ABC Reporter Grills Jay Carney During Tense Exchange Over Military Death Benefits

Promising a restoration of military death benefits sometime Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney could not answer repeated questions about when President Barack Obama knew that death benefits would not be available in the midst of the partial government shutdown.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney briefs reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. Carney opened with remarks on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki’s testimony on Capitol Hill regarding veterans benefits and the partial government shutdown. Credit: AP

ABC’s Jonathan Karl pressed Carney, asking him, “Was there literally nothing that [Obama] could do to ensure these families are taken care of?”

Carney became defensive and quickly blamed Republicans.

“One, the Republicans shut the government down. None of this would be an issue if the government weren’t shut down,” Carney said. “Two, the Department of Defense, as every agency did, warned Congress of the myriad of consequences of shutdown. This is one of those consequences and unfortunately it was not explicitly addressed in the Pay Our Military Act. I’m not assigning blame for that, but it wasn’t. The president learned this had not been addressed.”

The Pay Our Military Act was passed by both Houses of Congress before the shutdown and signed by the president to maintain timely pay to members of the Armed Forces.

“He directed the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and his lawyers to find a solution and they are working on that and we expect one today,” Carney said. “So I don’t think there is any disagreement that this is a matter that needs to be resolved, that it’s unthinkable that these benefits would not be available. And therefore, he’s doing the right thing as Commander in Chief and making sure its resolved.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted the administration for withholding the death benefits and said the Pay Our Military Act authorized the Pentagon to continue death payments in the midst of a partial shutdown, the Associated Press reported. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to restore benefits, but Senate action is unlikely since the Senate has thus far blocked any legislation that did not reopen every agency of the government.

Carney became very testy with Ed Henry of Fox News who pressed him on when Obama first became aware.

After first dodging, Carney said, “I don’t know specifically. I can tell you when he learned these benefits were not explicitly dealt with in the Pay Our Military Act, he was very disturbed and he asked the OMB and his lawyers to take action.”

The partial shutdown went into effect on Oct. 1 because of a stalemate over funding Obamacare, only services and employees deemed “non-essential” were closed, leaving more than 80 percent of the government running.