1/5/12: White House Press Briefing

Mr. Carney:
Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. It’s always good
to see your faces. The Press:
Hi, Jay, how you doing? The Press:
It’s good to see you, Jay. (laughter) Mr. Carney:
Right back at you. Welcome to the White House
for your daily briefing. I have — I just want to
make a brief announcement — or not an announcement,
just a reminder, because I know you
all have seen this. But today the White House
announced Summer Jobs Plus, which is a new call to
action for businesses, nonprofits and government
to work together to provide pathways to employment for
low-income and disconnected youth in the summer of 2012. Already 32 organizations and
four federal agencies have come together to commit to
creating nearly 180,000 employment opportunities for
low-income youth this summer, 70,000 of which are paid
jobs or internships. The President proposed $1.5
billion, as I know you all know, for high-impact summer jobs
and year-round employment for low-income youths ages 16-24 in
the American Jobs Act as part of the Pathways Back to Work fund. When Congress failed to act, the
federal government and private sector came together to commit
— to make that commitment that was announced today. The President has set a goal
of reaching 250, 000 employment opportunities by
the start of summer, at least 100,000 of which
will be placements in paid jobs and internships. Today’s announcement is well on
the way to meeting that goal, and we thank the private
sector participants in this. As you know, part of the
President’s approach to all of our economic challenges
is to do everything he can, working with Congress on the
important things we can do and must do legislatively, working
through his executive authority and working with
the private sector, to keep all of the energy of
his administration focused on creating jobs and
growing the economy. With that, I will begin
with The Associated Press. Ben Feller. The Press:
Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask you first
about the fallout from the recess appointments. I understand the White House’s
position on why it did what it did, but in doing so, of course,
you had to expect that the Republicans would not be happy
— and that’s obviously putting it mildly; the reaction
was pretty fierce. I’m wondering how you think
this will affect any other issues that you might seek
to work on with Congress. Mr. Carney:
We will, as I just said,
continue to work with Congress on the issues that we
have to address together. The President, any President,
can’t put 400,000 teachers back to work by himself. He needs legislation, he needs
Congress to cooperate and do the things that they have done in
the past in a bipartisan way to put those folks back in the
classroom or to put construction workers back on the job building
our infrastructure or to do any of a number and a long list of
things that can and should be done through Congress. And he looks forward to
working with Congress on that. I know you know, Ben, that this
President is hardly the first to make a recess appointment. In fact, he has made far fewer
— far fewer — as President this far in his term than
either of his two predecessors, and that would include
President George W. Bush. President Bush had made 61
recess appointments by this point in his term. By contrast, President Obama
has only recess appointed 32 individuals now, including the
four yesterday — 18 which — of which, rather, have
been confirmed since. So I certainly am aware of some
of the reaction that you noted. The fact is, the President
firmly believes he has the constitutional authority
to act as he did. And they can make a lot of
process arguments about it. We feel very strongly that the
Constitution and the legal case is strongly on our side. But more importantly,
this isn’t about process, this isn’t about whether or
not Congress is in session. And if I could
digress for a minute, I think all of you should
run up to Capitol Hill, check out the House and Senate
and see if you can find a single member of Congress, and then
tell me on this working day for most Americans whether or
not Congress is in session. But what it’s really about is
the absolute urgency to install Richard Cordray as our consumer
watchdog so that he can get to work today, as the CFPB
has already announced, protecting
middle-class Americans, protecting seniors from
dishonest non-bank mortgage brokers, the kind who took
advantage of that elderly couple the President met with
yesterday in Cleveland, or to help students not get
taken advantage of when they’re dealing with their
student loans, or folks who deal
with payday lenders. I mean, we need — average
Americans need somebody representing their
interests in Washington. Lord knows that financial
institutions have armies of lobbyists here, well paid,
looking out for them. The American people need Richard
Cordray where he is now thanks to the action the
President took yesterday. The Press:
But can’t you see how it seems
a little incongruous to continue to say that the President
looks forward to working with them at the same time
that he gives statements that he did yesterday — “I’m
not going to take no for an answer, I’m not going to have —
let an ideological minority stop me” — then the response from
the Republicans about it’s a power grab, he’s arrogant. It doesn’t necessarily seem to
lend itself to the next day, “look forward to
work with them.” Mr. Carney:
I don’t think that anybody
expected or expects Washington to be a campfire where
everybody holds hands together and sings Kumbaya. That’s not what the
nation’s business is about. As the President made clear when
he was running for this office, his number-one priority was
to ensure that when he became President, Washington stopped
ignoring some of the very difficult challenges
that faced the country. And he has taken many
of those on, head on, and has put in place solutions
to some of those very serious challenges we face. And look, he has worked
cooperatively with Congress from the moment he took
the oath of office, and he will continue to do so. But the case here
is pretty stark. The Republicans unfortunately
in the Senate simply refused to allow Richard Cordray to
have an up or down vote — not for any reason that had
to do with his qualifications. Senator after senator —
Republican — has said this is nothing about Richard
Cordray; he’s very qualified. Republican attorneys
general across the country have endorsed him. In the cloture vote,
he received a majority of the U.S. Senate. But the Republicans
filibustered. Why? Because they don’t even want the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be in operation. They certainly don’t want it
to have the powers that it has, by law, protecting American
citizens from the kinds of practices that helped lead to
the worst financial crisis and the worst recession since
the Great Depression. If they want to change the law,
they should — going back to what we can do —
what they can do, legislatively — they should
try to pass a law to change it. But it is the law of the land,
and it passed and it was signed into law by the President
because he is absolutely committed to the Wall Street
reform piece of this and to the reforms that could not be
implemented fully until Richard Cordray was in office,
as he is today. The Press:
One quick campaign
question for you. From the campaign side of
President Obama’s apparatus, I guess you’d say, the focus
continues to be on Mitt Romney. I’m wondering, does the
President look at this as an open Republican race right
now, or does he look at this as Mitt Romney still leads? Mr. Carney:
As I think I said yesterday
in the gaggle on Air Force One, the President and
I spoke briefly, just took note of the
results from Iowa. He didn’t make an assessment
of what’s going to happen in the race or who he’s
going to run against. I think he knows
from experience, very personal experience, that
primaries can play out in a variety of different
and unexpected ways. So he’s focused right
now, honestly, on his job. He doesn’t have a
primary to worry about, and that affords him
the luxury, if you will, but the importance of continuing
to focus on what he can do as President to grow the
economy and create jobs and, as you heard him today, to deal
with our national security and our defense strategy. So just talking — idle
conversations in the hallways, I think we know pretty
much what you know, because we get it from
you guys in the press, about that process. It’s certainly interesting and
we’ll pay attention to it as folks on the sideline for now. But I don’t really have an
assessment at this point as to where it’s going to head,
and if I did know I might make a trip out to Vegas. Yes, sir. The Press:
Also, on the Cordray
recess appointment, what, if any, concern does the
White House have that the likely legal challenges to his
appointment may — could undermine his ability to
do his job, his legitimacy? And how concerned at all is the
President that the Republicans could retaliate by withholding
or by resisting compromise on things like extending the
payroll tax cuts for the full year, or perhaps even
harden their opposition, their resistance to
further nominations? Mr. Carney:
Well, on the first point, I
don’t want to anticipate legal challenges that we haven’t seen
yet, and I wouldn’t be able to assess them adequately since,
as you know, I am not a lawyer. I can only say that we feel
very confident about the legal foundation upon which the
President made this decision. And I would just go back
to what I said before about relations with Congress
and the fact that we have important business to do. And I would be surprised if
Republicans wanted to argue that even though the
chambers are empty, even though many members of
Congress have described what they’re on now as a recess, even
though it’s been made abundantly clear as a matter of public
record that there is no intent for Congress to conduct any
business until they return from this recess, all of which plays
into our argument that they’re in recess, in a sustained recess
— if they want to make that case and then, because
they’re mad about that, not extend the payroll tax
cut for the American people, that would be a shocker. I think that would be very
unfortunate for the 160 million Americans who, just as
was the case in December, for January 1st, could not
afford and should not be saddled with what would be
essentially a $1,000 tax hike over frustration or pique
with the fact that this President acted because Congress
wouldn’t on a very important job — the installation of a
consumer watchdog whose sole responsibility, as I think you
saw was announced today by the CFPB, is to make sure that
average Americans are not taken advantage of by dishonest
financial institutions. I think that — it’s not a
debate that we’re hoping to have, but if we were to have
it I think we’d be confident we would win it. The Press:
And are there any further recess
appointments in the pipeline or was this just a one-day flurry? Mr. Carney:
I have no announcements to
make about appointments or nominations today. Let me move — Chris. The Press:
Thanks, Jay. The New Hampshire legislature
this month is expected to vote on a bill that would repeal the
same-sex marriage law there. The Democratic governor has said
he’d veto any such measure that came to his desk, but the
Republicans have a super majority in the legislature and
they could potentially have the votes to override this veto. Both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney
have said they support the repeal of the
marriage law there, but what does the President hope
is the outcome of this vote? Mr. Carney:
Chris, I honestly haven’t spoken
to him about that state issue, so I would have to take the
question and see if there’s anything I can get back to you. The Press:
The President has
said that he — states should decide how to
best address the marriage issue themselves. If the legislature decides to
repeal that marriage law will he support that decision? Mr. Carney:
Again, that’s an “if-if”
question and I haven’t had the conversation with him or
with any of the senior staff about it. So let me take that and see if
we can get a response to you. Yes, Julie. The Press:
Senator Grassley says that he’s
going to write a letter to the Department of Justice asking
if President Obama got a new opinion before
appointing Cordray. Did the White House talk to
the Department of Justice? And why won’t they say
whether they talked or not? Mr. Carney:
Let me — I think I actually can
say that we routinely consult with the Department of Justice
on a range of legal matters, but we also routinely don’t
delve into the specifics of any confidential legal guidance that
the President or the White House in general would receive in the
course of those consultations. So, I mean, I think that’s just
standard operating procedure. Let me move around. Norah. The Press:
Jay, most Americans
start the new year — they start a new diet or
a new exercise regime, or try and look at the
new year as a fresh start. And the President has — Mr. Carney:
Did you see my list? (laughter) The Press:
Exactly. Start drinking less. (laughter) Mr. Carney:
You found out this isn’t water. (laughter) The Press:
The President chose to start the
new year with an intentionally provocative action, something
completely unprecedented, in appointing Richard Cordray. Why would he choose to start the
new year by angering Republicans on Capitol Hill? Was this about politics? Mr. Carney:
He chose to start the new year
with an action that is designed to take care of and protect
average Americans who have to deal with these
non-financial institutions, and because of the way the
law was written, the CFPB, the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau, could not implement and
effectively oversee those non-bank financial institutions
and therefore could not protect American citizens without
having Richard Cordray in place. And as I just said,
unfortunately Senate Republicans, as a matter of
ideology and politics and just the sheer fact that they
don’t like Wall Street reform, I guess, or they don’t want
those protections in place for average Americans, refused
to allow an up or down vote on somebody who is broadly
acknowledged to be enormously qualified for the job, has broad
bipartisan support across the country, and who even among
those very Republicans who filibustered his nomination
is viewed as qualified for the post. They just don’t want the post
to exist in the way that it’s written into the law. So he took action because
Congress wouldn’t on something that — because every day we
didn’t have a consumer watchdog, every day Richard Cordray
was out there waiting for, or hoping for, congressional
Republicans or Senate Republicans to choose protecting
average Americans over Wall Street and financial
institutions and their lobbyists was a day when those
Americans were not protected. So that’s why he acted. He didn’t — it wasn’t a
deliberately provocative thing. It was a deliberately decisive
move to ensure that those protections could be in
place and be implemented. The Press:
And is the President now
prepared for the reaction in terms of what’s coming
from Republicans? I spoke with some yesterday who
said that they have been working with the President; they
approved all but two of his judicial nominees, they’ve
approved a number of executive appointments, and that quote,
“that’s going to be very tough to do now.” They view this as provocative. Mr. Carney:
President Obama has 74 nominees
currently pending on the Senate floor. By contrast, at
this time in 2003, President Bush had only 42
nominees pending on the floor. President Obama currently has
a total of 181 nominees pending before the Senate. Those nominees have been pending
before the Senate for an average of 165 days, or almost
five and a half months. So while they certainly have
approved a handful or some nominees, and there have been
— there has been — there have been ebbs and flows
in that process, the fact of the matter is
we’ve had an unprecedented level of obstruction when it
comes to the confirmation, often confirmation of routine
appointments and nominations. So that’s — I take issue
with that supposition. And I would just say — look,
the President looks forward to working with Congress, with
Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats, on the very
important challenges that face the country, and the challenges
that — for which the solutions require congressional action. And he — going back to an
earlier question — he certainly expects that the Congress will
extend the payroll tax cut, extend unemployment insurance;
that they will do that without drama because it’s
the right thing to do. It’s a tax cut for
160 million Americans, the kind of thing that
Republicans, at least in theory, are supposed to be for. So we expect that the President
will be able to and will work to cooperate with Congress
on a number of areas. And as I said earlier this week,
we actually are fairly hopeful about the prospect of
greater cooperation. Because not just the President
is running for reelection, but all of the House and
a third of the Senate, and everybody has to answer
to their constituents. And I think constituents to
members of Congress are going to want to know what their
elected representatives did, and what actions they
took, beyond obstruction, to help the economy
grow and create jobs. The Press:
And then can I get your reaction
on the appointments to the National Labor Relations Board? Mitt Romney said today that the
President has now packed it with “union stooges.” And he said that the board’s
actions are simply un-American, and what the President did was
political payback for the unions helping him with his campaign. Mr. Carney:
Well, I would make two points. First of all, there
were three nominees. One of them was a Republican
who’s been languishing; hadn’t even gotten a
committee vote for a year. Secondly, I find it a little
rich that on this and on the appointment of Richard Cordray
to be the nation’s consumer watchdog, that the former
governor of Massachusetts decided to take a
position, in both cases, against the security and
protection of working and middle-class
Americans, because — the President made those recess
appointments to the NLRB because the NLRB did not have enough
members anymore to function. And it’s an agency,
an independent agency, that is designed to
protect workers’ rights. The President thinks
that’s important. He thinks it’s important
to protect workers’ rights. He thinks it’s important, in
the case of the CFPB and Richard Cordray, to protect consumers
from the abuses of payday lenders or mortgage — non-bank
mortgage brokers or student loan organizations or businesses. So that’s my comment on that. Ken. The Press:
Jay, in the new defense
cuts, the strategic review, one of the areas to
escape the axe is the East Asia Pacific region. Is there a way that the — how
should China perceive that? Is this being done largely
with China in mind? Mr. Carney:
It’s an excellent question. As you heard the President
make clear during his Asia trip — APEC, East Asia
Summit — in November, the President is committed
to rebalancing our focus, both in our national security
and defense strategies, on Asia. The President’s position as a
candidate as well as since he’s been in office was that for —
because of the intense focus on Iraq, principally, as well as
the Middle East in general, that followed 9/11, we had as
a nation not been paying enough attention to Asia. And that is broadly the case
and broadly the President’s view with regard to
economics, diplomacy, as well as foreign policy
and national security. So he made clear that in
this defense strategy review, that he insisted on it and he
was deeply engaged in it and met with the Secretary of Defense
and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as the
combatant commanders, because he wanted a strategy to
drive the choices that were made around the budget, not
the other way around; not because there were budget
cuts passed into law by the Budget Control Act, voted
on in a bipartisan way, that that number shouldn’t
drive our defense strategy, but a strategy should then be
developed that was best for the country, best for our future,
and that the — and then the budget would address that. So his commitment
to, as you said, sort of maintaining our presence
and even heightening it in Asia is part of that
overall rebalancing. Yes, and then Jessica. Sorry. The Press:
Just to follow up on
— okay, thank you — what message then might
this send to North Korea? And is there any concern that
this new focus on Asia might be provoking in any way
this new untested leader? And then domestically
on the same issue, defense companies are talking
about losing hundreds of jobs, potentially thousands as a
result of these defense cuts. What do you say to that? Mr. Carney:
As regards North Korea and
the change in leadership there, I mean, obviously that’s a
recent development and the President’s focus on Asia
and his goal of rebalancing our strategic view towards
Asia long predates that, so there’s no relation there. And our position on North
Korea remains as it was. On the issue of budget cuts,
these are the product of a bipartisan bill, the Budget
Control Act that was passed, as you know, in August. And the fact of the
matter is that after 9/11, for good reason, our defense
budget increased rather dramatically and for a
sustained period of time. And over the past three
years our defense budget has been increasing. So we are making sensible
choices that reflect our need to get our fiscal house in
order, and we are making those choices driven by a strategy
rather than just giving the Defense Department an
across-the-board haircut, because that would
be irresponsible. We’re eliminating old Cold War
programs to ensure that we can enhance our investment
in intelligence, reconnaissance and other
areas that are more suited for modern-day defense strategy. So there’s no question that
there are difficult choices involved in this, but the fact
of the matter is that even with these cuts our budget,
defense budget, will be substantial and larger
even than it was towards the end of the Bush administration. Yes, Jessica. The Press:
You touched on this
in the gaggle yesterday, but I wanted to just press
you a little further. Quoting some of the things the
President said as senator when he opposed John Bolton’s
recess appointment, he said, “It’s the wrong thing
to do,” and he said, “This process means we’ll
have less credibility and, ironically, be less
equipped, in this case, to reform the United Nations.” Now, I know in the gaggle you
said that was — you posed it because he didn’t like
John Bolton’s policies. But in this case he
likes Cordray’s policies. How does this go to the
substance of the matter, which is the recess
appointment itself? Mr. Carney:
Sure. Well, the point
I was making — again, I think I’ve cited the
statistics on recess appointments, which is a
constitutional authority allowed to every President and which
has been exercised by this President’s predecessors
in far greater degree. Secondly, the distinction
here is that, as I’ve noted, Richard Cordray has
broad bipartisan support. There is no question about his
qualifications for this job. In the case of Mr. Bolton there
were a great many questions about his qualifications
for the job, and a great deal of opposition
to his nomination on the merits, on his qualifications, and that
makes this quite different. This is an effort to deny
Richard Cordray the opportunity to serve in this position
because of opposition to the position itself and opposition
to Wall Street reform, not because of opposition
to this nominee. And the fact is CFPB exists
because it is the law. The position exists
because it is the law. It was passed by the
House and the Senate. It was signed into
law by the President. If Republicans want to
change that they can do it legislatively,
or they can try to. In the meantime, the nation’s
consumers deserve to have this consumer watchdog in place,
and that’s why the President acted as he did. The Press:
A broader question about some of
the executive muscle he’s been flexing lately. When he was a candidate in 2008,
he railed against the executive powers that the Bush-Cheney
White House had expanded, but now he is, as I
said, flexing a lot of executive muscle. Has he flip-flopped on
that position, or — Mr. Carney:
I think there are apples and
oranges here in terms of the use and extent of
executive authority. I would simply point to the
stats I just gave you about recess appointments, which is a
well-established tradition and authority granted by the
Constitution to Presidents of the United States, an authority
that this President has used discriminatingly by comparison
to President Bush, for example. And going back to — this is
not an either/or proposition. You don’t decide to simply act
with your executive authority and not act with Congress
because this President is committed to doing everything he
can within his power to help the American people, to grow the
economy and to create jobs. That’s his number-one priority. And that includes
working with Congress, because on so many of these
important issues Congress has to be part of the solution,
has to be part of the effort to cooperate — The Press:
Did gridlock in Congress
change his opinion? Mr. Carney:
Well, we have certainly
experienced gridlock on some issues and we’ve experienced a
great deal of obstruction on the Richard Cordray
nomination and other issues. But he exercises his executive
authority I think in a very judicious manner. And as you and others
have often pointed out, some of the things that he is
able to do through his executive authority as regards — as
relates to jobs and the economy are sometimes very
small in their impact, but that doesn’t mean
they’re not worth doing. And the fact is he will do
things, small, medium and large, that he can do through
his executive authority, that he can do working
with the private sector, as he did today — or as the
White House did today with the Summer Jobs Plus program — and
then he will continue to press the Congress to take action on
the American Jobs Act and to take action broadly on
jobs and the economy, through the payroll
tax cut extension, through the extension of
unemployment insurance, through the absolute urgent
need to do something about our infrastructure as a long-term
economic growth matter and also as a way of putting idle
construction workers back to work. I mean, that should be a
goal that we all share, and traditionally, Republicans
and Democrats have shared and have acted on. So, again, we remain hopeful
that we can work with Congress, that we will work with Congress,
and that that cooperation would be driven by the demands of
the American people and the constituents, those folks who
sent members to Congress and sent the President
to the Oval Office. Mark. The Press:
Yes, Jay, speaking of jobs,
tomorrow’s jobs numbers — I know you’re not in the
predictions business, but can you talk about the — Mr. Carney:
I’ll throw it out there. (laughter) The Press:
If you’re going to Vegas you
may as well do that, too. Can you talk about the
hopes and the expectations, and specifically about the first
jobs numbers of the year and how they might set the tone for what
the President is going to speak about in the State of the Union
speech and also what he says on the campaign trail
in the months ahead? Mr. Carney:
I wouldn’t dare to go there. What I can tell you is, as
I’ve said before, that — The Press:
Why? Mr. Carney:
Well, because it would sound
like a prediction and I just don’t have one. So we look at these things as —
and our economists look at these things as sort of
longer-term trends. One number is not decisive,
whether it’s good or bad. What we are focused on — we
can’t control data, right? What we are focused on is what
we can do to help grow the economy, to help create jobs,
so that that unemployment number comes down, so that the job
creation number goes up, so that the growth
number goes up. But we can’t spend a lot of
time worrying about what those numbers are going to be because
we don’t control that directly. We can only do what we can do. And that’s why this President is
so focused on doing everything he can, from Summer
Jobs Plus programs, to helping folks
with their mortgages, to putting people back to work
through the American Jobs Act. The Press:
Can I follow up with a
couple logistical questions? A, are we going to hear from
the President on the jobs numbers tomorrow? Are we going to hear from — Mr. Carney:
I don’t have a scheduling
announcement to make. The Press:
The other question is, the
President has talked about wanting to get right to work on
extending the payroll tax cuts. Are there negotiations
already underway on getting the full year? Mr. Carney:
Well, I don’t have
any specifics for you. I’m sure that there are
conversations being had, but beyond that I
don’t have any details. I mean, we certainly look
forward to that action being taken as soon as possible to
ensure that there’s no doubt in the minds of the American people
who would be affected by the failure to extend the payroll
tax cut that the extension will happen. The Press:
But nothing involving the
White House right now? Mr. Carney:
I don’t have any
details on that, no. Ed. The Press:
Jay, on recess appointments,
earlier you said, I don’t think anybody expects
Washington to be a campfire where everyone sits
around and sings Kumbaya. What about hope and change? I thought there was
an expectation — the President said
that if he got elected, maybe it wouldn’t be singing
around a campfire but the situation would improve. Has he just given up on that? Mr. Carney:
I think that, in some ways, I
answered your question before I got it, which is that the
President’s promise was not just to change atmospherics but to
change the way Washington did business and to change it by
working together collaboratively with Congress and others in
Washington to get people here to focus on challenges that they
had ignored for too long — that we had ignored
for too long. And that included the need
for Wall Street reform; the need for health care reform,
a project 100 years in the making that had experienced
numerous efforts and failures; the need to deal with our energy
policy to get it focused on “all of the above” approach in
terms of our energy sources, to reduce our dependence on
foreign oil and to ensure that we were competitive in the
21st century in clean energy industries and doing things that
helped our environment as well as helped our economy. And he has done these. Saving the automobile industry,
and because of the crisis brought on in the automobile
industry by the devastating recession, insisting at
great political peril, as I’m sure you all
reported on at the time, that we need to have a
vibrant, thriving American automobile industry. He was not willing
to write it off, but in exchange for
taxpayer assistance, insisting that those companies
reform themselves and make themselves more competitive. And that’s what he’s done. And he didn’t do it alone. He did it with Congress
in almost all cases. So it is true that partisanship
prevails still and the tone is not what you would hope. But the important thing here for
the American people is that we change the way we do business,
that we address the challenges that had loomed like elephants
in the room that everybody ignored for too long. And that’s what this
President has done. The Press:
But when you say “change
the way you do business,” on the substance of how recess
appointments go forward, you guys cite all kinds
of legal precedent — Mr. Carney:
Including Bush administration
— Bush arguments right? The Press:
— we quoted and others quoted
yesterday saying that you had the constitutional
power to do this. Nevertheless, when you
say now they’re in recess, they’re not working —
Democrats, like Harry Reid, as recently as 2008, when
George W. Bush was in office, agreed with the Bush White House
— which he was not friendly with — that when they’re
in pro forma session, then in fact they’re
not in recess. They’re open for business. They’re not doing a lot, but
there was an agreement that President Bush would not
do — he did plenty of recess appointments. But when they were in pro
forma session, he did not. He accepted that precedent. And Harry Reid as recently
as 2008 was saying this. Mr. Carney:
Well, he didn’t
take advantage of, or he didn’t act on the legal
opinion of his own OLC and others who actually
argued the opposite. So — The Press:
After they left the
Bush administration. Mr. Carney:
But look, I think their
opinions are quite clear. And I think you reported
one of them in your piece. The Press:
It was not an official position
of the Bush administration. Mr. Carney:
Our legal standing here
we are very confident on. The Press:
Right. Mr. Carney:
And on the absolute need to
ensure that the CFPB has its full authority and its
powers to protect Americans, middle-class consumers,
from dishonest non-financial institutions, we’re very
comfortable with that and the need to act. The Press:
Sure. People agree. But there was — when we talk
about Kumbaya and all this, Harry Reid — who didn’t
like George W. Bush, called him a liar, all
kinds of other things — agreed that when — that this
was in place and that he would not do these recess
appointments. And President Bush
didn’t defy that. So how are you improving this
tone that you’re talking about when you’re changing that
gentleman’s agreement that was in effect just three — Mr. Carney:
You’re talking
about process here. On the one hand — The Press:
Process matters, because — Mr. Carney:
On the one hand, you’re talking
about whether — I mean, I defy you to find
anything like a quorum, anything like even enough people
to fill this room up on Capitol Hill who are elected
members of Congress. You might find them in very
warm places or snowy places having fundraisers. But you won’t find them in
Capitol Hill because they are in recess. And we can’t wait for a process
that has proven itself to be broken to fix itself. And with regards to the
President’s constitutional authority, which you’ve said he
has, he’s going to exercise it. Because we have to have Richard
Cordray in place in order to protect American consumers. And the argument against
that is either — on the other side is either
a process argument, or, more truthfully, is an argument
about the fact that they don’t even want the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau, and they want to weaken it or
water it down or eliminate it because they seem to believe
that after all we went through in 2007 and 2008, the
unbelievable harm that the financial crisis caused to this
economy and to the American people, we don’t need new rules;
Wall Street should go back to the way it was; the financial
institutions should be — should regulate themselves. They can take that on the
road and try and sell it, but I don’t think there are
going to be many buyers. The Press:
But last thing on that point —
you’ve said that several times in this briefing
and other places — that basically Republicans
just want to do away with — they don’t have problems with
Richard Cordray as a man, they think — Mr. Carney:
I’m just quoting them. The Press:
And they’ve said that,
it’s absolutely true. However, Republicans do have a
substantive point they make on this that you’re not mentioning,
which is that he has an office with $500 million, and they
think that it’s unaccountable and that there should be
oversight of that so he’s not just going after businesses. Do you at least agree that there
should be some safeguards in place — there should be
consumer protections — but there should also be
protections to make sure he doesn’t have $500 million
in a fishing expedition? Mr. Carney:
But Ed, as you know, the kind
of oversight that exists for the CFPB is no different than as
exists for other independent agencies, by and large. It is part of the law that was
passed and signed into law by the President, and if they want
to introduce changes to the structure or oversight of the
CFPB through legislation they should do that. But they should not block a
highly qualified nominee for a job that exists in law
out of ideological pique, because it’s hurting the
American people and it’s certainly not doing them any
good, I think, politically. But that’s just my advice. Yes. The Press:
If the President
were to go ahead — were planning to go ahead
with a controversial recess appointment, why didn’t he just
appoint the person who invented the office to begin with
— Elizabeth Warren? Mr. Carney:
That’s a golden oldie. I think she’s
running for Senate. (laughter) The Press:
She wouldn’t be running for
Senate if the President had made a recess appointment. Mr. Carney:
Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, I think, look, we
have enormous regard for Elizabeth Warren. She did a terrific job in
setting up this agency. Richard Cordray is, as
she herself has said, the right man for the job,
the right person for the job, and enormously qualified. And as I mentioned at the top,
she’s I think engaged in a campaign of her own right now. So — The Press:
Did you guys give her a heads
up that you were going to do the recess appointment for Cordray? Mr. Carney:
I don’t believe so, but — The Press:
You didn’t give her the courtesy
call that you were recess appointing someone else? Mr. Carney:
She’s running for Senate, Hans. A courtesy call? No, I don’t believe we did. The Press:
Well, she just said this
agency was her baby. Mr. Carney:
Hans, I don’t believe we did. The Press:
Just one more question. There seems to be some legal
question whether Richard Cordray can be paid, because it’s
a recess appointment. Do you know whether or not
he’ll actually be paid? Mr. Carney:
I assume, as with other recess
appointments, he has all the — everything that comes with it. But I don’t have a
specific answer to that. The Press:
Okay. And you made the shocking
allegation that there were fundraisers in warm and
snowy places going on around the country. Mr. Carney:
I’m just guessing. (laughter) The Press:
Is the implication that just
because Congress isn’t here in session that they’re
not working? Mr. Carney:
Only in Washington would
not being in the office, not even being in the town
where your office exists, qualify as being on the job. I mean, Congress — if Congress
is in session they’re supposed to be somewhere, like,
close to the capital. So, look, train your
cameras on the chambers. See if you can find
any folks there. The Press:
They don’t let our cameras
in, but I take your point. (laughter) Mr. Carney:
I wonder why. (laughter) Laura. The Press:
Thanks. You spoke at length about
the fact that the frustration that Richard — Mr. Carney:
It wasn’t that long. The Press:
— Richard Cordray — over
the course of two days — that Richard Cordray was being
bottled up and held up by the Senate, unwilling
to approve his — even vote on his nomination. Two of the three NLRB nominees
were just put forth last month, just a few weeks ago. The Senate hasn’t had
time to act on that. What’s the justification for
a recess appointment for them? Mr. Carney:
Well, we need the agency to
function so that workers’ rights continue to be protected. It’s an independent agency
that cannot function without a certain number of
board members, one. Two, any doubt about
the Senate’s intention, or the Republicans in the
Senate’s intention of allowing any nominee to come
forward can be — was demonstrated by the fact
that they wouldn’t even allow the Republican nominee to get
to a committee vote so — who had been there
for almost a year. So the President acted
because Congress wouldn’t, and it was clear that
Congress wouldn’t — and numerous senators have
made clear they won’t. And we have to have that —
these independent agencies exist for a reason, and the President
believed that it was essential to make sure that that
agency could function. The Press:
Well, I have two
follow-ups to that. The first is, if it’s so
critical for the agency to function — everybody knew when
those vacancies were coming — why didn’t the President
nominate somebody earlier so the Senate would have time
to confirm them in a — should they be so inclined,
in a timely fashion? Mr. Carney:
Well, I think he was hoping that
the Senate would confirm the Republican who had been
up there for a long time. There was I think a Democrat who
was recess appointed who was — they refused to
confirm in the past. So, again, the Senate
Republicans’ disposition towards this could not have been more
clear and their intentions could not have been more clear. And the fact is, it was simply
a matter of the agency could not act and function without
having the requisite number of board members. The Press:
So the standard for the Senate
bottling somebody up is now statements by senators
about their intentions, whether they plan or
don’t plan to move on a — Mr. Carney:
Well, I mean, you know
how Congress works. Maybe there should be a
day where, for example, with the filibusters, senators
actually have to hang around and filibuster — properly
act out the verb, right? But instead, all they
have to do is, like, tug on their ear and
suddenly a vote goes down. So, unfortunately,
that’s how it works. So we — Laura, we could
have a — I think at the — out of deference
to your colleagues, we can have this esoteric
conversation later. But I think the President, I
think with clear justification, believed that he had to do this
in order to ensure that this independent agency
could function. Toshi. The Press:
Thank you, Jay. Next week, Treasury Secretary
Geithner will go to Japan and China. I’m not going to ask
about the details, but can you give us a sense of
general expectation by Japan administration on his visit
and on potential deliverables? Mr. Carney:
Well, no, I won’t talk
about deliverables. I mean, this is part of
his responsibilities as Treasury Secretary. I don’t think he’s been to
China since last spring. I could be wrong about that,
but I think it’s roughly that. And this is part of our
engagement with Asia that we’ve talked about already,
and in the case of Japan, an important ally. But I don’t have any
more details on it. Maybe Treasury does. Yes. The Press:
We’re approaching the
one-year anniversary of the Gabby Giffords shooting. And she’s of course going to do
things this weekend and mark it in a certain way. And when the President spoke
and gave that really moving — by a lot of accounts — speech,
he talked about taking steps on gun safety and gun control
in the months ahead. Does he have plans of actually
following through on that a year later? Mr. Carney:
Well, I think we —
did we publish that? I think we have put forward
some positions on this, and I don’t have anything
new for you on it. And I don’t have anything for
you on the anniversary itself. It obviously was a — I mean,
it’s a solemn occasion given that — I mean, it’s a
remarkable recovery that Congresswoman Giffords has made,
but we can never forget the lives lost on that day. Yes. The Press:
Jay, under the President’s
defense initiative that he announced today, will the United
States still have the ability or not have the ability to fight
and win two major wars at the same time in different places? Mr. Carney:
I believe Secretary Panetta,
following the President, spoke at length about the
broader defense strategy and the — what underlies it. So I would point you to
his remarks for a better assessment of that. The Press:
He said we can do — the United
States would be able to do more than one thing at a time. Mr. Carney:
Well, that’s without question. The Press:
But I guess the question is,
does that include fighting and winning two major wars
at the same time? Mr. Carney:
Look, what I can say is,
again, you should — I think there is ample comment
on this from the Secretary of Defense about what the strategy
is and what it allows our military forces to achieve. What is true is that we are
at the end of a decade of war. Just when this President took
office we had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
we’re now down to half that, and the President
is, as you know, as part of his
Afghanistan strategy, committed to further drawing
down Afghan forces gradually. And that creates opportunities
and allows us to rebalance our defense strategy. But for details about how that
is underpinned, if you will, I would point you to the
Secretary of Defense. The Press:
Thanks, Jay. The Press:
Are you guys willing to
acknowledge that you’re working with Yusuf Qaradawi on the
peace talks with the Taliban? Mr. Carney:
I don’t have any
information on that. Mark, I feel like I owe you one. You’ve been raising
your hand for a bit. The Press:
Thanks. Based on White House
Counsel’s legal analysis, if the Senate had come into pro
forma session every day instead of every three or four
days, would that have made a difference? Mr. Carney:
I will leave it to the lawyers
to analyze it or to provide further detail for you on it. Our assessment is that Congress
has been in recess and has made every indication that it will be
in recess for a sustained period of time, and that gaveling
in and gaveling out for seven seconds does not constitute
a recess with regard to the President’s
constitutional authority. I mean, let’s take the other —
I guess going to maybe Laura’s question or somebody else’s —
the other side of the extreme here, which is that if these
gimmicks were all a Senate needed — the Senate needed to
do to prevent the President from exercising his constitutional
authority — any President — then no Senate would — I mean,
no President would ever be able to exercise it because — The Press:
Well, in the last two years,
the Bush administration — Mr. Carney:
Well, but — and we’re saying
that this is a gimmick versus a constitutionally
enshrined authority. And we feel very comfortable,
as a legal matter, that the Constitution
trumps gimmicks. Thanks. The Press:
And has the White House —

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