James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Happy Monday. I don't have an announcement at the top, so I'll go straight to Julie Pace.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President has been making a lot of calls to foreign leaders to assess the situation in Crimea, and I'm wondering if he believes that there is still an opportunity to stop the referendum that's scheduled for Sunday from going forward, or if the focus is just on getting the international community to basically delegitimize the results of that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the conversations the President has been having with leaders across the world about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea have focused not just on the referendum -- which we do not view as legitimate under the Ukrainian constitution and which hardly anyone else views as legitimate under the Ukrainian constitution -- but on the broader effort to be united in calling for de-escalation and for a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
We have been working with our partners to make clear to the Russians that there is an avenue available to them that would allow for an international effort to monitor and ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians and that, therefore, any reasoning that their military intervention was necessary to protect the rights of ethnic Russians becomes defunct, as if it were ever -- even if it were ever valid, which it wasn’t.
So those troops should go back to their bases. Russia ought to engage with the Ukrainian government in dialogue with international participation and they should agree to a process whereby international monitors can go to Ukraine and all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea, to monitor the situation there so that the rights of every Ukrainian are protected.
Q But just in terms of the referendum itself, there’s seven days until this happens. Do you think that there’s any prospect of getting that -- pulling that back, have that not happen? Or is that basically going to go forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can't predict the future. What I can tell you is that it will not be viewed by the United States as legitimate because it is inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution, which makes clear that any change in Ukraine’s borders has to be decided by all of Ukraine. And other countries have made clear that they would view it as illegitimate as well.
So Russia needs to avail itself of the opportunity here to work with international partners and the government of Ukraine to resolve this issue diplomatically and peacefully.
Q One of the calls the President made is to President Xi of China. China frequently sides with Russia, particularly at the U.N., to block initiatives by the West. What’s the President’s goal here in his conversations with China? Does he have any expectation that China would publicly oppose Russia’s actions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that among the calls the President has made, he did speak with President Xi, and the two leaders agreed on the importance of upholding the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. And as you know, there is no argument, or should be no argument, that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were violated by Russia. So every leader the President has spoken to about this matter agrees that we need to take steps together, working with the Russians and the Ukrainians, to resolve this diplomatically in a way that protects those principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Q Is there anything specific that the U.S. is asking of China, just given their relationship with Russia?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I don’t have a further readout of the conversation. China obviously plays a very important role in the Security Council and does have an important relationship with Russia, but the principles here are inviolable and they are starkly clear. There is no murky aspect to this. And, again, I think it’s fair to say that everyone the President spoke to this weekend, including leaders of the United Kingdom and France and Germany and the Baltic nation states, were in agreement that these principles are key and that we need to resolve this in a way that is peaceful and diplomatic.
Q If the referendum goes forward, what will the U.S. reaction be beyond calling it illegitimate? Will there be new sanctions? What exactly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would note to you, Steve, that the executive order the President signed created authorities which are very flexible and will allow for action to be taken that holds people accountable for the transgressions listed in the executive order when it comes to violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, both leading up to now and into the future.
So I don’t have any -- as we talked about last week, the executive order itself does not designate individuals, and I don’t have any updates on that, but we are actively engaged in examining the ways that those authorities can be used and would obviously have available to us that executive order and the flexibility it provides to take further action as events on the ground demand.
Q And the President has now talked to Putin several times. The last time, he outlined the diplomatic off-ramp that you guys put together. Are you getting anywhere with him on that? Is he thinking about it, considering it? Is outright rejection?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say two things. One, it’s obviously very clear that we and many others profoundly disagree with statements from Russian leaders about the facts on the ground. The assertions of lawlessness in Eastern Ukraine, of violence or other acts being perpetrated against ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine or in Crimea simply haven’t been borne out by the facts or any credible reporting. In fact, the only transgressions that have been documented have been ones by the Russian military. So there’s that.
But when it comes to the conversations that the President has had and the Secretary has had with his counterparts, we are making clear to Moscow that we understand that Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine, not least, of course, the Black Sea Fleet, but also concerns about ethnic Russians and we recognize those concerns. We commend the Ukrainian government for their responsible handling of this crisis and for the fact that they, too, maintain a commitment to protecting and observing the rights of all Ukrainian citizens.
We are happy to work with the Russian government and international partners to make sure that there are monitors on the ground in Crimea and in other parts of Ukraine to make sure that ethnic Russians have their rights protected and that any violation of those rights would be reported internationally. That’s the way to address these concerns if those are the concerns that motivated the Russian government to take action that’s in clear violation of international law.
Q Separately, the Malaysian plane crash. As the early days of efforts have happened, are you in a position to rule out terrorism as the cause of this?
MR. CARNEY: Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to comment on the causes of this incident. The United States government is in communication with agencies and with -- across agencies, rather -- and with international partners to provide any appropriate assistance in the investigation. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are en route to the region to provide any necessary assistance.
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this tragic incident. And as you know, the State Department has said that there were three American citizens on board and, of course, many more from around the world, especially China, Taiwan and Malaysia. Also, as I think you probably know, the DOD said over the weekend that the Seventh Fleet has sent assets to assist in search efforts, including the USS Pinkney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, which is now in the vicinity and has two MH-60R helicopters equipped for search efforts onboard. Additionally, a P-3C Orion aircraft from our base in Okinawa is now in the region and has long-range search radar and communications capabilities.
So we’re providing assistance. Obviously, the Malaysians have the lead in this investigation, but we do not have enough information at this time to comment on the cause.
Q I know that you announced over the weekend that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is coming to the White House on Wednesday. What is the administration’s message by bringing him here? Are you trying to send a message to President Putin?
MR. CARNEY: We’re making it clear to the new government of Ukraine that we support them, that we support the responsible way in which Ukrainian officials and the parliament and the new government have handled this crisis, and that we are working to provide direct assistance to Ukraine in this difficult time so that they can stabilize their economy and return to economic growth.
That’s the message we’re sending. And the President looks forward to the meeting and I think it will reinforce the fact that the United States believes that the Ukrainian government has responsibly filled the vacuum left by the sudden, hasty and voluntary departure by President Yushchenko [Yanukovych] right after signing this agreement with the opposition.
So we are working with Congress to provide assistance to the Ukrainian government that would complement an IMF package of assistance. We are obviously working aggressively on the diplomatic front to try to resolve this crisis, working directly with Ukrainian officials, Russian officials, and obviously all the other leaders across Europe that have been engaged in this effort, as well as elsewhere.
Q And he said just recently, it may have been in the last 24 hours, we won’t budget a single centimeter from Ukrainian land, in reference to the referendum in Crimea and attempts by Russia to annex that land. Is the administration concerned that things could unravel and get out of control after this referendum is held?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question that actions taken by Russia have precipitated a crisis. The fact of the matter is it is up to the Ukrainian people through their representatives in government to make decisions about the disposition of any territory within the sovereign state of Ukraine. It is certainly long past the time when borders of a nation can be redrawn above the heads of democratically elected leaders by another state, working in concert with a region of the sovereign state.
So we’ve made our views on this very clear. We are far from alone in our views on this. And our focus right now is on a diplomatic effort to encourage a dialogue with international partners between the Russian and Ukrainian governments, the moving back to their bases of all Russian forces, and a process by which international monitors could evaluate the concerns expressed by Russian officials over the circumstances of ethnic Russians in parts of Ukraine, including Crimea.
Q And is the President at all concerned that the Europeans might not back him up? He’s authorized sanctions, he’s -- the State Department has issued travel restrictions. If the Europeans don’t follow suit, don’t you lack some teeth in what you try to do here?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve been very pleased with the international effort thus far, the cooperative effort that we’ve seen. The President has been leading that effort and has obviously, as you know from all the readouts, been spending a great deal of time on the phone with leaders across the region and the world. And Europe has taken action already and, as I said with regard to the executive order that the President signed last week, we’re evaluating actions that that authority allows us to take when it comes to sanctions. And that will -- that process will continue depending on the situation on the ground.
Q It sounds like everybody -- it sounds like the President has lined up a fair number of allies here, a fair number of countries to support and -- I guess at least from a diplomatic standpoint. But how can you be assured the Europe is going to be there when it comes to sanctions, though?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't want to predict the future, or speak for European governments or leaders. What I can tell you is that there has been a broad consensus when it comes to our shared views about what has happened in Ukraine, what has happened in Crimea, the illegality of the actions taken by Russia, the fact that any referendum as scheduled in Crimea that might take place would not be legal under the Ukrainian constitution and therefore would not be recognized by the United States or our allies and partners.
So we’re working aggressively with our partners on a diplomatic solution, as well as on actions to hold people accountable for what’s transpired. And we’re satisfied with that effort, and we’re going to continue to engage very aggressively with our allies and partners.
Let me move around a little bit.
Q Thank you. So to get Europe on board, following Jim, on economic sanctions, lo and behold it seems that Russia’s economic tentacles have stretched much further into Europe, even the United States, as many had anticipated. Much of it has to do with fossil fuels -- gas, oil. What is the administration doing to expedite the ability of Eastern Europe to wean themselves away from Russian natural resources? What can be done in the short term?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the administration is taking immediate steps to assist Ukraine, and that includes in the area of energy security, energy efficiency and energy sector reform. And at this point I would add that there has been no interruption of oil and natural gas exports from Russia to Ukraine and Europe. European gas inventories are well above normal levels due to a milder than usual winter in Europe and could replace a loss of Russian exports for several months if necessary.
And let’s be clear, because this has been a much discussed topic, that any disruption to Russia’s energy shipments to Ukraine, and through Ukraine to Europe, is a lose-lose situation for everyone, most particularly for Russia. Russia is heavily dependent on Europe and Ukraine as critical export markets for its natural gas, earning some $50 billion per year through these sales.
When it comes to the other part of your question and what the U.S. can do, any actions the United States can take with our own exports and how that would affect markets, that’s a complicated process and more of long-term proposition. But we certainly take the energy security of our friends in Europe very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation closely, including whether there are sanctions we can and should consider taking domestically that would be in both U.S. -- not sanctions, sorry -- actions that would be in both U.S. and European interests.
On the question -- I think I spoke to this last week -- on the question of LNG exports, DOE obviously has the regulatory authority over that and approves permits, so I would refer you to them for that and for more detail about that process, which is more of a long-term proposition.
Q So in the short term, it sounds like you're saying that Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular, can do without the product, what comes through that pipeline through Ukraine.
MR. CARNEY: What I'm saying is that there are additional reserves because of the warmer-than-usual winter in Europe. And there is an enormous cost to any potential cutoff or reduction in supply of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine, or to Ukraine, because Russia has a substantial financial interest in maintaining those exports.
And let’s look more broadly at the negative effect that these transgressions have had on the Russian economy, on the ruble, on the market there -- and on the willingness of international investors to look to make investments in Russia. Those kinds of investments depend on stability and reliability and rule of law, and the kinds of actions that we've seen taken by the Russian government when it comes to Crimea are hardly reassuring on those fronts.
So the costs here are substantial for Russia. And that is why it makes so much sense for Russia to avail itself of the opportunity to work together with the international community and the Ukrainian government to address Russia’s concerns about ethnic Russians and Russian interest in Crimea.
Q Following up on Jim, does the administration think this referendum is possibly a moment in which this situation could reach a turning point? Meaning if there’s a referendum and it would insight some more fervor, if you will, among ethnic Russians, saying, we've had a referendum, we've established our “independence” -- is that something that needs to be averted to calm this crisis down? Or do you think the referendum itself, even if we don't recognize it, will have a practical effect on the ground that could make this situation, bad enough as it is, worse?
MR. CARNEY: I can't make those kinds of predictions. I wouldn't pretend to know the future. What I can say is that the actions taken that are illegitimate by the legislative authority -- body in Crimea and in the scheduling of a referendum, which would not be valid under the Ukrainian constitution, certainly don't add to the effort to resolve this diplomatically.
Q I guess what I'm trying to get at is it something that the administration should -- believe should be headed off and is trying to work in a way to head it off in order to make this situation -- prevent it from getting worse?
MR. CARNEY: We're trying to work very aggressively with our partners and with the Russian and Ukrainian governments to resolve this diplomatically. And so it's not just to avert a referendum that would not be viewed as legitimate, the results of which would not be viewed as legitimate, but to resolve the entire situation and to resolve the crisis atmosphere that's been created around it.
I mean, I take your point and I think that's reflected in some of the other questions that these actions certainly don't serve the cause of trying to resolve this crisis diplomatically and peacefully. But our goal is not just to avert a referendum. It’s to resolve this for the long term.
Q How significant do you regard the joint statement about the call to President Xi of China about sovereignty and territorial integrity? Do you believe that is nudging the Chinese off of position of equivocation or neutrality on this and more in the orbit of the United State? And does that become a prelude for action at the Security Council to in some formal way have the international community, even though Russia would inevitably veto it, try to take some action to condemn this?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to game that out. What the President has been trying to do is reach all of our partners and allies across the region and the world to discuss the situation in Ukraine, to discuss our views when it comes to the sanctity and inviolability of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, to discuss the steps that we, the international community, can take to help resolve this crisis diplomatically, working with Russia and Ukraine -- to allow for international monitors, for example, to assess the situation on the ground when it comes to the rights of all Ukrainians. Those are the kinds of conversations we're having.
And I think that nations across the world and leaders across the world recognize the need to put in place a process by which this can be resolved, that allows for Russia to have its real interests taken seriously by the international community and the Ukrainian government, but that averts a situation like you have now, where a nation -- a sovereign state’s -- a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity has been compromised, where there has been a military intervention that is not legitimate, that is not in keeping with Russia’s obligations through a variety of international agreements, including directly with Ukraine, or in keeping with its obligations under the U.N. Charter.
Q How interested is the President in having an alternative G7 summit outside -- or maybe in Europe or here as a demonstration not only of isolation of Russia, but cohesion among the original or the original plus-one, not plus-two members?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we, like our G7 partners, have agreed to halt preparation for a G8, and I’m not going to get ahead of a process that is focused on getting --
Q Yes, but those conversations are happening.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t dispute that. What I can tell you is, no one is preparing for a G8 right now because of the actions that Russia has taken, and it just so happens that Russia is meant to host the G8 this year. So we’ll see how this transpires, but absent any preparations it’s hard to imagine a G8 happening.
Q Jay, two topics. On climate change, Senate Democrats are having an all-nighter to talk up the issue. A two-parter: Does the White House support this? Think it’s a good idea to get folks talking about an important issue you want on the radar? Number one. But, number two, is there some expectation by the President that at the end of the talk there will be some sort of a vote, there will be some sort of an action on climate change this year?
MR. CARNEY: We absolutely support the action taken to focus attention on the challenges posed by climate change and the impacts that climate change is having on our environment and on our emergency -- our ability to respond to emergencies. And so we commend those who are participating, because it’s a very important subject that the President, as you know, is concerned about and has a Climate Action Plan dedicated to addressing. And he has taken steps in his first term and again in his second term, and will continue to take steps to both reduce our carbon emissions and to make sure that we’re more prepared for the effects and impacts of severe weather, for example, which is a byproduct of the climate change that we’ve seen.
Q Health care -- you announced kicking off a campaign this week called “Mom Knows Best” that’s focusing on getting women and moms in particular to sign up for the President’s health care plan.
MR. CARNEY: We were counting on nobody taking issue with that, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q I’m not taking issue with “Mom Knows Best.” But women voted for the President in large numbers. That's one of the reasons why he got reelected. He’s been reaching out to women for years. Why are you still struggling to get women and moms, who seem to support the President, to sign up for this law?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re not. We’re calling on moms to reach out to their adult children, get them off the couch and on the computer to enroll, and make sure that they have quality, affordable health insurance. Because obviously, as you know -- and we’ve had this conversation a lot -- a lot of young folks, because they're young and healthy today, think they're invincible and are not fully aware of the need to have quality, affordable health insurance because they're an accident away or an illness away from needing it very much.
So that's -- the effort revolves around --
Q Getting their kids --
MR. CARNEY: -- the authority, the unique authority that mothers have with their family members to help carry the message.
Q Last one. Over the weekend, there was some reporting by Jon Ralston out in Nevada that a union out there, UNITE HERE, which represents over 200,000 service workers, put together a memo about the President’s health care law and said they're worried that one of the biggest challenges in terms of making income inequality worse is the President’s health care law because they think it’s actually going to push down wages for some of these union workers and is going to actually increase their health care premiums.
When Republicans make that allegation, you push back on it. Are you going to listen when a union says, we think this is going to make income inequality worse, when the President is saying he wants to take care of that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve addressed this issue, and the fact is, as the Treasury Department issued in a letter, making it clear that it does not see a legal way for individuals and multi-employer group health plans to receive individual market tax credits, as well as the favorable tax treatment associated with employer-provided health insurance at the same time, but the administration encouraged multi-employer plans and other nonprofit plans to offer coverage through the marketplace on an equal footing to create new, high quality, affordable options for all Americans. And that's what we’re -- that's what the effort is all about, and we’re making that clear in this way.
Q But how do you react to unions that support this White House in general saying health premiums for their workers are going up and wages are going down?
MR. CARNEY: Look, Ed, I’m happy to get you more information on this. I’ve addressed it many times. But we’re working to make sure that --
Q So why do they keep saying it then, if you’re --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean --
Q These are the unions saying it, not the Republicans.
MR. CARNEY: I know you want to speak for the unions, but I’ll get more information for you. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. The view from the ground in Crimea, and knowing President Putin, as this White House does, do you agree with your former head of the Defense Department, Bob Gates, when he says that Crimea is lost, that there’s no visible way of seeing that Putin would return on his own?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that it is up to the people of Ukraine to decide their future. And for any kind of decision to be made about the status of a region of Ukraine, only the people of Ukraine and their representatives can have that discussion and make that decision.
So what I can tell you is that the actions taken thus far are in violation of international law. This referendum that we’ve been talking about if it were to be carried out, its results would not be recognized by the United States or most nations across the country. And as the executive order signed by the President makes clear, we have put in place authorities to take actions, via sanctions, against those who are viewed as responsible for the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
So there are costs, as the President made clear very early, to those responsible, and, more broadly, as I was talking about earlier with Mr. Viqueira, to Russia economically for pursuing this path.
So I don’t have a crystal ball, I’m not going to read into the future, especially when it comes to actions that President Putin or Russia might take. What I can tell you is that there is a broad consensus internationally about the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, about the need to resolve this diplomatically and peacefully and by the rule of law. And there’s a path here that is available for Russia to pursue that would allow for their interests, legitimate interests, to be recognized and taken seriously, for the concerns they have to be assessed and addressed. And we very much encourage Russia to avail itself of that opportunity.
Q Jay, right now the previously unmarked line between Crimea and Ukraine, according to Western independent journalists, there appears to be a fence or even land mines in the eyes of people on the ground there going up to separate Crimea from what is largely viewed as Ukraine. Does the White House have any comment on that? Is it aware of that? Is it concerned by that report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we monitor all the events going on in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine quite closely, as you would expect. What I can tell you is that this is 2014, and we are long past the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of elected governments, over the heads of the people and their elected officials. And we will not and do not recognize as legal the actions that have been taken or might be taken with this referendum.
So that’s why we are where we are. That’s why we are engaged in the aggressive diplomatic effort that we’re engaged in, working with our European partners and other partners. And, again -- and I’ll try to do it in shorthand -- Russia has a way here, they have an off-ramp here that respects the fact that they have legitimate interests in Ukraine, that acknowledges that there are ethnic Russians about whom Russia has concerns. And there is an opportunity here, through the OSCE or the United Nations, to ensure that non-partial international observers are on the ground monitoring the situation so that the rights of all Ukrainians are respected and protected.
Q Obviously, the desire in terms of the negotiations and the conversations taking place between the administration and Russia behind the international monitors is to look out for the safety, as the Russians suggest, of ethnic Russians in these locations. But there’s new reporting that Russian supporters have been attacking pro-Ukrainian demonstrators and others. So what can be done to protect not the ethnic Russians, but those who support one united Ukraine in those situations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, as I was noting, the international monitors would be in place to make assessments about the --
Q If Russia doesn’t let them in to protect their own people?
MR. CARNEY: -- the protection of all Ukrainians, not just ethnic Russians. But that is the purported reason that Russia has taken the action that it’s taken in violation of international law, so that’s why we’re emphasizing the point about ethnic Russians.
We are also, as we talked about earlier, working directly with the government of Ukraine to help support the government of Ukraine through bilateral assistance and through our efforts to complement a package of assistance the IMF can provide to Ukraine. So in terms of strengthening the Ukrainian state and its ability to handle its own affairs, we are actively engaged in that effort as well.
Q Very quickly, the point being the Russian troops are there because they say they need to protect the ethnic Russians. I guess, who’s there protecting those people who support Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, Ukraine has its own local and national security forces.
Q Or Crimeans.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re talking about in Crimea. I mean, I don’t disagree. I mean, if you’re -- I don’t know about all of the individual reports, but any violation of the rights of Ukrainian citizens, especially encouraged by Russian military forces, is obviously a concern.
Q One more domestic politics question quickly. What has the President done for Alex Sink?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President supports Democratic candidates across the country. The President, as you know, has been engaged in an effort and will continue to be engaged in an effort to support the Democratic National Committee, the DS -- the senatorial committee and the congressional committee. So I’m not sure I understand the question.
Q Just specifically, the election is tomorrow, so I’m just curious what in particular the President has been doing as an asset to his campaign.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that the President is focused on an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work, and that candidates across the country who support that agenda are taking their message to their constituents or would-be constituents and arguing that that’s a better way forward than the alternative. So the President has laid out an agenda that Democrats have supported and support, and that, broadly speaking, addresses the concerns that most Americans say they put at the top of the list, which is the need to continue this economic recovery, to expand opportunity, to make sure that their hard work is rewarded, and that their kids are being educated and prepared for the jobs of the future. That's what the President is focused on, and he knows and believes that Democrats across the country join him in that effort.
Q Can I just follow up to that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Thank you. Does he think that the special election is a referendum on Obamacare since both candidates have been talking a lot about that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken to him about an individual congressional election. What I can tell you is there’s a pretty clear demarcation that Republicans have highlighted by saying that they want to go back through repeal to a world where the insurance companies decide, Mara, that you pay twice what your twin brother would pay -- if you were to have one -- for the same insurance because you’re a woman, to a world where anybody with a preexisting condition could be booted off their plan, or could find out in the fine print that their condition -- the very situation that requires them to need health care -- is not covered in the plan that they have. That's the world that exists through repeal.
So candidates out there who are supporting a law that provides affordable, quality health insurance to millions of Americans, including millions who haven’t had it in the past, we believe they have a pretty clear case to make against the argument for repeal, which is basically an argument in favor of empowering the insurance companies at the expense of individuals, an argument ironically in favor of exploding the deficit because, as the CBO has noted, the law of the long-term deficit reduction that the Affordable Care Act provides; an argument for returning to higher rates of health care cost growth, because as you know, since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, we’ve had the lowest levels of health care cost inflation in half a century. That's their plan. That's their pitch.
And we think a pitch that focuses on providing benefits to the American people, a pitch that does what we’ve done at the administration level, which is make fixes that are necessary to help smooth a transition to the Affordable Care Act and through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that that is a far better argument to the American people than one that says let’s go back to a time when the insurance company got to decide whether you got coverage or not.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me get to some of my regulars here. Yes, Roger.
Q On Ukraine aid, the House last week passed the $1 billion loan guarantee rate. The Senate is working on a draft right now that contains the loan guarantee plus some additional monies to IMF, as I understand it. Does the White House have a preferred path on this legislation, any preferred way of -- a clean bill versus a little bit more complicated bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we strongly support passing IMF quota reform legislation. That's what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about additional funding. We’re talking about reform legislation that the President strongly supports. He believes it’s vital to our national security interests and to our support for Ukraine sovereignty.
The IMF is the world’s first responder in this kind of crisis, providing the expertise and financing needed to restore the Ukrainian economy to financial stability and growth. The U.S. has used its leadership position in the IMF to ensure that the IMF is forward-leaning in its response to the crisis in Ukraine, but we need to pass the IMF reform to maintain our leadership on issues like this one. We need to bolster the IMF and its capacity to lend to Ukraine.
So while the United States will not increase our total financial commitment to the IMF by approving the 2010 reforms -- and these are 2010 reforms that we’ve yet to approve -- it is important to note that for every dollar the United States contributes to the IMF, other countries provide four dollars more. So we strongly support the passage of this quota reform.
Q Is there any sort of, kind of tentative deadline that the White House would like to have this done by?
MR. CARNEY: Soon.
Q Within the month?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific deadline. The sooner the better.
Q Jay, what’s the next step for this White House as it relates to the Civil Rights post to Justice since the recent situation in the Senate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s a good question in light of the unfortunate choice made by senators when it came to the nomination of an enormously qualified individual, Debo Adegbile, to that position. I don’t have information now for you. I would note that Senator Reid took action that would allow for bringing up that nomination again. But as far as a personnel matter related to that post, I don’t have anything new for you.
Q You have people on the Hill waiting for your word to push this effort for the nominee. But do you think that it’s dead because it’s already -- it’s died, and many people are saying that it’s not going to get out of committee, it’s not going to happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it got out of committee the first time. Again, I don’t want to speak for him. What I would say is that Senator Reid, as a leader, can do -- voted “no” so that he could recommit -- and I hope I get the terminology right -- and this nomination could be put forward again.
More important right now for us is what we said very strongly about our profound disappointment with the actions taken by the Senate -- a decision essentially that says that lawyers have to be held accountable for the clients they represent, which would create a wholly new standard when it comes to nominations to positions like this and to the bench. So I don’t have any -- again, April, when it comes to steps forward on this, filling this post, I don’t have any new information for you.
Q Thank you. Over the weekend, both United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Does the United States intend to follow suit considering they’ve actually talked to these groups before?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the United States has not designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. On the broader issue, we’re following recent decisions made by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain with respect to their ambassadors to Qatar. But on that particular question, our policy has not changed.
Q Do you see it as politically motivated? Do you see a national security reason for it?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we enjoy strong relations with all of these countries, and we encourage them to resolve their differences as soon as possible for the benefit of regional security and cohesion.
Q Jay, I have a Ukraine aid question. If the Russian Federation, after the referendum, acts to take responsibility for the economic wellbeing of the people in Crimea, and the United States is saying that we would recognize that along with the rest of the world, would the international aid that goes to Ukraine still benefit the people of Crimea after that point?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, the aid we provide to Ukraine and how it’s used -- I don’t know the intricacies of the legislation when it comes to the disbursement of aid, if it were passed -- or the loan guarantees and how that would work, but it is a provision of assistance to Ukraine. And as I said last week, Crimea is a part of the sovereign state of Ukraine. But how that aid would be utilized, I can’t predict.
Q Jay, does the President have an official or personal reaction to the death of the Vice President of Afghanistan over the weekend?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. We obviously -- our thoughts and prayers are with his family, but I don’t have a specific, official reaction.
Q And earlier, when you were talking about the Ukraine -- the Crimea referendum, you said that it will not be viewed as legitimate. Is there an official vehicle for the United States to express that? Is there a United Nations resolution? Is there something that can be done through NATO? Is there any way that that can be expressed? Or is this just going to be something that is said from here and from the State Department?
Mr. CARNEY: Well, when we express our views on something, we do it from here, we do it through top officials like the President, the Secretary of State. Again, we’re not alone in having that view. It is, through our understanding, a violation of the Ukrainian constitution. So, again, we wouldn’t be alone. So the actions we’re taking -- and I think this goes to what I was talking about earlier -- are not focused on the referendum, per se; we’re focused on resolving this in a way that is diplomatic and peaceful so that the concerns that Russia has said motivated it to take the actions it’s taken.
Q Would you expect so much as a non-binding U.N. resolution?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t think that’s -- I’m not saying one way or the other what action might be taken along those lines. I think the world will have spoken pretty clearly and loudly, and already has, when it comes to views about the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And as a piece of this, I think no one will doubt what our view is or what the view of other countries is.
Chris, and then Connie.
Q Thanks, Jay. The LGBT Equality Caucus and Senator Jeff Merkley are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill calling on President Obama to sign an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. Does the President want to see supporters of that action, like the lawmakers behind this letter, to continue encouraging him to sign it?
MR. CARNEY: Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders. What we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and that has already seen progress in Congress. So I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.
Q Thank you. Follow-ups on Iran and on Cuba. The interdiction of that ship carrying arms to Gaza, has that re-charted the negotiations with Iran in any way?
MR. CARNEY: I was asked this I think last week, and we were very clear about our views on the ship that was interdicted and the fact that we condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s effort to supply terrorist organizations operating in the region with weaponry. The shipment of advanced weapons was believed to be bound for militant groups in Gaza, and posed a direct threat to the security of Israel. The Israeli government unloaded the seized vessel in Eilat this weekend, and we understand the vessel contained rockets, mortars, and nearly 400,000 AK-47 shells.
We, the United States, strongly condemn this violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. It is important to make clear that even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue, in coordination with our partners and allies, to push back against Iranian support for terrorism, threats against our friends and partners in violations of human rights.
So as we pursue an important goal, which is a resolution of the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, we are not holding back at all in the steps we take and the views we hold about Iran’s continued support for terrorist organizations.
Q Thank you. And on Cuba, I asked you a few weeks ago about the Cuban prisoners. Since then, one prisoner has been released from an American jail, one Cuban prisoner. Have you had any contact with the Cubans about Alan Gross?
MR. CARNEY: Alan Gross has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuban authorities for more than four years. We continue to work to secure his release. Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to undeserved -- underserved, rather, communities in more than 50 countries.
We reiterate our call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross’s detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.
Thank you all very much.
Q Jay, one more question from Colorado?
MR. CARNEY: Colorado, what do you got?
Q Okay. I just wanted to follow up on that one about Obama -- well, the Affordable Care Act. And you mentioned that the Republicans are giving this pitch to, I guess, repeal the bill. And so my question --
MR. CARNEY: Surely your reporting reflects that.
Q What’s that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not misstating --
Q No, no, no, it was the reasons you gave that I wanted to ask you about. And the last time I was here, I asked you a question and you didn’t really answer it, so I hope I’ll have better luck this time. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think he’s waiting for his -- have you got the camera on him? Go ahead.
Q And I saw you using notes, so I’m going to use mine as well.
MR. CARNEY: Go for it.
Q When the law was first debated and passed -- and we’re talking about the Affordable Care Act -- the polls showed a majority of the people were not in favor of that, and yet it was pushed through. And so in terms of this pitch, the President continued to pitch to get it passed using statements like “you can keep your plan.” And, by the way, I know that’s not true because my wife lost her insurance because of the Affordable Care Act -- that you can --
MR. CARNEY: What’s your question, sir?
Q Well, I’m getting to it.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q We don't get here very often from out in middle country, so when you get your chance, you got to ask.
MR. CARNEY: You’re welcome. Sure.
Q Okay. So anyway, the President’s pitch was that you can keep your plan, that your costs will go down, and I know that not to be true. So my question is: Will the President accede to the greater majority of Americans now who want it repealed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, actually that's not --
Q Why won’t he listen to the American people?
MR. CARNEY: You obviously haven’t seen the data because the majority of Americans do not in any poll want it repealed. The majority supports fixing it and improving it, not repealing it. I would ask you to check your data.
Secondly, the President made that pitch. Republicans in Congress fought it tooth and nail. It went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld it. It was the principal argument in a presidential election. The President won reelection.
And again, Republicans are free to make the repeal argument. My point was simply that when you go to individuals and you ask them, do you want quality, affordable health insurance, or do you want the insurance company to tell you that you’re not going to get coverage for that condition you have because the fine print says you can't. In fact, your sister, we’re going to charge her double even though you have identical medical histories because she’s a woman --
Q Well, my wife is getting charged double now because she lost her insurance.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't know the circumstances with your wife. And what I can tell you is that the Affordable Care Act provides quality, affordable health insurance to millions of people. They are -- million are --
Q But that's not true. More people have lost their insurance because of the act right now than have been -- didn't have insurance and have signed up. That is a fact.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, well, you’re entitled to your facts, sir. What I can tell you is that you and others who want to campaign on repeal are welcome to.
What I’m saying is that repeal for millions of Americans is not a good option and for all the reasons that I enumerated.
Thank you all very much.
Q One more question from Bethesda? (Laughter.)
1:17 P.M. EST