Carney’s Countdown: Healthcare.gov Roll-Out Worst Days

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney waves at the end of his last White House briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney waves at the end of his last White House briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

“I’ve got 36 more hours with this baby.”

Jay Carney was talking about his government-issued BlackBerry in one of the last public comments before he forfeits his title as press secretary to President Barack Obama at the close of business tomorrow.

Carney, a former White House correspondent for Time magazine, said he enjoyed his three and one-half years as the public face of the Obama administration, sparring with reporters, even when press briefings were testy and sometimes “frustrating.”

“There’s a tendency to assume that politics and political considerations drive every decision,” Carney said. “And I’m here to tell you that’s definitely not the case. I’m here to tell you, as somebody on the communications political side, it would have been a lot more convenient had it been the case, in some ways. But it’s just not. And that’s I think for the country a good thing.”

He recalled the absolute worst time, among hundreds of briefings: Last autumns when the administration botched the roll-out of Healthcare.gov, the online portal to “Obamacare,” the president’s signature health-care program for the uninsured.

The “pretty awful roll-out” was “completely of our doing,” Carney said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “It was a sustained bad-news story for some time.”

Carney leaves at a time when the economy is gaining strength ever so slowly, confidence in Obama’s foreign policy is falling and a stew of foreign policy problems brews in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ukraine and a half dozen other places.

‘‘I’m going to miss him a lot,” Obama said in announcing Carney’s resignation on May 30.

“Jay has become one of my closest friends, and is a great press secretary and a great advisor. He’s got good judgment. He has a good temperament. And he’s got a good heart.”

In the last day of answering questions from reporters, Carney, 49, who earned $172,200 a year, made these observations:

–Before taking the job as spokesman for the president, he had several practice sessions with former press Secretary Robert Gibbs. One of the worst things you can do is “lose your composure” on television.

–Access to the president is critical to the job. He said attending policy meetings allowed him to describe Obama’s position “because you develop an ear” for how and what the president is thinking.

–He said he never lied to the press. A press secretary succeeds “only if you tell the truth.” When confronted with a sensitive question, he said, he just didn’t answer the question.

As spokesman, he said,  “I didn’t feel like I had a straitjacket on me when I took this job.”

–On talk that Carney, a former correspondent in Moscow, might be nominated ambassador to Russia, he said there were ’’some people’’ who gave it some thought. But it was “not something I ever expressed an interest in.” Furthermore, “More importantly, my wife’s not interested.”

Carney leaves the reins to Josh Earnest, 39, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who joined Obama’s presidential campaign in March 2007 as his Iowa communications director. He’s considered well-liked by the White House press corps and is known in part for his narration of a weekly YouTube video on White House events.

In early June, a reporter spotted Carney leaving work at about 6:30 p.m., early by administration standards.

He made no apologies. “What are they going to do? Fire me?”

 

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