At the beginning of Tuesday's briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that President Obama will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference on Sunday March 4th in Washington D.C. The next day, Obama is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
For much of the rest of the briefing, Carney was asked to respond to comments made on television and on the campaign trail.
Early Tuesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe", Rev. Franklin Graham questioned the president's commitment to Christianity, saying he "can't say categorically" that the president is not a Muslim.
"Under Islamic law, Sharia law, Islam sees him as a son of Islam," Graham said. "Because his father was a Muslim. Grandfather was a Muslim. That's just the way it works. That's the way they see it. He says he didn't grow up that way and he believes in Jesus Christ. So the Muslim world, Islam sees him as a son of Islam."
Graham also said "Islam has had a pass under Obama," and the president "seems more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries."
Carney was asked specifically about Graham's comments but passed on the opportunity to take the issue up directly:
I did meet with the president this morning for about 45 minutes and amazingly he didn’t bring this up because he was actually talking about policy issues that he believes are the most important things he can do and he can focus on as president. And that they are the most important things for the vast majority of the American people who are concerned about paying the rent or the mortgage, sending their kids to school, making ends meet. You heard him speak earlier today at the payroll tax cut extension event where he firmly believes that getting an extra forty dollars in every pay check is of vastly greater significance to most Americans than someone’s opinion expressed on cable television about his personal faith which again he has spoken about explicitly as recently as a few weeks ago at the national prayer service.
Earlier Carney was asked about other criticisms of the president's faith made last week by GOP candidate Rick Santorum, and he was a bit more expansive in his response:
I would simply point you and others to statements the president made at the National Prayer Breakfast not long ago where he spoke very explicitly about his own Christian faith, and then I would say that this president is focused on doing thinks that he believes the American people elected him to do, which is work with Congress or independently to take every measure and every action he can to grow the economy and create jobs. To protect the middle class, to help this country recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. You guys can decide and your editors and your bookers what's a story and what's not. This president's focused on his job as president, getting this country moving in the right direction, ensuring the recovery which is underway continues forward, that we continue the positive economic growth that we've had, that we continue the 23 straight months of private sector job growth that we've had – over 3.7 million jobs created – private sector jobs created in the last 23 months. Those are issues that the president is focused on. Those are the issues that the president believes the American people are focused on, and want their representatives in Washington and those who represent them in the White House to focus on.
Reporters also asked Carney about another hot topic of political debate – gas prices. He reiterated that domestic oil production has increased every year of Obama's presidency, and he pointed to "millions of new acres" opened for oil and gas exploration over the last three years as evidence that the administration was seriously addressing the issue.
There are no magic solutions to rising oil prices and the pain that Americans feel at the pump. This is – the fact is that the president is very aware of the impact that the global price of oil has on families and this is not something that this administration discovered or rediscovers every spring as some politicians do. As you're aware, Jake, oil production in the United States has increased every year that this president has been in office.
On Syria and recent calls from GOP senators for the U.S. to arm the opposition movement there, Carney said that the U.S. continues to push for a "political solution."
We don't want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path. But we don't rule out additional measures that – working with our international partners – that the international community might take if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken to ensure that Assad steps aside, to ensure that a peaceful democratic transition can take place in Syria. So I'm not ruling out potential future actions, but there is an opportunity that still exists we believe for a peaceful transition to occur in Syria and we don't want to contribute to the further militarization there.