The Art of Denying Cabinet Rumors

White House press secretary Jay Carney talks to reporters during regular press briefings at the White House. White House press secretary Jay Carney talks to reporters during regular press briefings at the White House. Carolyn Kaster/AP

White House press secretary Jay Carney leaves Cabinet announcements to the man who actually makes the nominations: President Obama. Reporters know this, but it doesn’t stop them from asking about rumored candidates anyway.

Since Obama won reelection, White House reporters have pressed Carney for information about Obama's deliberations on candidates for the coveted jobs.  But the press secretary refuses to even give any hints. In fact, Carney, a former Time magazine correspondent, has elevated his efforts to dodge these questions to an art form.

“I have no personnel announcements to make,” Carney said Monday, after being asked when Labor and Commerce secretaries would be announced. That led to chuckles in the press-briefing room among reporters who were familiar with that response. 

Carney has often repeated the phrase, or a version of it, many times since Obama began making decisions about how to shape his second-term Cabinet after the November election. Here are a few highlights from his exchanges with reporters on the subject:

March 7

Reporter: "Jay, can you also comment on the reports that David O’Connor is the president’s top pick to be the director of the Secret Service?"

Carney: "Kristen, as you know, I just--I don’t comment on speculation about personnel announcements. I prefer to let the president make decisions about personnel and announce them himself."

Feb. 1

Carney: "Well, I think it's a good question, but I do not have a timetable to provide to you for further personnel announcements."

Jan. 31

Reporter: "The acting OMB director, Jeff Zients, had to actually give up the acting designation last year because of the time involved. Is the president going to appoint someone soon, nominate someone soon for OMB director?"

Carney: "I have no personnel announcements to make today. I wish I did." (Laughter)

Jan. 17

Reporter: "It’s been reported that the president’s White House lobbyist, Rob Nabors, is going to be elevated to be deputy chief of staff. So my question is, do lawmakers and staffers, are they going to learn soon who the contact person is for the legislative affairs if strategy is so important?"

Carney: "Let me take the end of your question first by saying that I have no personnel announcements to make." (Laughter)

Reporter: "It’s been widely reported that Denis McDonough will likely be announced as the president’s next chief of staff. Is that true--no, I’m just kidding. Not is that true. But I’m wondering, how sensitive is the president to what appearances might look like if his next personnel announcement is a white man, instead of a pick who might add more diversity to his staff or his Cabinet?"

Carney: "I think it’s impossible to answer that question since I have no information for you today that would allow you to deduce anything about what the next personnel announcement will be because I have none today, and I wouldn’t expect one today."

Jan. 15

Reporter: "Is Denis McDonough going to be the next White House chief of staff?"

Carney: "That’s an easy one. I have no personnel announcements to make (laughter) from the podium today. Thank-you all very much."

Reporter: "We’re just a few days away from the second term starting, and there are four Cabinet officials that have yet to announce their plans, including the secretaries of Energy and Interior and Transportation. When can we expect to know that? I mean, it seems we’re getting right up to the end here."

Carney: "I have no personnel announcements to make. I think you can expect, broadly speaking, the president to make announcements when he’s ready to make them with appropriate haste, but also with the appropriate amount of consideration. In other words: no answer." (Laughter)

Jan. 9

Carney: "Welcome. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Sorry we had to postpone the briefing. Very busy day. I have a very important personnel announcement to make. Actually, I’m just kidding. I’ll go right to the AP." (Laughter)

Reporter: "Jay, on that topic (laughter) it’s been widely reported that Jack Lew is the president’s choice to be the next Treasury secretary. I’m wondering if you could comment on those reports. And also, if that’s the case, what does Jack’s selection as Treasury secretary say about his economic priorities for the second term?"

Carney: "Let me say two things. First, I don’t make Cabinet-level personnel announcements; the president does. And I will not get ahead of the president. When he is ready to make an announcement about his next Treasury secretary, he will make that announcement."

Reporter: "So when you say that totality that there is going to be some other Cabinet appointments, it sounds like in the next, say, couple of months."

Carney: "Well, I have no personnel announcements."

Dec. 20

Reporter: "Senator Hagel has come under some fire recently with his positions on issues like Iran, Iraq, and other issues. Is the president still impressed with Senator Hagel’s record? Is he still the kind of person the president would want in a senior Cabinet position?"

Carney: "I have no announcements to make about personnel matters. I can simply say that Senator Hagel has been a remarkable servant to this country, a recipient of two Purple Hearts. He fought for this country and has served this country admirably in a number of capacities. Beyond that, I think I’ll let the president make any announcements about personnel when the time is right."

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