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White House Briefing by Jay Carney, Economic Council's Brian Deese

White House Briefing by Jay Carney, Economic Council's Brian Deese

17 April 2012

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
AND DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL BRIAN DEESE

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here today for your daily briefing.  I don't have any announcements at the top.  I do, however, have with me Brian Deese.  He is Deputy Director of the National Economic Council.  You heard the President today in the Rose Garden make an announcement regarding his call on Congress to pass a package of measures that would crack down on illegal activity and any efforts to manipulate the oil markets.  For more on that, I have Brian to discuss it with you, to take your questions on that. 

And as usually is the case when I have a guest, if you could direct all your questions on that matter or other matters that Brian can answer at the top.  We'll let Brian go and I'll be here for questions on other issues. 

And with that, I give you Brian Deese. 

MR. DEESE:  Thanks, Jay. 

And as Jay mentioned and as you all heard, the President today called on Congress to pass a set of measures designed to strengthen oversight of our energy markets and help crack down on illegal market manipulation in oil markets.  I just want to go through quickly the details of the proposals that the President outlined today, and then can take your questions.

First, a little bit of context.  The President has, since coming into office and, in fact, even before that, made it a priority to focus on strengthening the integrity of our energy markets.  And frankly, before coming into office, there were important gaps in oversight and loopholes that allowed too much trading to go on unregulated and in the shadows.  And so the President and his administration have taken a consistent approach of trying to close those gaps, increase oversight, with the ultimate goal of giving consumers confidence that illegal market manipulation and game-playing in these markets was not driving the price at the pump.

So whether it's from the actions that the CFTC took early on in our administration to close what's known as the Enron loophole which allowed traders to evade oversight by trading on electronic platforms, or the London loophole which allowed traders to go overseas to avoid oversight, the Wall Street Reform Act -- which had important protections to increase oversight and to protect against market manipulation in oil markets, including position limits, which means an individual trader cannot take such a large position in a market that they would be in a position to manipulate it -- and in steps since, we have had a consistent focus on this. 

The steps outlined today build on those efforts, and we think they are justified, particularly at a moment when you have seen increased trading activity, increased prices and increased volatility in oil futures markets.

So the President outlined five steps today.  The first is increased resources to the CFTC to put more cops on the beat in both oversight and enforcement of energy futures markets.  Second, resources to invest in technology upgrades to put the CFTC in a position where they have the same cutting-edge technology that the traders that they're trying to monitor have as well.  Those two pieces together represent a $52 million supplemental budget request for FY 2012.

The President called for additional authorities for the CFTC to set specific margin requirement to address price volatility and to address excessive speculation.  Margin requirements are the amount of money that a trader has to put up against a trade he or she is making.  It helps protect the integrity of the market and protect against people taking excessive positions without cash behind those positions.

Fourth, the President called on Congress to institute new civil and criminal penalties for those who do -- are found to have illegally manipulated energy markets.  On the civil side, he called for increasing penalties from $1 million per firm to $10 million per firm.  He would apply those penalties per day of the violation rather than per instance of violation.  And likewise, on the criminal side, it would increase the maximum penalty from $1 million to $10 million.

The goal of the penalty provision is to provide a deterrent against this type of behavior.  And finally, the President announced an action that we can take on our own without Congress, which was to expand access to the data, the disaggregated trader level data about what’s happening in these energy markets.  And so the CFTC is entering into arrangements with both the Council of Economic Advisers and the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which is housed at the Treasury Department, to ensure that a greater set of eyes, a greater set of experts are monitoring this data and looking at trends and identifying any activities that appear problematic.

So that’s the five-part plan that the President outlined today.  Again, the first four are measures that we need Congress to act on.  We’re putting this forward and we’re hoping to initiate a conversation with Congress with the hopes that we’ll make some progress immediately.

MR. CARNEY:  Questions.  Norah.

Q:  With this new action, how much do you think it will decrease the price of gas at the pump?

MR. DEESE:  So as you know and as all of you know, the President, as part of his all-of-the-above energy strategy, has said we need to be doing everything that we can to try to increase domestic production, reduce our dependence on imported oil, and protect consumers.  He’s also said there is no single, silver bullet.  And so I’m not going to speculate about this provision or any other provision and the specific impact that it would have on prices at the pump. 

But what I would say is that at a time when you’ve seen trading activity increase by 30 percent, when you’ve seen prices increase and you’ve seen uncertainty in these markets increase, that is the most important time to be doing everything you can to have cops on the beat in those markets, have the tools and resources that regulators need to make sure that there isn’t manipulative activity going on.

Q:  So what’s causing the increase in the price at the pump?  Is it instability in the Middle East, or is it market manipulation?

MR. DEESE:  Well, to start, the price at the pump is obviously set by the price of oil, and that is a global commodity; it’s traded on global markets.  And the price is affected by a variety of factors.  You’ve heard the President talk about this on several occasions, and obviously instability in the Middle East as well as growth projections across the globe are affecting global oil markets all the time.

I think the most important thing about this proposal and, frankly, about the administration’s consistent commitment here is that particularly when you have moments where prices increase and trading activity increases, it’s critically important to give consumers and the market confidence that those activities -- that those price changes are not being driven by illegal, manipulative behavior; that we can assure that we have a regulatory regime in place that actually can identify those instances of manipulation and can effectively deter them so that we can give consumers confidence of that.

So the core thrust of the proposals today is really designed at that.  And part of -- when you put additional cops on the beat, part of the goal is to send a signal to those who might take advantage of a time of particular volatility in markets.  And when you increase penalties, part of the goal is to deter the type of activity that you're hoping won't occur.

Q:  My final question -- so do you have any evidence of market manipulation?  And is there currently not an avenue within the U.S. government to prosecute people who are engaged in market manipulation?

MR. DEESE:  Sure.  So on the first, there's a component of the first question that is really an enforcement question, and obviously the Department of Justice, the CFTC may be in a better position to answer questions about specific enforcement actions. I would say that if you look over the past year, the CFTC has opened cases against potential energy firms for potential manipulation.  The FTC has an open investigation into potential anti-competitive behavior by oil refiners.  And so we are actively, as an administration, deploying the tools at our disposal to try to identify those instances.

But to your second point, about whether we have the capacity within the government -- we are much better positioned today to address these issues than we were before the President took office because we've closed some of these loopholes; we've brought trading out of the shadows.  But the truth is that at a moment when our regulatory agencies are already being asked to take on substantial responsibilities in implementing Wall Street reform, when you've seen the recent increases in trading activity and volatility, they need more resources in order to do an effective job on behalf of the American people.

So the increase in resources to put these additional personnel on oversight and enforcement, the increased resources for technology are really aimed at making sure that we, as a federal government, have those tools and have those resources to do the best job we can.

Q:  Following up on Norah's last question, Brian, a few times you've mentioned illegal activities.  It was a year ago that the President asked for the Department of Justice and CFTC to formalize this task force.  At the time, Holder said if illegal conduct is responsible, federal and state authorities should take swift action.  A commissioner at CFTC said we need to use the tools Congress gave us to stop excessive speculation; we need to do it now.  I've called both places.  I have not heard back from the CFTC.  Justice cannot point us to any action that has been taken to date against any specific illegal actor.  This entire move by the White House today is premised on the assumption that there is illegal action.  So what concrete evidence can you point to, to suggest that this isn’t just optics?

MR. DEESE:  So I would say a couple of things.  The first, again, if you know -- as I just stated earlier, in 2011, the CFTC filed a civil complaint against several oil companies for potential manipulative activity.  Likewise, the FTC has an open investigation into anti-competitive behavior.  But I think that there is a broader issue at stake here, which is that we know that when markets are not adequately overseen, and when there is increased trading volume and increased uncertainty, then that creates opportunities for illegal activity.  And I think that we -- we believe quite strongly that the right approach is to be aggressive about making sure that at this moment that we find ourselves in, we’re doing everything that we can to be responsible and to deter that type of activity.

And I think there was a lot of questioning in the year 2000 about whether there was anything untoward going on in energy markets, and, of course, we know in retrospect with Enron that there was a lot of manipulation, a lot of illegal activity.  Some of this is obviously difficult to track.  A lot of it requires very specialized skills and very specialized technology.  That's why we’re trying to stay as aggressive as we can here.

And to your point about last year, I just want to reinforce, this has been a consistent effort on behalf of this administration.  This is not something that we’ve come to recently.  In fact, the President on the campaign in 2008 raised these issues about inadequate oversight in our energy market.  When he came into Congress -- I mean, sorry, when he came into the presidency, he did something about it.  The CFTC closed a set of these loopholes.  Wall Street reform took important steps in this direction.  Last year we mobilized federal enforcement agencies to work with state attorneys general to try to make sure that we were coordinated as much as possible within the federal government.

And today we’re asking for additional authorities precisely because we find ourselves at a moment when our regulators are overburdened, and we have additional volatility and additional activity in these markets.  And so we think that this is absolutely justified, and it’s the right thing to do.  And I would say having more -- I guess I would put the question back, which is at a moment when we are wanting to have an all-of-the-above strategy, when we know we have increased trading activity and increased volatility in these markets, isn’t it the right step to have more cops on the beat and have technology so that our regulators are at least operating on the same playing field that the traders they're trying to oversee are?

Q:  Given that oil is a commodity that's traded globally, and a lot of that trading actually happens outside of the United States -- in London, Geneva, other places -- did the administration engage with authorities overseas to try to tackle this issue on a bigger scale, on a coordinated scale?

MR. DEESE:  I'm glad you ask that question because, obviously, oil is traded on different exchanges and through different clearinghouses.  And without getting too technical, obviously the CFTC has oversight over oil that trades in the United States, which is WTI and that's in the United States.  The Brent, which is the other benchmark that's often followed, is traded in London. 

And so this was one of these issues -- again, in terms of us being focused on this issue for some time now -- one of the issues that the President identified in the campaign in 2008 was that we had what was then referred to as the London loophole, which U.S. energy traders trading U.S. energy commodities were able to evade oversight by the CFTC by sort of doing an end run and trading on international exchanges, particularly in London.

And so one of the things that this -- that the CFTC has been working quite consistently on is building a relationship with regulators in the UK and in other European countries to have a framework that stops that, that closes that loophole and makes sure that an individual trader, be they abroad or in the United States, can't just evade oversight by going around to another exchange.

We feel like we've made a lot of progress on that front, and that's one of the pieces where we really have made this market more secure.  But there's more to be done.

MR. CARNEY:  April.

Q:  Can you discuss a simple question -- the punishment for violators, whoever violates what you're putting in place?

MR. DEESE:  So let me just talk through the specifics of the increased penalties that we're talking about in this case.  First, on the civil side, today the civil penalty structure is the greater of either $1 million per violation or the gross benefit to the violator -- so how much the person who manipulated the market benefited themselves.  We would change that in a couple of ways.  One, we would change the million dollars to $10 million.  So it would be the greater of $10 million, or two other steps. 

The second would be to say that not only should it be the gain that the individual who manipulated the market derived, but it should be three times the loss that the other victims in the market were stuck with.  And so obviously that's important because if you're in a market that trades as a broad commodity and you manipulate a portion of the market, but that affects prices overall, there is the potential that the impact to the victims is more extreme than the benefit that you yourself derived.  So that's change number two.

And change number three is that rather than apply those two penalties on a per-violation basis, we would impose them per day of violation -- again, to provide a stronger deterrent, because the alternative allows people to make trades for a small window of a few days knowing that if they do get caught they'll only be penalized on a per-violation basis.

Q:  So a follow-up -- so the $10 million would not just be $10 million, it could be $20 million, $30 million, $40 million if you go upwards each time?

MR. DEESE:  Per day of the violation, yes.  So if you violate -- if you were found to have been actively engaged in manipulation for a number of days, then the penalty would increase accordingly.

MR. CARNEY:  Mara.

Q:  The President talks about this a lot, whether it's manipulation or oil prices or energy exploration, and I'm just wondering if you think there's a danger that as people see him talking about this a lot but they also see the price at the pump not changing and continuing to go up, if they will think he's ineffective?

MR. DEESE:  Well, since I am the economic policy guy, I will leave the sort of question of the political perceptions of the President aside.  But on the substance of it, I think that it is incredibly important that the American public understand and trust that this President is doing two things.  First, he's being honest with them about the realities and the challenges that we have.  And I think what you've heard -- all of those moments that you point to when the President has spoken to these issues, I'd be willing to bet that in almost every one of them you've heard the President say there is no silver bullet.

Q:  Oh, yes, but I wonder if people are hearing that part.

MR. DEESE:  Well, look, I personally think it's important that the President is being honest and continuing to reinforce that message. 

The second is that I think it's very important that you have a President and an administration that is committed to a pragmatic approach of doing every responsible thing that we can do as part of an all-of-the-above strategy.  And so when you think about what the President is announcing today, not only do we not come new to this particular issue, as I've explained over the trajectory of what we've done, but we don't come new to this issue of what's happening in energy markets. 

And as you say, the President is out there talking about how he is going to streamline regulations to try to get a pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf Coast.  He's out there talking about increasing permits for drilling on federal land to reinforce that if we're going to, as a country, address this strategy -- I mean, address this challenge, then we really do need to be willing to accept that it's a tough challenge and deploy an all-of-the-above strategy.

And I think that you are seeing that we are making some progress.  The numbers about domestic production, the numbers about the share of oil coming from imports -- those are real, tangible progress.  And so I think we just need to stay at it.

MR. CARNEY:  Alexis.

Q:  Brian, I have three quick questions.  Can you walk us through the $52 million?  Can you talk about how that was pulled together -- how much would go to personnel and how much would go separately to the IT?  Where did you derive that number?  Do you absolutely need Congress's approval to get that $52 million?  And then, secondly, there's so much focus on what the SEC needs in terms of manpower and oversight.  Is the administration also separately, separate from the commodity of oil, interested in seeing SEC get more funding for another version of oversight of the market?

MR. DEESE:  So first on the $52 million, it's, again, like I said, a supplemental request in FY 2012 for $52 million.  About half of it would go toward increased personnel, and about half to -- it's $25 million to personnel and $27 million to the IT.

With respect to the SEC, which is obviously -- the SEC doesn't oversee oil futures markets.  But I think you -- some of you were here for when the President signed the JOBS Act just a while back -- one of the things that he reinforced in those sets of remarks was the importance, as we move forward with taking steps to make it easier for firms to access capital and grow and to go public, that we need to make a commitment to adequately fund the SEC so that it can provide the important oversight and enforcement function that it provides in the securities markets. So it’s a separate issue but it’s certainly a priority.

And this is one point where I would point to an important contrast.  If you look at the President’s budget, it reflects his priorities, and if you look at his requests -- this is obviously an immediate request for FY12 -- but if you look at the FY13 request for both the SEC and the CFTC and beyond, there is a dramatic difference here between what the President is calling for and what the House Republican budget has put forward and what the House Republicans have now passed.

And if you take the cuts in domestic discretionary spending in that budget that they voted for, you apply them to the CFTC, what you’re doing is dramatically reducing this agency’s capacity to regulate energy markets and other important markets.  And a 19-percent nominal cut by 2014, which is what is in the House Republican budget, would mean cutting five times more than the entire budget that the CFTC now spends on enforcement and oversight in these markets.  That’s a dramatic difference in terms of the role that we see these enforcement agencies playing in oil futures markets and in securities markets as well.

MR. CARNEY:  Two more.  Kate.

Q:  Following on Jessica’s question, any expectation that Congress is actually going to take this up?

MR. DEESE:  Well, I certainly -- we certainly hope that they will take a serious look at it.  I think we’re already seeing a number of statements of support; obviously, most of those are coming from the Democratic side.  But I think that there is every reason why they should.  And I think it’s a question that we’ll be asking obviously, and it’s an important question, which is, why should we not be taking these steps?  Why should we not be putting more cops on the beat, stepping up their game in terms of the IT that they use?  These are basic questions, and we hope that we’ll be able to make some progress.

Q:  But they likely won’t take it up, so it does appear to be optics in a campaign year, making this push.

MR. DEESE:  Look, I think that -- I thought Secretary Geithner said it well this weekend when he said, just because Republicans oppose an issue doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.  And I think that the substance of what the President has laid out today is sound.  It builds on a clear commitment to increasing oversight in energy markets.  And I would certainly hope that in a moment like this where we have acute concern about energy prices and what’s happening in oil futures markets that Congress would be willing to take a serious look at this issue.

MR. CARNEY:  Last one.  Yes.

Q:  Is there any movement within here to go after increased position limits?  And also is there any talk of doing anything to like limit the role of financial speculation in the markets?

MR. DEESE:  So on the first issue and just so everybody else understands, position limits, which I mentioned at the beginning, set a hard limit on the overall share of a market that any individual trader can hold.  Prior to Wall Street reform you had a very unsound situation where, while position limits were in place in a lot of commodities markets, the CFTC did not have authority to set position limits in oil futures markets -- futures, options and swaps. 

Wall Street reform took a major step forward in providing the authority to do that.  The CFTC finalized its position limits rule for futures and options in October of 2011, and the SEC and CFTC are working on a set of related rules that will make those effective in those markets.  So that needs to play itself out, but Wall Street reform did take an important step on position limits.

With respect to financial speculation, the piece that we haven’t talked much about here, but on margin requirements is important because the CFTC right now does not have the authority to set specific margin requirements or to do so in response to excessive speculation in the market.  What this would say is -- this would give them that authority.  This would say that the CFTC, as and if it determined that it was necessary to address the problems associated with excessive speculation, could raise margin requirements and set them specifically in markets.

Q:  But would it limit the ability of people who are not the end-users to be able to work in oil sectors?  That is -- it sets a limit like 70 percent has to be end-users, 30 percent can be speculators?

MR. DEESE:  Right.

Q:  Does it do anything towards that end?  That seems to be where a lot of people suggest the big problem lies.

MR. DEESE:  So I think that the way that the President’s proposal approaches that issue is by strengthening position limits and margin requirements together, which have the impact of, one, limiting the share of a market that any individual trader can take.  So if you are a non-end user, you will -- when those position limits go into effect, you will not be able to hold a larger share than 10 percent of the first thousand contracts in oil futures markets and 2.5 percent of the market after that.  So there will be serious and strict limits on the share of the market that you can hold, and that will apply to non-end users. 

And at the same time, the margin requirements play a sort of coordinating role by saying, as and if you see speculation increase to levels where it’s concerning to the CFTC, they could come in and set margin requirements which say to traders who are non-end users that you have the post additional margin, you have to put additional cash behind your trade.  But that’s the way that we address that issue.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you, Brian. 

Thank you, all, very much for your questions to Brian.  I am here and can take questions on any subject you like.

Q:  Jay, on the incident in Colombia involving the Secret Service and some members of the U.S. military, the President said over the weekend that if the allegations were confirmed he would be angry.  But does the President feel that if these allegations are confirmed that the director of the Secret Service, Director Sullivan, should step down?

MR. CARNEY:  Two things.  One, the President has confidence in the director of the Secret Service.  Director Sullivan acted quickly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation as we speak into the matter.  Beyond that, I’m not going to, as the President did not, speculate about conclusions that the investigation might reach, since it is ongoing.

Q:  Has the President spoken at all with Director Sullivan or General Dempsey about this?  Is he getting updates on that case at all?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he’s certainly getting updated on the incident and the fact that there is an investigation.  He’s not being updated on the process itself or day-by-day information gleamed in the investigation.  I don’t know that he has spoken directly to the director or the chairman, but I can check into that for you.  But he is updated by staff here.

Q:  General Dempsey said that they felt like they let the boss down.  Does the President personally feel like he’s been let down here?

MR. CARNEY:  The President made clear in his public comments to those of you who were with us in Cartagena, that he believes that all of us who travel abroad represent our country and the people of the United States, and that we need to behave with the utmost -- the highest levels of integrity and probity.  That’s a general statement of the President’s perspective on this kind of matter.  If, in fact, it turns out that some of the reported allegations are true, he will be angry about that, as he said. 

Q:  Just a quick one on Afghanistan.  President Karzai said that in the long-term partnership that they’re negotiating, that the U.S. should specify how much money they’ll provide to the Afghan forces in the future.  Is that a commitment that the U.S. can make?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are in the process of working with the Afghan government on the framework of our long-term partnership. The specifics of that are under discussion, and I don’t have an answer to that specific question about how assistance to the Afghan security forces might continue into the future.  But as the President made clear in the wake of the Lisbon NATO meeting, we will have a longer-term commitment to Afghanistan, even as we have transferred security lead over to Afghan forces.

Norah.

Q:  Why does the President have confidence in the Secret Service director?

MR. CARNEY:  As I just said, in answer to the question from the Associated Press, the President has confidence in Director Sullivan.  The director acted swiftly in response to this incident and is overseeing an investigation that obviously needs to be conducted.

The Secret Service performs admirably in its number-one mission, which is to protect the President of the United States, to protect the family of the President, to protect those who travel with him or her.  That has been the case for this President’s predecessors and their families.  And the President, as he said in Cartagena, feels very strongly that the work the Secret Service does, the men and women who protect him and his family, and those of us who work with him, is exemplary as a rule. And they put their lives on the line, and it’s a very, very difficult job.  And he acknowledges that and appreciates it.

This incident obviously needs to be investigated.  It is being investigated.  We will see what the investigation reveals. We are not going to speculate about conclusions it might reach.  The President spoke about this I think quite clearly in response to questions from the press just the other day in Cartagena.

Q:  Is the President convinced that this is not part of a broader cultural problem?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, there is an investigation ongoing that we should let take its course before we speculate about its conclusions.  The President is confident that that investigation is underway, and he looks forward to its conclusions, and then we will know.  I’m sure there might be further comment on it after that.  But as of now, there’s not a lot to be gained in speculating about what might be concluded, what of the reports that we’ve seen turns out to be true.  The President simply, as he said, wants it investigated.

Q:  Was there any moment when the President or perhaps his Chief of Staff asked the Secret Service whether there are specific rules governing activities of Secret Service agents and uniformed officers when they are off duty?

MR. CARNEY:  I do not have for you readouts of specific conversations that the President or the Chief of Staff may have had with regard to this matter, so I think questions like that are best directed to the Secret Service.

Q:  And is it alarming to find out that at least 20 to 21 women, prostitutes, were brought into a hotel where the presidential press corps and Secret Service agents were staying?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, on the specifics of this incident, the matters that are being investigated, I will defer comment until the investigation is complete, and I will refer you until that time to the Secret Service.

Thanks.  Yes, Jessica, then Kristen.

Q:  Has the President put a timeframe on how long this investigation should go?  Has he asked for it to be quick before he intervenes or --

MR. CARNEY:  He has not.  Obviously, our interest in general is in both thoroughness and efficiency.  But I don't have a specific timeframe for you.  I would refer you to the Secret Service.

Q:  Based on the nature of the information that we have heard and has been confirmed so far, does the President believe that at no point was his safety or the safety of his staff ever in peril?

MR. CARNEY:  As I believe has been stated, the Secret Service, which was responsible for the President’s safety, has said that his safety was never compromised by this incident.  The director, the agency acted very quickly to replace those members of the Secret Service who are being looked at with regard to this incident very quickly, prior the President’s arrival in Colombia. But for more questions about the nature of the protection of the President, I would have to refer you to the Secret Service.

Yes, Kristen.

Q:  Jay, thanks.  This isn’t the first time this Secret Service has come under criticism.  In 2009, there were questions raised after the reality TV couple, the Salahis were allowed into that state dinner.  Shouldn’t there at least be a very serious review of the way in which the agency is being led given these two incidents?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Kristen, I would simply say that we are only a couple of days into the investigation of this specific incident.  I think it’s best to wait for that investigation to be concluded before we address other issues that might arise as a result of that investigation -- or might not.  So I think we’ll we will allow that investigation to take its course before we speculate about what its conclusions may -- what kinds of actions its conclusions might precipitate.

Q:  When you think about the recent resignation of the GSA Administrator, and now this, is the President concerned that taken together there might be an erosion of public faith in the government?

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that everyone who serves the American people by working for this government needs to hold themselves to the highest standards of public service.  And there’s no point in comparing the singular incidents of one agency to another, but that principle is one he made clear during the campaign that he would bring to the office.  It is a principle that he clearly set forth early on his presidency both in the words that he spoke and the actions that he took, and it is a principle, as I think was made clear in the wake of the GSA incident, that he believes should be enforced.

Beyond that, again, that's a general principle and the general perspective the President has with regard to public service and matters like this.  But on specific investigations, specific cases, I want to make it clear that we need to wait for those investigations to be completed.

Q:  But has the President expressed any concern about this, that the public might start to lose faith?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had that specific discussion with him.  I think that he is waiting for this investigation to be completed.  And we’re not going to speculate again beyond that.

Yes, Kevin.

Q:  Jay, Democrats are creating -- or protesting, rather, some comments that Ted Nugent, of course, the musician and Romney supporter, made a comment over the weekend at the NRA convention, said the administration was “vile and evil.”  Do you have any reaction to that?  And where do you draw the line, as we head into this campaign, for accountability of what supporters of the candidates may or may not say?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has said, and I and others have said, that we can't be policing the statements of supporters across the board.  The President is focused on the issues.  The President is focused on doing everything he can specifically with regards to helping the economy grow and helping the economy create jobs.

He looks forward to an important debate that will take place as the general election is engaged.  There are very stark differences -- there is no question -- between his vision for America’s future, in particular its economic future, and the vision put forward by the Republicans, embodied in the Republican budget that we’ve discussed quite a bit in this room.

I think those are the issues that will be evaluated by the American people in November when this election is held.  I think a lot of this other stuff is noise, and I think most Americans are pretty sophisticated consumers of the news, especially as we get closer to the elections, and pretty sophisticated evaluators of the men and women who put themselves forward to be President.

Q:  So does the President believe, as the Democrats are saying, that the Romney campaign should disavow these statements?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t seen the comments that you’re referring to by others.  The President is focused on doing his job.  He has made the point that we can't as a general rule police the statements of every supporter.  I think best to just abide by the kind of standards of behavior and rhetoric yourself, as he said I think standing here in a press conference with you all on one occasion, and stick to making the case for your vision, and doing everything you can constructively and substantively both with Congress and administratively to help the economy grow and to help it continue to create jobs as we recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Wendell and then Chris.

Q:  The steps the President announced today, are they intended to have a measureable impact on the price of oil, or to make sure that a few people don't make a quick buck by gaming the system?

MR. CARNEY:  I think Brian was asked this question and answered it pretty thoroughly.  He was asked specifically that question about the price, and I think that what the President has said, what Brian says, is that we are approaching this matter in an all-of-the-above way.  And the President had made clear that there is no silver bullet, there is no pixie dust, there are no magic beans that will -- or a 3-point plan that will reduce the price of gas at the pump.

Q:  But that's not the question I’m asking you.  Overall, including the actions taken prior to this, are they going to have an impact on the price of oil?  Or are they just a policing mechanism?

MR. CARNEY:  What Brian said is that he would not speculate because there are so many things that go into setting the price of oil on a global -- on the markets when you have a commodity like oil, which is traded globally.  So it is hard to know what the impact will be of the specific measures you take.  And of course, in this case -- in this case, Wendell, we obviously have to see what kind of actions is taken specifically with regard to potential manipulation or potential speculation.  So it would be pure speculation.

What is also the case is at a time -- as Brian said, at a time of demonstrated volatility in the market, very high prices in the market, the opportunity is there for this kind of illegal activity, and it would be the wrong thing to do not to take this action.

I think the question that has to be asked of members of Congress is, why are you against putting more cops on the beat?  Why are you opposed to ensuring that the agencies involved here that regulate this market have the tools they need and the manpower they need to make sure that American consumers are not getting ripped off?  I think most Americans would support that idea.  And if there is a lack of support in some quarters on Capitol Hill, those who do not support it would probably have to explain it.

Q:  Another question.  Did the President watch the shuttle when it flew over?

MR. CARNEY:  You know, I meant to ask him that when I was with him earlier, and I did not, so I don't know.  Sorry.

Q:  Okay.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Chris.

Q:  Jay, do you have some clarification on something a White House spokesperson said yesterday about that -- and the executive order against LGBT discrimination.  Last week you said that you weren’t going to be issuing that executive order at this time, but a spokesperson said yesterday you haven’t taken any options off the table.  Does this represent a change in the White House position from last week?  I mean --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't know about the comment that you’re referring to.  What I can tell you is that our position hasn’t changed since we started talking about this last week, that at this time we’re not -- we believe that the right approach is to build support for passage of ENDA legislation.  And that I think an example of why this approach can be most effective is the way that we approached repeal of "don’t ask, don't tell."  So I don't -- there is no change.  I don't know about the anonymous quote that you're citing, or necessarily that it contradicts -- I'm sorry?

Q:  So it wasn't an anonymous quote.  It was from (inaudible) -- it was on the record.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  Well, then, I don't necessarily -- that's not how it was presented to me, Chris.  So you just said a White House --

Q:  A spokesperson from the White House.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  I don't believe that it represents -- what I just heard you say does not represent anything different from what I've said in the past, which is that at this time we're not pursuing an executive order.  I'm not going to speculate about executive orders that may or may not be pursued in the future.  What I'm saying is right now we're not. 

We discussed this pretty thoroughly last week.  And the focus is on building the kind of support for and coalition behind passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that we hope would lead to the kind of legislative action that would be especially effective in this case.

Q:  A number of LGBT advocates have expressed displeasure with the news from last week, and yesterday the National Council of La Raza called on the President to revisit the decision.  Has the administration misjudged the patience of its supporters by not doing this executive order?

MR. CARNEY:  Chris, I would simply say that the President believes that in this case, the right approach is to try to build support for ENDA.  I think that a good example, again, is to look at the approach that was taken by this administration in dealing with his commitment to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," and working with Congress and working with the Pentagon to ensure that that came to pass.  There was criticism at the time that we weren't taking the right approach.  In the end, I think, it has been shown to have been the right approach and an effective approach in both building support and ensuring that it's -- in its implementation within the military, that because of the actions that we're taking and the approach that was taken, that the implementation itself has been extremely effective and smooth.

Q:  Jay, if I could follow up on this.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me move around a little bit on different issues.

Mark.

Q:  Yes, Jay, Syrian forces are again shelling Homs, other rebel-held areas.  Isn't it back to square one there?  Is there a continued point of the administration supporting an Annan mission that even with observers in there you're still getting this kind of violence?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are extremely concerned by the continued violence in those two areas that you talked about -- Homs and Daraa region I believe.  And I think we have said clearly, and I'll say again today, that the Syrian regime has yet to abide by all the points of the Kofi Annan plan.  We support the advance team of the U.N. monitoring mission that is now in Syria, and we're not going to prejudge the outcome of the process.  But we're keeping a close eye on the activities of the Syrian regime, and we're making clear where it is falling short of its commitments.

And even as this process moves forward, we're continuing to support the opposition with non-lethal assistance.  We are continuing to work with our allies and partners to increase the pressure on the Assad regime, and continuing, obviously as I am today, to make clear that the Kofi Annan plan needs to be abided by in full.

Q:  But doesn’t there come a point in which continuing to pursue this just helps the regime?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, this advance team has just arrived.  I think what is happening in Syria is quite clear.  What has happened and who the responsible party is for the terrible violence there is quite clear.  We need to give a chance to the Kofi Annan plan to see if it can work, to see if it will be abided by.  And we will not let up as that takes place, and all the other actions that we’re taking to pressure the Assad regime, to isolate it and to provide assistance to the opposition.  But you have seen a series of actions taken here around the Kofi Annan plan -- the cease-fire, the withdrawal -- that process needs to play itself out before we judge it a success or a failure.

Q:  Has the administration gone any further in talks with allies about releasing oil from the Strategy Petroleum Reserve?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any conversations to report to you on that.  I think as a general matter I’ve said, in reaction to specific reports, that we of course do discuss the global oil market and its volatility and the prices we see on it with our international partners and oil-producing states.  But I have no new information for you on that.

Q:  So there is a sense that that could actually do something about prices at the pump, right, so why not --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ve made clear that we don’t rule out that action or others that we could potentially take, even as we make clear and the President makes clear that there is no single action that can magically drop the price at the pump that is causing a burden for American families. 

We need to do everything we can to deal with the immediate impact that this is having.  That was one of the reasons why it was so important to extend the payroll tax cut so that American families have that extra money to deal with the high price of gasoline at the pump.  It is why we need to take the actions that the President is calling on Congress to take today.  And it’s why we will continue to examine other options.  It is also why, in recognition of the fact that this is not a momentary problem, we need to pursue an all-of-the-above energy policy.  We need to continue to increase domestic oil and gas production, as the President insists we must. 

And as we have under his administration, we need to continue to invest in clean energy, biofuels, and other kinds of renewables that will further reduce our dependence on foreign oil and enhance our national security.  And we need to do things like -- as we did recently, sign into law the next -- or pass the next permit for the first nuclear power plant in 30 years.  So that’s the approach the President is taking.

Connie.

Q:  Thank you.  Do you have any comment on the exorbitant amount of money spent to help Leon Panetta commute from here to California?

MR. CARNEY:  I think Secretary Panetta addressed this, and I would refer you to his comments, since he talked about it just not that long ago.

Q:  Any plans to change the situation?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think I would refer that to Secretary Panetta.  The issue here has to do with the fact that the Defense Secretary needs to travel in a certain way to allow for the kind of communications that are necessary.  But I would refer you to him and to his comments.

Q:  What about the (inaudible) to negotiate that with him ahead of the --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have anything to add to what the Secretary said on that today.

Q:  That’s what the DOD officials have told me -- that the President was aware of this commuting negotiation or deal before he accepted the position. 

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no deal here.  The Secretary has addressed this matter.  He, I think, spoke about it and his desire to try to find a way to, if there is, to reduce the cost. But I don’t have anything else to add to it.

Jared.

Q:  Does the President support the idea of putting the government taxpayer-funded conferences in tourist destinations, especially since that was a position advocated by the former Chief of Staff and the Senate Majority Leader, like the GSA conference?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has made clear his outrage upon hearing about the matter that you just raised with regard to the conference that the GSA held.  The President believes very strongly that we need to be careful stewards of taxpayer dollars.  And he has taken actions to ensure that we reduce expenses and we reduce the amount of money spent on conferences, specifically, for example.  And I think I ran through the details of this last week. 

So I think his position on this is very clear, both on the specific GSA matter and on the principle in general, in terms of how taxpayer money ought to be very carefully conserved and wisely used.

Alexis.

Q:  And the President -- he’s got the event tonight, this afternoon, rather, with Tony Stewart.  What’s his level of engagement with NASCAR?  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  The President looks very much forward to the event.  And I think that this event highlights something that this President instituted, which is to raise awareness about the efforts that sports teams and sport stars are engaged in to help communities, and not just pay attention to their successes in competition, but the efforts they make to help communities around the country.

Q:  Is he a fan?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure. 

Alexis.

Q:  The President is visiting his second home in Ohio tomorrow -- in Cleveland.  What’s he going to be doing there?  What’s he going to talk about?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t know how much we’ve provided on that.  I’m sure if we haven’t, we will soon.  But the President will continue to make, broadly, the case for taking the kind of action we need to take to grow the economy and ensure that more Americans are getting back to work.  That is his principal objective, it is his principal focus, and I am sure that the event in Ohio tomorrow will focus broadly on that.  But we’ll get more details to you.

Olivier.

Q:  Jay, I saw the comment that -- the President’s comments about the Falklands and the renewed dispute between Argentina and Britain, and I’m wondering whether now that Argentina is moving to nationalize a Spanish energy firm, what the White House’s take is on what’s going on in the Southern Hemisphere and, specifically, whether the White House is okay with the Argentine move against -- or move on --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President addressed this as a potential -- I don’t have an update for you now that the story has moved a little bit.  I think when you say what’s the President’s view on the Southern Hemisphere, I think he --

Q:  No, specifically on what’s going on with Argentina.  That seems to be two fights that they’re picking with allies of the United States.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President addressed this in Cartagena on Sunday.  I don’t have anything to add to it.  I can take the question for a specific reaction to that announcement by the Argentinians.

Ken.

Q:  Today on the Senate floor, Senator Rand Paul was talking about the need to discontinue U.S. aid to Egypt, in regard to Egypt’s treatment of U.S. civilians there.  And also he talked about discontinuing U.S. work with Interpol.  What’s the stand on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven’t heard those comments.  I would simply say that it is very important for us to engage with Egypt. It has a tremendously significant role in the region.  And we have made clear that our position is treaties need to be honored; human rights and democracy needs to be observed; that the principles that embodied the revolution in that country need to be honored.  But beyond that, I did not hear the Senator’s comments, but I think that would be our general response.

Thank you all very much.

END               2:06 P.M. EDT