WASHINGTON -- White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday defended the Obama administration's decision to skip the first Senate hearing on drones and engaged in a testy exchange with a reporter on transparency.
The administration declined an opportunity to provide a witness to testify at a hearing held Tuesday before a Senate subcommittee on the use of unmanned drones for targeted killings. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat and head of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, criticized the White House for failing to participate and called for greater transparency.
When asked to explain the absence of administration officials at the hearing, Carney read from a prepared statement, noting the administration is in "regular contact" with the committee and will continue to ensure that counterterrorism efforts are made more transparent to the American people.
The White House spokesman then grew defensive when Sirius XM White House correspondent Jared Rizzi pressed him further on how not putting witnesses in a public forum aligns with recent pledges from Obama for increased transparency.
"The fact is that this administration, beginning with the president and including some of the most senior national security principals, have been enormously transparent about our counterterrorism effort, and that process, as promised by the president, will continue," Carney said.
"It is not specific to one committee hearing. It is specific to a broad array of actions that the president and the administration have taken," he continued. "A broad array of communications -- some of them unprecedented -- that the administration has engaged in with members of Congress who have an interest in this issue, and it will be consistent with actions that we take in the future to provide even more information both to the Congress and the public."
Rizzi countered Carney's response by pointing to Durbin's statement of disappointment and suggesting that clearly the administration's transparency on the issue of drones wasn't enough.
Carney essentially repeated himself, once again citing "unprecedented levels [of communications] thus far from the highest levels of government" and arguing that providing more information was not limited to one hearing.
When Rizzi began to ask when that information would be made public, Carney cut him off with a terse, "I don't have any updates for you," and moved on to another question.
During his State of the Union address earlier this year, the president promised his administration would be more forthcoming about its targeted killing program.
"We must enlist our values in the fight," Obama said. "In the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world."