Update: White House Defends, Duncan Regrets/Reiterates*
Thanks to Philip Elliott's AP writeup we now know that Obama spokesperson Jay Carney (blue tie above left) defended Arne Duncan (albeit vaguely) at Monday's press briefing, in response to questions form Politico's Jon Allen (gold tie above right). See transcript below or watch video here.) Duncan issued an apology later Monday afternoon but reiterated his point that nobody looks good on Common Core assessments ("every demographic group has room for improvement").
*Updated Tuesday 8:45: Roundup of news coverage begins below the fold (click below).
Arne Duncan's 'White, Suburban Mom' Remark: New Words, Same Argument PoliticsK12: Duncan has used this argument before—that the patchwork of current academic standards, ushered in during the No Child Left Behind era, were dummied down and led to inflated test scores and an inflated sense of just how good schools are. And he has said repeatedly that it's not just a problem for minority or other at-risk students, but also for better-performing and "white" students as well.
Duncan tries to quell uproar over Common Core comments Washington Post: Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried Monday to quell the outrage sparked by his recent comments that injected race and class into the debate about the new Common Core academic standards taking root in classrooms across the country.
Education secretary under fire for comment about 'white suburban moms' CNN: Conservative commentator and Common Core foe Michelle Malkin scolded Duncan. "Ohhhh yes, the red blood underneath my brown skin is boiling. This Obama educrat has stepped in it. Big time. Race card-wielding Education Secretary Arne Duncan is nothing but a corrupt and bankrupt bigot," Malkin wrote.
3 People Outraged By Arne Duncan's 'White Suburban Moms' Comment HuffPost: The white suburban mom who feels marginalized and misunderstood, the non-white parent who wants to know why everyone is only now so upset, and the non-white parent who wants Arne Duncan to know she (or he) hates the Common Core, too.
Arne Duncan apologizes for ‘clumsy phrasing’ of ‘white moms’ remark Politico: Duncan, a white suburban dad who has two children in public schools, said he knows that “no one enjoys hearing tough news from school.” Yet he said all parents “need the truth” – and that truth, he said, is that previous standards were too low, previous tests were too easy and American students are not prepared to compete in the global economy.
Duncan takes heat over description of Common Core foes as 'white suburban ... Fox News: Education Secretary Arne Duncan faced heated criticism Monday for reportedly dismissing foes of so-called Common Core standards as "white suburban moms" who are worried their schools or children don't measure up to the new benchmarks.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 18, 2013
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House on this beautiful, sunny, warm November Monday. Before I take your questions, let me mention a couple of things.
First and foremost, regarding the storms in the Midwest: Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by yesterday’s storms, including those who lost a loved one. The President continues to be briefed by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco. The White House will continue to stay in touch with our federal partners, including FEMA, as well as the state and local partners who are leading the response in the affected states.
We urge citizens to continue to follow directions from their local officials. FEMA remains in close coordination with officials in affected states. FEMA’s National Watch Center in Washington remains elevated at a 24/7 enhanced watch. FEMA, through its regional offices in Chicago and Kansas City, is continuing to monitor the effects of the severe weather, including strong tornadoes that affected the Midwest yesterday.
FEMA has an Incident Management Assistance Team, IMAT, deployed to Illinois to coordinate with state and local officials to identify needs related to disaster response and recovery. FEMA also has liaison officers positioned at emergency operation centers in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, and additional liaison officers on standby and ready to deploy if requested.
Before the storm system developed, FEMA, through its regional offices, began to closely coordinate with state and local partners, including Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Wisconsin Emergency Management Agency, Michigan Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
My second announcement, or statement, rather, is that at 5:30 p.m. today it is expected the Senate will have a cloture vote on Judge Robert Wilkins, the third of the President’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court. Less than three years ago, the Senate confirmed Judge Wilkins to the D.C. District Court without opposition. Every senator agreed he has the intellect, integrity and fair-mindedness to serve as a federal judge, and his record since then has validated his unanimous confirmation.
Yet, Senate Republicans continue their cynical obstruction. Their proposed legislation would remove three judgeships from the D.C. Circuit even though Chief Justice Roberts has not recommended removing any. It also would give a judgeship to two courts that Chief Justice Roberts has said do not need anymore.
It’s time to stop playing partisan politics with the federal courts. We urge Senate Republicans to stop blocking a simple up-or-down vote. If the Senate were allowed to consider Judge Wilkins and all of the President’s nominees on their merits, I am confident they would be confirmed without delay.
I can now take your questions. I’m aiming for a 2:45 p.m. wrap here. Let’s go. Nedra.
Q The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the administration’s goal is to have 80 percent of users able to sign up for health care plans online. It is acceptable to the President if one in five of the users aren’t able to get insurance online?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. I think the way to look at that figure is that of, say, ten who go on the system, roughly two won't get through the system -- so 2 out of 10. And there are three groups or baskets you can put those 2 out of 10 in: One, those who experience technical difficulties. That would be error messages or delayed response time, or issues involving site stability. Those are the three metrics that CMS and the tech team are using to measure the improvements that have been made, the improvements in reduction and error messages, the improvements in site stability, the improvements in the response time. So that's one basket.
The other are those who start the process but find that either because they're not comfortable doing something like this online, or they may not spend a lot of time on the computer, may not be familiar with the kinds of information they need with regards to their financial situation, may end the process on their own and decide to utilize one of the other methods that are available to them to get information and enroll.
And finally, there are those who have a personal or family situation that is complex enough that the site is not the best place to go to enroll. You are better served by using a navigator, a live person either through the call-in center or in one of the walk-in centers that exist all around the country.
So it's important to look at -- when you talk about aiming to have the website functioning effectively for the vast majority of the American people, that there is a universe of people who will go on the site but leave it without getting through it for several reasons, and only one of them really -- or we categorize only one of them having to do with technical issues. Because the goal here is obviously to get people through the system, and by the system we don't mean the website, but through the system and therefore allow them to enroll in a plan and purchase quality, affordable health insurance, if they desire.
So that's why we've been pursuing the other channels which existed even before the October 1 launch and were always part of this, because we knew that these populations existed, but why we’ve beefed them up, as we've had trouble with the website.
Q But is it acceptable to the President? Is he pushing his aides to do better than this? Because if you had 80 percent of people going to Kayak not eventually be able to book their travel, or 80 percent of people on Amazon -- or, I'm sorry, 80 percent able to, and 20 percent not able to, they probably wouldn’t stay in business very long.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you're looking at that statistic simplistically, because the issue here is, can we make the website function effectively for the vast majority of users who go on it. There may be a portion of people -- in fact, there will be, as I've just described, who go on it, and they may decide to use a different method of enrolling not because there's a problem with the website, but because their personal situation is complex enough. For example, they might have children who live -- that they're seeking to get covered -- who live in different states. Or you might have a situation where one -- a member, or some members, of your family could be eligible for Medicaid; others may not be. Individuals filing separately where some individuals are able to purchase a marketplace plan and others aren't.
So those kinds of complex situations, which is a universe of the population are -- those with those kinds of issues are going to be better served by using a navigator, either going to the call-in center or going to one of the in-person centers, hospitals, community centers and the like, where there are folks who are trained to help walk individuals through this process, and who can help them if they have a complex situation.
And then there are others who -- and this was always going to be the case -- who, even though so many Americans are now comfortable with the computers, and use computers and online sites regularly, that there's going to be, with something as personal and complex as purchasing health insurance, will choose not to do so online. And that was of course always going to be the case.
So when you look at the metrics here, we're focused on -- CMS is focused on, when it comes to the functionality of the website, speed and response times essentially. Response time, as we've explained before, is how fast the system responds to users' requests. And for the first few weeks after the site launched, we estimated that users were waiting an average of 8 seconds for pages across the site to load, and this past week that average response time for most users remained under 1 second. So that's a metric by which they are able to measure the progress that is a result of the improvements, the software and hardware improvements, that they've been putting in place.
Another one is error rate, a measure of the frequency on a per-page basis of system timeouts or failures that prevent the user from advancing to the next page, or a result in errors -- or users, rather, receiving error-messages. And we have reduced the error rate from 6 percent to less than 1 percent. That is still not where we need to be, but it is obviously significant progress.
And finally, site stability is something that is constantly being addressed, and the improvements that are being introduced to improve site stability. So as more and more consumers use the site, the site remains stable and doesn't crash.
Q There also were reports over the weekend that there's some sort of self-assessment going on here at the White House, and that maybe there were going to be -- there is going to be a shakeup, but not immediately. Why the delay in accountability for these problems?
MR. CARNEY: Nedra, the President has made clear ever since we saw the problems that we've had with the website and with the rollout of the marketplaces that he wants his team focused on making the necessary fixes so that the American people are served well by the Affordable Care Act and are able to receive the benefits that it offers, are able to purchase quality, affordable health insurance.
We're not engaged in a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking here. So I saw that story. I have no personnel decisions to announce or to even to preview, because right now everybody on the President’s team is focused on making the improvements necessary so that this important legislation provides the benefits to millions of Americans that it was designed to provide.
Q So for that 20 percent of people who might not be able to use the website smoothly by the end of the month, what stage are things at in terms of working with health insurance companies on direct enrollment, sharing the risks of that and ramping that up as an alternative, or perhaps a contingency if that 80 percent target isn’t reached?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things. Again, as I just described, when you talk about the 2 out of 10 who may not stay with the website, there are a variety of reasons that may be the case. Not all of them have to do with technical problems with the website.
So as hard as we work and we are working and will continue to work on improving the website and its functionality, it has always been the case that we need to make sure that there are other avenues for people either with complex situations or people who would rather not perform this kind of purchase online, and that’s why we have call-in centers, and that’s why we’ve beefed them up, and that’s why we have in-person counselors who can work with American consumers around the country to make decisions and review options when it comes to health care coverage.
We’re working to make those alternate channels even more robust, as you know, and we’re working to have as many options for Americans to enroll as possible to help meet the pent-up demand that we’ve seen. We’re engaging with experts in this area, including with health plans, and we are considering additional channels. I think we have worked with insurance companies and state insurance commissioners on these issues and will continue to do that.
I mean, it’s important to remember, even as we deal with the absolutely necessary work on improving the website, that the broader -- the website is a means to an end. It’s one of a variety of means to the same end, which is providing this benefit to the American people. And the individuals who receive that benefit, including everybody with insurance in America, even those of us, the vast majority of us who have insurance covered through our employers or through Medicare or Medicaid are getting benefits because of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s important that it be implemented so that they get those benefits, that we all get those benefits.
And then those Americans who are uninsured, who have the opportunity now to get coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, the goal is to make sure that those Americans and the 5 percent who are in the individual market, that everyone is made aware of the options available to them and that everyone is able to take advantage of the benefits that the law provides.
So that’s our focus. No matter how many fixes are made to the website and how high its functionality, not all of it -- there are going to be Americans who need to get assistance, either in person or over the phone, to enroll.
Q But considering additional channels that you just mentioned -- that's direct enrollment, ramping up direct enrollment with health plans? Is that what you’re talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly wouldn’t rule that out. It’s something that we’ve talked about and are working on. We’re interested in engaging or opening as many channels for enrollment as possible -- because the goal here is, again, not to have the best possible website, and we’re far from that, and we’ll still -- the website, comeDecember 1st, will be vastly improved but will still need improvements. And we’re going to keep working on that day by day to make it as effective as possible.
And, in the meantime, and beyond the meantime, we will make sure that there are other channels available for Americans to find out the universe of options available to them and then to make some choices about what kind of insurance coverage suits them best.
Let me go up and back, as I’ve been doing. Jon Allen.
Q I wanted to know the President’s reaction to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s comments that it was white suburban moms who are pushing back on Common Core standards.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have -- I haven’t spoken to the President about this issue, and I haven’t seen Arne’s full comments. But if his point was that we need to be honest with kids and parents about whether we’re providing the skills they need to succeed, I think we can all agree on that. So again, I haven’t had a discussion with the President about that, but I think the broader point that we need to be honest about whether we’re providing the skills our children need to succeed, I think we can agree on that.
Q Is that an appropriate way for the Secretary of Education to talk about a constituency, to qualify them by race?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see all of Arne’s comments, Jon. I can just tell you that the Secretary of Education and everybody on the President’s team dedicated to this effort is focused on making sure that we do everything we can working with states and others to ensure that our kids are getting the education they need for the 21st century, for the careers of the 21st century.
Ann, how are you?
Q Thank you. Fine, thank you, Jay. President Obama took a long time coming to his decision on support of gay marriage, where it is legal. Vice President Cheney’s daughters have had a very public dispute about it, and now Vice President Cheney has put out a statement saying that they’re pained to see what has been a discussion in their family come out publicly. Does the President think that Vice President Cheney, who embraced the idea of gay marriage long before he did, kind of led the way? Does he give him some political credit for that? And is the President sorry to see that this is still something that can be a source of tension not only just in families, but in the political dialogue?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed with President Obama this issue with regards to the Cheney family, former Vice President Cheney. I would simply say that like so many Americans, Former Vice President Cheney has come to view equality as something that we need to make fact and not just an aspiration. And that is certainly where the President is. And that's reflected in his very strongly held view that the House of Representatives ought to follow the Senate's lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example -- because in the not too distant future, we in this country will look back at this moment and pretty clearly recognize that those who opposed ENDA were wrong, as those who opposed other significant civil rights legislation for the variety of reasons that they put forward at the time proved to be wrong.
And with regards to interfamily dynamics, obviously this is a tough issue and can be a tough issue for a lot of families. But it is a very American value to pursue equality for everyone.
Q Well, you make the point that opposition to it is wrong; it's not just a matter of tolerating somebody else's point of view. Does the President believe there's been progress in the country, perhaps since --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, without question. And you've heard the President discuss this many times, including I think in the interview he gave with Robin Roberts last year. That was last year, right? And there's no question there's been enormous progress. Anybody who looks at LGBT rights and the road traveled in this country just in the past decade I think would rightly be pleased by the significant progress that's been made, even as we acknowledge that more work needs to be done, more progress needs to be done -- made.
Q Real quick, following up on Nedra’s question. Is it fair to say that 80-percent success on the website would be the vast majority? Is that how you define "vast majority," the phrase you keep using?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that is a -- I mean, others can decide whether or not 80 percent is a vast majority. I think in most contexts it is. But this is focused on the kind of technical metrics that I discussed. When it comes to website functionality and making the improvements to the website that are absolutely necessary, they look at error rate, they look at response time, they look at site stability -- and you make improvements in those measurable areas, and by doing so you increase the likelihood that any American who goes on that site will have a satisfactory experience.
Now, there are reasons that have nothing to do with the functionality of the website that some Americans may go online, start the process and decide either because of the complexity of their personal or family situation, or for other reasons, may decide that they would rather engage a live person, either through a call-in center or in person. And that is something that has obviously always been understood.
Our goal when it comes to the fixes on the website is to make it as functional as possible so that the fewest number possible of users have some of the problems with delays and errors and crashes that we've seen in the early days of this launch.
Q Jay, the President is having a group of powerful senators to the White House to talk about Iran. I'm wondering why the President is doing this briefing and not --
MR. CARNEY: Is there any group of senators that you would not describe as powerful? And how would they feel about it?
Q Not by name and on camera.
MR. CARNEY: It is true, yes.
Q So why the President and not, say, the National Security Advisor? And how are these --
MR. CARNEY: Say that again? What was --
Q Why the President specifically and not, say, the National Security Advisor? What's the benefit of having the President deliver this briefing? And is he asking them to hold off on sanctions? What's his message?
MR. CARNEY: Tomorrow at the White House, the President will meet with leadership and the Chairman and ranking members of the Senate Banking Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to provide an update on the status of the P5-plus-1 negotiations with Iran before the next round of talks begin later this week in Geneva.
The reason that the President will be having this meeting is because he has met regularly with and discussed regularly with members of Congress, in particular the Senate, what is happening with our negotiations with other members of the P5-plus-1 and Iran on this issue, the steps that we have taken to explore the potential for a diplomatic resolution to the challenge presented by Iran's nuclear program. And it is very much in keeping with the method the President has employed thus far in this matter that he consult closely and regularly with leaders in the Senate on this issue.
When it comes to our position on additional sanctions, I'm sure that this will be a topic, because it's the President's view that it's the right thing to do for Congress to pause so that we can test whether or not the Iranians are serious about resolving this issue diplomatically.
And, as you know, we have been engaged with the new government. We have had a round of discussions in Geneva; we’re having another round coming up. And we believe there is the potential, anyway, to initiate the first phase of an agreement that would see Iran halting progress on its program and rolling back certain aspects of it, and therefore basically stalling progress on their program and rolling it back as we pursue a more comprehensive agreement and as we test whether or not a more comprehensive agreement is achievable, whether or not Tehran is serious about taking the necessary concrete steps so that the international community is absolutely confident in a verifiable, transparent way that they have forsaken their nuclear weapons ambitions.
So this is an important stage in this process, and the President looks forward to the meeting.
Q There’s some confusion about the amount of sanctions relief that Iran would be getting under this interim agreement. Can you shed any light on what the accurate figures are?
MR. CARNEY: I can shed some light on what the accurate figures are not. There have been reports of $40 to $50 billion in relief, and those reports are significantly exaggerated. It is important to recognize, as we’ve talked about, that the relief that would accompany an agreement for this first phase would be modest and it would be eminently reversible. We’ve described it as the kind of relief that we could provide by turning down or off a spigot, and then cranking it back up pretty seriously. It would leave in place the entire structure of the sanctions regime that’s been in place that has brought Iran to the table.
So this is modest and it is reversible, and it does not -- it’s the kind of relief that ensures that even as it’s provided, the other sanctions remain in place and continue to have an effect. So the purpose of doing it is to acknowledge that there’s no comprehensive agreement achievable at the beginning of a P5-plus-1 process, and that it is far preferable for the P5-plus-1 and all of our international partners and allies for us to lock in a halt to the progress of the program and to roll back certain aspects of it as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement, or see if one is achievable.
The alternative would be to engage in an effort to find out whether or not there’s a comprehensive agreement achievable without any kind of first phase and therefore without any halt to the progress. And so that period where we were having these negotiations would also be marked by continued progress by Iran on its program. So we believe that this two-phased approach is the right approach to take, and the President will be talking about that with Senate leaders tomorrow.
Major Garrett, then Margaret.
Q On the 80-percent functionality of the website, that's just a November 30th date, or is that something you've outlined as a rough ratio, let's say, for the whole first year of the Affordable Care Act? And is it something that was built into your sort of assumptions about usability of the Affordable Care Act in its first year, or is it simply a metric that you've come up with since the website did not roll out as effectively as you thought it would?
MR. CARNEY: Let me start by saying that in their regular briefings, CMS and HHS can add more details in response to these kinds of questions.
What I can, again, I think describe for you is that the 8 out of 10, 2 out of 10 structure relates to an expectation of what broadly speaking Americans would experience in a world where the website is functioning effectively for the vast majority of users. So that means that there would be still some -- a small percentage, hopefully -- who are not getting through because they experienced technical difficulties.
And as we've discussed -- I discussed last week, the President discussed last week -- we will not have a perfect website. There will be, as is the case with all complex websites, individuals who experience some technical difficulties somewhere and for some reasons. And the way to measure those, again, goes into those categories of error messages, delayed response times, and stability issues with the site.
But there are other -- and again, in that 2 out of 10 pot, you have two other categories, one -- I mean, and this is just roughly speaking -- one, those who have, as I've described before --
Q And those will be there always.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, yes, that's certainly the case, that there will always -- it was never going to be that even with an error-free, perfectly functioning website, that suddenly every American or potential purchaser of insurance in the marketplace would make that purchase online. And that's why there are call-in centers, that's why there are in-person navigators to assist Americans who prefer to do it, if you will, the old-fashioned way, and also you can do this by mail, an even more old-fashioned way.
So that's just to say that there's always going to be a universe of people who -- you know, they may go online, but they may not go through the entire process, not because there's a technical problem with the site, but for other reasons, complexities of their own situation of which there are going to be some percentage of families --
Q Percentage-wise on custody things or geography or --
MR. CARNEY: Precisely, precisely. So that's the -- I'm trying to give a little context to how these are viewed. More details are probably available at CMS, but that's the broad --
Q 80/20 is not a ratio just for the website, it's for the entire experience.
MR. CARNEY: Again, as I understand it, we're talking about people who would use the website, but may not follow it through to the end -- i.e. enroll -- because either they have a technical problem, or they find that they're one -- somebody in this category -- these other two categories. And I'm a layman here, so that's my understanding.
Q Picking up on Iran, you said from the podium a couple of times, those who are skeptical about this two-phase process are essentially indirectly advocating -- or not advocating -- the only other fallback position to that is military confrontation with Iran. Does that overall description also apply to the Israeli government, which has been very critical of the first phase of this? The Prime Minister has repeatedly called it a "bad deal" without, as the Secretary of State saying, knowing all the full details.
MR. CARNEY: I'd say a couple of things. The comprehensive structure of sanctions that have been put in place and that have been as effective as they have been were designed to try to change Iranian behavior. So the sanctions were not imposed for the sake of sanctions themselves or for harming the Iranian economy. They were meant to see if Tehran's behavior would change; that there would be a price that was too high for them to pay in order to maintain their nuclear program in a way that was -- in which they would not provide assurances to the West that they were forsaking nuclear weapons.
That was why the President led the way in putting together this comprehensive set of sanctions, the most debilitating and comprehensive set ever imposed in history. And you'll remember that he got there by making clear in his campaign in 2008 and in his inaugural address in January of 2009 that he was willing to meet with and discuss with Iranian leaders these issues. And that was a position that had been criticized during the campaign.
But that willingness basically put the onus on Iran to demonstrate that they weren't the problem. And what we saw for the first four-plus years is that Iranian behavior was the problem. And that unified the international community and allowed for the construction of this comprehensive set of sanctions, and allowed for the isolation of Tehran that we've seen, and which, in turn, through an election in Tehran and through the building impact of these sanctions on the Iranian economy, we have seen Iran come forward and take a new approach towards this issue and its dealings with the P5-plus-1.
Since the goal that we all share is making sure Iran does not and cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, we need to pursue the possibility that we can achieve that goal peacefully through diplomacy. And as the President and others have said, the surest way to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and does not have it for the long term is an agreement and a decision by Tehran to give up pursuit of a nuclear weapon. But we have to obviously couple that with very intrusive verification procedures so that we can be confident that that is the case.
So the end goal here is shared by everyone, and there is no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to that. And there's no daylight among the members of the P5-plus-1.
Q There clearly appears to be daylight in tactics and methods right now. I mean, everything in that history you just described, Israel and the United States were very close on this, but now they are -- through press conferences and statements from the Prime Minister repeatedly -- a breach. It's obvious.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think everyone -- and I think the Prime Minister said this -- believes that we should explore whether or not this can be resolved peacefully. That is obviously a preference for everyone. And it is our view that the process we have in place with the P5-plus-1 is the best way to explore that possibility, as we leave all options on the table; as we make clear that President Obama will not, as a matter of policy, allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Achieving that goal is best done peacefully if that’s possible.
And going back to the beginning of your question, if the decision or the view is that we should not engage in negotiations, you really -- whether you’re proactively choosing the use of force as the better alternative or simply disallowing or suggesting there’s no path through which you can negotiate a diplomatic peaceful resolution, you’re still leaving yourself with only one other means to achieve that objective: Prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
And that’s why we -- so we put in place a process working with our --
Q Is that where you think the Israeli government is right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we negotiate -- we, rather, consult with Israel constantly on these issues. The President speaks with no other leader more frequently than he does --
Q And they know all the details of the negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: We, again, consult with the Israelis regularly. We share a significant amount of information on a variety of issues, but Iran is certainly one of them. And our commitment to Israel’s defense is unshakable, and that is as true today as it’s been every day that President Obama has been in office and has overseen a policy that has provided, I think, even in the -- or most importantly, in the views of many Israeli leaders, the most tangible evidence of that commitment to Israel’s security that they’ve ever seen.
So that remains our policy. That remains our position. And we are going about this with our P5-plus-1 partners in a way that ensures that any steps we take will require transparency and the ability to verify concrete steps by the Iranians. If in the end they are not -- if they demonstrate that they are not willing to take the concrete steps necessary to prove to the world that they’re giving up their nuclear weapons ambitions, then there’s no deal. Simple as that.
Q Thanks. I want to ask you about the OFA call tonight, but before I forget I wanted to do a little cleanup question. On health care, in the front row, you had said that in addition to what you’re doing to improve the website, you’re “working with additional channels,” and that sounded like maybe worth asking more about. Is this with business, or is the Lady Gaga tour back on, or what are we talking about with the additional channels? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think what I was trying to refer to was the fact that we have, in addition to the work we’ve done on the website, we have made more robust the channels available for -- the alternate channels available for Americans to get information and to enroll. That includes by mail, by phone or in person.
And in response to the question about -- but in response to the question about direct enrollment, working with insurers, we are having conversations with insurers all the time about that and other issues, all with the goal of maximizing the options available to Americans when it comes to enrolling in and purchasing quality, affordable -- enrolling in the marketplace and purchasing quality, affordable health insurance.
Q But on the additional channels, you meant the channels that we’ve already talked about before in the past?
MR. CARNEY: Well, but also -- we are also working to set up direct enrollment through insurance companies so that Americans could choose to enroll directly through the insurance company. And that’s another method by which we can reach the same point that is the goal here. Again, it’s the end here that matters, not necessarily the means. The means are important and we have made clear our shared frustration with the problems that the website has experienced, but we have to make sure that there are other means available for the American people even as we make improvements to the website.
Q On OFA, tonight the President will talk with OFA folks on a call. To the extent that you can talk about the policy as well as the political goals, more broadly than sort of trying to get the momentum back, what is he hoping to accomplish specifically with this call, and for what duration of time is he kind of laying forth a plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have an extensive preview of what the President will say. I can say that there are a lot of people out there who strongly support health insurance reform, and who strongly supported and support the Affordable Care Act because of the promise that it represents. We are obviously in a moment of time as applies to the Affordable Care Act where a lot of focus understandably is being directed towards the problems with the website and other issues that have affected the rollout of the marketplaces. And that is as you would expect it to be.
But we cannot forget -- we need to step back and not forget that what was achieved in the passage of the Affordable Care Act was the culmination of a century-long effort by presidents and lawmakers to introduce health insurance reform to make affordable, quality health insurance more broadly available to average Americans, all undertaken with the point of view that in the wealthiest country on Earth, health care should not be a privilege for a few, it should be available to all.
And what we’ve seen is that passage of that legislation is only half the battle, and implementation of it is just as -- in fact, more important, because we need to make sure that the promise is realized and that Americans across the country who have seen health care costs drive up their own costs have seen -- in a process that’s been underway for years and decades, have seen their even their employer-based insurance change in ways that places more costs on them, and also have seen employers drop them and have seen experiences, if they have been in the individual market, that are really challenging for them and create a lot of insecurity for them -- that they are able to get the benefits of this new system that builds on, expands on the private insurance system that we have but does it in a way that provides basic benefits and basic affordability to millions of Americans who didn't have them before.
Q So it's really basically a focus call. It's not going to be about immigration or other --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can't rule out other topics. But I think that the President understands that there are a lot of people out there who believe deeply in the need to make sure that this is implemented properly, because millions of Americans fought hard for and believe in the benefits that the Affordable Care Act provides.
Q Very quickly -- sorry, I took too much time. Since we've been talking, there's a story out by The Washington Post that says that Pete Rouse may be leaving. Can you --
MR. CARNEY: This is the breaking news question.
Q This is the breaking news question.
MR. CARNEY: What is it again?
Q It may have had something to do with the paper that was passed to you --
MR. CARNEY: No. Oh, no, in fact I'm glad you reminded me, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Anyway, what can you tell about Pete Rouse's plans? And can you confirm this report?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any personnel announcements to make, and I haven't obviously seen that report.
Let me tell you that the President called Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor of Washington Gary Manier to receive an update on the response to yesterday's severe weather and to express his gratitude for all of the brave women and men working to respond to this disaster. I just wanted to update you on that. That was the note that was passed to me, and I want to thank you for reminding me.
Q Since Margaret asked about Pete Rouse, I wanted to ask you -- over the weekend, David Plouffe and then earlier this morning Robert Gibbs, your predecessor, said that it would not surprise them and that it's probably expected that there will be changes here at the White House, perhaps over at HHS in response to the fumbled rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Does the President see the wisdom in that?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to what the President has said, which is that he believes his team ought to be and is focused on getting this right for the American people, making the fixes to the website that are necessary so that it functions more effectively for users across the country; making necessary fixes to the law that we can make to make it better for Americans around the country. So we're focused and he is focused on implementation. He said that it's not -- Monday morning quarterbacking is not what we're engaged in.
Q But there will be a time when he'll be able to look beyond that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, hypothetically, you could say that. I think it's also the case that personnel changes happen all the time. And I wouldn’t necessarily associate any particular one with any incident, which is -- I'm just offering that caution. I know I'm probably spitting in the wind there. But I don't have any review to describe or personnel announcements to make.
Q And a lot of folks have been asking -- Jay, I know you've been asked this question -- but tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, and they're going to have a ceremony commemorating that up at Gettysburg. And I know the Interior Secretary will be there; it looks like the President will not be there. What is he going to be doing? I know he is doing this PBS special. What's he doing beyond that to commemorate this? Because just about every other big anniversary for this address, a President has had a prominent role.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any scheduling updates to provide to you. Obviously, that address and that moment in time is seminal in our history. And I think that all Americans across the country will have the opportunity to think about those words and that address. But with regards to the President, beyond what you just described, I don't have anything more for you.
Q And recently, in the last several days, the Secretary of State -- speaking of another anniversary that's coming up on Wednesday, I know that the President and Bill Clinton will be marking the 50th anniversary since the assassination of President Kennedy. And just recently, Secretary of State Kerry made a comment that he thought that Lee Harvey Oswald may have had some help in that assassination. And I'm just curious, what are the President's thoughts on that? Does he believe that Lee Harvey Oswald --
MR. CARNEY: I haven't had a discussion with the President about Kennedy's assassination, President Kennedy's assassination.
Q And there are classified files that have still not been released in that case. Has the President weighed in on whether or not those files should be released?
MR. CARNEY: I have not had that conversation with him.
Q Jay, quick one on Guantanamo. You did a readout this morning of Lisa Monaco talking to officials in Yemen about Guantanamo. And I wonder -- there have been reports suggesting the administration may transfer up to 100 Yemeni detainees out of Guantanamo back to their home country. Why does the administration think this may be effective, given the fact that the President himself shut that down a few years ago after the underwear bomber had gotten some help from Yemen and there were concerns that it might be a bad idea to send more detainees there? What's changed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen was lifted earlier this year, as I'm sure you remember. And in his speech at NDU, the President called on Congress to lift its restrictions on detainee transfers from Guantanamo. The lifting of the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen came with also the assertion that those detainees would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and that has been the case ever since.
It is still absolutely the administration’s firm commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The facility continues to drain our resources in an era of sequestration and tighter budgets, and it harms our national security. To the greatest extent possible, the administration will continue transferring detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. And we, as I mentioned, will call again on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers, which have significantly limited our ability to responsibly reduce the detainee population and ultimately to close the facility.
The detainee language that is in the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act is in our view positive and an important step in that direction.
Q Now –-
MR. CARNEY: Go ahead.
Q Thank you for that. On health care, the whole “vast majority” question -- last week, when the President talked about it, he just used “majority” not “vast majority.” Is there any way that the bar can be lowered below 80 percent if at the end of November it’s 70 percent or 60 percent? Is that acceptable?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I try to describe, Ed, and I appreciate everyone’s patience, sort of the universe of people that we’re talking about. And when you talk about the 2 out of 10 or 8 out of 10 that -- among those who don’t get through the website, there are a variety of reasons that will be and has been the case. One of them is -- are those people who experience technical problems, error messages or delays, or crashes that forced them off the site and in another direction. But others will go online but may find that their personal situation is complex enough in ways that we were talking about earlier, that they’re better served if they go to a navigator, either through a call-in center or in person, so that that can be -- they can have somebody help them through that process.
And then, of course, there are going to be people who may find some information online, may have a perfectly acceptable experience, no problems, no errors, but will decide that when it comes to purchasing insurance, that that’s not something they’re comfortable doing online. That was always going to be the case. There was always going to be a population that fit that description, and that’s why it’s important that they, too, are able to avail themselves of other means.
Q You mean like go by phone, as you said earlier, or go by mail? Under that scenario, though, could the 80/20 split you were asked about before, could up to 20 percent of the people who go online but can’t actually sign up -- I realize not all 20 percent will not be able to get on. Some will do it by mail, some will do it by phone. But will there be a significant percentage of people then who will be fined anyway, even though they went on the website trying to get health care, they don’t get it, and then they’ll pay the penalty?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the universe I’ve described to you are people who will have available to them other means, and when it comes to the improvements to the website, which is the context in which these metrics are being described, the improvements will make the website better, will make it more effective, will make it function effectively for the vast majority of users.
There will still be some who experience technical difficulties, and that will result in those individuals, if they don’t want to keep trying, availing themselves of the other means available to them. And then there will be those who decide to use other methods because they, for reasons that have nothing to do with the functionality of the website, that it’s an issue of complexity in their personal situations or a personal decision not to do this kind of process or make this kind of purchase online.
So I guess the point is, when it comes to the website, we are working 24/7 to make the technical fixes, software and hardware fixes that will improve its functionality. But that’s all part of a broader effort to make access to the marketplaces as smooth as possible and provide as many channels as possible, which is what we’re doing.
Q And the very last one. There were reports about an official helping to run the D.C. exchange who was fired within hours or within a day of criticizing how the program was working. Did the administration have anything to do with this official in D.C. losing his job?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t speak to why they made that decision. I would refer you to them.
Peter. This is going to have to be my last engagement.
Q You talked about 80 percent would be viewed as success. Then perhaps to put it more simply, what would failure be defined as? How does the President define failure, not sufficiently meeting the expectations?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the site is not functioning effectively now and wasn’t effective -- functioning effectively on October 1st. That doesn’t mean it’s not functioning. Obviously, there are more and more people successfully navigating the website every day.
Q I mean, for the December 1st date, what would failure look like?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think we’ve said that we are making improvements so that it will function effectively for the vast majority of users. It is important when looking at users’ experiences on any day, but December 1stincluded, that there -- of those who basically stop using the online site, there will be different reasons why that’s so. Some of them will have technical problems, and that’s what we can address through fixes to the website. There will be others who -- and this was always going to be the case -- because of their personal situations and the complexity of the kind of coverage they need, will be better served by going to call-in centers or in-person centers to get assistance in applying and getting the information they need.
Q Just to conclude, as Todd Park said when he spoke before the House Oversight Committee, the goal is to meet this vast majority mark, which is roughly 80 percent, with a nuance, I understand, within it. So I guess my question is, if we don’t meet what the President views as that standard, what is the consequence? What is the President prepared to do? There have to be contingency plans to accommodate those people that feel they weren’t --
MR. CARNEY: There’s a continuum here, Peter, which is that the site is working vastly more effectively today than it was the first week of October, and that process will continue up to and beyond December 1st. The goal described as having a satisfactory experience or having it function effectively for the vast majority of users applies to the end of this month, but it will continue to apply going forward. In other words, we’re going to make improvements so that it’s better on December 2nd than December 1st and going forward, because --
Q But there’s still a potential that some people fall in the gap because there’s only two weeks fromDecember 1st to December 15th, where some people potentially won’t be able to get coverage in time for January 1st, which you’re still providing affordable care for a lot of people. But if you live in a state like Washington State, Vermont, Arkansas, where you’re losing your coverage, and the state insurance commissioner says we’re not going to give you that old coverage back, there are some Americans -- if the 80-percent bar is where it stands -- won’t be able to get coverage in time for January 1st, and will then go uncovered --
MR. CARNEY: That’s a misunderstanding of what that figure represents, because there are ways for those individuals to get insurance now that don’t include the website.
Q So you’re confident that in some form they will be able to, without question, be able to get it in that window?
MR. CARNEY: I am very confident that they will be able to. That’s why these alternate channels exist and why they were always envisioned to be a part of this -- because there were always going to be some individuals who weren’t going to make this kind of purchase online either because they don’t in general make purchases online or use computers, or because for something like this they’re not comfortable doing it. And there will be those whose situations when it comes to purchasing a certain insurance, because of where members of their family live or other issues, will be better served by having an in-person counselor help them through the process.
Q I just want to be clear -- because that’s very important what you just guaranteed -- that everyone will be able to do it by that December 15th date, even through these other means. The reason I pose that is because the other means include going through the web service, which includes the 834s, which have to go through the system. So if the system isn’t working perfectly, the vast majority isn’t good enough, because everybody, even by calling or an in-person navigator --
MR. CARNEY: You’re mixing -- the vast majority applies to the website experience.
Q And everybody ultimately goes through the website. If I call a navigator, I’m going to have to put it through.
MR. CARNEY: They do, you don’t. Incorrect that you have to -- that everybody has to; we had this debate earlier. But that the purpose is that if you want to go through and avail yourself of a call-in center experience, you can have that encounter with an individual who will then take your information and make sure that you both get what you need to -- get the information you need to know and apply accordingly.
So this has to do with the user experience online. And what we’re working to do 24/7 is to make improvements to the website so that more and more Americans, up to a vast majority and beyond -- because this work will continue -- have an acceptable experience online. There will still be Americans who choose not to engage in that process when purchasing insurance, so there are other methods by which they can do that.
I’ve got to run. Thank you all very much.
END 2:56 P.M. EST