IT IS a grueling job. Jay Carney on Friday announced he was stepping down. President Obama made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, giving Carney a full presidential hug to mark the occasion.
Jay Carney is not loved by the White House press corps. Once a fellow journalist, he has not been particularly friendly or open, receiving criticisms from every quarter of the elite media world.
If you listen to Julie Mason‘s show the “Press Pool” on Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, you’ll get a representative view of how many view Carney. Her show on Friday was particularly interesting if you like the fly on the wall aspect of political conversations, which I do. Mason’s top notch and her show is must listen to in order to understand the establishment political media.
The show that precedes her, “Politics Powered by Twitter,” is one of my favorite Sirius XM shows.
Excerpts of the Friday briefing are below, with the topic of lunch between President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton a particular sore point with the White House press corps, who has a major beef with White House access, including the photojournalists who cover POTUS. It’s been a sticking point with the press since Obama took office.
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
THE PRESIDENT: Hello. You haven’t seen me enough today. One of Jay’s favorite lines is, “I have no personnel announcements at this time.” But I do. And it’s bittersweet. It involves one of my closest friends here in Washington.
In April, Jay came to me in the Oval Office and said he was thinking about moving on — and I was not thrilled, to say the least. But Jay has had to wrestle with this decision for quite some time. He has been on my team since day one — for two years with the Vice President, and for the past three and a half years as my Press Secretary. And it has obviously placed a strain on Claire, his wife, and his two wonderful kids, Hugo and Della. Della’s little league team, by the way, I had a chance to see the other day, and she’s a fine pitcher. But he wasn’t seeing enough of the games.
Jay was a reporter for 21 years before coming to the White House, including a stint as Moscow Bureau Chief for Time Magazine during the collapse of the Soviet Empire. So he comes to this place with a reporter’s perspective. That’s why, believe it or not, I actually think he will miss hanging out with all of you, including the guys in the front row. (Laughter.)
Q Third row. Third row. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But Jay has become one of my closest friends, and is a great Press Secretary and a great advisor. He’s got good judgment. He has a good temperament. And he’s got a good heart. And I’m going to miss him a lot. I will continue to rely on him as a friend and advisor after he leaves to spend as much of the summer as he can with his kids before he decides what’s next for him. Whatever it is, I know he’s going to be outstanding at it.
Of course, that meant I had to make a decision, which is who succeeds Jay. And we’ve got enormous talent around here, but I’ve decided that we’re going to put in this slot somebody who is also a friend and advisor. So today, the flak jacket is officially passed to a new generation — Mr. Josh Earnest. (Applause.)
Josh is a coach’s son from Kansas City. He still roots for the Royals, I guess. (Laughter.) As you know, his name describes his demeanor — Josh is an earnest guy, and you can’t find just a nicer individual even outside of Washington.
The country, of course, knows him for his golden voice and dulcet tones on West Wing Week, the biggest viral Internet hit since “Between Two Ferns.” (Laughter.)
But Josh and I have an incredible history going all the way back to the Iowa caucuses. Josh was my Iowa communications director. And even when he was in that role, you’d find him spending an extra hour or two helping young staffers make phone calls or knock on doors. There was no task that was too small, no detail too unimportant for Josh to attend to.
At the White House, he’s been a mentor to many of the young people here who I know are thrilled for him today. He is of sound judgment and great temperament. He is honest and full of integrity. And I’m sure you will at some point get frustrated with him as well — (laughter) — but it’s going to be hard, because he’s a straight shooter and a great guy.
So my request is that, be nice to Jay on his farewell tour, and be nice to Josh during his initiation, which I’m sure will last maybe two days — or perhaps two questions. (Laughter.)
So we’re going to let him hang around a little bit to milk it for all it’s worth. (Laughter.)
All right? Thank you, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, sir.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, sir.
MR. CARNEY: Any questions? (Laughter.)
Q Where do we start?
Q What is the timeline, Jay? Do you have a sense?
MR. CARNEY: We haven’t got a date set. Part of his penance or initiation will be that Josh will go to Europe in my stead — thank you, sir — which will allow me a little time here when the boss is gone. But I’m looking at mid-June, second or third week, around then.
Q What are you going to do? Are you going to join any bands or anything? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I might manage my son’s band, which is on the verge of taking off. But I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’ve managed, over the past months, to have some conversations about what my future might look like, and I’m excited by some of the possibilities. But I’m sure you guys will be among the first to know once I’ve decided what I’m going to do.
I will — before — I’m happy to talk about myself, of course — (laughter) — but this is not my last briefing, and I will probably have a few more polished things to say at some point before I go. But off the cuff, I obviously just want to thank the President, the Vice President, First Lady and Dr. Biden, the Chiefs of Staff I have had the privilege to work with, including Denis McDonough, and everyone here.
But there will be another time for more of that. But it’s been an amazing experience, just so fulfilling. And I said, as we surprised some folks in here in the minutes before I came out, that probably the best part about it is that in mid-life, you don’t often make a whole new set of friends — and not just friends, but people you would fight by and for under any circumstance — and that’s certainly what I have been lucky enough to get over these past five and a half years.
So it’s been a privilege, and it continues to be a privilege. And every day in here with you has been a privilege.
Q Every day? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: People, more often than not, say to me, you have the hardest job, or you have one of the hardest jobs. And I’m not saying it’s easy every day, but I love it. It’s an important interaction that takes place here. It’s not always pretty; it could certainly be better. But to be a part of it is an honor and a joy for me. And no matter how tough the briefing is, I walk out of here having been glad to stand here.
So with that, again, like I said, I’ll take more questions and talk about me, but I can also take questions on other subjects if you so desire.
Q Can you dispel the Moscow ambassador rumors?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I can assure you that my family, having won me back, would not be happy with that outcome. So I am not —
Q No job in government?
MR. CARNEY: — I would not anticipate that.
Anybody else? April? Yes, ma’am.
Q Jay, since you’ve been here at the White House in various capacities, and in this business, broadcasting business in various capacities, what have you, gone through your stint being here in these seats that used to look another way, and then over there, and then over here in the administrative capacity — what have you learned? And what could you tell us to be able to better work with you as we continue our job as you would?
MR. CARNEY: April, I don’t think I want to have everybody sit here and hear me opine on this subject at length now. But I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other both in this room and elsewhere over the next couple of week, and beyond. And I’ll have a few things to say about how I view this job and the interaction that takes place in here and just around this building and this town. Hopefully, some of the things I say will resonate somewhere.
But I don’t think today is the day. I think today I want to just focus on how pleased I am that Josh is going to succeed me, and how very honored I feel still to have had this job.
Q First of all, congratulations.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you.
Q One other topic and that is yesterday, the President met with Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, and a potential presidential nominee. And as you know there are people in this room who would have preferred to see that on his schedule, and to learn something about that instead of afterward. Since you are leaving, and Josh is going to be able to do things his way — thank God — (laughter) — I want to know what is your thought about the President having either meetings or lunches that way, and not that kind of high-level —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s — look, I think it’s a valid question. Specifically to this case, this was a lunch, honestly, between friends that arose pretty late in the process here. It wasn’t something planned very far in advance. And that explains partly why it wasn’t on his public schedule.
But as a broader matter, I get the interest, but it simply can’t be the case that a President can’t have a lunch or a meeting that’s not on his public schedule just because the fact of it might be of interest.
I had a spirited email exchange with a reporter about this, and the focus was the reason why this one should have been reported is because Secretary Clinton, according to you guys and the polls that you read, is potentially or currently the leading contender to be the next President. Well, is that the criteria for newsworthy? Or how do you set that standard? And I think the standard has to be — the standard has to be we endeavor — and I would compare our public schedule to our predecessor’s — we endeavor to put as much as we can, as much as we feel it appropriate of the President’s schedule out publicly. But not every meeting and not every lunch is going to be on that schedule.
And again, this was a kind of a specific circumstance on how it came together and the lateness of the lunch, and it reflects the fact that this is somebody the President worked very closely with for four years and who he’s very close to. It was an informal lunch. It wasn’t like an official thing, it was just lunch. So there’s that.
But I’m not dismissive of the idea that it would be of interest to you, but I think that it’s also the case that there is a sort of — you can reduce this all the way to infinity and simply say that everything the President does and everything should be transparent and public. And I think that sounds great as an ideal, but it also would render a President incapable of functioning effectively.
Q But if he promised to do that, about the transparency of the White House —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and I think there is no question that this White House is more transparent with more information provided, more about the visitors who come to this White House, more on the public schedule than any of its predecessors.
What he didn’t say is that every meeting he had and every phone call he made would be publicly previewed, because a President couldn’t effectively function that way, which — again, I think we’re having this discussion around something that was just a friendly, informal lunch. And the interest is driven in part by Washington’s not just quadrennial but constant focus on the one thing that matters most, which is the next presidential election.
Q Just to follow up, you’re suggesting that you are heeding his interests, not her interests?
MR. CARNEY: We put out the schedule, so —
Q By keeping it off the public schedule, you’re saying it was with his interests in mind?
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying there wasn’t a lot of — I’m not going to get into the internal discussions.
Q Well, if there wasn’t a lot of thought placed on decision, that doesn’t really square with the idea that it was missing from the schedule. So then you’re saying your fallback is you leave stuff off the schedule all the time. That’s what you’re saying. We leave stuff — like a lunch with the former Secretary of State off the schedule.
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that not every meeting the President has or every phone call he has is on the public schedule. It has never been the case, and I promise that — I promise that there will never be a President who is able to do that because it wouldn’t — it wouldn’t be what allowed him or her to be effective in his or her job. So, again —
Q A quick follow. You’re not saying — you’re not saying why she was off the schedule. She was on the schedule when she had a lunch last year.
MR. CARNEY: And I’m saying that this was —
Q This year —
MR. CARNEY: This was something that arose like — Presidents — it’s hard, but they can have like a last-minute decision to have lunch with somebody just like you and me, and that was part of the reason behind it. I’m sure you guys will read more into it than that.
Q You let us know about the Shinseki meeting just an hour before —
MR. CARNEY: Mark, I get it. I’m just saying — like I don’t have — short of going back in time and putting it on the schedule so you guys could get super excited about it, I can’t — I can’t rectify what you seem to want rectified.
What I can address is the broader issue of the public schedule, the need for any President — it was certainly true in the past and will, I submit, be true in the future to have some meetings and lunches that are private. That is not to say that this one had to be or needed to be. Again, it came late. It was a late — an item added very late in the process to his schedule. But I’m just making the broader point.
Q Jay, can you make up for it —
Q But one follow-up. Can you make it up to us by telling us what was said at the meeting? (Laughter.) Was it — did they discuss politics? Did she give him a copy of the book?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a readout of the meeting for you, Mark. And I wouldn’t have had one even it were on the public schedule.
Q Congratulations, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, sir.
Q And at the risk of wasting our waning moments with you — (laughter) — I was wondering if we could ask Josh actually maybe to pop up and just say a couple things.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q About I don’t know —
Q Speech, speech.
MR. EARNEST: Well. (Laughter.) It’s an interesting time to be speechless, isn’t it?
Well, let me just say that I’ve had the honor on a dozen or so occasions to speak at this podium before. And on each of those occasions, it has never been lost on me what a genuine honor it is to stand before you.
Some of that honor is derived from the fact that it is an opportunity to represent the President of the United States, and not just any President, but this President, one that I believe so strongly in and one who is pressing an agenda for the country that I think is important and beneficial for this country.
The other thing that’s on my mind this morning is how grateful I am for the opportunity to work with my colleagues here at the White House, for whom I have so much respect and affection. A lot of that has to do with the gentleman to my left, who I have learned so much from and whom I respect for the way that he does his job, but also the way that he lives his life and carries himself. And there’s a lot there that I aspire to.
The last thing I’ll say is something that you all have heard me say before from here and in private conversations I’ve had with each of you, which is that each of you has a critically important job — to describe to the American public what it is the President is doing and why he’s doing it. And that job in this disaggregated media world has never been more difficult, but I would argue that it has never been more important. And I am grateful and excited and relish the opportunity to spend the next couple of years working with you as you work to do that very important work.
Q Some questions?
MR. EARNEST: I will welcome any Royals’ questions from this podium at any time.
Q First of all, do you expect us to believe that? No. (Laughter.) Two things — one, you talked about working on the President’s agenda. How difficult will it be for his final two, two and a half years in office, taking on this herculean task of fixing a VA system that you acknowledge is broken, on top of immigration reform and everything else he wants to get done?
MR. EARNEST: Since the very first day that the President put his hand on the Lincoln bible on the steps of the west front of the United States Capitol, this President has been dealing with very difficult challenges. When he took office, we were on the precipice of an economic cataclysm that is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Because of the President’s political courage, and because of many of the policies that he put in place, we have made tremendous progress to come back from those rather dire economic times.
That’s just one example of the many challenges that the President has faced. The challenges that are posed by the reforms that need to be put in place at the VA are also very significant. You’ve heard — as somebody pointed out earlier — preserving our covenant with America’s veterans is something that the President has talked about for a long time, since before he was President. And that continues to be a priority for him. And despite the difficulty of that challenge, I’m confident that he will address it head on. And there is very important and difficult work ahead.
But the President is not fazed by it, and he’s in no way intimidated by it. He has faced down other similarly difficult challenges. And we’re going to make some progress on this one, too.
Q To follow on something Chuck was asking before about the government and problems filtering out, the President at that podium this morning said that Secretary Shinseki was deeply disappointed that bad news did not get to him. What about the President? Is he deeply disappointed that that bad news at the VA, the bad news at HHS, IRS, different agencies did not get to him? Why was he out of the loop? And is that something you’re going to fix?
MR. EARNEST: Well, needless to say, the President — there’s no doubt that the President wished that he had a better sense of exactly what the depths of the problems at the Veterans Administration were. I think in some ways that goes without saying, because if he had, we would have had a better chance to fix them sooner. But suffice to say that this is a problem that the President will tackle head on.
And among the number of challenges that the President had to face, certainly the rollout of healthcare.gov was among them, too. And that, again, is a pretty good example of the effectiveness of the President’s leadership when it comes to confronting crises like this. And he’ll use those skills at the VA, as well.
Q Good luck to you, Jay. And I don’t know if it’s been noted, but Tangi, this is his last briefing, I understand. So good luck to him.
MR. EARNEST: It is. Tangi, thanks for being here on your last day.
Q I don’t want to steal his thunder. (Laughter.)
Q We’ve broken an hour.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we’ve broken — I think our AP guys — you guys will have Josh for two and a half years.
Q We’ll just let Christi do one.
MR. CARNEY: We’ll let Christi do one.
Q Three years is a long time to be press secretary, right?
MR. EARNEST: He’s done it for more than three.
MR. CARNEY: Three and a half.
Q Three and a half. And, Josh, do you — has Jay been looking to move on for a while? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Not as far as I can tell.
Q Well, then can you speak to the timing of today’s announcement?
MR. EARNEST: This is Jay’s announcement.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s our announcement. But the President I think mentioned that I went to him in April and said that time had come for me and my family, for me to end my service here. And I deeply appreciated his reaction. But I started this adventure through a bit of serendipity in what I figured would be a couple of years of service to the Vice President as communications director to him. Then I was surprised and incredibly honored to be asked by the President to be his second press secretary. And that was nearly three and a half years ago.
So I know some of you in this room have kids probably roughly my children’s age. And what you realize is even though I have been aggressive about spending as much time as I can with them, it’s not enough. And they’re never the age they are today again. So it’s not to say I’m going to be, like, not working, but you know these jobs put a certain amount of strain on everybody’s family — everybody’s family. And mine have been — my kids and my wife have been extraordinarily supportive and patient and I just feel blessed to have been able to do this for as long as I have.
So the timing of this announcement I think was driven by the timetable I started in April, and then, by what I told the President, which was I was hoping to spend the summer with my kids. And then I really wanted to get out of the Europe trip. (Laughter.)
Q Not to pry, but you did tease us just now. I mean, what was the President’s reaction?
MR. CARNEY: He spoke for himself today, and I appreciate it.
Q And do you have another job lined up?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing to announce today.
Q Does the White House have a copy of the Hillary book?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Does the White House have a copy of the Hillary Clinton book? Because the White House was caught off guard by Secretary Gates’ book last year.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have one. I look forward to reading it.
See you, guys. Thank you.