James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience — I apologize for the delay. Before I take your questions, I wanted to mention that today the House
Appropriations Committee has moved forward with a provision that replaces the judgment of doctors and nutritionists with the opinions of politicians regarding what is healthy for our kids. The House Republican proposal would undercut school nutrition standards that have already been successfully implemented in over 90 percent of schools. These are the same people who just last year declared pizza as a vegetable and who now think that decisions about kids’ health should be made by politicians instead of pediatricians.
As the First Lady said on Tuesday, the last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health — especially when we’re finally starting to see some progress on this issue. Now is not the time to roll back everything that we have worked for. Our kids deserve much better than that.
And now to your questions. Julie.
Q: Thanks, Jay. The IG report on the trouble at the Veterans Affairs Department that came out yesterday was quite scathing. And since it came out, there are several Democrats who have called for Secretary Shinseki to step down. And I’m wondering if the President continues to have confidence in the Secretary’s ability to lead that department.
MR. CARNEY: I think you saw the statement that I put out yesterday reflecting that the President was extremely troubled by that preliminary report. When it comes to the overall issue, as you know from what the President has said and others have said, we are focused on getting to the root of the problem and determining the full scope of the problem so we can get, most importantly, veterans the care that they deserve and that they need, and that they’ve earned.
As the President said last week — and this is very important — the VA should not and must not wait for current investigations of VA operations to conclude before taking steps to improve care. You have seen a reaction to that insistence in the actions the VA has taken this week when it comes to moving more quickly to reach out to those veterans who have been identified as having been on waiting lists for far too long, and in allowing for greater ease when it comes to — if there is the need to having veterans receive care from private or non-profit hospitals.
Earlier this week — this is repeating what I just said — but they’re redoubling their efforts on this issue to take steps at national and local levels to ensure timely access to care. And this is very important. It’s not enough, but it is a step in the right direction.
When it comes to accountability, I think the best way to describe the President’s view is to recall what he said when he stood in this room and spoke to you last week. He believes that Secretary Shinseki has served his country as a soldier. He believes that he is committed to his fellow veterans and is passionate about serving them.
As the President said, Ric Shinseki has performed overall well as Secretary on issues like homelessness, on the GI Bill — the 9/11 GI Bill, and on working with us to reduce the backlog. “And he’s put his heart and soul into this thing, and he’s taken it very seriously.” That’s quoting the President.
When it comes to the current situation, the inquiries and the investigations and some of the allegations, the President wants to see the results of these reports. And he, as you know, made clear that he believes there ought to be accountability once we establish all the facts.
Q: But does that leave open the question of whether Secretary Shinseki can continue to lead this department?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the President identified last week that he expected a preliminary report from Secretary Shinseki’s internal audit very soon. And when he receives that, he’ll be able to evaluate those findings, along with what we’ve seen from the interim report from the inspector general, and then assess where we are at that time.
Q: So is it fair to say that the White House has moved from the point where you from this podium had said that the President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki to the point where you are evaluating whether he actually is staying in this job?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President himself, a week ago — more than a week ago made clear his views on that specific matter and on how he will assess the issue of accountability when it comes to the accusations of mismanagement and misconduct at the VA. He ordered up the internal audit that Secretary Shinseki has undertaken, I think an audit that will involve — is involving more than 200 people. And he expects to receive a preliminary report very soon, as he mentioned last week from the podium, and will be very interested in the results.
Q: And is it your understanding that the President will wait until that review and whatever Rob Nabors is working on, until those reviews are complete, before making a decision on leadership at the VA?
MR. CARNEY: I’m just not going to speculate more about personnel. I almost never do. Because what matters most to the President is making sure that we’re not waiting even for preliminary or interim reports from these inquiries to take action to ensure that our veterans are getting better and better service more quickly. That’s why you’ve seen the steps already undertaken by the VA, and he expects further action to be taken so that the most important mission we have here, which is providing benefits and health care to our veterans, is being performed more effectively.
Q: What is the status of that report from the VA, from Secretary Shinseki? Has the President set any deadline for it? And how will you make it public?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new from what the President said last week. I think he said that he expected a preliminary report from the Secretary by the end of this week.
Q: And following the IG report yesterday that the President described as troubling, you mentioned that these are health care issues and there’s some urgency to it. Has the President specifically instructed to accelerate it, push to get that report done, or to get more care delivered to veterans?
MR. CARNEY: The President made clear last week that even as these separate inquiries were being conducted — both the independent IG’s investigation and the internal audit that he asked Secretary Shinseki to conduct, as well as the broader review that his advisor, Rob Nabors, is conducting — there ought to be action taken immediately to improve care and services to veterans based on the information we do have.
So the answer is, yes, when it comes to acting now, based on what we do know in terms of improving care and benefits to veterans, while we await for the results from the inquiries.
Q: And just to follow up on one of Julie’s questions — does the fact that so many members of Congress have now called for the Secretary’s resignation, including a number of members of the President’s own party, suggest that the Secretary has lost the public’s confidence in a way that makes it impossible for him to do his job properly?
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused, first and foremost, on the need to address the problems that have impeded the quality and speed of care and benefits that our veterans have been receiving. He is also committed to making sure that people are held accountable if it is established that there was misconduct or mismanagement. But we can take action on the former while we await assessments on the latter.
He is extremely troubled, as we said yesterday, about the preliminary results reported by the IG, and he looks forward to a full investigation by the independent inspector general and the full results of that investigation. He also anticipates receiving the preliminary results of Secretary Shinseki’s review, internal review, very soon, and the full completion of that review. And there’s a third track — the broader review of operations that Rob Nabors is overseeing on assignment from the White House to the VA.
All of these investigations are important, reviews are important, but they should not preclude taking action now where we know we can, and the VA can, to speed up service to our veterans in those areas where it’s been identified that waits have been too long. And that is what he expects to take place.
Q: And just to jump to one other topic, and that’s the regulations expected next week on emissions from coal plants. As you know, it’s highly controversial. How does the White House plan to present this plan to the public? A number of members of the President’s own party have expressed concerns about it in states like Kentucky and West Virginia.
MR. CARNEY: I would say a couple of things. First of all, we have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. We have, as a country, already set limits on arsenic, mercury and lead, but we let power plants release as much carbon pollution as they want.
The effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation. And in the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. Also, droughts, which can drive up food prices, are becoming more frequent and more severe in the West; we’ve seen that this year. And extreme weather events from heat waves to hurricanes are hitting communities across the country. Which is why now is the time to act.
We’ve already made progress by moving to cleaner sources of energy and improving the energy efficiency of our cars, trucks and buildings. Now, EPA is setting carbon standards for power plants to protect public health and welfare. States will have flexibility to meet them using the energy sources that work best for each state. This is part of continuing our progress in cutting carbon pollution, sparking homegrown clean energy innovation to create jobs, and lower energy waste to save families money.
Now, to go to your point on politics, we know that special interests and their allies in Congress will make doomsday claims about harm to jobs and harm to the economy. They’ve made those claims every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children’s health. Every time, they’ve been wrong.
So the President believes strongly that this is the right thing to do. And I’m not going to preview the action that EPA will take, but that is the context within which we believe it ought to be viewed.
Q: Jay, when you talk about accountability, how far back does accountability stretch when it comes to this current case? Is it just the current case there’s accountability for? What if there’s something that comes up from back in the day that might need some kind of action on? How far does accountability go?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s not a very specific question in terms of the hypothetical. I think that the investigations and inquiries have different parameters, and when the results of those inquiries are known, the President will expect that any misconduct or mismanagement that they reveal ought to be assessed and that folks ought to be held accountable. I can’t judge, having not seen final results of these inquiries, how far back they’ll go or how broad they will be. Each one is a little different with Rob Nabors’s assessment of operations in general being the broadest.
Q: The reason why I ask — some former VA secretaries have been seen walking along around this area, and I wanted to know about those inquiries of those former VA secretaries, particularly to the last.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think this, as a general principle, applies to the President’s view on these matters, which is first and foremost we need to find out what exactly has happened here when it comes to the allegations of misconduct around delays in care and misreported durations on the time that people have stayed on waiting lists waiting for care, and then taking action to make sure that those veterans are better served and they get the health care that they deserve as soon as possible.
That’s the primary focus. That’s the mission of the VA. That’s the sacred trust that we as a nation have with our veterans, and that’s what the President is first and foremost focused on.
When it comes to the also important need to hold folks accountable, he wants to make sure he has a broad enough set of facts to make some assessments. And obviously there will be different judgments made in different areas. The IG has an independent investigation going on; the Secretary has his inquiry; and then the broader review of operations, which is a little different and much broader that Rob is conducting.
Q: So will you affirm that some former VA secretaries are being questioned in these inquiries — particularly the Rob Nabors inquiry?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not involved in conducting those reviews, so I would have to refer you to the IG’s office or the VA.
Q: Thank you, Jay. On Ukraine — so there was a Ukrainian military chopper that was brought down by a ground-air or an anti-aircraft missile. The Ukrainians are sure that this is the type of Russian military equipment on the ground. Does the White House feel that it’s time to — considering very little movement from Russia, it’s time to bring the third wave of sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first, let me say that we are disturbed by the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine, including reports that separatists have shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing 14 people. Now, we cannot yet verify the details of these reports, but we are concerned that this indicates separatists continue to have access to advanced weaponry and other assistance from the outside. We are also concerned about the fact that a group of OSCE monitors is being held by separatists in Slovyansk.
It is unacceptable for observers to be detained, and they should be released immediately. We urge Russia to use its influence with these groups to get them to release the observers, disarm, and participate in a political process — a process that the vast majority of Ukrainians actively participated in during the elections the other day. And that process needs to continue both at the ballot box, obviously, but also in dialogue so that the country can move forward and begin to stabilize its economy and produce a better future for the people of Ukraine.
Now, the United States will continue to work with the people of Ukraine and the President-elect to support their efforts to determine their own future. The U.S. respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We condemn and reject Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea. And we remain committed to working with Ukraine and other partners to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
On the second part of your question, I think that we and our international partners watched very closely the conduct of the election on May 25th. And I think it has been judged broadly, although with some areas of exception, to have come off very well, and that the vast majority of Ukrainians were able to vote in a free and fair election. And that is a very positive development.
The President, as you know, spoke with President-elect Poroshenko, and he looks forward to working with President Poroshenko when he’s sworn into office as the United States supports Ukraine’s desire and the desire of the Ukrainian people to create a future of their own making, and not a future that’s dictated to them by any neighbors.
So that is a positive development.
Q: From one week to the other, Jay, you say that these sanctions, the first and the second wave, have had an impact on the Russian economy.
MR. CARNEY: I think that has been independently verified repeatedly in reports probably in your publication as well as others represented here.
Q: Indeed, you’re right. But still, it hasn’t changed the access to weapons for Ukraine —
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is — you’re right. And this is a matter of concern that I just mentioned in answer to your question. I think it’s also true that we and our partners, we’re very focused on making sure that Ukraine was able to conduct a presidential election, and that the vast majority of Ukrainians would be able to freely vote in that election. We were very concerned that separatists, with the support of Russia, either direct or indirect, would — indirect support would disrupt those elections. And it is certainly a positive development that those elections were able to proceed successfully.
Q: Can you tell me if the President had any reaction to Edward Snowden from last night?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I don’t have a reaction from the President. I and others here have seen parts of the interview. And I’m not going to, on his behalf or anyone else’s behalf, react to all of what he said.
What I can say is there’s been no change in our position. Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information, and he faces felony charges here in the United States. He should return to the U.S. as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections.
So based on some of what I heard about the interview, he expressed a desire to return to the United States, and I can confidently say that he is welcome here to face the charges that have been brought against him.
Q: Is the administration open to a plea deal? I know that you’ve — clemency has been totally ruled out. But there did seem to be some gap in the very statements that Justice and other people have said to us about being open to a plea deal.
MR. CARNEY: Look, let’s be clear, clemency is not on the table.
Q: I understand that.
MR. CARNEY: And when it comes to — I mean, there’s a fundamental position that we hold, which is he ought to return to the United States to face the charges against him. When it comes to discussions, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. But we are of the firm belief that the transgressions that he’s been charged with are very serious, that they’ve created negative consequences for our national security and our capacity to protect the United States and the American people and our allies, and that those are very serious offenses.
Q: But you’re not closing off the idea of a plea deal.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not in a position to —
Q: Well, you did say clemency is off the table, so that’s why — I mean, and then you referred to Justice. So is that an opening?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not. I would simply refer you to Justice. And I think we can say quite clearly that clemency is not being considered, but beyond that, this is a matter for the Department of Justice.
Q: And one of the things he said last night is that he did — one of the things that the administration has accused him of is not going through the proper channels to raise concerns, and he says he did. The best we could come up — he says there’s a paper trail. The best we could come up with — the administration told us of at least one communication. How about releasing that communication? We’ve filed a FOYA request for it. Why not make that communication public?
MR. CARNEY: It’s my understanding that the email in question will be released later today to broadly respond to that, as I think NSA has. They explained that they have found one email inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed. The email did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed. There was not additional follow-up noted.
As I mentioned, the email will be released today. I can say that there were numerous — there were and there are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations. The appropriate authorities have searched for additional indications of outreach from Mr. Snowden in those areas, and to date have not found any engagements related to his claims.
Q: Do you acknowledge that the whistleblower protections in the intelligence community are essentially much weaker than in any other part of government?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not the right person to make that assessment. What I can tell you is that there are avenues available to somebody like Mr. Snowden to raise those kinds of concerns and whistleblower allegations. And I would just refer you to the NSA and also, obviously, to the email that will be released later today.
Q: And does the President agree with Secretary Kerry in that he’s a traitor and a coward?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it is fair to say that it is the view of the U.S. government that what Mr. Snowden did was a violation of the law, that it was a serious offense; that as many senior people in the national security apparatus have attested to, damaging to our national security, made it easier for — or gave insight to our enemies, to terrorists that makes it harder for the United States and our allies to go after them.
Q: You guys haven’t been able to provide proof that any of these disclosures have put anybody in harm’s way.
MR. CARNEY: Unauthorized disclosures of classified information harm U.S. and allied efforts to identify, track and disrupt the activities of our adversaries, including terrorists. Many of these efforts are born of years of carefully managed intelligence efforts. As a result of these disclosures, our adversaries, including terrorists and their support networks, now have a better understanding of our collection methods and are taking counter measures.
Everybody has a better understanding of our collection methods because this information was publicly released, and that includes our adversaries. And they are taking counter measures. These adversaries are located not only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia, but some groups and networks also have footprints across Europe, Africa, Asia, and here in the Western Hemisphere.
Specifically, we have seen, in response to the Snowden leaks, al Qaeda and affiliated groups seeking to change their tactics, looking to see what they can learn from what’s in the press, and seeking to change how they communicate to avoid detection and avoid our surveillance. So that’s broadly the assessment that’s been made and the information that has been gathered.
But on sort of the other assessment that I think Secretary Kerry made, I think it’s also fair to say that is a general view held here that somebody like Mr. Snowden, who feels he’s a patriot, ought to come here and face the charges against him in a judicial system that affords unique rights and protections to defendants.
Q: But this is a different situation. It would be under much — with the Espionage Act, it’s very difficult — and he talked about this a little bit — and others have confirmed it’s very difficult to feel as if you can get a fair public trial because some stuff gets classified. So what do you do in this situation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we have a judicial system that offers unique and broad benefits and rights to defendants, and it is certainly our view that Mr. Snowden ought to —
Q: So you believe he would get a — you do believe that he would get a fair trial?
MR. CARNEY: I do.
Q: Jay, I’ve got a couple of questions about today’s event on concussions.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q: Does the President think that the NCAA should guarantee or offer health care beyond the college years to college athletes?
MR. CARNEY: Olivier, I think the purpose of today’s event was to highlight an issue that is of concern to parents across the country who have kids who want, for all the right reasons, to participate in sports like football and soccer and others, lacrosse and hockey, where there is a risk of injury and especially of injuries caused by concussions.
We’ve learned a lot in recent months and years about the effect of concussions on younger sports players. And the President and a lot of parents have been involved in, if you will, kitchen table conversations about concerns that we have, because the President, like a lot of parents, like me, believes there are enormous benefits for our kids when it comes to playing team sports and want them to be able to play, but want them to be able to play in a situation that is as safe as possible.
So the opportunity that the President availed himself today of was to use essentially his convening power, the capacity to place a spotlight on an issue that being President and occupying the White House provides, to elevate this issue and to bring together a lot of stakeholders so that we could have a constructive discussion around these issues, and also to secure commitments, as you have heard were announced from a variety of organizations, to further research and further efforts involved in enhancing safety and security for our kids.
The focus was primarily today on younger kids and their engagement in sports, and making sure that it’s as safe as possible.
Q: The reason I ask is you mention those commitments, and I’m wondering whether he thinks that the NCAA owes those athletes that additional step.
MR. CARNEY: I just haven’t had that discussion with him on that particular issue.
Q: And then — this is related, and I expect roughly the same answer, but —
MR. CARNEY: I’ll try to mix it up. (Laughter.)
Q: How does he feel about efforts by some NCAA athletes to unionize?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just haven’t had that discussion in a reportable way with him. (Laughter.)
Q: Wait, wait, hold on. Hold on a second.
Q: Can we be the judge of that? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.) No, I actually don’t — I’m not really in a position to characterize his view on that.
Q: Jay, a couple of quick follow-ups on the VA. Rob Nabors was seen coming back to the White House today, and the President I thought also was looking forward to —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, say that again, the first part.
Q: Rob Nabors was seen coming in today. Obviously, he works here —
MR. CARNEY: — was he?
Q: I don’t know, but “spotted” is the word. And also, I thought —
MR. CARNEY: He still has an office here you know.
Q: Yes. And the President I thought was also looking forward to getting a preliminary update from Secretary Shinseki this week. Can you update us on whether Rob Nabors was meeting with the President to give him a preliminary update, and whether the President had a conversation post-IG report with Secretary Shinseki? That’s number one.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, on that, the answer is I’m not sure about meetings that Mr. Nabors might have had here. I’m not aware of any with the President. But again, I’m not sure about that.
What I can tell you is that what the President said last week in terms of his expectation that he would receive a preliminary report from Secretary Shinseki by the end of this week stands today. So he would expect that I think by the end of this week. He has not received it as of yet.
Q: And then, on accountability — because a number of lawmakers have publicly stated their interest in seeing that the Justice Department follow up on any IG referral of suspected criminal activity, can you say post-IG report whether the President is relying on Justice to wait for referrals from the IG, or whether Justice has a role, in the President’s view, in also either pursuing or investigating or getting involved in potential criminal activity after reading the IG report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it is, in general, the case that independent inspectors general, when they conduct an investigation, have as an option — if they believe it is necessary based on the information they’ve discovered — to refer that information to the Department of Justice. That would be the case here. And the President, as a general matter, is supportive of that process. So I think that’s how it would work.
The IG will obviously make determinations regarding that kind of thing, but it’s certainly appropriate for that process to be carried out in a way that it was meant to be carried out. So I would refer you on any intention along those lines to the IG.
Q: Jay, you declined to say the President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki. Should the Secretary take that as a signal that he should step down?
MR. CARNEY: The President addressed this at length when he stood before you last week, and his position is what it was then — and I can repeat it, because he said it very well. But I will paraphrase to say that he believes Secretary Shinseki served his nation extraordinarily capably as a soldier, rising to four-star general; that he cares deeply, as a disabled veteran himself, about his fellow veterans; and that in his job as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs he has with passion and integrity gone after some of the challenges that the VA has faced over these past several years, including veterans homelessness, which has been reduced over these five-plus years; including increasing educational opportunities and benefits to our veterans, the 9/11 generation of veterans through the 9/11 GI Bill; and including by attacking very aggressively a problem of the disability claims backlog, a problem that was exacerbated substantially by the decision to expand a presumption of benefits to those who were either exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict or to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have experienced PTSD.
Those are the right decisions for our veterans. I think veterans service organizations would say so, and therefore it was also the right thing to do to attack that backlog. So —
Q: But how does he run the department if he doesn’t have the full confidence of the President? How does he conduct this investigation if he doesn’t have the full confidence of the President?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward to the preliminary review that he asked the Secretary to provide to him. And when it comes to general matters of accountability, I think the President said that he told this to Secretary Shinseki, including that day when he met with him, that he wants to see what the results of that review are, as well as obviously now we have the preliminary results of the inspector general’s investigation. So his position remains what it was.
Q: And I’m sure you’ve heard this notion expressed by various pundits and —
MR. CARNEY: Reporters.
Q: — the chattering class, the reporters, that the President just doesn’t like to fire people. What do you make of that? Is that fair?
MR. CARNEY: I thought you were going to start using metaphors like thin ice and probation, so you caught me off guard.
Q: Or singles and doubles.
MR. CARNEY: But I think the President’s view, as a general matter —
Q: Well, is he on — I mean, you mentioned — is he on thin ice? Is he on probation? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Rather than resort to metaphors —
Q: I didn’t introduce the —
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s fair. Rather than resort to metaphors, I’d refer you to what the President said, using no metaphors, about his view on this matter and accountability and his desire to see the preliminary results from the internal audit that Secretary Shinseki is conducting, as well as —
Q: But he’s not going to wait as long as the Nabors review, which would be a month? He’s not going to wait as long as the Nabors review would take to make that kind of decision, Cabinet-level decision.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m just not going to speculate about personnel matters. He’s not waiting a day when it comes — and has not — when it comes to what he said last week, which is that the VA absolute must take steps right away to address the wait list issues that have been identified. And the VA has announced steps that it’s taking in regard to that.
When it comes to the issue of accountability, I would just, again, point you to what the President said. I don’t have any new information to provide.
Q: This notion that he doesn’t like to fire people, you’ve heard that.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President was clear that he believes accountability is important. He also believes that the first and foremost challenge we face is providing service and benefits to our veterans, and that we ought to make sure — even as there is a focus on issues of personnel and accountability — that we’re not losing sight of what this is all about, which is making sure that our veterans get better service and get it quickly.
Q: And just very quickly, this is your first chance on camera to talk about what happened with the exposure of the CIA station chief’s identity. Do you have an update on that as to what is going to be done from an accountability standpoint here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Chief of Staff, as you know, has asked the White House counsel, Neil Eggleston, to look into what happened and to report back to him with recommendations on how the administration can improve processes and make sure that something like that does not happen again. So I don’t have any other updates beyond what I said off camera.
Q: But was that just a screw-up? I mean, what is your sense as to — I mean, the fact — reporters have a sense as to how pool reports work, but the general public may not as much. But it just seems as though this was like a clerical copying-and-pasting type of mistake. Do you have a general sense as to what happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I’d rather have the counsel make those assessments and focus, as I think he will, on processes that can be put in place and recommendation that he can make so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
Q: A veterans question of another era. June 6th, this year — the 70th anniversary. Will the President be extending an invitation to any of those heroes, those individuals who were there on D-Day, 1944 while he is there in Normandy?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a preview of the day and the meetings that he’ll have or the conversations he’ll have. I know he looks forward to this day. He’s had the great fortune, this President, to have already visited Normandy and to commemorate that invasion and the heroic sacrifice that so many Americans and others demonstrated in turning the tide in Europe in World War II. He did that five years ago, and he looks forward to doing it again this year.
He’s also had the opportunity to meet with World War II veterans here at the White House on a number of occasions, and it is a poignant fact that there are fewer and fewer of them still with us. There is something especially powerful and poignant about this anniversary for that reason. So I think the President is, of course, fully aware of that, and that fact will be with him as he meets with those veterans who are able to be there.
Q: Jay, a very simple yes-or-no question: Does the President have confidence in Secretary Shinseki? Yes or no?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, the President addressed this question —
Q: No, no, actually he didn’t. He wasn’t asked directly does he have confident in Secretary Shinseki.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that — and is confident that Secretary Shinseki has served his nation admirably, heroically as a soldier, as a general, and that he has accomplished some very important things as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. And I listed them, but they include extending education benefits, reducing veterans homelessness, and reducing the size of the backlog for disability claims, while expanding vastly the number of veterans who can make a claim.
Q: But does the President right now have confidence in Secretary Shinseki — yes or no? It’s a very simple yes-or-no question. You told us last week he did have confidence. Does he have confidence now?
MR. CARNEY: What I would point you to is what the President said when asked about his view on Secretary Shinseki.
Q: But he wasn’t asked that question directly.
MR. CARNEY: And I don’t have — I’m not going to improve upon his words on this regard. He talked about —
Q: But he wasn’t asked directly if he had confidence in him.
MR. CARNEY: I understand the wordplay here, but I think that what is more important —
Q: It’s not wordplay, it’s a central question. Does he have confidence in a member of his Cabinet?
MR. CARNEY: On the issue that you’re referring to, when it comes to the revelations that have come to light about Phoenix and other veterans health centers, the President was deeply troubled by what we saw in the interim report from the inspector general, and he awaits the preliminary report from Secretary Shinseki, from the internal audit that the Secretary is conducting with the assistance of roughly 200 individuals.
And he made clear to Secretary Shinseki last week, and he made clear as a general principle to everyone who serves this administration, serves the country, that he believes in accountability, but he also believes, first and foremost, on the issue and the importance of making sure that we keep our eye on the ball, which is making sure that our veterans are getting taken care of and that the focus is on them. And when there’s been a failure to do that in a timely manner, we need to take action to fix that problem and focus principally on that.
The accountability track, if you will, can proceed apace. That’s why there are inquiries, investigations ongoing. But as the President said from this podium last week, he didn’t want any delay in the VA taking action to address the identified problems and the need to get benefits and care to our veterans.
Q: On the metaphor front — (laughter) — I have seen White House officials quoted in different news organizations saying that Shinseki — quoting White House officials — saying Shinseki is “on probation.” What does it mean for a Cabinet Secretary to be “on probation?”
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would urge you, rather than go with what an unnamed official reportedly said, to go instead with what a named official, Barack Obama — what Barack Obama said.
Q: So he’s not on probation.
MR. CARNEY: And he said it again without — let me just double check this as a factual matter without resorting to metaphor — when he said, “I have said to Ric, and I said it to him today, I want to see what the results of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability. And I’m going to expect, even before the reports are done, that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our VA health care facilities. I know he cares about it deeply, and he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We are going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.”
So that is —
Q: So does that mean he’s going to wait for the full report? I mean, you just read his words, “full report.” Does that mean he has to wait until the IG is done? Because now this IG report is going on and it’s investigating 42 centers — facilities around the country. So does he have to wait until all that is done before he decides whether or not there is accountability?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to preview or predict or hypothesize about the future here. What I will tell you is that he has not received yet the preliminary report from the VA, from the Secretary. He has seen the interim report from the inspector general, and I think we conveyed pretty clearly what his reaction was to that. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
I think that his focus, first and foremost, is on the veterans. It’s not on these issues, which are also important when it comes to personnel and accountability, but he believes that in matters like this it’s important to assemble a decent accumulation of facts before making a judgment.
Q: Okay, just one more on this — on the Democrats who have called on Shinseki to resign. If you look at the list, it includes Grimes, Udall, Braley, Nunn, Shaheen, Hagan — a large number of Democrats who are in potentially tough election fights this year in Senate races. Why do you think so many of these Democrats that are in these tough races just happen to be the ones that have come out first to call for Shinseki to resign?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to all the individual lawmakers who have expressed concerns about these matters, as well as concerns about issues of personnel. I think many of them felt disturbed and troubled by the initial allegations, and then, more significantly, by the preliminary report that the IG released yesterday.
But in terms of why each — there are obviously Republicans, including prominent ones, who have reserved judgment on that issue. And I’m not going to try to explain their views any more than I would Democratic lawmakers except that I think that we are all, or we all should be — and I think many are, of both parties — concerned about the benefits being provided — necessarily provided to our veterans and making sure that they’re getting the health care that they deserve in a timely fashion.
Q: Why would the outrage be most notable from those that are in tough elections?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that there’s been outrage or concern, deep concern, from many quarters. And that reflects a general principle that, as a rule, we as a nation put party aside when it comes to the concern we have and the trust that is put in us to make sure that our benefits — messed up those things — but the concern we have for our veterans and the sacred trust that we hold — that we feel we ought to exercise when it comes to protecting our veterans.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Bloomberg.
Q: Jay, the interim report suggested there was potential criminal issues going on with senior leaders in the hospital there. I think as of this morning only three had been put on administrative leave. Has the Secretary given the President a rationale for why they’re on administrative leave and haven’t been terminated, and why there’s only three so far?
MR. CARNEY: These are issues that I would have to urge you to raise with the VA or with the IG. On the issue of potential referrals — I think I addressed that — as a general matter, we think that that’s wholly appropriate as a general principle when it comes to independent inspector general investigations, and that that’s how a process like this should work. But we’re not in a position independently to make judgments about potential matters of criminality.
Q: And then also, on the speech from yesterday — a central tenet was the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund. There was some grumbling on the Hill after the speech and a little bit this morning that they didn’t feel like they were looped in on that. You need the Hill to move that forward. Do you feel like they were given enough advance warning? And I guess, what do you do going forward to ensure that they’re on board with this fund?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we look forward to working closely with Congress on this once the request is submitted; it has not yet been submitted. We did consult with, on the broader content of the President’s speech and some of the announcements within it, the appropriate members of Congress. But we’re, as an administration, still finalizing the fiscal year 2015 OCO request, and additional details about the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund will be available when the OCO request is submitted to Congress.
Q: Setting aside just for a moment the confidence question —
MR. CARNEY: Just for a moment.
Q: Just for a moment — (laughter) — I just want to bring up a couple of other things that were in the IG report. It said that, in Phoenix, the leadership understated the time new patients waited for their primary care appointments, listed in their fiscal year 2013 performance appraisal accomplishments, which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases. The report also says, “Inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide.” Since I raised the issue of bonuses with the President last week, one person in Phoenix had a bonus last year taken away. It seems within the VA’s power, within the current Secretary’s power, confidence or no confidence, to deal with this performance and bonus issue in any place where these wait times were manipulated or there was any scheme to create a linkage between waiting lists and getting a performance appraisal that was positive or a bonus or a salary boost.
Wouldn’t the President prefer something be done immediately about these issues across the board, not with just one person in Phoenix? And would he not want the Secretary to take that action immediately?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President, as a general matter, believes that there ought to be action taken with regards to specific individuals when there are the specific facts surrounding allegations about the conduct of specific individuals. And that would apply.
The President was extremely troubled by the preliminary report issued by the IG yesterday. So he certainly believes, as was the case with the one individual that you mentioned and which — who was acted on with regards to a bonus last week, that that kind of situations need —
Q: And that was carried out pretty quickly. Shouldn’t that be done nationwide? You don’t need an IG report to make that move.
MR. CARNEY: I think we needed to know — we need to know the facts of what actually happened — not just allegations, but facts. And that’s what the IG is establishing. Again, the report — the preliminary report was released yesterday. That is what the internal audit that the Secretary is overseeing is after, and that preliminary report will be produced by the end of this week, as we understand it. And then there is the broader review being conducted by Rob Nabors.
So they’re all three important. And the primary objective that the President has with each of them is to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to right whatever wrongs have occurred when it comes to providing timely service and benefits to our veterans.
Q: Back to the confidence question — again, from the report — “We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide.” Sentence one. Sentence two: “Many of these schemes are detailed in then Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management April 2010 memorandum on Inappropriate Scheduling Practices. The purpose of this memorandum was to call for immediate action to identify and eliminate VA’s use of inappropriate scheduling practices.”
Is it proper for this President to have confidence in a Secretary that had that memorandum, I would assume, on his desk in April 2010 to have a report come out four years later saying that those inappropriate scheduling practices are rampant nationwide?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Major, I appreciate reading the report that we all read about yesterday, and I would say that that piece of it and many other pieces of it were very troubling — extremely troubling to the President.
Q: I guess I’m wondering how he can have confidence in somebody with this record.
MR. CARNEY: And what I would say to you in response to that question is what I have said to others who asked the same question, which is that the President’s view on accountability on this matter was expressed by him last week. He awaits the preliminary report from the Secretary on the Secretary’s internal audit. And he will have from that — he expects from that preliminary report, as well as the — or interim report, as well as the — one is interim, one is preliminary — the report we saw from the IG — a whole lot more facts than we had when he addressed this question.
But right now he’s waiting, as he said from the podium last week, waiting to receive the preliminary report from the Secretary.
Q: Regarding the preliminary report, when you say “this week,” do you mean business week?
MR. CARNEY: Isn’t that a publication run by the guy to your left? (Laughter.) I would just leave it at that, and refer you to the VA.
Q: Okay. And regarding unemployment insurance, there was a five-month extension passed by the Senate. That five months would be up in a couple of days, and there’s been no action in the House. Has the President given up on an unemployment benefits extension? And what should the long-term unemployed be thinking at this point?
MR. CARNEY: That they don’t have a lot of friends among the House Republican leadership, first of all. It’s certainly a shame that they have refused to bring this up and to pass it. They were ready and willing to do it when the previous President asked for it to be done in circumstances less severe than the long-term unemployed find themselves in now. So that’s a shame.
But the President has not given up. He believes that Congress ought to act, and he hopes they do.
Q: Jay, would the President —
MR. CARNEY: Did I just call on you? No.
MR. CARNEY: I’m having a flashback to a previous exchange. (Laughter.)
Q: Let me try to help you on that. Let me go back to what the President promised —
MR. CARNEY: Just the bright color of your — yes.
Q: You have purple, too.
MR. CARNEY: Mine is a little more muted. (Laughter.)
Q: Thanks. (Laughter.) Last week, the President at that podium promised, “Once we know the facts, I assure you, if there is misconduct it will be punished.” We now know the facts from this IG report. You’ve heard them. Who has been punished? Who’s been punished?
MR. CARNEY: We have a set of facts in a preliminary report — thank you, Ed — we got a report yesterday, and the President found the report extremely troubling. He tasked the Secretary with conducting an internal audit, an internal review, and asked for a preliminary report from the Secretary by the end of this week. And he awaits that preliminary report.
Q: But he also said, “If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, disgraceful. I will not tolerate it. Period.” These allegations have proven to be true. Veterans are waiting 115 days.
MR. CARNEY: Very troubling —
Q: So why is he still tolerating it? Where is the punishment? Where?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I don’t know how else to disappoint you, but I’ll give you the same answer that I gave to Major.
Q: It’s not me being disappointed. There’s veterans waiting 115 days. How about them?
MR. CARNEY: Right, and that’s why — and I appreciate your concern over that, as opposed to whether people are going to get fired. The issue, first and foremost in the President’s mind, is making sure that the VA acts immediately to address the issues with inappropriate wait times for veterans seeking health care benefits. And he has ordered that that take place, and you saw action on that this week.
He is also appropriately interested in accountability. And he is troubled by the report that the IG put out yesterday, and he awaits the complementary, if you will, internal audit and its preliminary findings, which he expects to receive later this week.
Q: On the issue of accountability, I want to go back to the CIA question you got before about this official being outed. Doesn’t the public have a right to know who in the military put that person’s name on a list and exposed he and his family to potentially being killed?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, what I would say about that is simply that the Chief of Staff asked the White House Counsel, Neil Eggleston, to look into this and to make recommendations so that processes are put in place so that something like this doesn’t happen again.
Q: Right, I understand the processes moving forward. Who has been punished on that one? Has anyone been fired, anyone been disciplined in the military or at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I would just point you to what I’ve said before about the fact that the counsel is looking into it.
Q: So nobody has been disciplined?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the fact that the counsel has been looking into it.
Q: But a person’s life was put in jeopardy.
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you on matters like that to the CIA and the agencies that would be involved in that.
Q: Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Politico, and then Connie. And then, I’m out of here.
Q: So, Jay, two questions. First, can you say with any specificity what the President is expecting or looking for in the Shinseki report that wasn’t in the IG report? And also, if the President isn’t sure at this point whether Secretary Shinseki can handle the problems, is he sure that Secretary Shinseki can handle the internal report and getting that done?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear last week that he wanted a preliminary report from the VA, from the Secretary this week, by the end of this week. When it comes to the troubling preliminary report that was issued by the IG, that’s something that the IG does independently and, as I noted yesterday, he found that information to be very concerning.
He continues to look forward to receiving what he asked for, which is the initial findings from the internal audit that the Secretary is conducting. And I think that assessments beyond that are going to be made once we have — or he has that internal audit.
Q: But was there something that was not in the IG report that he’s looking for specifically in the Shinseki report?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to characterize — I think he’s looking for facts and he’s looking for what the internal audit is able to produce in the timeframe allotted. And he will make assessments about the report and about the IG’s report accordingly.
Q: And does he think Secretary Shinseki can perform this internal audit as needs to be, given the other problems?
MR. CARNEY: He believes the Secretary understands clearly the instructions that the President gave him to conduct this internal audit, and looks forward to the first or the preliminary product.
Q: Thank you. On crimes committed against women or about to be committed, there have been horrible crimes lately in India, Pakistan, Sudan. Has the President communicated with any of these countries? Do you have any condemnation?
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I don’t have any presidential communications to read out to you. And I think the State Department, as a general matter, has addressed some of the crimes that you reference. Obviously, this is an issue that the President believes is very important. He believes that providing equal rights to women, providing access to education to women, providing economic opportunity to women is the key around the world to a better society in countries around the world and to stronger economic growth in nations around the world and to more democratic governments around the world.
So the kinds of things you reference are, of course, very concerning to him. Thank you all very much.
2:37 P.M. EDT