Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 8/6/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:57 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: I do have one quick announcement before I take your questions. The President just concluded a call with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain. They discussed economic conditions in the eurozone. And we will have a further readout later today of that call.
With that, I'll go to your questions. Associated Press.
Q Thank you. A couple things on Syria. I'm wondering if the U.S. has been able to independently confirm the defections of the Syrian prime minister and other government officials there. And also, if you could give me an assessment of what type of impact you think these defections are having on the Syrian government, because they obviously get a lot of attention and it's clear that there is some instability within the regime, but that doesn’t necessarily seem to translate into a lessening of the violence.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have no reason to doubt the reports about the defection of the prime minister or other members of the government. That the titular head of the Syrian government has rejected the ongoing slaughter being carried out at Assad's direction only reinforces that the Assad regime is crumbling from within and that the Syrian people believe that Assad's days are numbered.
To go to your question about the implications, as we've said repeatedly as we've seen more and more high-level defections, this is a sign that Assad's grip on power is loosening. If he cannot maintain cohesion within his own inner circle, it reflects on his inability to maintain any following among the Syrian people that isn't brought about at the point of a gun.
The momentum is with the opposition and with the Syrian people. It's clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and Assad cannot restore his control over the country because the Syrian people will not allow it. The quickest way to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people is for Assad to step aside to enable a peaceful political transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Syrian people.
Q What's the latest U.S. intelligence on where Assad is right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know I wouldn't talk about issues of intelligence. But we monitor the situation in Syria very closely. I have no specific information to give you about Assad. I can simply say that what we are seeing, as is evidenced by these latest reports, is increasing instability within his leadership and I think increasing desperation in his efforts to wage war against his own people.
Q On another topic, we had another horrific shooting, this one in Wisconsin. And after the Aurora shooting, the President said in his speech to the Urban League that he would talk to anybody, any party, about issues of gun violence and gun control. I'm wondering if there are any plans for him to actually do something about that, now that we've had a second shooting in a couple of weeks here.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say at the top that the President and the First Lady, as was noted yesterday, were deeply saddened to learn of this tragic shooting that took so many lives. The President made clear that his administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials responding to this event and to the investigation, which the FBI, as you know, is involved in. The President also made clear -- and this is important -- how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.
As you know, the President was notified shortly before 1:00 p.m. by his Homeland Security Advisor, John Brennan, yesterday. Later in the afternoon, the President convened a call with FBI Director Bob Mueller, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and Homeland Security Advisor Brennan to receive an update. Following that briefing, the President called the Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, and Trustee of the Sikh Temple Charanjeet Singh to express his condolences for the lives lost and his concern for those who were injured.
On the broader issue that you mentioned, I think what the President said is still the case. He believes that we have a broader issue with violence in America that needs to be addressed from a variety of angles, including efforts that this administration has undertaken to work with local communities to try to get children out of gangs, to get kids out of gangs, to get kids back in school, working with local law enforcement in their efforts to fight crime.
Incidents like this are horrific, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the Sikh community in Wisconsin. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that there is violence all the time in America and that we need to take concerted action to deal with it.
Q But no specific plans --
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing new to announce. I mean, he did very recently give those remarks at the Urban League and he'll continue to instruct his administration to take action towards common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, but make it harder and harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law to obtain them. Some progress has been made on those instructions with regards to our background check system. And the President will continue to press that, as well as pressing the variety of ways that this administration is assisting local communities in their efforts to combat violence.
Q Can I just follow?
Q Has the President, or will the President be speaking to Indian Prime Minister Singh about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin? And what, if any, assurances can the President or federal law enforcement authorities give to the Sikh community in America that they will be protected from this kind of atrocity?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on the first part of the question, I have no other foreign leader calls to read out to you at this time. The President and the First Lady yesterday and again, through me today, expressed their deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the community that was affected. And the President noted yesterday, as I am today, the important contribution that Sikhs have made and continue to make to the broader American community. And we need to remember that.
The specifics of this particular incident are under investigation, so questions that go to motive, to the perpetrator, those kinds of things, I would have to refer to the FBI, which has a role in this investigation, as well to local law enforcement.
Q Can you talk about any special security measures that might --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that goes to motive about -- and I wouldn’t want to speculate at this time. And I think that I would refer you to the FBI and to local law enforcement.
Q Jay, can I follow up?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll get to you, but let me go here.
Q Does the President share Minority Leader Pelosi’s view that even if Democrats controlled Congress, there still wouldn’t be the votes for significant gun legislation? And is that why the White House hasn’t pushed for new or tougher legislation more strongly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has made his views plain on this, which is that he is for common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights -- very important Second Amendment rights that American citizens have, but that make it harder and harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining them.
There is no question that there has been a reluctance to act in Congress on these issues. Whether that will continue to be the case in the future is anyone’s prediction. The President is focused on the progress we can make along the lines I just described.
So again, his positions on various issues I think we’ve talked about. He believes that we can take action within the existing environment that moves the ball forward in terms of enforcement, that enhances background checks, that makes it harder for those who shouldn’t have weapons under existing law -- makes it harder for them to obtain weapons, but continues to ensure that Second Amendment rights are protected.
Q But does anything -- either one of these incidents suggest that there need to be new gun control legislation?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President addressed this at the Urban League, John. And his view is, as I’ve said, that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights and make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining weapons.
I think he made clear, too, in his speech in New Orleans that violence in America is a problem that is greater than just the issue of gun laws. And he talked very clearly about the prevalence of violence in America, that even as overall statistics show that crime has gone down over these last many years but there is still too much violence. And incidents like the ones you mentioned are horrific, and our hearts go out to the victims of such appalling acts of violence, but we should not forget that there are victims of violence every day in America, and we need to address that problem in a concerted way that deals with education and summer jobs and other ways to help address the violence problem in America.
Q On another front, Leader Reid-Governor Romney story continues to percolate. Does the President think that it’s appropriate for Leader Reid to be making these, some would say, unsubstantiated charges on the Senate floor? And has the White House spoken to him about it?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of the White House speaking to Senator Reid about this issue. I would simply say that you all probably know Senator Reid well, and he speaks for himself, and he has addressed this issue.
I think that the broader question, as it relates to the President’s view, is that he thinks the tradition that has been in place since 1968 of candidates for President releasing multiple years of their tax returns is an important one. It’s not always every candidate’s favorite part of the process, but it’s a tradition that's important. It's valuable to the American people as they decide who should be President. So that's why the President has put forward his financial information, his tax returns when he was a candidate, and believes that that’s an important tradition.
Q I don't recall him pushing John McCain to release more than two years of his tax returns four years ago.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the issue of Senator McCain -- but I would refer you to, obviously, his office for prior runs where he had released information -- the question here is not -- again, this is a question for the -- and I would refer you to our campaign -- but it's a question for Governor Romney, right? He, as recently as last week, I think on ABC, said that he would be happy to check if he paid a lower effective tax rate in previous years than the 13.9 percent that he paid in the year related to the tax return that he did release.
And I think the only -- the reason why this is an issue at a policy level is the President believes very strongly -- and this is central to the debate we're having in this country -- that we need to have greater tax fairness and that we need to make sure that we're passing laws that protect the middle class, that specifically give the middle class a tax cut extension, and that we're not passing laws that give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who have already enjoyed substantial tax breaks in the past, and who enjoy legal loopholes like the carried interest law that allow a Warren Buffett or a hedge fund manager or other very affluent Americans to pay taxes at a much lower rate than a factory worker at a plant -- a GM plant in Michigan or Ohio, or a hardworking member of the White House press corps.
It's just about making our tax code more fair and making our tax code more helpful to the middle class, which is the backbone of our country and backbone of economic security and economic growth in our country.
Q But, Jay, it's been charged --
MR. CARNEY: Let me -- I promised him a question. Tejinder, please go ahead.
Q First of all, I'd like to thank the President and First Lady for their kind words to the community. But the way you said it, that there is violence on the streets of U.S. every day -- this is a particular peace-loving community who has been targeted, and they have been targeted since 9/11. Where is the education of the general public? It has been going on for 11 years, culminating in what happened. And is the President going to travel to that community, in that area, soon?
And following up on that question, Prime Minister Singh has said that -- ensure conditions that such violent acts are not repeated in the future -- what are we going to do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me take your question apart a little bit. I can't address the motivation behind the specific incident that happened just 24 hours ago. It is certainly the case that Sikhs have been targeted in America in the past, since 9/11, because they have been believed to be Muslims, and that has been a tragic event -- I mean, a violent -- whether it's against Sikhs or Muslims, this is clearly horrible and unacceptable. But I can't address the motivation behind yesterday's attack because it's under investigation by the FBI and by local law enforcement.
As for the President's schedule, I don't have any announcements to make about upcoming travel. If I do, I will certainly make everyone aware of that travel. But I just want to be clear and to reiterate, the President feels very strongly that we need to remember on a day like today the profound contributions that the Sikh community has made in this country. And as you note, this is a very peaceful community, and it is a horrific thing when this kind of event takes place in and around a house of worship of any kind. And our hearts go out to the victims and to their families.
Q I just want to follow on taxes because the charge is not just that maybe Mitt Romney paid less than a factory worker or whoever, but it’s a bit more vicious than that from Harry Reid. He’s saying that he didn't pay -- he has an anonymous source telling him that he paid no taxes for something like 10 years. So the President has talked a lot about changing the tone in this town. Why hasn’t he picked up the phone and asked Harry Reid to stop making a charge like that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think the idea that people tell Harry Reid what to do is inconsistent with what everyone here understands to be --
Q But you can express your opinion that maybe that's below the belt.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the President -- you hear the President going out and talking about the important issues facing the American people every day. And he talks about those issues in terms that reflect the importance of economic matters like our tax code and how our tax code, for example, currently benefits companies that ship jobs overseas. He would change that so that it ceases encouraging investment overseas and outsourcing of jobs, and encourages insourcing of investment and jobs.
He talks about that in terms of, as I was saying earlier, a tax code that allows in totally legal fashion hedge fund managers to pay an effective tax rate that's significantly lower than most Americans -- or many Americans -- and that that is not reflective of a system that we need to have in place that helps the American middle class grow, helps enhance its security.
Q Right, but that's not the charge. The charge is that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years. Does the White House believe that allegation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to Senator Reid for -- I can't -- only Senator Reid knows his source, which he has discussed, and I would refer you to that.
I think it is a fair point to make that this is an issue that was not originated during the general election campaign, did not start with the President’s campaign or with Senator Reid, it started in the Republican primary when Governor Romney’s opponents brought up this issue and the fact that Governor Romney’s father began a tradition in 1968 of major candidates for President releasing multiple years of their tax returns, and that that is a tradition that has been adhered to by major candidates for President ever since.
Q Nancy Pelosi today said, "Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact." Do you agree with that rationale?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that statement. But again, I would refer you to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid --
Q But if someone just made an allegation that he didn’t pay taxes for 10 years, that’s just a fact?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is focused on -- and you hear him talk about this every day -- issues that matter to the American people that have to do with both tax fairness, but also actions that we need to be taking to grow the economy, that we need to be taking to increase job creation here in the United States, that we need to take in order to bring jobs back from overseas and have companies invest here in the United States. Those are the issues the President is talking about. And you’ll continue to hear him talk about those issues tonight and every day when he’s out there, making the case to the American people about his agenda.
Go ahead, John.
Q And one more on Harry Reid. It’s a simple question: Does the President think that this allegation coming from Harry Reid, without any evidence, made on the Senate floor, is that below the belt? Does that cross the line?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have not -- the President has not expressed an opinion to me on this. I can tell you that the President is focused on the issues that I’ve just talked about. And again, he believes in the tradition of releasing tax returns. I mean, this is an issue that was raised by contenders for President in a Republican primary. And just on your air a number of days ago, former Governor Romney said that he would go back and look at the effective tax rate he paid in previous years, and then his campaign said, oh, no, no, we won’t do that.
And this is -- the issue here is one of transparency and again, as the President sees it with regards to his candidacy, one that is an important tradition, that allows the American people to get a sense of a candidate’s background.
Again, I don’t have a -- you can talk to Senator Reid. He, I’m sure, will address this issue if you ask him. He certainly speaks for himself. The President is focused on the issues that matter most to the American people. And we now have a situation where Congress has left town for a number of weeks, where instead of passing legislation that would extend a tax cut for 98 percent of the American people, the House left town refusing to do that.
Look at the overlap between the measure the Senate passed and the measure the House passed. There's only 2 percent disagreement with -- and some of the other tax issues that the President put on the table and are part of the Senate version. Why can't we -- if Washington were to function effectively, if Republicans were to simply accept the principle that we should act on behalf of 98 percent of the American people, we could have taken care of the matter of a middle-class tax cut before they went on recess, and that security would be in place for 98 percent of the American people -- 114 million Americans, taxpaying Americans -- before the fall campaign even began.
Instead, we didn't get action on that. And that's the kind of craziness we have in Washington now, where even where we agree completely on an issue, there's a refusal to say, okay, let's get it done.
Q I was just asking if it was inappropriate for Harry Reid to go out and make an --
MR. CARNEY: I think I just answered this question three or four times. And I think I would ask your question of Senator Reid.
The President you've heard on numerous occasions talk about the issues that he believes are central in the minds of the American people, as they make up their minds about the candidates for office in the presidential election.
Q Well, let me ask you about something else. David Plouffe, it's been reported today, gave a speech in Nigeria to this -- paid for by a company that had some business dealings with Iran. The RNC is out condemning this, accusing the White House of hypocrisy, for profiting handsomely by speaking to a company doing business with a radical, anti-government nation of Iran -- anti-American government of Iran. Is the White House concerned about Mr. Plouffe getting $100,000 for a speech like this so close before he came to work here again?
MR. CARNEY: Well, David Plouffe was invited to speak in Africa by an affiliate company of the company you mentioned in the spring of 2010. He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications, and had no separate meetings with the company's leadership. Even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue did not start their campaign on the host company's holding company until years later.
Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed much later are simply misplaced. And I think you noted where the criticism is coming from -- the RNC. I certainly -- I don't recall similar criticism from the RNC when senior members of the George W. Bush administration, prior to taking office, had given paid speeches to companies that, in the case of Credit Suisse and UVS, were cited for violations regarding financing in Iran. And I think that this is clearly politics, which I think is reflected by the citation in your question.
Q But President Obama came into office talking about a higher standard. I mean, is there any concern about this kind of -- I mean, $100,000 in Nigeria to a South African company. I mean, it was widely reported. I mean, it had been reported even in The New York Times that they had business dealings with Iran. I mean, is there any concern at all about this? Is this --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure I understand the nature of your question. This was prior to David Plouffe coming to office -- here to work in the White House. It was before the watchdog group had even made an issue of this particular holding company. And again, this is political criticism after the fact that's clearly designed to try to score some points when this was several years ago, prior to this dynamic we have now with regards to sanctions and companies like this.
And I would point out that the same source of criticism was I believe silent when it involved senior administration officials in the previous administration.
Q Just to follow on an earlier question, putting aside what may have motivated the shooting over the weekend, given the fact that you yourself admitted that this is a community that has been targeted in the past, is it time for the administration to step up with some kind of educational campaign, something to help this community? Because there is a lot of concern among that community, the Sikhs, that they’ve been unfairly targeted and will continue to be targeted in the future. So is there anything that the administration should be doing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Dan, I appreciate the question, but I think it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t have asked me this question on Friday. And I think that reflects that it relates specifically to this incident. And because I can't address or speculate about motivation in this incident because it’s under investigation, I can't -- I think it would be inappropriate for me to talk more broadly about that issue because you would be understandably making assumptions about our conclusions about this specific incident that we can't make when the FBI and the local law enforcement are still investigating. And it’s only been 24 hours. I think it’s important to note that.
Q Can I get your reaction to this new ad that Mayor Bloomberg and other mayors have put out asking for the President and Mitt Romney to come up with a plan to combat gun violence? Have you seen this ad? Any reaction to it?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t. I would simply point you to what I said earlier in answer to other questions about the President’s views on this, which he expressed in New Orleans at the Urban League, and the broader issue of violence in America that needs to be addressed, and addressed from a variety of angles, because it’s an issue that transcends these incidents of horrific violence that we see periodically, and it’s an issue that transcends legislation passed by Congress with regards to firearms. And we need to go after it on every front.
And that's why the President has instructed his Justice Department to make progress in enforcing existing law and enhancing background checks to make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining them. It's why he has, since he took office, instructed his administration to work with local communities in combating violence from a variety of different approaches.
Q I have one more on Syria, one final thing on Syria. You have talked now for months that Assad's days are numbered, yet he continues to be in power and people continue to get -- innocent people continue to get killed. Is there anything that can speed this process along? Because this sort of slow-drip approach is costing a lot of innocent people their lives.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the responsibility for the appalling violence against civilians in Syria lies with President Assad. He has systematically attacked his own people, attacked civilian population centers, and periodically through this period he has made promises about ceasing the violence, promises to abide by the principles of the Kofi Annan plan and has refused -- or has not lived up to those promises. The responsibility is with Assad. And the quickest way to end the violence and to bring about the transition that the Syrian people so deserve and desire is for Assad to step aside.
Now, we have worked in a variety of different ways to help bring about that eventuality -- not just through the United Nations, where our efforts and the efforts of the vast majority of the countries with an interest in this have been thwarted by the refusal to go along with meaningful measures at the Security Council by Russia and China, but our efforts are not limited to the United Nations Security Council or the United Nations. They include working with the "Friends of Syria." They include working with the Arab League, and working directly with the opposition. And we will continue to do that.
And we will -- I think your point is well taken, but it is also true, as we discussed at the top of the briefing, that Assad's grip on power is clearly loosening, that he seems incapable of preventing senior members of his government and his military from defecting. And I think that indicates a situation where the eventuality of Assad leaving power comes closer and closer. It's impossible to predict when that will happen, but Syria's future must not, and will not, include Bashar al-Assad because the Syrian people simply won't stand for it and they absolutely do not deserve it.
Q May I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q The current situation that's so deteriorating could have a negative effect on the stability of the state of Israel. Has the President been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the last few days?
MR. CARNEY: I have no other foreign leader communications to read out to you at this time.
Q Jay, I want to ask you about Friday's mixed jobs report. On the one hand, the economy had 163,000 jobs; on the other hand, the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent. To what extent does that 8.3 percent undermine the President's argument now, just three months until election day, that he is moving the economy in the right direction, albeit not quickly enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President makes clear every time he talks about this issue that we are not where we need to be. That is why he has urged Congress again and again to pass measures that independent economists have judged would add a million-plus jobs right now. But Republicans in Congress have refused.
That's why he has urged Congress to give economic security to the middle class, to 98 percent of taxpaying Americans, by extending tax cuts for the middle class now, because we all agree on it. We all agree on extending those tax cuts, Republicans and Democrats alike. But Republicans in Congress have refused, insisting that millionaires and billionaires, the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country -- that the tax cuts of middle-class Americans should be held hostage to tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent. The President believes that absolutely the wrong policy.
What is true is that while there is still more work to do, the economy has added private sector jobs now for 29 straight months, for a total of 4.5 million jobs during that period. And just this year, the economy has added over 1.1 million private sector jobs. Friday's report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 172,000 in July. And while that is not enough, it is progress in the right direction, which is continued job creation.
But you will never hear this President say that he is satisfied, and that is why he is focused overwhelmingly on the things that he can do as President and the things he can do working with Congress to increase economic growth, to increase job creation, to increase middle-class security. That is his legislative message, his policy message, as well as his campaign message.
Q No President has gotten reelected with an unemployment rate this high. So how concerned is the President about that 8.3 percent --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the --
Q -- the fact that it remains stuck above 8 percent?
MR. CARNEY: It's a random factoid that’s thrown out a lot because of the limited empirical pool here. And what is true is nobody -- no President has been reelected with a rate that high since FDR. And I think that’s an instructive comparison, because, as you all know, this President came into office during the worst economic crisis since Franklin Roosevelt was in power. And the fact is, when he took the oath of office, we were in the process of losing 800,000 jobs that month. We had just witnessed an economic contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008, the final quarter of his predecessor’s term in office, of nearly 9 percent. That great recession cost the economy close to 9 million jobs. That is a very deep hole out of which to climb.
Since this President’s policies have taken effect -- and if we take the advice of some leading Republicans that we should measure performance after someone -- after a President is in office for six months or a year -- if you look at what has happened in this economy since this President’s policies have taken effect, we have seen, as I said, 29 straight months of private sector job growth, for a total of 4.5 million jobs. We have seen economic growth, as opposed to contraction, for quarter after quarter after quarter.
But we still have a long way to go. And what we cannot afford, what we simply cannot afford is to adopt the same policies that got us into this mess. I mean, we’ve tried the prescription that Republicans are offering. And when a doctor offers you a prescription for an illness, it shouldn’t make the illness worse. It shouldn’t -- if you’re recovering from a sickness, you don’t want a doctor to give you something that’s going to make you even sicker than you were before.
But that’s what they’re offering. They’re offering the same economic prescriptions that were introduced in 2001, 2002, 2003. And we know what happened. President Bush came into office in January of 2001; handed to him were the significant surpluses by Bill Clinton; handed to him was a situation where the economy had just produced nearly 24 million jobs, for the largest period of sustained economic expansion since -- a peacetime economic expansion since World War II; and eight years later, after these policies were tried, we had the slowest growth during an expansion in history, I believe, and we had a cascading economic collapse like we hadn’t seen in our lifetimes.
So we shouldn’t go back. We shouldn’t adopt those policies again. We are not where we need to be, but we’re headed in the right direction.
Q Jay, I want to ask you one on Pakistan. The new ISI chief visited Washington last week, met with Director Petraeus as well with other top officials. Was the President kept abreast of those meetings, and was there a sense that they in any way moved the needle forward in terms of creating progress with Pakistani-U.S. relations?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything specific on the meetings that you ask about. I can simply say that our relationship with Pakistan is very important. It can be a difficult relationship, but it is very important to our national security. We have shared interests in terms of combating extremism in the region, and we work with the Pakistanis on those shared interests all the time. And the President is constantly kept abreast of those efforts.
Q Just returning to guns for a moment. You’ve said, in response to a bunch of questions, that he supports enforcing -- better enforcing existing laws. His position in the past has been in favor of renewing the assault weapons ban, which would, at this point, be a new law. He also said in New Orleans that AK-47s belong on the battlefield, not on the streets. Does he still support that legislation?
MR. CARNEY: He does. And I’ve said that before from the podium in the last week, that he does support renewing the assault weapons ban. I think what I’ve noted in the past, and what I noted here, is that there has been reluctance by Congress to pass that renewal.
Q What’s considered sort of an update of that legislation is the amendment that you were asked about a couple of times last week, which was to ban high-capacity magazines. That’s viewed by advocates as essentially accomplishing the same thing in a better way. And when you were asked about that in the past, you didn’t have a position. Do you have -- does the administration have a position on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the legislation on this issue broadly, whether it’s the specific piece of legislation that you mention -- if such legislation emerges, the President will evaluate it, the White House will evaluate it, guided by the principles that I talked about earlier, which is his desire to make it harder for people who should not have weapons under existing law from getting them, and under the principle that we should not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. But I’m not going to speculate about pieces of suggested legislation. If something emerges from Congress we’ll certainly evaluate it.
Q Well, it's introduced; it wasn’t just --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know, but -- and I think we’ve noted where Congress is on these issues. If something emerges from Congress we’ll certainly evaluate it.
Q And the other thing you talk about on this issue is the national dialogue on issues beyond just gun control, but violence, and you point out that he gave that speech. Does he feel like that speech has sort of accomplished his part of this dialogue, and now it’s up to others?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure he will discuss these issues again in the future. I think you’ve asked on a number of occasions for specific dates when he might speak again. I don’t have any announcements to make on that. But the President has addressed this on several occasions and I’m sure will again in the future.
Q Does he feel like that speech accomplished its purpose?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think he does feel that the goal of addressing violence in America has been achieved, and that’s why we need to continue to work collectively on efforts across the board to reduce violence in America.
Q Jay, when the President disagrees with Congress’s decision not to take up legislation like this, he goes out in the country and tries to pressure them publicly, and even shame them into doing that. Is this -- does this fall under the same category, the assault weapons ban, or some version of it?
MR. CARNEY: There’s a lot of legislation the President has a position on. He believes -- his support for renewal hasn’t changed. I think we all recognize the situation in Congress with regards to that particular proposal as well as others. The President is focused, as he talked about in New Orleans, on doing what he can, through his Department of Justice, to take common- sense measures that will enhance our security by improving background checks and making it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining them, and working more broadly to address the issue of violence in America. Because, as I’ve said now on a couple of occasions, the issue, as the President sees it, transcends legislation relating to guns; it has to do with a whole variety of factors, and should be addressed accordingly.
Q But he’s been successful at pressuring Congress to take up specific legislation. Does he view this as less possible?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to grade possibilities here. I think the President believes that we should -- with Congress where possible, but administratively where allowed -- take measures that enhance security by making it harder for those who should not have these weapons under existing law from obtaining them, but also protect our Second Amendment rights. And he’ll continue to do that.
Q Thank you. Going back to the gun issue, what is the threshold when this administration will say when it’s time to take the gun issue out of that broad basket of violence and focus straight on -- I mean, in recent weeks we’ve had two fatal, horrific shootings. When does this administration take it out of that violence basket and put a spotlight specifically on it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, April, the question, as the President discussed in New Orleans, is not one of specific high-profile incidents alone. And the unfortunate reality is that while these terrible incidents get a lot of headlines, there is violence in America every day.
Q And a lot of it is gun violence.
MR. CARNEY: No question. But that's why we have to work collectively towards addressing these issues in ways that reduce violence and include efforts to keep kids in school, keep them off the streets and from joining gangs, in efforts to, as the President has done through his Department of Justice, make it harder for criminals and others who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining them. That's the kind of comprehensive approach the President thinks we ought to adopt, and that he has adopted in office.
Q But, Jay, many of these acts you can't police against -- many in law enforcement say you can't police against them. So when you can't police against something like that, it would seem that the other half would deal with issues of gun control, of the assault weapons ban being -- not renewing, but creating a new assault weapons ban. Why not now? Why not now?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I’ve answered this question a bunch, but the President’s approach is that we should work with Congress where possible, and administratively where allowed, to advance common-sense measures that enhance our security, that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have them under existing law, but that protect Second Amendment rights, which the President thinks is an important goal as well.
I think that I can say that that’s the President’s approach. You heard it recently in New Orleans. I’m sure you’ll hear from him again on this issue. But I don’t expect his broader view here about the broader problem with violence in America is going to change because of a specific incident. It’s a broader problem that needs to be addressed from a variety of fronts.
Q My last question -- so is the White House Office of Legislative Affairs actively working with congressional leaders, congressional staffers, now on issues of gun control and a new assault weapons ban?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any legislative update for you. I think Congress is out of session at the moment.
Q Yes, I've got a couple for you. Has the President seen the images beamed back from Mars?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t ask him. I think that was -- you saw the statement that we put out. It’s a remarkable achievement and I think is testimony to the ingenuity of the American people and American companies, and of NASA in particular. But I haven’t talked to him about whether he’s seen these images. It really is quite remarkable.
Q And given the weeks and months in which you’ve said that Assad’s days are numbered, does the United States today have a plan for the post-Assad Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Does the United States have what?
Q A plan for post-Assad Syria --
MR. CARNEY: That's a great question. We are working --
Q -- chemical weapons, making sure that violence doesn’t spill over, that kind of thing.
MR. CARNEY: We very much are focused on, with our partners and the "Friends of Syria," with the opposition directly, with the Arab League, on what a post-Assad Syria will look like, and on the opportunity for the Syrian people to enjoy a better life in a post-Assad world, under a government that would be inclusive and that would give voice to their aspirations.
There are a lot of issues involved that would have to be resolved, principally by the Syrian people, in terms of achieving that better future. But there is no question that the first step towards that better future is Assad’s departure from the scene, because the longer he stays in power, the worst the situation gets. We have seen that repeatedly. And those who have suggested that, in explaining their continued support for Assad, that somehow having him in power is a better alternative to having him leave power, I think that argument is disproved daily by the appalling violence Assad brings to bear against his own people.
One more. Ann.
Q American athletes are coming back with more than 60 medals from the Olympics. Does the President think that they should pay taxes, since in some cases, $9,000 for not only the medal but the cash awards they bring home?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that we should support efforts, like I think the bill you're referencing, to ensure that we are doing everything we can to honor and support our Olympic athletes who have volunteered to represent our nation at the Olympic Games. So he supports that bill. If it were to get to his desk, he would support it.
12:44 P.M. EDT
April 5, 2014
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