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Obama, Cameron Hold Press Conference

Aired May 13, 2013 - 11:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. If you are joining us, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are expected to take questions in the White House any minute now. We are on pins and needles, waiting on them to come out.

And we are having a conversation with Gloria Borger and Jessica Yellin, talking about the questions on the mind of the person American reporters in the room, at least, about the IRS and their treatment of conservative and Tea Party groups, and the White House response to attacks in Benghazi.

Gloria, let's talk about this IRS scandal.


TAPPER: Obviously, nobody supports going after groups based on their political ideology. But the issue here on one level is -- I don't want to use the word abuse, that would be editorial -- but the idea of whether or not these groups have a special place in the tax code because they're supposed to promote general social welfare, whether or not too many political groups with agendas are taking advantage of that, not just conservative groups, but liberal groups everywhere.

BORGER: I think that's a legitimate question, which is a side issue.


BORGER: So the question is, do these groups on both sides of the aisle, do they deserve this kind of special tax status? And I think that's something that Congress will investigate, should investigate, has been pushed to investigate at certain points, and will, and maybe this will now inspire them to do so. That, however, is separate from whether the question of whether these people at the IRS were violating the law and were targeting groups, which we don't do, and harassing groups, which we do not 20, because of their political affiliation in some vague way, I.E., you know, Googling Tea Party or conservative or, you know, whatever the words were. The problem for the IRS here and, quite frankly, the problem for the administration is that the IRS has no friends on either side of the aisle. Who is going to stand up there and defend the IRS?

TAPPER: In fact, speaking of having no friends, Dana Bash, chief correspondent on Capitol Hill.



TAPPER: Not that you don't have friends. But you are certainly somewhere -- if the IRS had a friend, with 535 members of Congress, hopefully, one of them would be standing up to the IRS. But I suspect your inbox has not been inundated with the IRS did the right thing e- mails, in fact, quite the opposite. We are now starting to hear Democrats, too, criticizing the IRS for its actions targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

BASH: That's exactly right. What we have seen with Benghazi is mostly a Republican investigation by a Republican-led house. This just -- Gloria's point about the fact that the IRS is not the most popular organization anywhere, but especially here with members of Congress kind of falling all over themselves to show their constituents that they're listening. The Democrats who run the Senate are already saying they will investigate.

One thing that as we were talking, I was reminded by a Republican source that part of what we are going to see -- I know this is not going to shock you. This is going to quickly end up with some partisan ship here, because what we are going to see is Republicans reminding us that Democrats, back in 2010, when we know based on the timeline, they were beginning to look at tease groups by targeting them internally at the IRS, back about that same time, Chairman Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, called on the IRS to be more aggressive and to make sure these Tea Party groups were doing what they say they were doing, meaning, not so much working for the benefit of politics, but doing more nonprofit work, which is what they were signing up for. That, of course, goes to the whole heart of this. So there are some questions about it. In fact, Republicans have said to me, this is exactly what the Democrats wanted the IRS to be doing. Democrats say, no, we wanted them to make sure, not target them based on political groups.

This is something that, if you go back to 2010 and to the explosion of Tea Party groups, Democrats were really worried that there was group after group after group popping up. They were asking for tax exempt status and were involved politically. Those kinds of historical facts are already being put out by Republican, even as Democrats say we'll investigate this, too.

TAPPER: If you are just tuning in, we are awaiting President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron to come to the East Room and take questions from reporters. We're expecting them in just a few minutes. We will take a quick break. When we come back, we expect the president to come out to the East Room and take questions from reporters.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN. We are expecting President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron to come out into the East Room of the White House and to take reporters' questions. We expect one question from an American and one question for a British reporter because these questions are being doled out so parsimoniously. We expect many reporters will probably be asking multi-parted questions.

Gloria Borger is here with me.

Multi-parted is the word I used there.


Multi-part questions, I should say. We are expecting specifically, even though David Cameron and President Obama are talking about Syria and the world crisis, the pending meeting of the G-8 super powers in Northern Ireland coming up, we expect that American reporters will be focused on the IRS scandal and Benghazi.

BORGER: Yes. And I think the White House probably wants to talk about the IRS scandal because while Jay Carney said something about it, the president, personally, has not expressed his outrage at it. And I think this is sort of easy political thing for him to do. The person in charge, don't forget, of the IRS at the time that this occurred was a George Bush appointee, and the president, you know, is not going to get any flack for criticizing the IRS in terms of this. And so Benghazi, in many ways, is something that he's probably more reluctant to talk about. But the IRS is something he'll probably want to jump on. I presume Cameron will be asked about Syria and whether he believes we've crossed the red line.

TAPPER: We are told we're we a minute, 45 minutes away from President Obama and David Cameron coming out to take questions from reporters.

Jessica Yellin, if you are still, there and you're still able to talk to us, talk briefly about the relationship with President Obama and David Cameron. Certainly not as Reagan-Thatcher or Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, but they have enjoyed a decent partnership.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They have. They are both young men, young leaders. The two have worked together on a number of issues, the plans for draw down in Afghanistan, as you well know, Jake, also figuring out how to engage on Syria, not necessarily to either man's satisfaction, but they are frequently in contact. And they're both sort of -- they have similar personalities. They like to -- they're intellectuals who like to sort of be cool and make jokes and sort of act like a normal, young, kind of young leader, if that makes sense.

I am told that in this meeting, they did talk about Syria. Last week, the U.S. and Russia talked about getting together and getting Assad and representatives from Assad's government and the opposition together for some kind of discussions. That is something that is important to Cameron. Cameron does care enormously and has the better relationship with Putin and so could try to negotiate that as well. And he is also posting, I should point out, the upcoming G-8 summit. Cameron is hosting that in Northern Ireland in about a month. The president will be visiting Cameron in a month, so that was up for discussion as well -- Jake?

TAPPER: Thank you, Jessica Yellin. Gloria, in the few remaining seconds we have, one of the things that's interesting is the debate about austerity vs. other ways of trying to help the economy. And David Cameron's government in the U.K. has been criticized for cutting too much, for cutting too much spending and, thus, hurting the global recovery.

BORGER: And that mirrors the debate here. And also Republicans understand and have come to understand that a platform of austerity is not enough to get them into the presidency, but it's, clearly a huge part of what they stand for. And we're heading into a summer now of debates about just how austere we ought to be, and raising the debt ceiling.

TAPPER: And here they come, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Let's take a listen. They're going to give questions and then they'll take questions from reporters.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. Please have a seat.

And to all our moms out there, I hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day.

It's always a pleasure to welcome my friend and partner, Prime Minister David Cameron. Michelle and I have wonderful memories from when David and Samantha visited us last year. There was a lot of attention about how I took David to March Madness. We went to Ohio and a year later we had to confess David still does not understand basketball. I still do not understand cricket.

As we've said before, the great alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom is rooted in shared interests and shared values, and it's indispensable to global security and prosperity. But as we have seen again recently, it's also a partnership of the heart. Here in the United States, we joined our British friends in mourning the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a great champion of freedom and liberty and of the alliance that we carry on today. And after the bombings in Boston, we Americans were grateful for the support from friends from around the world, particularly those across the Atlantic. At the London Marathon, runners paused in a moment of silence and dedicated the race to Boston. And David will be visiting Boston to pay tribute to the victims and first responders.

So, David, I want to thank you and the British people for reminding us that in good times and in bad, our two people stand as one.

David is here, first and foremost, as he prepares for the host the G-8 next month. I appreciate him updating me on the agenda as it takes shape. And we discussed how the summit will be another opportunity to sustain the global economic recovery with a focus on growth and creating jobs for our people. Michelle and I are looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland, and I know the summit is going to be a great success under David's fine leadership. We discussed the importance of moving ahead with the E.U. towards negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Our extensive trade with the U.K. is central to our broader transatlantic economic relationship, which supports more than 13 million jobs. And I want to thank David for his strong support for building on those ties. And I look forward to launching negotiations with the E.U. in the coming months. I believe we have a real opportunity to cut tariffs, open markets, create jobs and make all of our economies even more competitive.

With regard to global security, we reviewed progress in Afghanistan where our troops continue to serve with extraordinary courage alongside each other. And I want to commend David for his efforts to encourage greater dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is critical to regional security. As planned, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the country soon, this spring. U.S., British and coalition forces will move into a support role. Our troops will continue to come home and the war will end by the end of next year, even as we work with our Afghan partners to make sure that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorists who would attack our nations.

Given our shared commitment to Middle East peace, I updated David on Secretary Kerry's efforts with Israelis and Palestinians and the importance of moving forward to negotiation, and we re-affirmed our support for democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, including the economic reforms that have to go along with political reforms.

Of course, we discussed -- we discussed Syria and the appalling violence being inflicted on the Syrian people. Together, we're going to continue our efforts to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to provide humanitarian aid to the long-suffering people, to strengthen the modern opposition, and to prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar Assad. That includes bringing together representatives of the regime and the opposition in Geneva in the coming weeks to agree on a transitional body, which would allow a transfer of power from Assad to this governing body. Meanwhile, we'll continue work to establish the facts around the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And those facts will help guide our next steps.

We discussed Iran, where we agreed to keep up the pressure on Tehran for its continued failure to abide by its nuclear obligations. The burden is on Iran to engage constructively with us and our P-5-plus- one partners in order to resolve the world's concerns about its nuclear program.

And finally today, we are re-affirming our commitment to global development. Specifically, we are encouraged by the ambitious reforms underway at the global fund to fight AIDS, T.B, and malaria, where both of our nations are stepping up our efforts. And David has made it clear that the G-8 summit will be another opportunity to make progress on nutrition and food security.

So, David, thank you very much, as always, for your leadership and your partnership as we prepare for our work in Northern Ireland, as we consider the challenges we face around the world. It's clear we face a demanding agenda. But if the history of our people shows anything, it is that we persevere. As one of those London runners said at the marathon, we're going to keep running and keep on doing this. That's the spirit and confidence and resolve that we will draw upon as we work together to meet these challenges.

David, thank you very much and welcome.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Barack, and thanks you for the warm welcome. It's great to be back here with you in the White House.

Thank you for what you said about Margaret Thatcher. It was a pleasure to welcome so many Americans to her remarkable funeral in the U.K.

I absolutely echo what you said about the appalling outrage in Boston. I look forward to going there to pay my tribute to the people of that remarkable city and their courage. And we will always stand with you in the fight against terrorism.

Thank you for the remarks about the cricket and the basketball. I haven't made much progress. I made a bit of progress on baseball and actually read a book about it this year. So maybe next time we will go to work on that one.

It's good to be back for the first time since the American people returned you to office. And, as you said, the relationship between Britain and the United States is a partnership without paramount. Day in, day out, across the world, our diplomats and intelligence agencies work together, our soldiers serve together, and our businesses trade with each other.

In Afghanistan, our armed forces are together defending the stability that will make us all safer. And in the global economic race, our businesses are doing more than $17 billion of trade across the Atlantic every month of every year. And in a changing world, our nations share a resolve to stand up for democracy, for enterprise, and for freedom.

We've discussed many issues today, as the president has said. Let me highlight three, the economy the G-8 and Syria. Our greatest challenge is to secure a sustainable, economic recovery. Each of us has to find right solutions at home. For all of us, it means dealing with deal, it means restoring stability, getting our economy growing, and together seizing new opportunities to grow our economies.

President Obama and I have both championed a free-trade deal between the European Union and the United States. And there is a real chance now to get the process launched in time for the G-8. So the next five weeks are crucial. To realize the huge benefits this deal could bring will take ambition and political will. That means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions. It's worth the effort. For Britain alone, an ambitious deal would be worth up to $10 billion pounds a year, boosting industries from car manufacturing to financial services. We discussed the G-8 summit in some detail. When we meet on the shores in Northern Ireland five weeks from today, I want us to agree ambitious action for economic growth. Open trade is at the open heart of this, but we have a broader agenda too, to make sure everyone shares in the benefits of this great openness, not just in our advanced economies, but in the developing world, too.

I'm unashamedly pro business politician. But as we open up our economies to get business growing, we need to make sure all companies pay their taxes properly and enable citizens to hold their governments and businesses to account. Today, we have agreed to tackle the scourge of tax evasion. We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid. We need a new mechanism to track where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes so we can stop those manipulating the system unfairly.

Finally, we discussed about the brutal conflicts in Syria. 80,000 dead, 5 million people forced from their homes. Syria's history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch. The world urgently needs to come together to bring the killing to an end. None of us have any interest in seeing more lives lost, in seeing chemical weapons used, or extremist violence spreading even further. So we welcome President Putin's agreement in to join an effort to achieve a political solution. The challenges remain formidable, but we have an urgent window of opportunity before the worst fears are realized. There's no more urgent international task than this. We need to get Syrians to the table to create a transitional government that can win the consent of all of the Syrian people.

But there will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught and put pressure on Assad so he knows there is no military victory. So we will also increase our efforts to support and shape the moderate opposition. Britain is pushing for more flexibility in the E.U. arms embargo and we will double non- lethal support to the Syrian opposition in the coming year. Armored vehicles, body armor and power generators are about to be shipped. We're helping local councils govern the areas that they liberate and we're supporting Lebanon and Jordan to deal with the influx of refugees. We'll also do more for those in desperate humanitarian need, care for trauma injuries, helping torture victims to recover, getting Syrian families drinking clean water, having access to food, to shelter.

There is now, I believe, common ground between the U.S., U.K., Russia and many others that, whatever our differences, we have the same aim, a stable, inclusive and peaceful Syria, free from the scourge of extremism. There is real political will behind this. We now need to get on to do everything we can to make it happen.

Barack, thank you once again for your warm welcome and for our talks today.

OBAMA: Thank you.

All right, we've got to for a couple of questions. We're going to start with Julie Pace.


I wanted to ask about the IRS and Benghazi. When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups? Do you feel that the IRS has betrayed the public's trust? And what do you think the repercussions for these actions should be?

And on Benghazi, newly public e-mails show the White House and State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged. Do you think the White House misled the public about its role in shaping the talking points? And do you stand by your administration's assertions that the talking points were not purposely changed to down play the prospects of terrorism?

And Prime Minister Cameron, on Syria, if the E.U. arms embargo that you mentioned is amended or lapses, is it your intention to send the Syrian opposition forces weapons? And are you encouraging President Obama to take the same step?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, let me take the IRS situation first. I learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday. And this is pretty straightforward. If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous. And there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable because the IRS, as an independent agency, requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they're applying it in a nonpartisan way, applying the laws in a nonpartisan way. And you should feel that way regardless of party.

I don't care whether you're a Democrat, Independent or a Republican. At some point, they're going to be Republican administrations. At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones. Either way, you don't want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate. So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about. The I.G. is conducting its investigation. And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely. But I can tell you that if you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous. It is contrary to our traditions. And people have to be held accountable and it's got to be fixed. So we'll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are. But I've got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it. And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

With respect to Benghazi, we've now seen this argument that's been made by some folks, primarily up on Capitol Hill, for months now. And I've just got to say -- here's what we know. Americans died in Benghazi. What we also know is clearly they were not in a position where they were adequately protected. The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism. And what I pledged to the American people was that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure we held accountable those who perpetrated this terrible crime. And that's exactly what we've been trying to do. And over the last several months, there was a review board, headed by two distinguished Americans, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering, who investigated every element of this. And what they discovered was some pretty harsh judgments in terms of how we had worked to protect consulates and embassies around the world. They gave us a whole series of recommendations. Those recommendations are being implemented as we speak.

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow. What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were. It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film, and nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.

And the e-mails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no "there" there.

Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing. And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows using these talking points, which had been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olson, up to capitol hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.

So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that, three days later, we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya. Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So the whole thing defies logic.

And the fact this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations. We've had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton's integrity, Susan Rice's integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering's integrity. It's a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks. They've used it for fundraising.

And, frankly, you know, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and council. But the fact of the matter is these four Americans, as I said right when it happened, were people I sent into the field. And I've been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths. And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations. And we don't have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington.