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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/5/2011

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Press Release on July 5, 2011 | 6:56 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)
Release Time: 
For Immediate Release
Location: 
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:54 P.M. EDT

        MR. CARNEY:  That pretty much sums it up.  Anybody have any questions?  Mr. Feller?

        Q    Thanks, Jay.  Let me follow real quickly on two points the President made.  So is he then ruling out White House support for an interim increase in the debt ceiling?  

        MR. CARNEY:  I think you heard him say -- the President say quite clearly, that he does not share the view that he has heard some in Congress hold that we should support some sort of short-term deal that kicks the can down the road on significant deficit reduction.  He believes that we have now a unique opportunity -- the result of a confluence of events and decisions -- that gives us a chance to do something big, that can set us on a solid footing for the 21st century as we build our economy, get our fiscal house in order at a crucial time.

        So he strongly believes -- and I think you just heard him say this -- that leaders were elected to lead, to make hard choices, to compromise, and to take some flack for that compromise, because it requires tough choices.  So I think he said quite clearly that he does not believe that is the right course.

        Q    He also used the phrase, “over the next two weeks.”  I want to make sure we’re clear on this.  What does the White House consider to be really the hard deadline to reach a deal, to get this done in time to get it through Congress?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I will leave it to what the President said in terms of the next two weeks.  And I think that that’s important, because as he said in his press conference last week, and again just now, we should not leave this to the last minute.  August 2nd, as affirmed again by the analysts at the Treasury Department, is a real, serious deadline.  The consequences of defaulting on our obligations for the first time in the history of this country would be serious and unpredictable.  So we need to move quickly.  We should not procrastinate.  We need to get this done.  And that’s why I think he spoke about two weeks.

        Q    Okay.  And we’re at the last fall here.  So two weeks, no interim debt ceiling raise as an option, for the reasons he stated.  So you’ve got basically two weeks to reach a two-plus-trillion-dollar plan and you’re at the stalemate over revenues.  What happens if you don’t hit that in two weeks?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want speculate about what might happen if we don’t get deal that we should get.  We believe that it’s possible, it’s achievable, that the progress we’ve made is significant, and that there is the will within both parties.  As the President just said, there are members -- there are enough members, he believes, in both parties, who believe in the necessity of reaching for a big deal, and are willing to make the compromise necessary to do that; that we should -- we need to take action for that reason.

        Q    Thanks.

        Q    Jay, with the meeting on Thursday that he just announced, does that mean there will not be -- he will not be attending the meeting on the Hill tomorrow as he’s been invited to attend?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have no plans for that tomorrow, yes.

        Q    Okay.  So, and -- so all other invitations that have been issued from the Hill at this point are not being accepted by the White House?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President spoke with the leaders.  He has invited them to come to the White House to move these talks forward on Thursday, and that’s the next meeting that we anticipate.
        Q    Looking even past that, do you have any sense, in terms of further follow-up meetings --

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any other meetings to announce for you.  This is obviously a relatively dynamic and fluid situation.  But I can assure you that these conversations continue at a variety of levels.  They have continued consistently since the Vice President began the formal negotiations.  And the fact that they have made progress, I think, is important and worth noting, and that’s why the President believes we have the opportunity now to get something serious done for the American people.

        Q    If there is not a deal --

        MR. CARNEY:  That sounds like a speculative question.

        Q    I was trying to think how I could phrase that differently, but that’s still --

        Q    Better than I did.  (Laughter.)

        Q    -- still think I’m going to stick with it.  Would the White House consider using the 14th Amendment as a way to raise the debt ceiling?

        MR. CARNEY:  Look, I don’t think that I want to get into speculation about what might happen if something does or doesn’t happen.  The President believes firmly that a deal is possible; that if the players here all check their absolutist positions and their rhetoric at the door and accept the basic premise that we all agree on what the problem is, we all agree on the broad outlines of what the solution is, and that if we can negotiate and compromise on the details of how we get there, we can do something significant that will be beneficial for the American people, beneficial for American economy and good for America’s standing going into the 21st century, a very competitive economic century.

        Yes, Jake.

        Q    Some Republicans on the Hill say that some of the spin coming from the White House is inaccurate, that the White House and Democrats had not signed off to trillions to dollars in spending cuts, that it was roughly $1 trillion; and that they hadn’t actually agreed to any of them, and there were a bunch of gimmicks contained within that trillion.  Can you --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, you know, Jake, that we have not commented on the specifics of the negotiations that the Vice President led.  And I’m not going to start doing that now.  I would say that the President has always said -- the Vice President has said, others have said -- that we obviously agree to the proposition that nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon.  And I think that that will hold true in these negotiations, that compromise necessitates all the pieces coming together.

        And what I can guarantee you is that significant progress was made towards reducing spending in those conversations and that more progress needs to be made in order to get this thing done.  And that progress needs to come in all the facets that the President talked about -- in non-defense discretionary spending and defense spending, in entitlement spending, and in spending in the tax code.

        Q    About the Fast and Furious program -- I know that there’s this investigation going on internally -- weapons from the Fast and Furious program are now showing up in the United States attached to criminal transactions.  The ABC station in Phoenix last week reported on several of these weapons from Fast and Furious turning up.  How come we know so little -- the public knows so little about this program?  And what is the administration doing to get to the bottom of these weapons, which are now showing up in crimes in the United States?  

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there’s an investigation going on precisely to get to the bottom of this.  And I can’t comment further on it, because there is an investigation going on.

        Q    Can the acting head of the BATF be permitted to go to Capitol Hill to testify?  My understanding is that the -- that he has not been allowed by the administration to go there and explain what’s going on.

        MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to refer you to Justice on that.  I don’t have any information on that.  

        Q    Is this not something that you guys are worried about and incensed about?  This is something --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jake, I think it’s being investigated for a reason.  And obviously it’s a matter of concern and that’s why there’s an investigation.  But it would be a mistake for me to comment further on -- or to characterize further what happened or how to rate our unhappiness about it from here.  So I think that I have to refer you to the Justice Department for that.

        Q    Lastly, I mean, we have heard at times when the President was upset about something -- “plug the damn hole,” is one such anecdote that was shared exclusively with every single person in this room by the White House.  Do you -- is the President upset about this?  I mean, this is a government operation where now weapons -- I mean, the Mexicans are upset that guns are now turning up in --

        MR. CARNEY:  I think you could assume that the President takes this very seriously.

        Q    No one has lost their job.  We don’t --

        MR. CARNEY:  And there’s an investigation going on, so to comment on people’s jobs and that sort of thing is inappropriate.  But the President takes it very seriously.  I think he made clear when the -- during the Mexican state visit and the press conference he had then that he found out about this through news reports.  And he takes it very seriously.

        Dan.

        Q    I want to go back to that “if” question.  If you aren’t able to reach a long-term deal, what other options are on the table?  Or do you have any other options on the table?  Is the President essentially saying, no mini deals no matter what; only a long-term option here?

        MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that we have to think big and act big, because, as I mentioned before, there has been a confluence of events and decisions that have led us to this point.  And they include obviously the terrible recession, the worst since the Great Depression that we went through; the fact that because Congress wouldn’t act the President appointed the Simpson-Bowles Commission and they delivered a report; we have the outside Domenici-Rivlin report; we have the President’s framework that he put forward and the Republican budget that passed the House -- all of which describe a problem and a solution in generally the same terms.  The big exception is 3-1 they propose solutions that demand a balanced approach, which obviously the President supports.

        This is not the kind of situation that comes around very frequently, and the President believes that it is worth the inevitable political difficulty that making tough choices creates to get this done for the American people, for American economy.  So he does not share the view, does not believe it is wise to pursue a short-term solution that essentially would be kicking the can down the road and not at all addressing or solving the problem.  

        The problem is there in front of us.  We know what it would take to solve it or to seriously address it.  And we should move forward with that.

        Q    I guess what I’m trying to understand is when he says he doesn’t believe it’s wise or doesn’t share the view, it doesn’t mean necessarily that he wouldn’t embrace it if that’s what it takes at the last minute.

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the President was pretty clear that he does not support going in that direction.  And we’ve been clear prior to that.  I’m not going to negotiate a lot of -- you know, sort of “what happens if” from here.  And this is a process that will continue, I think, fairly intensively, in the coming days and weeks.  And hopefully it will result in a broad agreement on significant deficit reduction that then also allows the Congress to move forward with making sure that the United States of America does not for the first time in its history default on its obligations.

        Q    And then another question on the Minnesota government shutdown.  Is that something that the President has been watching, paying attention to?  Any comment on that?

        MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had a conversation with him about that.  I don’t know.

        Yes, Chip.

        Q    Thanks, Jay.  Has the White House seen any sign that Republicans are willing to bend on revenues?  The President suggested there has been some progress -- more progress going on recently.  Any signs that they’re even thinking about bending on revenues?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, without getting into the details of what is or isn’t in a possible agreement -- because a lot of work needs to be done and a lot of tough choices remain to be made -- the President obviously believes, as he said right here, that there is the will in Congress present and enough members from each party to pass a significant deficit reduction deal that would be balanced.  

        The specifics of how that occurs and what elements are in it, what kind of -- how it addresses the need to reduce spending in the tax code, I’m not and I won’t negotiate from here.  But we believe that it’s possible.  We believe that that opportunity is significant enough that the President has invited the leaders here for Thursday, and we anticipate pretty intense negotiations going forward.

        Q    On the 14th Amendment question, is that being studied by White House lawyers?

        MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of.

        Q    Not even being discussed --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, people read the newspaper, but I don’t know that anybody is studying it.

        Q    Not anything you’ve heard the President talk about at all?

        MR. CARNEY:  Definitely not.

        Q    Okay, thank you.

        MR. CARNEY:  Wendell.

        Q    -- economists who feel that because some Republicans are willing to forego raising the debt ceiling and no Democrats are, they hold the cards and you don’t.  What’s wrong with that logic?

        MR. CARNEY:  That they hold the cards because they’re willing to --

        Q    Because they’re willing forego raising the debt ceiling.

        MR. CARNEY:  -- cause a calamity?  I mean, “forego” is an interesting verb to use, Wendell.  I mean, we’re talking about doing something that’s never happened in this -- in the history of this country.  I will spare you, because I know it’s late in the day and you’re on deadline, reading again the letter from President Reagan, reading again the letter from then Treasury Secretary Jim Baker about the absolute necessity that the United States fulfill its obligations and pay its debts.  

        This is -- again, this is not a vote to increase spending.  This is a vote to pay the bills that Congress ran up.  And the fact that there are some members who seem to think that that’s not an important obligation to fulfill doesn’t make it right.

        Q    But they’re willing, apparently, to go there, and you’re not.

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s like saying, you know, you’re willing to put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, and is that wise?  I don’t know.  And especially when it’s not just you who would suffer, it’s the entire country and the global economy.

        Q    The Weekly Standard, based on the seventh quarterly report on the stimulus bill, calculated that the jobs paid for cost, by its calculation, $278,000 each.  If you use the larger number of jobs created, it’s $178,000 a job.  What’s wrong with the math there?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s important note that, yes, the Weekly Standard did this analysis, and you should view it through that prism, I suppose.  

        The study -- the report is based on partial information and simply false analysis.  As you know, the Recovery Act was meant to do much more than just create and save jobs; it was also an investment in American infrastructure, education, and industries like clean energy that is critical to America’s long-term success, and investment in the economic future of America’s working families.

        Thanks to the Recovery Act, 110 million working families received a tax cut through the Making Work Pay tax credit.  Over 110,000 small businesses received critical access to capital through $27 billion in small business loans.  And more than 75,000 projects were started nationwide to improve our infrastructure, jumpstart emerging industries, and spur local economic development.

        And you can do a lot of creative math and come up with an outcome that supports a particular editorial point of view, but the fact is the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the Recovery Act delivered as promised, lowering the unemployment rate by as much as 2 percent, boosting the GDP significantly, and creating and saving as many as 3.6 million jobs.  We concur with that nonpartisan analysis.  

        Chuck.

        Q    Jay, a couple things.  One, can you brief us on these meetings the President referred to over the weekend?

        MR. CARNEY:  No.

        Q    So -- but there were meetings -- I mean, there were meetings with congressional leaders?

        MR. CARNEY:  Look, I’m not going to do a -- I’ve made clear --

        Q    That’s news to some folks on the Senate side.

        MR. CARNEY:  I’ve made clear that there are conversations, meetings that will take place during this process as they do in the normal course of events, but during this process that I’m not going to read out.  And I think the point the President was making is simply that we have been working this continually, daily -- through the weekend, through the weeks gone by -- and that meetings and conversations continued over the weekend.

        Q    Can you -- and this is playing the rest of the question, but can you square this issue of the President saying, I don’t want -- I can’t deal with a short-term deal, but you’ve got two weeks to get it done?  I mean, how is it that you’re going to --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, there’s no --

        Q    -- iron out all of these issues with I believe you’re inviting seven people to this meeting on Thursday?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s eight.

        Q    Eight or more people at a meeting, the perception is the less they can get done --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s not so big.  I mean, there are conversations going on that -- this meeting is part of a process.  It’s an important part, but it’s part of a process that has been ongoing for a number of weeks now, and months, even.  And, yes, we are on a tight deadline.  But we have traversed a lot of terrain.  We’re not there yet, but there has been significant progress already and we --

        Q    But if you can get a big deal, but you can’t get it in two weeks, but you’re going to get it in six weeks --- you’re not going to work around that --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don’t want to --

        Q    -- calendar in some form or another?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think to stand here and say, yes, let’s kick the can down the road because we need another six months is crazy, because we know --

        Q    But if you needed another couple of weeks --

        MR. CARNEY:  It’s not like -- this issue didn’t drop on everybody’s desks this week or last week.  People have been studying this and debating it and proposing different solutions for a long time now, as you know.  You’ve reported on them in detail.  And we know what the parameters of a solution look like.  

        We know what the tradeoffs are that are involved that would be required to reach a compromise, a compromise that by definition requires each side -- Republicans and Democrats -- to get outside their comfort zones, to accept cuts they don’t like, whether it’s in non-defense discretionary, in defense; whether it’s in entitlement spending or in the tax code.  People are going to have to accept something less than the ideal, because you know what, the ideal will never become law.  Whether you’re a conservative House Republican or a liberal Senate Democrat or you’re the President of the United States, you will not get 100 percent of what you want.  Our system doesn’t work that way.

        Q    So why isn’t he meeting with Tom Coburn, Saxby Chambliss, Republicans that have indicated they’re willing to cut a deal?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m not going to get into all the different kinds of meetings and conversations that have taken place over the days and weeks that have gone by.  In the end, anything that is agreed upon has to be passed by Congress.  Leaders play an important role in making that happen.  So meeting with leaders is an important part of the process.

        Q    Are you going to meet with these other folks that are actually wanting to be in the process?
        MR. CARNEY:  We may or may not.  And we may or may not read out those meetings.  The point is, is that the meeting the President announced today is part of this process.  It demonstrates his commitment to reaching to try to get something big that he thinks the American people overwhelmingly expect us to get.  You know this, you get out there and report and you find out when you’re on the road reporting on the country, and you look at it and the polling data and the focus groups -- Americans are not, like, I demand this -- you know, I draw the red line here and I draw this in the sand.  

        They just want us to get something done that’s sensible, that spreads the sacrifice and spreads the prosperity that hopefully a significant deal will help produce.  So with that in mind, I think the President is willing to make the hard choices, and he expects others to do the same.

        Carol.

        Q    Thanks.  The President sounded much more positive about getting a deal than he did less than a week ago.  Is that a fair assessment?  And why is he so much more positive now than he was last week?

        MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think we have always said -- I don’t want to -- you guys can analyze his tone and parse his language, but I think he has -- we have been for a long time now pleased with the progress that has been made in the negotiations thus far, concerned about the urgency that everyone needs to feel to get to a final agreement, and optimistic that a final agreement can be reached.  I think that’s the -- those notions were all expressed by the President last week at his press conference and again this afternoon.

        Q    Yes, well, I guess what I’m getting at --

        MR. CARNEY:  You’re asking, are we closer to a deal now than we were last week?

        Q    Yes.

        MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think that there have been -- there has been progress every step of the way.  Not every day has been a big step in the right direction, or has produced a big step in the right direction, but there has been progress steadily throughout this process.  Does that help?

        Q    Including a lot in the last, like, eight days?

        MR. CARNEY:  No, look, I think that the President referenced the fact that we’ve had conversations and meetings, but the --

        Q    But he has personally, right, because that’s what he said, that he’s had personal discussions.

        MR. CARNEY:  That’s what he said.  The point being that we’re not there yet, and he made that very clear at the very top of his statement.  We have some difficult terrain yet to cross.  But a deal is possible.  It’s within reach if people are willing to basically take the risk to get something big done.

        Yes, sir.

        Q    Jay, does your answer to Chip mean that the White House does not assert the President has got the authority to circumvent the 14th Amendment and -- circumvent the debt limit by virtue of the 14th Amendment?

        MR. CARNEY:  No, I think you’re reading far more into that than I intended.  I simply said that I am not aware of any analysis being done by lawyers here, and I have not heard the President discuss it.  

        Q    On another issue, is the administration offering Iraq to keep troops there after the end of the year?

        MR. CARNEY:  As I think I’ve said before, our plan is to fulfill our obligations with the agreement, the Status of Forces Agreement, with the Iraqi government, which requires us to withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of this year, this calendar year.  We intend to keep that agreement; we are on track to do that.

        We have also said that we would consider a request by the Iraqi government for some sort of sustained presence by U.S. troops.  That request has not been made.  We are on track to withdraw all our forces down to zero by December 31st of this year.

        Q    And lastly, any plans for the President to attend the launch or the return of the last shuttle flight at the end of the week?

        MR. CARNEY:  I wish I could say yes, because I would love to go with him, but I have no such scheduling announcement to make.

        Julianna.

        Q    Would the President veto a short-term debt -- a short-term deficit measure if that’s what it took to avoid a default?

        MR. CARNEY:  The President is committed to trying to get a big deal.  I’m not going to issue a veto threat from here.  I think his focus right now is on working with members of Congress, with leaders and other important members to try to get something significant done.  

        Q    And also, does the President want Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to stay on board through the election?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I would just point you to what Secretary Geithner said, which he will be here for the foreseeable future.  Secretary Geithner has been a highly valued and valuable member of the President’s economic team, and he depends on him every day, and will for the foreseeable future.

        Yes, sir.

        Q    Does the meeting on Thursday have an end time, or do you see this as kind of the beginning of the marathon all-night sessions that we saw with the 2011 budget negotiations?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ll see what happens on Thursday.  I don’t -- we did not suggest to members that they bring their pillows and blankets, so I wouldn’t expect that.

        Q    And you said you expect intense negotiations going forward -- is the sense that that would be daily?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to announce a schedule.  We have been in conversations and have had meetings of different kinds with different folks on a daily basis, but I don’t have a schedule in terms of the President’s engagement to announce to you today from here.

        Christi.

        Q    Just to be clear, have all the parties said yes, they’ll be here at the meeting on Thursday?

        MR. CARNEY:  Yes.

        Q    Okay.  And will it be at Blair House or here?  Do you know?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think it’ll be here in the White House.

        Q    Okay.  And what’s the thinking behind doing it here rather than accepting the invitations from the Hill?  Is there something --

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the President believes that it’s important to get leaders from both parties, both houses, together as we approach a deadline, and that -- as I said last week, he has obviously met with conferences and caucuses from both houses and both parties previously, as well as having had meetings with other members and leaders in the past.  So he thinks this is the right time for this sort of meeting, this week.

        Q    Okay.  And just to follow up on something Mark asked.  Is there actually an offer on the table from the administration to the Karzai government to send -- to keep 10,000 troops in Iraq after the end of the year?

        MR. CARNEY:  You mean the Maliki government?

        Q    I’m sorry.

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t believe that’s -- I don’t have any information to suggest that were true.  I think that we are waiting -- awaiting to see whether or not the Iraqi government makes a request of us.  That has not happened.  We are obviously now in July.  We are drawing down to zero.  We are on schedule to draw down to zero by December 31st, in keeping with our agreement with the Iraqi government.  And we will continue doing that as planned.  So there’s a certain amount of -- I mean, not sensitivity, but there’s only so much time here available for the Iraqi government to make such a request.  If they do, we will consider it.  Otherwise we are keeping on schedule.

        Q    How much time before that’s not --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, you know what, I would refer you to the Defense Department because this has to do with the logistics of drawing down forces, principally.  But I know that it’s not an endless amount of time.

        Q    Can I just clarify the debt ceiling achievement that the President would like to see?  The estimate is that if the debt ceiling goes up 2.4, it would take everybody through the end of 2012.  So is that what the President is shooting at?  Can I just clarify?

        MR. CARNEY:  My understanding, Alexis, is that he was referring to -- I mean, we have seen reports of people talking about very short-term agreements to allow for six more months of negotiations.  That is not a proposition the President supports.  But I don’t want to say that that’s unacceptable and something else is acceptable, because the President believes very strongly, as he just told you, that we should be shooting -- aiming higher; that we -- that if we have the political will collectively, Democrats and Republicans, to do the right thing by the American people, that we can actually achieve a significant deficit reduction deal in the trillions that is balanced, that sends a signal around the globe that we are getting our fiscal house in order and that will produce a boost of confidence in the American economy that we think will continue to allow it to grow and create jobs.

        Q    Well, I just want to clarify.  He is not coming to the table, trying to de-link the two from the Republicans, right?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think we have said -- we have acknowledged that while we do not believe that something as serious as the need for the United States to fulfill its obligations and not default on its obligations should be linked to any vote that may or may not happen.  We accept the fact that some members of Congress insist that we get a deficit reduction deal in tandem with, if you will, the vote to raise the debt ceiling.

        We believe that the debt ceiling will be raised.  We believe that the United States will not default on its obligations for the first time in its history.  We take the leaders of Congress at their word that they will fulfill that obligation, and I don’t want to suggest that we have any doubt that that’s going to happen.  We are also pursuing a significant deficit reduction deal concurrently.

        Q    But if the two things remain linked, then the number that they’re shooting for is going to be linked to however long that debt ceiling is --

        MR. CARNEY:  That’s up to Congress to decide.  How much they raise the debt ceiling is for Congress to decide.  We are negotiating a deficit reduction deal.  We believe it can be significant.  It can be in the trillions.  It can be of the size and scope that has been agreed upon, broadly speaking, by all the significant players in this discussion.

        So, again, that’s for Congress to decide the size of -- how high the ceiling is raised, not for us.  And it’s for them to decide whether to link that.  We don’t do that.  We don’t think that’s necessary.

        Q    So the President isn’t going to weigh in on that particularly?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to foreshadow what he may or may not say in a negotiation, but we do not view it that way.

        Q    Okay.  And then the other thing I wanted to ask is, when we saw the President last week, what prevented him from saying then exactly what he said today, and things might have moved a week faster?

        MR. CARNEY:  What does that mean exactly?  The President has been engaged --

        Q    The President just said, I want to see you; come see me.  He could have said that last week.

        MR. CARNEY:  The President met -- again, is this the “the President is not engaged” talking point, because I think the President has met with the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the House Speaker, the House Minority Leader, relevant members.  The Vice President has led these negotiations.

        Q    But what happened between last week and today?

        MR. CARNEY:  We are -- I’m going to move on, too, because there are other people here -- we are progressing down the road towards what we believe could be a significant achievement for the American people if everyone, Democrats, Republicans, are willing to accept something less than their absolutist positions.

        Yes.

        Q    Jay, if you are asked to keep more troops in Iraq past December 31st, how do you pay for that?  And are you thinking about the cost of that yet?
        MR. CARNEY:  I will have to bump that to the Defense Department.  I don’t have a specific answer for you on that.  We are, as of now, on track to withdraw all of the U.S. forces in Iraq by the end of this year, as dictated by the agreement we have with the Iraqi government and as promised by the President of the United States.

        So we have said for a long time now if the Iraqi government asks us to maintain some level of troops beyond that end-of-the-year deadline, we would consider it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we would do it.  We would just consider it.  And I really don’t have any more information on that possible outcome, because, again, we haven’t even gotten a request.   

        Abby, do you have a question?

        Q    Yes, just a quick follow-up on an earlier question.  You never really responded to the Senate Democrats’ request for a similar meeting that Mitch McConnell requested.  Do you also believe that a meeting like that is not worth having a conversation --

        MR. CARNEY:  I understand that that phrase that I used has been slightly taken out of context and used for talking point purposes.  My point then was that, as described to us, the invitation was for the President to go hear articulated an absolutist position that we already know.  We’ve heard it.  We understand that.  

        We are now at a point where we’re beyond that, where we believe that we have to negotiate a compromise, an agreement.  So more productive than doing that again, which the President already did in a session that he thought was very helpful and useful, a listening session with Senate Republicans, that it was important this week, because of the urgency of the matter, to move forward with a meeting with the leaders that he’s called for Thursday.

        Q    Do you believe that they’re the same type of meeting or a different type of meeting, just to be clear?
        MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure what you mean.

        Q    Are you saying that the meeting with Democrats that they requested and the meeting with Republicans that they requested were for the same purpose, to --

        MR. CARNEY:  I’m not even sure what story you’re trying to write here, like who are we offending by not -- I mean --

        Q    No, I’m just asking what your response is to Senate Reid’s request.

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the President thinks that the meeting now that we need to have is the one that he called for Thursday.  The most productive meeting for him to participate in and lead, if you will, is the one called for Thursday.  

        Yes, sir.

        Q    Jay, do you have anything on General Allen and Ambassador Crocker’s meeting with the President, and anything at all beyond the specifics I’m sure you won’t want to go into?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can tell you that the President did meet today with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Lieutenant General John Allen to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan.  Vice President Biden, National Security Advisor Donilon, Secretary Panetta -- the first time I’ve said that -- Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen also joined the meeting.  

        The President and his team discussed implementation of the next phase of our strategy in Afghanistan, including consolidation of the gains that have been made in breaking the Taliban’s momentum and training Afghan security forces; the reduction of U.S. troop levels that the President announced last month; and the process of transitioning lead security responsibility to the Afghan government.  

        The President thanked Ambassador Crocker and General Allen for their service, extraordinary in both cases, and said that he looked forward to working with them closely as they take up their important positions.  

        Q    Any reaction at all to the comments by Lieberman, McCain and Graham in Kabul about concerns, continuing concerns about weakening of the effort by the pace of the drawdown?

        MR. CARNEY:  Not in this meeting.  I believe that we’ve addressed that issue.  The President feels very strongly that because of the success we’ve had in making progress towards achieving our goals -- defeating, disrupting -- or disrupting, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, reducing -- stopping the momentum of the Taliban, and training up Afghan security forces that we can begin to draw down the surge forces 10,000 this year; another 23,000 by next summer.

        Q    Can I just follow, Jay?

        Q    Thanks, Jay.

        MR. CARNEY:  Cheryl, last one.

        Q    Has Treasury Secretary Geithner told the President that he would like to leave after these budget negotiations?

        MR. CARNEY:  Not that I’m aware of, no.  I think he’ll be here for the foreseeable future.  

        Thanks, guys.

END 5:31 P.M. EDT

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