEY: There is a longstanding travel warning.
Q I know, but does this amplify that?
MR. CARNEY: So as a government, we have -- the State Department has issued a travel warning that’s been in place for some time about warning Americans about the dangers of traveling in Libya. So for greater detail on how those assessments are made and why, I would refer you to the State Department.
We do expect the Libyan government to investigate this. At this point, we don’t have very much information to share about who is responsible or how it happened or why. But we certainly do expect the Libyans to investigate.
Q There was an announcement yesterday where the administration said along with several key players in the insurance industry they would be working together to try to technologically resolve the continuing and persistent problems with the 834 and backend data transmission and for those who believe they’ve enrolled in the Affordable Care Act. Can you describe the nature of that relationship? What are the insurance companies going to be doing that they were not doing before? And doesn’t this illustrate that there will be -- the frontend of the website is demonstrably better; the backend, the most -- or equally important part of it, is still substandard?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say, Major, as I think I said not yesterday because I didn’t brief, but the day before, is that -- two things: one, CMS has stood up teams of experts that are working directly and closely with issuers on this specific matter of the 834 forms and the backend issues that have arisen. There is no question that since the launch of healthcare.gov on October 1st there have been a number of different types of problems with 834 forms, as there were problems with other aspects of the site. And we believe that many of these were the result of the initial technical problems with the site and have been fixed with our improvements and upgrades over the past several weeks.
Our priority is understanding the results that issuers are getting because of the fixes put in place, and fixing any remaining bugs that are causing problems, and working to make sure that every 834 form past and present is accurate. Because what’s most important is working to ensure that those who want insurance starting in January can enroll and begin their coverage. So CMS, as I think I said the other day, will be reaching out directly to consumers by email and by phone who have already selected a plan to let them know to be in touch with their plan and to pay their first premium.
So there’s a lot of effort going into ensuring that whatever issues there were and whatever bugs remain with 834 forms are resolved in time for insurance to kick in on January 1st. As I think I hinted the other day, the universe -- when you talk about the early problems with the backend, there were so many problems with the website that unfortunately -- but we’ve acknowledged this -- not that many people were able to enroll in October. And so the universe of the people who in their enrollment had issues with their 834 forms or the backend is not all that large -- which is actually an inadvertent or unexpected positive out of a very negative situation in October.
So what we know is that the fixes that have been put in place over the past several weeks, including some major fixes over last weekend, have had brought about a significant improvement across the board on the site, including with the 834 forms. We are working with issuers regularly to look at the results of those fixes, and also to address the remaining bugs that exist.
Q I’d like to address -- because the language you just used was very general, just as it was in the early stages of the website’s problems. You’ve now become more specific about error rates, time improvements on the frontend of the website. CMS in these daily calls is still very opaque; asked directly what is the magnitude of the problem, what are the error rates you’re seeing in the 834s -- no information whatsoever.
MR. CARNEY: I think they’re working with issuers on the specific problems and data, but I think you have to --
Q Do you have a handle on the magnitude of this problem?
MR. CARNEY: You have to understand, it’s not like -- the answer I think broadly is, yes, and we know without a doubt that the problems that existed on the backend have been diminished greatly, no question, with the fixes that have been put in.
Q Then why not have the same transparency about tabulating that as you have with some of these other issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, first of all, I would refer you to CMS because they have --
Q No, I have -- and they provide nothing.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I dispute that.
Q To this direct question, about numbers and magnitude of the problem and error rates and things like that, they're like, we'll get to that eventually.
MR. CARNEY: I understand. Well, they're working very hard on this, so I wouldn't suggest they're being lackadaisical.
Q It’s not as if it’s an immaterial issue. It's a hugely important issue.
MR. CARNEY: It is, and fixing it is a hugely important issue. When you talk about finding out specific percentages, it's not -- these are bugs that affect individual aspects. So to collect data on it is not necessarily as simple as what's the error rate for this broad array of or series of small problems that may have affected 834 forms.
What we know is that there were significant problems with the whole website, including the backend, and that over the course of the time that the teams were in place to make improvements to the site through software fixes and hardware upgrades that those problems have abated, although have not been completely eliminated.
And I think, Major, as those who have noted, we've been pretty candid about the self-inflicted problems that have been created and we're candid about the fact that even though we hit our goal for November 30th and the site is functioning as we hoped it would that there are still problems and we need to address those.
Q But to challenge the transparency is to work on behalf of people who may assume that they have enrolled, and they have fallen into a category that insurers are now commonly referring to as “ghost enrollees,” people who believe that they enrolled but they're not.
MR. CARNEY: And, Major, what I can tell you is we know every person who has enrolled or believe he or she is enrolled -- we, the CMS and others -- and every one of them is being contacted and making sure that their enrollment is accurate and that they will, if they sought to enroll and have insurance on January 1st, they will have it.
Q Hand over the data.
MR. CARNEY: Ed.
Q A different subject. The Boston Globe has some news today saying that the White House has changed its story about the President's relationship with his uncle who lives in the Boston area. You know he was under threat of deportation this week.
MR. CARNEY: His father's half-brother.
Q His father's half-brother?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
MR. CARNEY: -- his uncle, but, yes.
Q His uncle, correct. The White House said in 2011, I believe, that there was no record of them ever meeting. And now the Boston Globe is being told by the White House -- and I assume you can elaborate here -- that in fact they not only met, but they lived together briefly when the President was in law school. So how could you make that kind of mistake?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you, Ed -- and thank you for the question -- is that back when this arose, folks looked at the record, including the President's book, and there was no evidence that they had met and that was what was conveyed. Nobody spoke to the President.
When Omar Obama said the other day -- and there were reports that he had said the other day that President Obama, back when he was a law school student, had stayed with him in Cambridge, I thought it was the right thing to do to go ask him. Nobody had asked him in the past, and the President said that he, in fact, had met Omar Obama when he moved to Cambridge for law school, and that he stayed with him for a brief period of time until his -- the President's apartment -- was ready. After that, they saw each other once every few months while the President was in Cambridge. And then after law school, they gradually fell out of touch.
The President has not seen Omar Obama in 20 years, and has not spoken with him in roughly 10 years. And as I said the other day, obviously this was an issue -- his legal issue was one that was handled appropriately by --
Q So you can say there was no interference at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not.
Q Health care. Senator Harry Reid gave an interview back in Las Vegas to one of the stations back there, and he defended the President previously saying, "If you like your plan, you can keep it," because he was saying, as you've alluded to before, that policies change, et cetera. And Harry Reid said, "I’d still go back and say what I said earlier. What the President said was true. If you want to keep the insurance you have, you can keep it." Do you agree with Senator Reid? Is that still true, that if you have a plan that you like, the insurance you like, you can keep it?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think the President has addressed this in detail, not just in answering questions, but also in making a policy change to address the problem that has arisen because of cancellations. So I think he acknowledged that this created problems that need to be addressed. And so he has --
Q But that's just for a year, right, what the President came here and said -- he was fixing it for a year?
MR. CARNEY: He extended -- the policy that I think the rule change allowed -- that there was nothing in the Affordable Care Act that would prevent them now from extending those policies beyond where they could have been extended in the past.
I mean, look, the fact of the matter is, Ed, in the end, when it comes to the challenges that have arisen within the rollout, I think we've been pretty honest about acknowledging where we need to make fixes, we need to make improvements. And the President is willing every day to hear from lawmakers who want to fix the Affordable Care Act, fix Obamacare, rather than repeal it, rather than go back to the status quo ante, where insurers could kick you off your policy or refuse to cover you if you had a preexisting condition. And that remains his position to this day.
Q But I realize the White House believes this is an old story, but then you have the Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat, who supports the President, supports the Affordable Care Act, saying what the President said all along was true. Do you agree what the President said was true?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I haven't seen Senator Reid's comments. I think the President has spoken about this at length and repeatedly, and has taken action on this. So I really don't have anything to add to that, Ed.
Q Okay, the last one on that. Related to Senator Reid -- we didn't have a briefing yesterday, so we didn't get a chance to ask you what developed in the last 24, 48 hours -- Senator Reid has now exempted not all, but some of his staffers from entering into the D.C. exchange. Isn't that hypocritical for somebody that supportive of the Affordable Care Act?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I would direct you to Senator Reid's office. I haven't --
Q But why shouldn't they sign up like everyone else?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't seen that, so I would direct you to the Senator's office.
Q Back to China. When Jeff asked you if China should rescind the zone, you said it should not be implemented. Does that mean that the U.S. would accept a solution in which while China may not rescind the zone officially it would not enforce it?
MR. CARNEY: I think you're looking for nuance and semantics that aren't really there. The fact is countries have ADIZs. The United States has them. But it is not wise to unilaterally declare one in an uncoordinated fashion in one of the most highly sensitive areas in the world, which includes territories administered by other countries, and then make statements interpreted by many as threatening and out of line with international aviation practice and freedom of navigation norms.
That’s why China's recent actions have been so dangerous and provocative. That’s why we reject it, we don’t accept it, and we call on China not to implement it. I think if you don’t implement it, that effectively -- I think that’s pretty clear about what our policy is. We do not recognize it, and we have made no changes that have had any practical effect on U.S. government operations in the region. So I think we've been pretty clear about this.
Q Thanks. I don’t think the White House has announced it yet, but Brookings did, that the President is going to be among those participating in the Saban Center Forum on Saturday. It's a forum about the Middle East. Can you talk to us about how prominently Iran will factor in his remarks, and whether we should expect --
MR. CARNEY: He's not giving remarks. I think he's having a conversation. So the conversation will --
Q Is he prepping for it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think he needs to prep. He's pretty engaged in the issue.
Q Can you talk about -- although I think Netanyahu is speaking on a different day and maybe by webcast, of course, Secretary of State Kerry speaking with Netanyahu ahead of this, but do you expect that the President and Bibi will have a chance to talk again before that forum event?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know of any prearranged conversations. As you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the President speak frequently, meet frequently. There is no leader in the world with whom the President has had more meetings or conversations than he has had with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think it's been reported -- and it sounded accurate to me -- that they recently had a very long phone conversation focused largely on Iran.
So it's entirely possible, but I don’t know when they're speaking next. They communicate regularly. Our governments communicate daily, intensely on a whole range of issues, and that includes on Iran and many other issues. And I believe Secretary of State Kerry is in the region, as well. So that relationship is extremely close, and it is one in which there is cooperation on numerous levels and information shared that is of great importance to the fulfillment of our commitment to Israel's security. And we work very closely with Israel on these issues and apprise Israel of what we're doing. And that’s what we've been doing.
Q Can I ask you, since we last checked in on this a couple of days ago, where do you see the action on the Hill moving with regard to the triggering sanctions? Do you think that’s -- I know you don’t like it, but do you think it's a foregone conclusion at this point, or do you think you can still stop that from happening before the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: We're working very aggressively on this issue because we, as I've said in the past and so many others have as well, we strongly believe that it is not the right time for Congress to pass new sanctions. Congress has been an extremely helpful and effective partner with the administration and with our international allies on this matter. And working with Congress, the United States has helped build the most comprehensive sanctions regime in history with I think great success.
It is precisely because of the effectiveness of that sanctions regime that we have the opportunity now to explore whether or not Tehran is serious about resolving this issue diplomatically. And if they are not, then we will have to move on to other means of ensuring that Iran cannot obtain and does not obtain a nuclear weapon.
But if we can reach an understanding with Iran on strict constraints, then we can contemplate an arrangement that includes a -- let me just back up. This is a step-by-step process. The preliminary agreement as it's implemented requires Iran to keep its commitments to halt progress on its program and to roll back key aspects of it. The purpose of that is to essentially put time on the clock, because the alternative to the preliminary agreement is to allow Iran, even as we -- I mean, the purpose of the preliminary agreement is to put time on the clock so that progress is not made on its nuclear program while we pursue a comprehensive agreement.
The alternative is to -- and sanctions could undermine, obviously, the preliminary agreement. The alternative is then to continue to pursue a permanent resolution without a preliminary agreement while Iran has no constraints on its capacity to make more progress on its program. So the result would be, six months down the road, Iran would be further along in its progress. The preliminary agreement would prevent that.
Q Did the U.S. really not tell the Iranians during the last round of negotiations, look, we’re not supportive, but this is the reality and in Congress there’s a great likelihood you’re going to get some sort of trigger --
MR. CARNEY: No. We’ve been extremely vocal about our position on sanctions and the need for Congress to act when the time is ripe for new sanctions, if that time arises, because that’s when new sanctions could be more effective if Iran fails to comply with its commitments in the agreement.
Mark, and then April.
Q Jay, is it assumed here that the American shot and killed in Benghazi was targeted because he is an American or was an American?
MR. CARNEY: We just don’t have information on this right now, so what I can say about it is what I said at the top.
Q And on his speech yesterday, President Obama said that he wants to encourage savings by the American people. Can you elaborate on that? Does he mean bank savings when he referred to that yesterday in his speech?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you picked a little piece out of that speech to ask me about.
Q It caught my ear because he rarely mentions it.
MR. CARNEY: I think, as a general matter -- and I don’t want to venture too far here because I’m not steeped in the policy -- but there has been an issue over the years to increase -- for Americans to increase their savings rate and to reduce their debt. But I think the broader issue here is to grow the economy, create jobs, provide and act on policies that allow that to happen, including raising the minimum wage, including providing pre-K for all, including making the investments in the economy that will help create jobs here in the United States that pay well and help the middle class grow and be more secure.
So I can take that question and get you more information about the specific prescription that that referred to, but I think it’s part of a broader push for policies that go at the issue of growing inequality and go at the issue of diminished upward mobility.
Q If you could get more, I’d appreciate it.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Yes.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, sorry, April. And then -- yes.
Q So, Jay, on yesterday’s speech, could you tell me what the President has in mind when it comes to teeth and to helping bridge the inequities in the economy?
Q I think he spoke in detail about that yesterday, and I think he’s made clear that this nation has always and this economy has always grown best when it grows from the middle out, and been strongest when the middle class is expanding and becoming more secure, and that we need to address this trend that we were talking about earlier that has been in the making now for many, many years, and because the idea of who we are as a country is built in part on the notion that anybody, no matter the circumstances in which he or she is born, has the opportunity to succeed. And I think it’s pretty startling for those of us who have deep faith in that ideal to hear that the United States now has lower mobility than countries in Europe, which was certainly not the case in the past.
So it is a profound problem, and it is one that the President believes, as you heard him say yesterday, we need to address through a series of policies that go right at these fundamental economic challenges.
Q Do you have a timeline of when these policies will be rolled out? Because you have --
MR. CARNEY: Well, as the President mentioned yesterday and acknowledged in the middle of his speech, he’s put out a lot of ideas that address these already. And as we were talking with Ann earlier about the State of the Union, he will obviously give a State of the Union address and there will be other matters that he discusses there and other policies. But we already know what we can do in many cases to address these challenges, including raising the minimum wage, including providing pre-K for every child in America, and all the other things that the President talked about in the speech yesterday.
Q The reason why I ask that -- you have critics of the speech, people -- there are praises and there are critics. Mary Frances Berry, the former head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said you did not give -- he didn’t have teeth, he did not come up with specifics. And this is going to be a three-year timeline that you’re going to be rolling things out and people want to know when and what? What will be done --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see that particular comment. I think the President made clear that he wasn’t rolling out -- he wasn’t giving a specific-laden policy speech. He was giving a speech about the broader challenge and ways that we need to address it.
There are specific policies that he has already put on the table -- as we’ve been talking about, raising the minimum wage and others -- that Congress could act on in the very near term. But the President committed to a couple of things yesterday. One is fighting for those -- just because we haven’t gotten them done yet doesn’t mean we should abandon the effort to get them done, because in so many cases these are the kinds of things that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past and where there is ample nonpartisan, nonpolitical analysis that demonstrates that the measures that he’s proposing are good for the economy and good for the middle class.
Second, he called on Congress and opponents of his policies to engage in the debate. Don’t just be against something; be for something. If you in Congress have better ideas or believe that your ideas are better for addressing the growing inequality in America, or addressing the diminished upward mobility in America, let’s hear them and let’s debate the policy specifics about whether or not they actually address the problem. That would be very healthy instead of simply opposing everything.
And finally, he said that where Congress won’t act and he can, he will. But it is very important for Congress to engage in this issue because there really is no more important issue for our economy and our people than the problem the President identified yesterday.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll do the last one.
Q Thank you, Jay. Two questions. First one, on the new regulations concerning the NSA surveillance program today, collection of 9 billion location data, is the White House worried that, again, tensions will be exacerbated with European leaders, Latin American leaders on these topics as we’ve seen earlier?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not in a position to discuss the details of particular tools and methods of intelligence collection, although yesterday, ODNI stated for the record that no element of the intelligence community is intentionally collecting bulk cell phone location information about cell phones in the United States. When conducting its overseas foreign intelligence mission, however, if NSA incidentally acquires information to, from or about a U.S. person, such information must be handled in accordance with approved minimization procedures to safeguard that information.
When it comes to issues -- and this is not specific to stories yesterday, but just in general -- issues that have arisen because of these disclosures and revelations that have caused tension in our relationship with important allies, we have, as I’ve said in the past, addressed those matters directly through diplomatic channels and we’ll continue to do that.
Q One question in the spirit of what you said earlier about the climate action plan. Are we getting closer to a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline?
MR. CARNEY: I have no update on that and I would refer you to the State Department, where they are -- they house the process.
Laura, I saw you back there with your hand up for a long time. You’re the last question.
Q Thanks. France is going to launch a military operation in the Central African Republic. That is what President Hollande said. What's the White House reaction? And will you support the French action, again, in Africa?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that in recent weeks government-affiliated armed groups and independent self-defense militias in the Central African Republic have committed shocking and horrific atrocities against innocent civilians that demand a swift response by the international community. Today's passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2127 is an important step in preventing further atrocities or an escalation of the violence.
It provides African Union-led peacekeepers and French forces a Chapter 7 mandate to protect civilians, restore, and ensure humanitarian access. It also calls for contingency planning to move forward now should the Council determine conditions are appropriate for the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in the future.
In support of these efforts, the United States is providing $40 million in assistance to the African Union security mission. And we continue to evaluate what more we can do to help stabilize the situation and support a political transition. We join the international community in condemning the violence that has taken place and demanding accountability for the perpetrators, and in calling on all parties to work toward a restoration of democracy.
Thank you all very much. Have a great afternoon.
2:54 P.M. EST
Today, we have lost one of history’s great leaders. I extend my deepest condolences to the Mandela family and to the government and people of South Africa, the Republic that President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela helped free from the cruelty and hatred of apartheid and forged anew into a rainbow nation of hope and healing. I will always cherish the honor and memory of knowing him.
Even as we mourn, we remember how privileged the world was to witness the transformation he wrought by changing minds and hearts. He was apartheid’s captive but never its prisoner, and he rid the world of one of history’s foulest evils by hewing to universal principles for which he hoped to live but was prepared to die. Let us celebrate Madiba’s life by rededicating ourselves to the values and hopes he embodied: reconciliation and justice, freedom and equality, democracy and human rights, an honest reckoning with the past and an unflinching insistence on embracing our common humanity. Let us strive to follow in his noble path—to stretch out the hand of fellowship and forgiveness across the deepest of gulfs, to find peaceful ways to resolve the bitterest of conflicts, and to insist on the revolutionary power of empathy, persuasion, perseverance, and human dignity.
President Nelson Mandela is gone, but his legacy and example will forever endure. May they continue to inspire South Africa and all humanity for generations to come. He was one of the greatest human beings of our time. Farewell, Madiba—and thank you.
Aboard Air Force Two
En Route Seoul, South Korea
6:33 P.M. (Local)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is SAOs, so everyone knows -- SAOs.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, I mean, I think you heard the Vice President talk about the importance of the relationship on a whole variety of dimensions. We’ve been talking a lot about the security dimensions during his visit, but of course a very important piece of the agenda is on economic and trade issues. And maybe you’ve heard the Vice President talk about how we have a stake in each other’s success, about the need for practical cooperation that helps demonstrate to the American people and also to the Chinese people that this relationship is working, that this kind of a visit is generating and advancing the kind of cooperation that we’re trying to do across the board, but especially in the economic and trade space.
And in the course of this visit and during the Vice President’s meetings, we’re working on a number of issues on energy, on climate, on food and drug safety. Coming out of these discussions, coming out of some discussions on the sidelines of the visit, we reached agreement on a number of things that my colleague will be able to outline in detail both what they are and the significance of them as you see in the fact sheet.
But I guess the sort of broader point or just the sort of context-setting point is that we’ve been talking a lot on this visit about the ADIZ issue, about some of the security issues in the relationship, but I just sort of want to make the broader point that this is -- that this set of issues is actually a very big piece of business here. And we are constantly trying to use visits like this to advance our agenda on a whole number of aspects. And the economic and trade one is the way that we used part of the Vice President’s time, but also in some of the discussions leading up to this visit.
And this will continue past the visit. We have our Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, which is where we have our top economic and trade negotiators getting together in just a week or so. So they’re going to continue that. And the Vice President talked about some things with his Chinese counterparts that they’re going to be able to continue to work on over the course of the coming days and weeks.
So why don’t I turn to my colleague to talk a little bit about what we are announcing today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. So just to start off on the climate side obviously is the two largest emitters -- we have a special responsibility and opportunity working together. And today, we reaffirmed the agreements on the HFCs that the two presidents had reached in Sunnylands originally, and expanded in St. Petersburg. We also reached agreement that China would work with us to design and then implement much more aggressive emissions controls and standards for vehicles -- low-sulfur fuel and vehicle emissions, known as the China VI standards, which is the first time that they’ve committed to that.
We also reached agreement that there would be effort and resources devoted on both sides to the work of the energy -- the climate -- sorry, the climate working group that was set up, as my colleague mentioned, at the S&ED. And there were five areas in that to be looked at by that working group. And it was agreed today that we would make significant progress, concrete progress by the next S&ED, which is in the summer of 2014. So it’s really giving a push forward to that work.
We also agreed to work together in the UNFCCC negotiations and to work in close cooperation and leader-level discussions. And we’re, as you know, moving towards the 2015 COP in Paris of the UNFCCC, so this is going to be a very important period going forward in the multilateral -- in those multilateral negotiations.
On energy transparency, China agreed today to make important steps towards greater transparency by providing more complete and more frequent data releases on their energy situation -- production, consumption and stocks -- and to have stronger cooperation with this process called JODI, J-O-D-I, which is the Joint Organizations Data Initiative.
Secondly, we reached agreement to information -- to cooperate basically on the management of strategic petroleum reserves with annual meetings and information exchanges. We also -- China agreed to participate in a peer review of fossil-fuel subsidies, which is the next step in the implementation of the G20 commitment to phase out, and they reaffirmed the commitment to phase out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies. This is all consistent with their move towards better pricing of energy.
And finally, on energy, they agreed -- China agreed to -- we agreed to work with them to open up their shale gas to investment and development.
And then on the food and drug safety and innovation, we import a lot of food from China now and it’s important for both parties that this should be safe, and we have some FDA inspectors on the ground in China, but not enough. And China today agreed to increase the number -- increase the visas supplied for these inspectors, and we’ll reach agreement in January 2014 on how that will be operationalized. But I know that the FDA will be very pleased.
We also reached an important agreement on things called APIs, which are these bulk chemicals that can be used in drug manufacture. And China agreed to begin to develop a framework for -- a regulatory framework for these chemical compounds. And there will be more work on that, but it’s an important step forward in drug safety.
And then finally, on innovation, is this issue about patents for pharmaceuticals, that as technologies change, manufacturers want to add elements to patents. And there was -- China affirmed that this kind of development of patents would be possible now, which supports drug innovation and will be an important win for our industry.
So that’s the main items in those buckets.
Q Could I ask a very general question about TPP that just sort of interests me. Did you get any sense from your conversations that the Chinese are viewing TPP less as a competing regional trade pact than as something that they might find attractive down the road? In other words, has their sentiment toward TPP evolved? Is there any evidence of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn’t cover that in our discussions here. There have been statements beforehand, in the recent past, about -- and I think you see in the region more interest, more openness to TPP, obviously with Korea’s announcement of interest and some other countries. So I think that there’s some prospect that there’s more growing acceptance that TPP will be an open architecture agreement that will provide rules and standards for the whole region.
Q Did you guys get into any of the issues, kind of escalating concerns about WTO disputes that both had with each other on trade enforcement? That would be one. And second, since this was a pretty large portfolio being laid out, did you guys consider the sort of old model of what Ron Brown or Al Gore used to do of bringing either business leaders on the trip or NGO leaders? This is a very sizable portfolio, but the constituencies that often were part of these sorts of delegations weren’t on this trip. Had that been part of any calculation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me just say a couple of things about that. I mean, first of all, the Vice President spoke to a large --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- the AM Cham, the U.S.-China Business Council, two of the main business groups --
Q But you didn’t have, like, the CEO of GE or the CEO of Mylan, or who all are going to benefit from a lot of these -- I mean, I’m not critiquing, I’m just wondering if it had -- it’s not that important, but --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I guess I would just say that, I mean, we didn’t -- you’ve seen the delegation that we had on this trip. The focus of these three areas that we’re sort of working on really are sort of focused on regulatory and policy issues with China, and between China and the United States, that will obviously have an impact on our companies trying to do business in China, trying to improve this as --
Q How about the WTO disputes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On that, I would say in the discussions that the Vice President had during this trip, he raised a whole range of economic concerns that we have, as well as talked about opportunities for economic cooperation. So the kinds of issues we just made -- we reached agreement on, are the kinds of things that were talked about in the meetings. He also raised a number of other issues and concerns that we have across a range of issues, many of which he talked about in his speech, so I won’t really repeat those. But he talked about interest-rate liberalization, he talked about concerns we have around the WTO and some of the specific cases that we have concerns about. He talked about some of the third plenum reforms that are suggesting things may be going in a positive direction, but the need to speed up implementations.
So that was a kind of type of issues that he was talking about in the economic area across the meetings over the last couple of days.
Q Just on that point, because it interested me in the briefing last night, it sounded like Xi laid out this very ambitious agenda, but said a lot of this won’t really be feasible for 10 or 20 years, and the Vice President said, well, we need things that happen in the here and now. Is that a question of selecting reforms that can be done immediately, or is he just simply saying to the President, you have to move faster, you can’t expect us to wait 10 or 20 years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there are a number of different areas that they talked about in terms of -- in the context of the third plenum reforms, both what Xi indicated he’s focused on, but also some of the longstanding concerns that we have that the Vice President raised and discussed in his meetings with Xi and other Chinese leaders about some of the areas of reform, the concerns that we have and what we’d like to see going forward.
In terms of the pace, obviously some of the issues on the agenda are large, structural changes that they’re trying to make in terms of rebalancing their economy that are pretty fundamental issues that are going to obviously take a long time to develop. But I guess I’ll turn to my colleagues as well on this.
What we’ve laid out here is an example of the kinds of here-and-now issues that not only address specific concerns that we’re trying to resolve today, but also connect to the larger structural issues that they were discussing in these meetings. So there’s kind of a linkage between the kinds of issues we’re raising, the kinds of issues we’re trying to resolve, the type of cooperation we’re seeking, and the larger reform agenda that the two leaders were discussing in their meetings.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I agree with that. And I think that I mentioned in the area of energy and climate, and the fossil-fuel subsidy review, and the vehicle-emission standards, part of that is support for the kind of shift in their economy that they’ve laid out and that they want to do, and there are areas where we can work together on that.
Q To dovetail on Mark’s question, the Vice President talked in this trip about the third plenum reforms really being things that the United States would like to see. At the same time, we’re not seeing the kind of commitment by China to make political reforms that the United States perhaps would like to see. Does this administration think that the economic reforms can be carried out without political reforms happening at the same time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, on that I would just point you to the Vice President’s speech today, where I think he actually spoke directly to that connection and that issue. So I don’t want to go beyond what he said today, because I think he actually laid it out quite well. He talked about the reform agenda, he talked about the kinds of things that have been laid out in the third plenum.
Q But he didn’t talk about whether one can be done without the other.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I would go to what he said, because he actually -- I thought he spoke pretty directly.
Q Another question is, during the debt ceiling debate, Chinese government and central bank authorities began to sort of publicly criticize U.S. policy and responsibilities over the reserve currency status of the dollar. Did that kind of thing come up? Or was that a momentary impulse during the debt ceiling debate, and given the spate of things that you guys work on, that Chinese economic authorities didn’t continue that complaint about the dollar and sort of responsible management of it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It didn’t come up. I mean, there was general agreement that both economies were doing well, and there was notice that -- the Chinese noticed that our economy was growing, and unemployment was coming down, although of course we have more work to do. So the other issue did not --
Q (Inaudible) tone --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
Q That’s interesting. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks.
7:00 P.M. (Local)
NATIONAL PEARL HARBOR REMEMBRANCE DAY, 2013
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
More than seven decades ago, on a calm Sunday morning, our Nation was attacked without warning or provocation. The bombs that fell on the island of Oahu took almost 2,400 American lives, damaged our Pacific Fleet, challenged our resilience, and tested our resolve. On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the men and women who selflessly sacrificed for our country, and we show our enduring gratitude to all who fought to defend freedom against the forces of tyranny and oppression in the Second World War.
In remembrance of Pearl Harbor and to defend our Nation against future attacks, scores of young Americans enlisted in the United States military. In battle after battle, our troops fought with courage and honor. They took the Pacific theater island by island, and eventually swept through Europe, liberating nations as they progressed. Because of their extraordinary valor, America emerged from this test as we always do -- stronger than ever before.
We also celebrate those who served and sacrificed on the home front -- from families who grew Victory Gardens or donated to the war effort to women who joined the assembly line alongside workers of every background and realized their own power to build a brighter world. Together, our Greatest Generation overcame the Great Depression, and built the largest middle class and strongest economy in history.
Today, with solemn pride and reverence, let us remember those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor, acknowledge everyone who carried their legacy forward, and reaffirm our commitment to upholding the ideals for which they served.
The Congress, by Public Law 103-308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 7, 2013, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. I encourage all Americans to observe this solemn day of remembrance and to honor our military, past and present, with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I urge all Federal agencies and interested organizations, groups, and individuals to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff this December 7 in honor of those American patriots who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
- Kevin T. Hanretta – Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security, and Preparedness, Department of Veterans Affairs
- Paula E. Boggs – Member, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities
- Robin L. Diamonte – Member, Advisory Committee to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
- John Donahoe – Member, President’s Export Council
- Eugenio Piñeiro-Soler – United States Commissioner, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
- Laura M. Ricketts – General Trustee, Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
- Reginald Van Lee – General Trustee, Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
President Obama said, “I am grateful that these talented and dedicated individuals have agreed to take on these important roles and devote their talents to serving the American people. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.”
President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
Kevin T. Hanretta, Appointee for Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security, and Preparedness, Department of Veterans Affairs
Kevin T. Hanretta is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Emergency Management at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a position he has held since August 2006. He concurrently serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security, and Preparedness at the VA. From 2001 to 2005, he served as the Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Planning, and Preparedness at the VA. He has held various positions at the VA since 1999, including Deputy Chief of Staff of the Department. Before joining the VA, Mr. Hanretta served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1999, retiring as a Colonel. He received a B.S. from Siena College and an M.S. from Florida Institute of Technology.
Paula E. Boggs, Appointee for Member, President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities
Paula E. Boggs is a Songwriter and the Lead Vocalist for the Paula Boggs Band. Previously, she was Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of the Starbucks Corporation from 2002 to 2012. She was a Vice President at Dell Corporation from 1997 to 2002 and a Partner at the firm of Preston Gates & Ellis from 1995 to 1997. She served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington from 1988 to 1994 and was a Regular Officer in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 1988. She is a member of The Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees, Peabody Institute’s National Advisory Board, a Director of School of Rock LLC, and is Secretary of the Board of KEXP Radio, an affiliate of National Public Radio and the University of Washington. Ms. Boggs served as a Member of the White House Council for Community Solutions from 2010 to 2012, is a former Chair of Legal Aid for Washington, and was a board member of the Seattle Art Museum. Ms. Boggs received a B.A. from The Johns Hopkins University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.
Robin L. Diamonte, Appointee for Member, Advisory Committee to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
Robin L. Diamonte is the Chief Investment Officer at United Technologies Corporation (UTC), a position she has held since 2004. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing UTC’s global retirement assets. Ms. Diamonte also serves as the Chairwoman of the Committee on the Investment of Employee Benefit Assets. From 1992 to 2004, Ms. Diamonte served in various roles at Verizon Investment Management Corporation, including Co-head of Company Direct Assets, Managing Director of Research & Strategic Relationships, Director of Research & Strategic Relationships, and Manager for Investment Information Systems. Prior to her time with Verizon Investment Management Corporation, Ms. Diamonte was Senior Coordinator of End User Computer Support at GTE Service Corporation. From 1986 to 1991, she held the position of Telecomm Specialist and Product Manager of Data Networking & Communication Products. Ms. Diamonte received a B.S. and an M.B.A. from the University of New Haven.
John Donahoe, Appointee for Member, President’s Export Council
John Donahoe is President and CEO of eBay Inc., a position he has held since 2008. Previously, he served as President of eBay Marketplaces from 2005 to 2008. Mr. Donahoe worked at Bain & Company in a number of roles from 1985 to 2005, becoming President and CEO in 1999. He is on the boards of eBay Inc. and Intel Corporation, and is a former member of the Board of Trustees of Dartmouth College. He also served as a Member of the White House Council for Community Solutions from 2010 to 2012. Mr. Donahoe received a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Eugenio Piñeiro-Soler, Appointee for United States Commissioner, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
Eugenio Piñeiro-Soler currently serves as Vice Chair of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council and previously served as Chair from 2003 to 2011. Mr. Piñeiro-Soler has also served as Chair of the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee from 2009 to 2012. During his 30 years of commercial fishing experience, Mr. Piñeiro-Soler has participated in the U.S. delegation to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission, and the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. Mr. Piñeiro-Soler received a B.A. from the University of Radford and a J.D. from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
Laura M. Ricketts, Appointee for General Trustee, Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Laura M. Ricketts is Director and a part-owner of the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball Club, as well as Chairman of the Board of Chicago Cubs Charities. She is on the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee and is a co-founder and advisory board member of LPAC. She also serves on the advisory board of Opportunity Education, and is a member of the leadership councils of Lambda Legal and Housing Opportunities for Women. Ms. Ricketts received an A.B. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.
Reginald Van Lee, Appointee for General Trustee, Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Reginald Van Lee is an Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he has worked since 1984. He was named Partner at Booz Allen Hamilton in 1993 and Senior Partner in 2003. He was appointed to serve as a Member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2009, is Chairman of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Howard Theatre Restoration Project. Mr. Van Lee is a Trustee of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Corporation, a cabinet member of Habitat for Humanity International Cabinet, and sits on the Board of Fight for Children and The Washington Ballet. He is Chairman Emeritus of the board of the Evidence Dance Company. Mr. Van Lee received a B.S. and an M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
4:31 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Welcome to the White House. Now, normally we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year we are hosting two because we have so many friends to celebrate with we had to do it twice. And I'll be welcoming a whole other group this evening. Don’t tell them, though, but you're my favorite group. (Laughter.) It is our own little Hanukkah miracle. The party that was supposed to last only one hour will go on for eight. (Laughter.) You got that one? (Laughter.)
Now, this is the fifth time I've celebrated Hanukkah as President. But this is my first Thanikkah -- did I say that right?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanksgivukkah.
THE PRESIDENT: This intersection of two wonderful holidays has inspired a whole lot of people across America; we are delighted to welcome a few of them here tonight.
We’ve got 10-year old Asher Weintraub from New York City -- where’s Asher? (Applause.) Asher came up with what we believe is the world’s first-ever menorah shaped like a turkey. It is called the Menurkey. (Laughter.) Where is the Menurkey? I had it just a second ago.
MRS. OBAMA: You just had it. Where is the Menurkey?
THE PRESIDENT: We've got to bring the Menurkey out here. I'll continue speaking. You've got to see this. Thank you, Asher, for your spirit and your creativity.
We’ve got Dana Gitell -- where's Dana -- (applause) -- who actually coined the term “Thanksgivukkah" -- her sister Deborah -- oh, here's the Menurkey. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Team Thanksgivukkah is here!
THE PRESIDENT: There we go. (Laughter.) So I'm going to keep this in a special place. (Laughter.)
So Dana, along with her sister Deborah, expects this term to catch on around the country. Where are they?
MS. GITELL: Right here.
THE PRESIDENT: There they are. Let's see them. Hey, guys. How are you? They've had a lot of fun with their project. But there is a serious side to it because they've said they always express their gratitude to America, a place where no matter who you are, you can always celebrate your faith. And that same spirit is reflected in the menorah that we’re about to light.
It was designed by Manfred Anson, who was born in Germany in 1922. And as a child he lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht, and later lost a brother to the Holocaust. But Manfred escaped. And like the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story, he fought against tyranny, serving in the Australian army during World War II. And like the Maccabees, after the war was over he sought a place where he could live his life and practice his religion free from fear. So for Manfred and millions like him, that place was ultimately America.
And Manfred passed away last year, but during his life he designed this special menorah, with a model of the Statue of Liberty at the base of each candle -- I don’t know if you've noticed that. In a few moments, all nine lady liberties will be shining, a reminder that our country endures as a beacon of hope and of freedom wherever you come from, whatever your faith.
And that beacon stays bright because of families like the one that will join me in lighting the menorah this evening –- the Schmitters. Now, dad, Jake, could not be here because he’s deployed in Afghanistan. (Applause.) But we are joined by his wonderful wife Drew, his daughters Lainey and Kylie -- go ahead and wave, guys. (Laughter.) So Drew, Lainey, Kylie, I want you to know how proud we are of not only your dad, but also of you. And we're so grateful for the sacrifices that you make on behalf of our country every single day.
And tonight, we give thanks to all the men and women in uniform and for their families. They make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our freedom and our security -- not only of us, but our allies and friends around the world, including our friends in the State of Israel. And the commitment and the courage of our men and women in uniform and their families is itself a miracle for which we give thanks.
As the Festival of Lights draws to a close, let’s take one last chance to think about all the miracles we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our own lives. There are small miracles, like the invention of the Menurkey. (Laughter.) And then there are big miracles like the chance to be a part of this great country.
The first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving won’t overlap again for more than 70,000 years. So it’s safe to say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event -- (laughter) -- unless there's a really -- a scientific breakthrough that we don't know about. (Laughter.) But while we never may see again another Thanksgivukkah, I know that if we can show the same resilience as Manfred Anson and the same resourcefulness as young Asher, as well as Dana and Deborah, and the same strength as military families like the Schmitters, we will be blessed with many more miracles for years to come.
So thank you, everybody. Happy Hanukkah. And now I want to welcome Rabbi Amanda Lurer, a lieutenant in our Navy, to say a blessing. (Applause.)
MS. LURER: Hanukkah formally ends tonight as the sun goes down this evening. But it will always be appropriate for us as we gather to remind ourselves and the world of the meaning of this holiday. So in that spirit, in this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings. And as we kindle the lights, we'll say -- the first one is the she-asa nissim blessing, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world, and for leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedoms in our days as in the day of the Maccabees.
The second blessing is shehecheyanu, that simple yet powerful prayer of thanksgiving, for the blessing of life, the gift of light and the privilege to celebrate Hanukkah together. Please join me.
(Prayer is sung.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all again for being here. We hope you have a wonderful celebration. And we can't stay to party because I got to go back to work. (Laughter.) But I do want to make sure that we get a chance to shake hands with all of you briefly as we go by. And again, we just want to thank the Schmitters, and make sure to tell dad we're proud of him, too.
MS. SCHMITTER: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. (Laughter.) Thank you. (Applause.) Enjoy, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)
4:21 P.M. EST
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
5:25 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us -- he belongs to the ages.
Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings -- and countries -- can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.
To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.
To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real. A free South Africa at peace with itself -- that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.
We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.
For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived -- a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace.
5:30 P.M. EST
In recent weeks, government affiliated armed groups and independent “self-defense” militias in the Central African Republic have committed shocking and horrific atrocities against innocent civilians that demand a swift response by the international community.
Today’s passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2127 is an important step in preventing further atrocities or an escalation of the violence. It provides African Union-led peacekeepers (MISCA) and French forces a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians, restore security, and ensure humanitarian access. It also calls for contingency planning in the event the Council decides in the future that it is appropriate to consider the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation.
In support of these efforts, the United States is providing $40 million in assistance to the African Union security mission, and we continue to evaluate what more we can do to help stabilize the situation and support a political transition. We join the international community in condemning the violence that has taken place, in demanding accountability for the perpetrators, and in calling on all parties to work toward a restoration of democracy.
Obama Administration Opens Application Process for Phase 2 of ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’
To compete in an increasingly global economy, the United States must come up with innovative strategies that will lead to economic growth and job creation around the country. The ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ (IMCP) seeks to enhance the way we leverage federal economic development funds to encourage American communities to focus not only on attracting individual investments one at a time, but transforming themselves into globally-competitive manufacturing hubs.
An administration-wide initiative led by the White House and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ will encourage communities to devise comprehensive economic development strategies that strengthen their competitive edge in attracting global manufacturers and their supply chains. IMCP specifically brings together the resources of multiple federal departments and agencies involved in economic development.
In Phase One of the of the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership,’ 44 communities were awarded a total of $7 million to support the creation of economic development strategies that recognize the community’s comparative advantages as a place to do business, invest in public goods, and encourage collaboration between multiple entities to expand the area’s commercial appeal to investors.
Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced that the competition for Phase Two of the ‘Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership’ is now open, and the Federal Register Notice will be posted in the coming days. In this phase, communities will have an opportunity to compete for a special designation that will elevate them in consideration for $1.3 billion in federal dollars and assistance from 10 cabinet departments/agencies. These communities could also potentially receive catalytic additional federal investments to further support their economic development strategies. The IMCP is a critical component of the Department of Commerce’s “Open for Business Agenda,” which prioritizes trade and investment.
Phase Two of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership
In Phase Two of the IMCP, up to 12 communities that come up with winning strategies will receive a designation of “Manufacturing Community” that gives them elevated consideration for $1.3 billion in federal dollars and assistance from 10 cabinet departments/agencies. These communities would also potentially receive additional catalytic federal investments to support their economic development strategies. In order to earn the designation, communities must present strategies that identify technologies or industries in which they would be competitive in the future and would make investments in the following areas:
- workforce and training;
- advanced research;
- infrastructure and site development;
- supply chain support;
- export promotion;
- and capital access
These communities will receive:
- Elevated consideration for federal dollars and assistance across 10 cabinet departments/agencies, totaling $1.3 billion;
- A dedicated federal liaison at these agencies who can act as their concierge to the specific services they need;
- Subject to funding availability, challenge grants may become available to some awardees from the pool of designated manufacturing communities;
- Recognition on a government website, accessible to prospective private investors (foreign and domestic alike) looking for information on communities’ competitive attributes
IMCP Competition Process
- Phase One: The Administration and the Department of Commerce have already awarded 44 communities with $200,000 planning grants – a total of $7 million.
- Phase Two: Communities must apply by March 14, 2013 to be considered. Eligibility for Phase 2 is not contingent on having won Phase 1.
- Details on additional phases of the IMCP are forthcoming.
IMCP Participating Agencies (Either through Phase One or Phase Two)
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration
- Department of Transportation
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Delta Regional Authority
- Environmental Protection Agency
- National Science Foundation
Small Business Administration
In the latest step under his Climate Action Plan, President Obama today signed a Memorandum directing the Federal Government to consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 – more than double the current level. Meeting this renewable energy goal will reduce pollution in our communities, promote American energy independence, and support homegrown energy produced by American workers.
In 2009, the President directed the Federal Government to become a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency when he signed Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, setting aggressive targets for Federal agencies for reducing energy use, carbon pollution and waste in their operations, and saving taxpayer dollars as a result. At the President’s direction, the Federal Government already has:
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent from FY 2008 levels – the equivalent of permanently taking 1.5 million cars off the road.
Reduced energy use per square foot in Federal buildings by more than 9 percent since FY 2008, curbing pollution and reducing utility bills.
Consumed more than 7 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind in FY2013, exceeding statutory requirements and promoting homegrown energy industries.
To outline new actions to continue their progress on the President’s energy and sustainability goals, Federal agencies today released their fourth annual Sustainability Plans, available at http://sustainability.performance.gov/.
The release of the Presidential Memorandum and Federal Agency Sustainability Plans cap a week of Administration clean energy and energy efficiency announcements, including:
Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge
On Tuesday, building on $2 billion in financing commitments from the private sector for energy efficiency updates to commercial buildings under the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced an expansion of the Challenge to multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums, and launched the Better Buildings Accelerators to support state- and local government-led efforts to cut energy waste. Following Federal agencies’ commitment over the past two years to a pipeline of $2.3 billion in performance-based contracts for energy efficiency upgrades under the Challenge, the Administration also announced Federal agencies will further expand their use of performance-based contracts through 2016 to upgrade the energy efficiency of Federal buildings at no cost to taxpayers.
Releasing a 2014 Fuel Economy Guide
On Tuesday, DOE and U.S. EPA released a 2014 Fuel Economy Guide that provides consumers reliable, user-friendly information that can help them choose the right fuel efficient vehicle for their family and business and save money at the pump. The guide provides “Top Ten” lists allowing consumers to see the most efficient advanced technology vehicles as well as the most efficient gasoline and diesel powered vehicles, and includes information on efficient and low-emission vehicles in a variety of classes and sizes, ensuring a wide variety of choices available for consumers.
Launching a New Energy Efficiency Loan Program
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will provide rural electric cooperatives up to $250 million to lend to business and residential customers for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. The program will help American families and businesses in rural areas cut their energy bills by making financing more readily available for energy efficiency measures that reduce home energy use by up to 40 percent.
With the help of unprecedented investments in clean energy during the Obama Administration, the U.S. has already met the bold goal President Obama set to double renewable energy production in this country from sources such as solar and wind from 2008 levels. As part of the President’s commitment to expanding renewable energy production in the U.S., the Department of Defense last year committed to deploying three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025 – enough to power 750,000 homes, and since 2009, the Department of the Interior has approved dozens of wind, solar and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands – enough energy to power more than 4.6 million homes and support more than 19,000 construction and operations jobs. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, the President established new national goals to increase American energy independence by doubling renewable energy production again by 2020, cutting energy waste in half, and increasing energy productivity.
The Presidential Memorandum signed today implements the goal the President outlined in his June 2013 Climate Action Plan that challenged Federal agencies to more than double their renewable electricity consumption by 2020. As part of this effort, agencies will identify formerly contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites to target for renewable energy projects, providing valuable opportunities to return those lands to productive use. To improve agencies’ ability to manage energy consumption and reduce costs, the Memorandum directs them to use Green Button, a tool developed by industry in response to a White House call-to-action that provides utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly format.