Spies in Lebanon and Iran and the Supercommittee — Today’s Q’s for O’s WH — 11/21/2011

TAPPER: I just want to get some reaction from the White House about the information networks in Lebanon and Iran that have been discovered. I’m wondering if there will be a demand for accountability, a review of CIA procedures, and how much the White House is concerned that this will affect the attempt to monitor Iran’s efforts to get a nuclear weapon.

CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to comment on the – on intelligence matters from here, Jake. So maybe if you have a more specific question on this issue?

TAPPER: Well, this is something that is making news all over the world. It’s not a secret anymore. There has been a — I assume you know what I’m talking about.

CARNEY: Mmm hmm, mmm hmm.

TAPPER: Is there no reaction from the White House at all? Is there no concern that there’s a — this information network has been discovered and there’s people who are serving for the United States or — may have even been executed?

CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into an – a matter of information networks that — regarding intelligence. If you’re talking about Iranian behavior in general, I’m happy to comment on that, but not on that specific –

TAPPER: Would you care to comment on Iranian behavior in general? (Laughter.)

CARNEY: Look, Iranians are — the Iranian regime is isolated for a reason, because of its constant flouting of its international obligations. And the efforts that we have undertaken to further isolate Iran, with our international partners, we believe will continue to pressure the regime and drive it to the conclusion that it needs to get right with the world.

So Iranian misbehavior is certainly not a new thing or a new problem, but we continue to work with our partners to deal with it.

TAPPER: All right. And I just want to follow up on the some of those supercommittee questions. When asked about the fact that the White House took a hands-off approach, you said that the White House did not take a hands-off approach throughout the summer. So the decision to take a hands-off approach this time, was that because the previous attempts failed and you — the president wanted to see how it would work without him playing a role? Could you explain the decision-making process?

CARNEY: Well, I disagree.

TAPPER: A direct role in negotiating –

CARNEY: Yeah, a couple of things: First of all, in the summer, the president, as president, had to deal with a potential disaster that would have befallen this country and the global economy had those who seemed determined to push this process over the edge, by allowing us to default on our obligations, succeeded. So that there was an urgency at the time that required his direct involvement. But let me now argue with the premise, which is that he’s been disengaged: That is simply false.

TAPPER: I didn’t say that.

CARNEY: OK, but the premise is that he has been less engaged. What happened –

TAPPER: He was in Hawaii. I mean, one assumes he was –

CARNEY: The supercommittee has been in existence now for a long time, and at the beginning of the process — now, remember, during the summer there were lots of calls for: Where is the president’s plan? Where is his ideas on paper? Where are they? And as you know now, that we were involved in intensive negotiations, the president was, with the speaker of the House, and by design and by request by the parties to that — those negotiations, the process was kept relatively quiet and paper was not made public. There was a hope that that process would lead to the grand bargain, that the speaker would reach an agreement in which balance was achieved, that revenues were included and some tough decisions on entitlement reforms were also included.

At the beginning of this process, the committee created by Congress, the president — preemptively, if you will — put forward his ideas, his plans, in detail, and those have been available. It’s never been a mystery for the members of the committee what the president thinks or what his preferences are in this process. What we have seen, unfortunately, is that very early on in the process, I believe it was the speaker who announced that revenue was off the table, basically declaring that the vast majority of American people, their ideas for how this should be done were irrelevant.

TAPPER: But we know that that’s not what happened, that Senator Toomey did make an offer and that –

CARNEY: Well — right, and — well, there was an offer, as we’ve seen reported, that involved some revenues, while it then provided even additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And it wasn’t the kind of balanced plan that the public supports, the president called for, the bipartisan commissions both demanded, and that ultimately the only way that we can get to the kind of sweeping deficit reduction and debt control that we need.

So we made clear from the beginning what the president’s position was. The committee was established by an act of Congress with members on the committee who are all legislators in Congress. And what their mandate was, was quite clear, and the path to a compromise was always quite clear. But there had to be willingness on both sides, there has to be willingness on both sides to want the kind of balance that the American people demand.

TAPPER: But the president did make a decision to not be as involved as he had been in the summer.

CARNEY: Well, they’re entirely different circumstances.


CARNEY: But if you’re — I don’t disagree that he wasn’t having, you know, one-on-one conversations with the speaker of the House –

TAPPER: Right.

CARNEY: — here in the White House on this, but this – we were in a different place.

TAPPER: Right.

CARNEY: That was working out an approach with the speaker that then became very well-known to the public. The willingness of this president to make tough decisions, do hard things for Democrats, the — his commitment to bringing Democrats along in that process and what his position then became, I think, has been clear to everyone since then.

TAPPER: OK. Now that we agree on the premise –

CARNEY: Mmm hmm.

TAPPER — was that a mistake?

CARNEY: Was it a mistake that the president put forward a detailed, comprehensive proposal? No.

TAPPER: But was it a mistake for him not to have been as involved?

CARNEY: Absolutely not.

TAPPER: For him not to have been as involved?

CARNEY: Of course not.


CARNEY: No, he’s — he has been, from the beginning of this process, directly engaged in it, providing ideas, proposals, specifics. And what the Congress needs to do to get this done is apparent to everyone who writes about this, who reports on it for television, who pays attention at all. And there is just a remarkable unwillingness among Republicans, unfortunately, to accept the fact that the only way to get from here to there is to do it in a balanced way. That’s the only fair way to do it. And we hope that Congress will eventually act accordingly.

-Jake Tapper