White House press secretary Jay Carney says he never lied to the press corps during his three and a half years as the top presidential spokesman.
“Honestly, it's not because I’m a paragon of virtue, it’s because that would be a terrible way to do the job,” Carney told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
The press secretary admitted that he sometimes could not or did not want to answer questions posed by reporters.
“What you do when you can’t say is you don’t,” Carney said. “You take the question or you explain what you can.”
Carney will leave his post as press secretary on Friday. His deputy, Josh Earnest, is slated to take over his position.
Opponents of the administration have accused the longtime press secretary of occasionally playing fast and loose with the truth. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blasted him last summer as a “paid liar” for his explanation of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups.
“The administration is still, their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he’s still making up things about what happened and calling this local rogue,” Issa told CNN.
Other Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), defended Carney during the flap.
“Let's not make it personal. Jay Carney is not the issue here. He's the spokesman for the White House,” Graham told Fox News Radio at the time.
Carney, who was once a reporter for Time magazine, hasn’t made a decision yet on his future, though there have been reports that he’s been offered a position at CNN.
Carney said Thursday there were internal discussions in the White House about his taking the job as U.S. ambassador to Russia.
But Carney said he never spoke to President Obama about the possibility, and that he was “lobbying against” consideration for the job.
Carney also suggested that his successors should think about reforming the way the press secretary interacts with the White House press cops. He said he found off-camera gaggles with reporters to be “just as substantive and a lot less theatrical” than the daily, on camera-briefings.
“What I think would be a good idea, and this would not be universally welcomed, is to alternate between off-camera gaggles and on-camera briefings. It's very hard to do both,” Carney said.
The outgoing press secretary also suggested future holders of his job could offer the daily briefing off-camera, with time set aside for on-camera interviews to satisfy the demands of the broadcast networks.
Carney said the “pretty awful rollout” of ObamaCare was his most difficult challenge as White House spokesman.
“It was obviously the signature legislative accomplishment of the president and we had really not gotten it right, and I think that made everybody feel from him on down a great deal of responsibility,” Carney said.
Carney said the ObamaCare issue was particularly challenging because it “was completely of our doing, completely our responsibility.”
Moreover, he said, the disastrous rollout dominated headlines and media attention for months.
“In contrast to a lot of these issues that sort of burn brightly and then burn out, this was a sustained bad news story for some time,” Carney said.
There were concerns within the White House of “what we could do if we couldn’t fix it,” and of the political ramifications of the botched rollout, Carney said.
He added that the White House was “indebted to the team that went in” and fixed the problems.
According to Real Clear Politics’s average of presidential approval polls, the percentage of Americans who approved of the president fell from 46 to 40 percent over the first two months of the ObamaCare rollout. Obama’s disapproval numbers rose from 51 percent to 56 percent.
Carney did say the depths of the ObamaCare problems meant that when problems with the federal exchanges were fixed, it “became one of the best moments” of his tenure.
In total, some 8.1 million Americans selected health insurance plans through the federal exchanges, beating initial estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.