White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was repeatedly asked Thursday what he meant by saying President Obama would not “pay a ransom for Congress to do its job” while discussing the possibility of signing a short-term raising of the debt limit without a clean continuing resolution.
Carney’s metaphors frustrated National Public Radio correspondent Ari Shapiro and the rest of the press corps to the point that Shapiro asked him to clarify what he exactly was saying so they could report accurately.
Carney accused the reporters of taking things too literally, but he said at the end of the exchange that he would try to refrain from using the comparisons. President Obama has also used ostentatious rhetoric to criticize Republicans, referring to them as hostage-takers and blackmailers, in spite of his own claims he’s kept his language civil:
Q: My takeaway is that the president is open to signing the short-term raising of the debt limit even if he does not get from Congress an accompanying clean CR. Is that correct?
JAY CARNEY: Well, I’ll just try again. The president believes — the answer is yes, but he’s not paying a ransom for Congress to do its job, because the only people who get hurt are the — well, the American people get hurt when the Republicans shut the government down. The American people get hurt when those who believe default is not a problem are listened to and followed. So —
Q: Can I just take the “yes”? (Laughter.)
CARNEY: Peter. But here —
Q: We just need a definition of “ransom.”
CARNEY: The President of the United States has stood before you at this podium and answered this question.
Q: You’re saying you won’t negotiate. You’re saying you’ll sign a clean extension of the debt ceiling —
Q: — but he’s not going to negotiate on the other stuff until the shutdown is lifted.
CARNEY: The president —
CARNEY: Yes, the president will not pay a ransom for —
Q: “Pay a ransom” is a metaphor. You see it as a ransom —
MR. CARNEY: Because —
Q: — but it’s a metaphor that doesn’t serve our purpose of figuring out what’s actually going on.
Q: We just don’t want to — (inaudible) —
CARNEY: Well, you guys are just too literal then, right?
Q: We just want to accurately report what’s happening here —
CARNEY: (Inaudible) — the closing of the American mind and you know, a failure to appreciate metaphor and simile.
Q: Can you just break it down and —
Q: Really, we’re trying to be accurate in our description of what’s going on. We just want to make sure that we’re not — (inaudible) — (cross talk) —
CARNEY: You’re asking me a lot of questions based on a bill that does not exist and may never exist and doesn’t even reflect what the Speaker of the House and his colleagues discussed a couple of hours ago. So I think we ought to see whether they’re serious about, you know, putting the matches and the gasoline aside when it comes to threatening default. And if they’re serious, we’ll evaluate what they’ve moved forward on. What the president has been crystal clear about all along is that it is unacceptable to him that the Republican Party, driven by the Tea Party caucus, you know, try to extract ideological objectives in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling.
Q: So your position is that until then, you’ll continue to obfuscate it, huh? (Laughter).
Q: So the point is the framework’s in —
Q: You think we need to see whether they’re serious about putting the matches and the gasoline aside; you also said they want to keep a nuclear weapon in their back pocket. So is keeping the nuclear weapon in the back pocket the same as putting the matches and gasoline aside? (Laughter.)
CARNEY: Where are you going — (inaudible) —
Q: Or even better, when do we stop talking about matches and gasoline and nuclear weapons and start talking about what’s actually happening?
CARNEY: Well, I wish we knew and I think that there is nobody who has followed the machinations in the House Republican Conference for the last several weeks — and you might argue, for the last several years — who has any clear picture about what they’re going to do and when, and whether they’re going to do the right thing by the American people, which is open the government and raise the debt ceiling.
Q: OK, so to use your statements, do you see putting the gasoline and matches aside as consistent with keeping a nuclear weapon in the back pocket?
CARNEY: OK, let me explain those metaphors and I’ll — and I’ll, I’ll refrain from using them.