Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/17/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:13 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. I have no announcements. I’ll go straight to questions.
Q Thank you. There’s a lot of conflicting information coming out of Algeria today. I’m wondering if you can tell us what the status is of the Americans that had been held hostage.
MR. CARNEY: It is our understanding that there are Americans involved, but I would say a couple of things. One, we condemn in the strongest terms a terrorist attack on BP personnel and facilities in Algeria, and we are closely monitoring the situation. We are in contact with Algerian authorities and our international partners, as well as with BP’s security office in London.
Unfortunately, the best information we have at this time, as I said, indicates that U.S. citizens are among the hostages. But we don’t have at this point more details to provide to you. We’re certainly concerned about reports of loss of life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria.
Q But at this point you can’t say whether those Americans are alive or dead?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just can only say that we are deeply concerned about any loss of innocent life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria.
Q The U.S. obviously has helped other countries with hostage rescue missions, just last week, with the French in Somalia. Did the U.S. offer to assist the Algerians in this mission?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can say that we’re in contact with Algerian authorities and our international partners. I don’t have anything more on that context for you. I mean, this is a situation, as you know, that involved a BP facility with, as we understand it, personnel from a variety of different countries.
Q But in those conversations with the Algerians, has there been discussion about what role the U.S. could play? Any offers of assistance?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. But I just don’t have details to provide on those conversations. This is an ongoing situation and we’re seeking clarity.
Q And just quickly on the President’s gun violence proposals from yesterday, he said he would put the full weight of the office behind efforts to push for those measures, and I’m wondering what that actually means. Will we see him travel? Will we see him get OFA involved? There was obviously an email from Messina today on this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as you saw, that email went out, and I think that the President meant what he said. I don’t have a schedule of events for you, a schedule of actions or a strategy to lay out to you. But the President absolutely meant what he said, that he is going to put the weight of his office behind this effort. He also meant what he said when he acknowledged that achieving these proposals will be difficult. If having an assault weapons ban become law again were easy it would never have expired. If the variety of other actions that the President proposes we take as a nation were without conflict we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
So he’s made clear that it requires everyone coming together, including people who have not traditionally supported the idea of taking further action to reduce gun violence or some of these ideas. We’ve already heard a number of voices, from both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of individuals who’ve said they are looking at this problem in a new way because of what happened in Newtown, and that’s very important to this process.
It’s also very important, as the President said, that the American public speak out, because we cannot achieve this if the American people don’t demand it. And so, as I think I mentioned earlier in the week, you can fully expect that as part of this effort we will continue to try to engage the American people and have their voices heard and their concerns heard and their demands heard when it comes to taking common-sense action to reduce gun violence in America.
Q But at this point, no specifics about what that actually entails?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any -- I mean, again, he just made this announcement yesterday. He has a piece of business to take care of on Monday, and a whole host of other matters. But this is a priority, as I think he made very clear yesterday, and there will be more to come.
Q Jay, going back to Algeria, was the Algerian government in touch with the United States before the raid?
MR. CARNEY: I can simply say that it’s premature to get into these types of questions. Right now our priority is determining the status of the Americans involved and gaining a full understanding of what took place. As I said to Julie, this is a fluid situation. We are seeking clarity from the Algerian government about this matter, and obviously, we are focused most intently on the status of Americans. We are in conversations with -- consultation with the Algerian government, but I just don't have any more details for you.
Q I mean, you said that you were in consultations. I'm just curious if you were in consultations before the raid.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don't have any more details for you on that. This is a fluid situation. I wouldn't want to say something that turned out not to be true, so I'll leave it at that.
Q What is the U.S. assessment of --
MR. CARNEY: Jackie got that -- I appreciate it. (Laughter.)
Q What is the U.S. assessment of al Qaeda’s link to this?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly heard reports of people taking responsibility, claims -- making claims of responsibility for this terrorist attack, but we have not been able to, thus far, confirm those claims.
Q But is that something that the U.S. is involved in, in trying to figure that out?
MR. CARNEY: Certainly. As a broad matter, we're obviously very interested in and focused on terrorist groups and terrorist actions in the region and around the world, and so trying to find out who’s responsible for something like this is something we are endeavoring to do. But we just have not -- I don't have information now that allows me to confirm or rebut those reports.
Q You said earlier in the week that the United States would consider providing logistical support to France and Mali. How does this development affect that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure that it does. I mean, we share the goal -- the French goal of denying terrorists in Mali a safe haven, denying terrorists in the region a safe haven, and we’d note that the government of Mali has asked for French support in their fight against AQIM.
As you know, the government of France has asked for some additional intelligence and logistic support from the United States and, as I said the other day, we're considering those requests. We have some unique airlift capability and we are working with the French to provide them support in moving troops and equipment. As we've said previously, we are also providing intelligence support.
Q All right, just briefly on one other topic. You mentioned that the President has an event on Monday. Can you give us any color about how he’s preparing for his speech, and any little tidbits about what he might say?
MR. CARNEY: I have no preview of his remarks. The President I think is very appreciative of the fact that the American people have given him this opportunity to deliver a second inaugural address. He, as you know, takes very seriously speeches of this kind and is very engaged in the process. He’s working on his remarks. But I don't have any details for you. I think it’s the kind of thing we really want to turn over to him for Monday.
Q Is that open coverage on Monday? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it is.
Q Jay, what do you say to the local officials, including the governor of Mississippi, who are suggesting that if you succeed in getting new laws passed they won't enforce them on the gun issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see those particular remarks, John. There are a variety of actions that the President has proposed. Some of them are executive actions. Some of the most important of them, as the President made clear, require congressional action. And I’ll leave it to lawyers to sort out, if we are fortunate enough to achieve these pieces of legislation, how those laws would be enforced.
But let’s be clear here. There is nothing the President proposed yesterday that would result, if enacted, in anyone -- any law-abiding citizen in America losing a gun. The President made clear yesterday his full support for the Second Amendment and the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. He also made clear that we have an obligation, and American citizens, including our most vulnerable, youngest American citizens, have rights, too. And we have an obligation to uphold those rights, including the rights of seven-year-olds to live without the fear of being gunned down in their own school.
So we as a society need to come together and take common-sense actions that do not affect Americans’ Second Amendment rights, which the President supports, but do put in place laws and actions that address this problem; that, for example, provide for a system of background checks for those who would purchase weapons that is comprehensive, that does not contain gaping loopholes. That’s something that a vast majority of the American people believe is sensible and they support. And the President sincerely hopes that that support, which comes from around the country, that comes from Democrats and Republicans, that comes from NRA members, sportsmen and women, from suburban areas, rural areas and urban areas, will result in Congress taking appropriate action.
Q So what happens to the, by some estimates, 2 million assault-style weapons that are out there now and more? What happens to those after a ban? Is this a ban on --
MR. CARNEY: This is not --
Q -- the old ones are grandfathered in? It’s a ban on --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, this is a ban on further manufacture, on new weapons.
Q So how effective can something like that be, given that the -- I mean, look at the sales that are going on even now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President said that there is no question -- that there’s no single piece of legislation, no single action that we can take that would eradicate all acts of evil, all acts of violence, that would absolutely prevent every terrible shooting in the future. We know that, and the President is aware of that. But we should take actions that reduce the possibility; that through the reduction in the possibility of the kinds of things we saw in Newtown and Aurora and Columbine and elsewhere, lives are saved.
And we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. We can’t let the fact that there will of course continue to be gun violence in America prevent us from taking actions to reduce gun violence in America, taking actions to make sure that we are doing everything we can to live up to our first obligation, which is to protect our children. There’s no single action here that solves this problem. Even this collection of actions won’t solve the problem. But it will, the President believes, reduce gun violence, and that’s a worthy goal.
Q And with the high-capacity magazines, the same thing holds true, that that would just prevent -- ban the manufacture of new --
MR. CARNEY: That’s my understanding. I think we provided a bunch of fact sheets and stuff yesterday on the details, but that is my understanding. But I would encourage you to look at the stuff that the policy people put together and provided to you yesterday.
Q And then just two questions on how you go about getting this passed -- the obvious uphill battle you face in Congress -- one, that the grassroots campaign Robert Gibbs is suggesting, that the great campaign apparatus that helped the President win reelection should now be activated full force on this. Will it be? And will the President be reaching out personally to -- that there are 11 Democrats in the Senate with either an A or B rating to the NRA. Is he going to be talking individually to each of those Democratic senators?
MR. CARNEY: I think you can expect the President to be engaged with members of Congress, including Democratic senators. I think as you saw in the wake of Newtown, the President actually spoke with some Democratic senators about this issue, including Senator Manchin of West Virginia. Those conversations will continue.
And I have no specific announcement to make about next steps in this effort. But you can be sure that the President will use the power of his office to try to bring about fulfillment of these proposals, because he thinks they're the right things to do, and he thinks that we as a nation need to move forward, and that we can take steps that help reduce gun violence in this country and help protect our children, including our youngest children.
I'll move around a little bit. Jackie.
Q Could you just expand a little more on the Inaugural on Sunday? I mean, it sounds like it's going to be just family.
MR. CARNEY: I can try.
Q Could you say exactly who is going to be there; that it will be no advisors or -- and why that is?
MR. CARNEY: It's a small room, and --
Q But you could choose another room.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it's -- this is the official swearing-in, as called for by the Constitution. And the Chief Justice will swear in the President. I gave some details. I think we corrected about the Bible that will be used on Sunday. It will be family. I don't have a list of names for which family members will be there. There will be a full press pool there. And that's a pretty large group, with a lot of equipment. And I'll be there.
Q But it will be more presumably than just Mrs. Obama and the daughters and the President?
MR. CARNEY: I believe there will be some family members, but I don't have -- I'll see if I have -- if I can get information on which additional members will be there.
Q And then at the dinner affair afterwards, who would be involved?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, which affair?
Q On Sunday, after the private swearing-in.
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to check on that. I'm not sure. There's a series of events, but I’m not sure which one you're referring to.
Q Well, just what he will be --
MR. CARNEY: What's he going to do after he's sworn in?
Q -- participating in immediately after he's sworn in.
MR. CARNEY: I'll try to find out.
Q There have been several news reports about an incident in Syria. December 23rd, six people died from some sort of gas attack. Several people on the ground seem to believe that it was a chemical agent. The State Department did a couple of investigations. They couldn't corroborate that.
On Tuesday, the White House put out a statement saying only that it didn't match what you know about Syria's chemical weapons program. They didn't say what you think happened that day. And I'm also wondering, are you 100 percent sure that no chemical weapons have been used in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: The State Department addressed this issue yesterday. One of our diplomatic posts received anecdotal information from a third party regarding an alleged incident in Syria in December. Per normal procedure, this information was relayed to the State Department in Washington. We looked into these allegations at the time we received the information, and found no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm that chemical weapons were used.
We continue to closely monitor Syria's proliferation of sensitive materials and facilities, and have been consistent and clear about our red lines regarding chemical weapons in Syria. As the President said, if the Assad regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons or fails to meet its obligation to secure them, they will be held accountable. In other words, we received third-party information. We checked it out and found no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm it.
Q Of course, the problem is that this evidence is unattainable inside Homs. And use of chemical agents is notoriously hard to verify. What is your level of confidence that --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we found no credible evidence, and the fact that a third party provided this anecdotal information led to us checking it out appropriately, and we found no credible information that would confirm it.
Q My question is --
MR. CARNEY: But your question is --
Q What is your level of confidence that if a chemical agent was used, that you would be able to tell?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I'm not able from here to discuss the procedures by which we evaluate these kinds of things. But I can tell you that we found no credible evidence, and we are -- we remain, as we have been throughout, vigilant about this issue and very clear with the Assad regime about our red lines.
Q Jay, on Algeria, can you just talk about the President's level of involvement in this? I didn't catch that earlier, in terms of -- has he been working the phones? Is he being briefed regularly since so many Americans are involved? What is the President's level of engagement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has been updated regularly by his national security team on this matter. As you would expect, I have no other details for you, no calls to read out. But we are, as an administration, in contact with the Algerian government and seeking clarity about the events that have been reported. And as you know, there’s been a variety of conflicting reports about the events there. So we are in communication with the Algerian government, and the President is being regularly updated.
Q The Secretary of State yesterday spoke to the head of their government, I believe, but there’s been no calls between the President and --
MR. CARNEY: I have no calls of the President to read out to you.
Q Okay. Following on John about guns, when the President has traveled on other issues like payroll tax cut or other things to engage the American public, as you say, he’s mostly been pressuring the Republicans. How -- as you mentioned after Newtown, he spoke to Senator Manchin, and at that time in December, Senator Manchin was suggesting he was open to the idea of an assault weapons ban. This past weekend he seemed to suggest he wasn’t. Yesterday, Al Franken, who is a more liberal Democrat, kind of hesitated about whether he supported the assault weapons ban; today he says he supports the principle of it -- not making clear he supports the bill.
My question is: You’ve pressured Republicans before; what is going to do different this time to convince his fellow Democrats who are the swing votes here that this is the right thing to do?
MR. CARNEY: He’s been very clear about this as recently as yesterday, which he believes we all need to reflect upon the problem, examine our consciences, and decide what the right course of action is, and decide whether or not common-sense measures that help protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children, from gun violence are the right thing to do.
He firmly believes they are, and he’ll be having that conversation with Republicans and Democrats and with Americans more broadly.
Again, I think that we’ve seen some change in the atmosphere around this issue since the tragedy in Newtown, and we’ve seen some gun rights supporters who haven't abandoned their support for gun rights, just as the President has not, but who view this issue now in a different way and believe that common-sense action is the right way to go. And the President hopes to build on that.
But he made very clear yesterday that he understands that this is a challenge. These things aren't law -- at least the things that he’s proposed Congress pass -- because they’re hard. If they weren’t, they would be law. And he will work with members of both parties to try to get them passed.
Q But when you repeat today the full weight of the presidency -- yesterday I went back to the transcript and the word “Hollywood” was never used by the President or the Vice President in remarks yesterday. Obviously, guns are a big part here, but why not also take on Hollywood? He’s taking on the NRA. If this is the full weight of the presidency, why not take on --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s directed as part of the actions he took that the CDC study gun violence and causes of gun violence. I mean, there’s a -- ignorance is not an acceptable position to adopt, that it’s better not to know. We need to know and it’s worth studying, and we should embrace the science and allow the research to go forward so we can learn more about the effect of violence in the entertainment industry -- depicted through entertainment -- and the impact it may or may not have on society and on children.
So that was a very specific item that he did include as part of his package. And I think generally, the proposals the President put forward yesterday were recognized as fairly substantive and comprehensive, and that's one of them.
Q Very last thing, on the debt ceiling. Republicans like Pat Toomey have suggested that you should prioritize what debts you pay off so that things like Social Security get paid -- payments. As the President said in his press conference last week, he wants them to be paid; wants to make sure people don't lose their benefits. Why not prioritize those payments? I just want to give you a chance to respond to the Republican plan that's out there.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, there’s not a specific plan; there’s somebody talking about it. But let’s be real here. There is no off-ramp. There is no way to mitigate the horrific economic consequences of default. Choosing whether you pay Social Security beneficiaries or combat troops in Afghanistan, or veterans who depend on the VA for benefits, or bondholders -- these are choices that are about default.
And the fact is default is not an acceptable option here. Congress has to simply do its job and pay the bills that they’ve already racked up, meet the obligations that they have already made. And then we continue to debate how we move forward to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, how we move forward to get our health care spending under control and reform our tax system. But we cannot play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States.
We have seen in recent days and weeks a number of Republicans and a number of interest groups allied with Republicans make clear their position that flirting with default is a disastrous idea, it is a terrible idea. And we certainly agree with that. And I think you’ve seen it now from a number of places, and the President has made clear he’s not going to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. It is an obligation that Congress retains for itself. If it feels it can't handle it, we would happily, as the President said, take that obligation on to the executive branch.
But we have to pay our bills. We’re the United States of America; we are not a third-tier economy that goes month to month or every half year and casting doubt on whether or not we’re going to meet our obligations. That’s not who we are.
Major, then Alexis.
Q As you noted, Jay, the situation in Algeria is very fluid and you are trying to discern fact from fiction. Once that process is finished, does the President intend to communicate with the country about what he knows and what has happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- I have no scheduling announcements to make on behalf of the President, and I think we’re focused now on finding out and seeking clarity about the events in Algeria. And once we know more and once we have more that we can convey to you, we’ll make assessments based on that.
Q Does the White House believe that there is something at work in Mali or Algeria that is moving or shifting in a way that’s maybe catching the American public’s attention for the first time? Threat patterns? Different areas of conflict? An aggressiveness on al Qaeda or affiliates that needs perhaps more communication with the American public, a greater sense of what’s actually going on here?
MR. CARNEY: We here in the White House and throughout the administration are intensely focused on al Qaeda and its affiliates. I think that has been made abundantly clear by the actions that we’ve taken, and that continues to be the case.
We work with our allies to counter the activities of AQIM; and clearly, AQIM and affiliated extremist groups do pose a threat to our interests in that region, even if they have not posed a direct threat to the homeland, like al Qaeda central in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
But this is something -- this is a multi-headed beast, if you will, and we are vigorous in our efforts to combat organizations like this and work with our allies to do so around the region and the world.
Q On the question of gun legislation, it was made clear to us in the briefing yesterday that the White House will not send a comprehensive bill that contains all of gun control measures to Capitol Hill. It will defer to, in the case of the assault weapons ban and magazine size, Senator Feinstein, Senator Schumer on one aspect of it; Senator Gillibrand to another. And there are some House Democrats who would prefer just the opposite approach -- a comprehensive bill, one vote, one package to concentrate the mind of the American public and to achieve a better legislative result. Can you explain to us the strategic insight the White House has as to why it’s better that the White House not to write it and send it up in one comprehensive bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d answer it two ways. One, some of the legislation that we are talking about here, specifically the legislation that has to do with the assault weapons and with high-capacity ammunition clips preexisted, and Senator Feinstein has done a lot of work on these issues and is working, and we are working with her to develop updated legislation that addresses these matters. And so that -- we believe that's the appropriate way to go.
How this plays out legislatively is obviously hard to know, and I would point you to experts on the Hill about how it will in both the Senate and the House. Our interest is in moving this entire package in a way that is most successful. And we obviously depend in part for our decisions about strategy on our allies in Congress and how they see the best direction to move.
Q But it is an organic White House decision not to send a piece of legislation it drafts in one big package, and I’m just curious --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we haven’t -- we’re not doing that. But we’re doing that -- I mean, there’s a reason here, which is that the assault weapons ban did exist, was on the books for 10 years, including a portion of it that dealt with ammunition clips. That legislation has been something -- renewal of it is something the President has supported for a long time. And Senator Feinstein is the author of that bill, and we support efforts to update it and move it forward.
Q Does this strategy reflect a fear that if you put everything in there with the assault weapons ban, that could pull it down and that you have a better chance of achieving some of these other goals if they’re adjudicated, if you will, in Congress separately?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t speak to that directly. I just know that we are working with Senator Feinstein, working with other Senators in the Senate, and we’ll work with House members to try to move something forward here. The reality is, as we’ve talked about, that none of this is going to be easy. But the fact that it’s not easy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Q -- some of it easier in isolation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that’s a question about legislative tactics that you can address to Congress, members of Congress, and that I think I’ve addressed here. We are pursuing a course here that includes the legislation that Senator Feinstein is working on, other legislation -- you mentioned Senator Schumer. And we will continue to press the entire agenda the President put forward.
Q I’d like to --
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, I did say Alexis, and then Ari. Getting the “A”s here -- then Alexander.
Q Two quick follow-ups. On Ed’s question: If Congress today -- since we’ve already gone over the debt ceiling -- if Congress today wanted to legislate on this, I’m confused about --
MR. CARNEY: Are they even here? (Laughter.)
Q I’m just saying, in a hypothetical, perfect world, if they were going to do this today, I’m not sure I understand whether the President has signaled how long a duration he’s seeking, what dollar amount for the debt ceiling. How would they act if he’s not negotiating and he hasn’t suggested what it is he’d sign?
MR. CARNEY: Look, there is a long tradition here of Congress acting to raise the debt ceiling. This is a power that they’ve brought -- that they’ve given themselves to do. And the point is -- without drama and delay. A monthly extension is drama, okay? Congress should simply do its job. It should not -- we’re not going to negotiate over extending the debt ceiling.
Q But is the President saying he’s willing to revisit this within a year? Would he like five years? I mean, what is he saying?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear the other day that he would happily take on the responsibility himself if Congress can’t handle it. So the fact is, Congress should simply extend the debt ceiling, and do so in a manner that causes no concern to the economy and to global markets, that does not in any way suggest that Washington is about to engage in another process that results in a self-inflicted wound to the economy.
So it’s sort of a moot point because it should just be extended in a way that does not raise concern about whether or not the United States of America pays its bills.
Q Okay. Another follow-up to what Major was saying. Legislative strategy on guns: The President obviously tasked Vice President Biden to do this. Is Vice President Biden going to be the White House lobbyist on guns on the Hill? And then, secondarily, 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?
MR. CARNEY: Let me take the end of your question first by saying that I have no personnel announcements to make. (Laughter.)
Secondly, you can fully expect the Vice President to be engaged in this process. It makes sense since he led the effort that produced the recommendations that led to the President’s event yesterday and the proposals he put forward, and the Vice President has a long history on these matters. He was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. He was a primary author of the Crime Bill that included the assault weapons ban in 1994. And we’ll continue to be engaged in these issues. But I don’t have a roster of individuals who will make up the legislative team, but you can absolutely report with great certainty that the Vice President will be involved.
Q I’d just like to try to take another crack at the inauguration questions, since this may be the last briefing of the President’s first term. He’s been so busy the last few weeks with the fiscal cliff and with guns. Have you seen any moments of introspection you could share with us about reaching the end of this momentous term and beginning a new one?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q That you can share with us?
Q And you can share -- that was the key phrase. And will this be the last briefing of the first term?
Q The important question first. What moments of introspection --
MR. CARNEY: Somebody voted over here and said yes. (Laughter.) I think the President takes, obviously, this responsibility enormously seriously, and feels grateful for the opportunity that the American people have given him.
I’m not -- he said I think in the wake of the election that he didn’t get -- he didn't seek reelection just to be reelected. He believes that we have work to do, and he believes that both the agenda he has put forward so far and the agenda he will put forward in the future will help this country move forward in a variety of ways. This is something he feels very deeply.
I think it’s been reported and I think it’s fair to say that the reelection was in some ways for all of us here a humbling experience because it was an assertion by the electorate that said, despite how hard the last four years have been on this country because of the grave economic crisis that we were in when the President took office, the steps that we’ve taken have been the right steps and more work needs to be done. And I know he views it that way.
As far as -- all I can tell you is the President in general when he works on a speech writes in longhand on a yellow pad, and I’ve seen some yellow pads filled with writing of late around, but I don't have any more details on the speech.
Q A couple of questions following up first on what you said about weapons. You said this is a ban on further manufacture on future weapons. I’m curious what that means for weapons that already have been manufactured and exist in the stocks of retailers around this country, and why that wouldn’t motivate manufacturers now to manufacture them in bulk and then store them up if they have the ability to distribute them after.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a fair question. I think the original assault weapons ban was on future manufacture, and I think Senator Feinstein and others can speak with you about the writing of the legislation and some of the reasoning behind that. Again, we do not believe that any single measure that Congress can turn into law or that the President can take, or that even we as a nation can do, will eliminate this problem, will assure us that there won’t be another terrible mass shooting in the future. But these actions -- if we take them -- will, the President believes, reduce the possibility and therefore save lives and that's why they're so important to take.
Q And then following up perhaps on what Ari said a second ago -- as opposed to the introspective moments about the past four years in this place, I’m curious the President’s thoughts as we now head into this weekend, given the fact that four years ago they were approaching 2 million people expected here; this time, maybe 800,000 per the estimates. There were 10 inaugural balls; this time, just a couple. How does he view this moment differently than he did four years ago as a sort of milestone moment in his presidency?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not -- I don't really have anything more for you on his perspective. I think he’ll provide that when he speaks on Monday. I would suggest to you that there will be a very good crowd on Monday. And I would point you to PIC, the inaugural committee, to explain to you that the number of balls does not -- there’s not an exact coefficient between the number of people going to the balls. But there was, we felt I think, and the President felt and the committee felt that this appropriate in terms of the number of events and the participants in them.
Q As a general matter when American hostages are in a situation overseas, would the government expect or hope to be informed in advance before some kind of rescue operation or attack on the hostage takers?
MR. CARNEY: That's a very clever way of asking a question that has already been asked. And I just don't have -- as it relates to the situation in Algeria, I just don't have more information for you at this time. We’ll certainly try to get you more information as we have it and as we have in a way that we believe is verifiable.
Q Okay, can I try one on Iran? How did the White House interpret President Ahmadinejad’s remarks yesterday that he would have to transform the Iranian economy because of the impact of Western sanctions? Does that augur any hope for any flexibility in the Iranian position, do you think?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t look at it that way. I would say that it is another indicator, of which there have been many in recent weeks, months and the past year, that the comprehensive international, multinational effort to sanction Iran has been effective in the sense that it has had a profound impact on the Iranian economy and has had an impact, because of that, on the internal political situation in Iran.
Iran is paying a high price for its refusal to abide by its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions and will continue to pay a high price. There is a different path available to Iran, a path that would allow it to rejoin the community of nations, to alleviate the burdens placed on it by all these sanctions. They simply have to in a verifiable way abide by their commitments to forsake their nuclear weapons ambitions and to do so in a way that the United States and our broad international consensus here believes is verifiable.
Donovan -- I’m sorry, Brianna.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: You know it’s like you were right in there with that lovely --
Q Fluorescent --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, fluorescent jacket. (Laughter.)
Q 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?
MR. 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.
Q Is it a determining factor as he considers --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is considering a variety of personnel decisions carefully and will make announcements when he’s made the decision. And I think that there’s a lot of reporting and has been in the past that is speculative in nature, that sometimes proves to be -- it’s like a -- rolling the dice, right? Sometimes if you say it’s going to be three, it turns out to be three, but often it’s not.
So the fact that some of that reporting about who is going to have which position or be named to which position turns out to be true, there’s a whole bunch of reporting that people forget where reporters assert that so and so is going to get this job and it turns out not to be the case; and so and so gets another job, and it turns out not to be the case -- which is not to cast dispersions. It's just simply to say the President hasn't made a decision that he's ready to announce on that post or any of the others that he has yet to announce. And when he does, he'll present them to you.
On the broader issue about the makeup of his Cabinet and White House staff, I think the President addressed this pretty directly in answer to Jackie just the other day.
Q But is he sensitive to the criticism?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would make your assessment on that by looking at the answer he gave, which is that diversity matters to him. That is in part why a woman was his chief diplomat, a woman has been his homeland -- top homeland security Cabinet official, a woman has been representing --
Q He said those were the announcements to judge by all of his announcements. So obviously --
MR. CARNEY: Right, but that’s in the future. But I'm just saying -- I mean, I think his record is pretty -- demonstrates the value he places on diversity. And I think he made clear that you should wait to make judgments about his personnel decisions and the diversity of them after he's made them and announced them.
Q So then after he makes some more personnel assessments -- or personnel announcements, he makes his next one, then after that --
MR. CARNEY: I think he said to all of them. So I would -- I mean, obviously, you're free to make any assessments you want at any time that you want, but I think his -- he was urging folks to sort of stand back and wait until he's made what will be another series of announcements, because obviously there are some positions to fill.
Q And finally, it's the First Lady's birthday today, I believe.
MR. CARNEY: It is.
Q Can you tell us anything about how the President and First Family are celebrating her birthday?
MR. CARNEY: I don't want to ruin the surprise.
Q But anything that may have already happened?
MR. CARNEY: No, you know, I --
Q He's not waiting until the very end of the day to acknowledge --
MR. CARNEY: That's a personal thing. I don't have anything for that on you -- on that for you. (Laughter.) Seriously, I asked, but I don't have anything for you.
Q Any outing tonight?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry?
Q Outing tonight?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything for you on the President’s schedule.
Q Two quick questions. On Manti Te’o -- (laughter) -- have you spoken -- someone had to ask. Have you spoken with the President about it and has he had any thoughts about it? I know he’s a big sports fan.
MR. CARNEY: I have not spoken with him. I read the article in question yesterday evening and it was fascinating. But I don't have anything for you from the President.
Q Did you have thoughts on it?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I just thought it was a very interesting story. But I just don't, obviously, have any comment on it.
Q And then, secondly, on Algeria -- (laughter.) On Algeria, Sky News is reporting that U.S. drones, at least one, have been spotted over the area. When you said earlier that we are providing logistical support, does that include drones?
MR. CARNEY: I was referring to Mali when I was talking about logistical support to the French effort, which is essentially airlift support. But I mean, I just don't have any --
Q And U.S. drones over Algeria?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any other details for you on the support we're providing beyond what I said before.
Q This may sound very mundane, but the Vice President is meeting with mayors this afternoon. So I'm just wondering --
MR. CARNEY: That's important.
Q Yes, well, so I just wanted to try to put some meat on the bone. Is there any specific asks of the mayors or anything specific that he needs to tell them from the administration on some of these big issues that we're dealing with this week, both guns and the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you can expect that the Vice President will, in his discussion with mayors, raise the issue that he worked hard on and the President announced yesterday, which is a series of initiatives and proposals that make up the President’s plan to try to reduce gun violence. I think that will be a focus of the conversation.
I don't know that they’ll talk about the debt ceiling. I suppose that's possible, but I think gun violence will be a topic of, and an appropriate one, when the Vice President meets with mayors.
Q What’s he asking them for?
MR. CARNEY: Support.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think --
Q Does he want mayors to call their congressmen and ask them --
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I think the whole point that the President made and the Vice President will make is that we need everybody who believes this is a matter of concern and it needs to be addressed, and who supports the common-sense measures the President put forward yesterday, to speak up. And that includes elected officials at the local level and the state level, as well as at the national level. And it includes average Americans and interest groups and civic groups that are concerned about gun violence and who want to see common-sense action taken that respects and protects our Second Amendment rights but helps prevent those who should not have weapons from getting them, from attaining them, and helps prevent potential violent actors from obtaining the kinds of weapons that could inflict so much damage -- which addresses the ammunition clip issue.
So he will, I'm sure, be calling on mayors to support this effort. And that's just the start of it.
Q On the debt ceiling, top administration officials did a call with, like, dozens of executives today -- CEOs and stuff. I'm just wondering if you could flesh that out a little for us as well. What is it that the administration is looking for the business community and corporate executives to do in terms of exerting pressure on Congress for the debt ceiling? How much do you think you can count on them explicitly? Like beyond urging members not to hold it up, what do you actually expect them to do?
MR. CARNEY: Speak up about any concern they may have -- and this applies to anyone who has this concern who is in a position of influence -- to speak up about any concern they may have about Congress -- in this case, Republicans, in particular in the House -- using flirtation with default as a tactic because the implications of that are so profound for our economy.
I mentioned this earlier, but here’s Honeywell chairman and CEO, David Cote, saying, “You should not be using the debt limit as a bargaining chip when it comes to how you run the country. You don't put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.” Again, the Chamber of Commerce -- I quote -- “The Chamber believes we should not risk defaulting and therefore the debt ceiling needs to be raised.” That's the Chamber of Commerce.
Alan Simpson, co-author of the world-famous Simpson-Bowles plan, says of the proposition that the GOP might use the debt ceiling as a leverage point, he says, “I think that would be a grave mistake. I don't think that would solve anything. I think they are going to try it” -- I hope he’s wrong about that -- “and how far they will go with that game of chicken I have no idea. But I can tell you, you can't, you really can't. This is stuff that we've already indebted ourselves. I mean, if you're a real conservative, a really honest conservative, without hypocrisy, you would want to pay your debt.”
Let me repeat: “If you are a real conservative, a really honest conservative, without hypocrisy, you would want to pay your debt.” That's Alan Simpson, former Republican senator.
And the number of voices out there making that point I think is a positive thing when we talk about the absolute necessity for Congress to do its job, for Republicans in Congress not to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, to raise the debt ceiling without drama, without delay; and then to engage in positive, healthy, constructive discussion and negotiation about how we move forward in reducing our deficit in a balanced way, and doing so in a way that allows the economy to continue to grow so that we're making investments in education, and research and development, and elsewhere, in a way that doesn’t ask seniors to bear the burden of deficit reduction entirely -- in a balanced way.
And the President is eager to have those negotiations, and is eager to compromise in a way that protects his principles, as he has demonstrated in the past.
Thanks, guys. Oh, I do owe Mr. Knoller -- you're looking a little forlorn.
Q Jay, what prompted President Obama to change the license plate on his limousines? For four years he didn’t use the “Taxation Without Representation” plates, but on Saturday we hear he will be putting them on it. Why did he change his mind about that?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a good question. I appreciate it. President Obama now has lived in the District for four years and has seen firsthand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children, and pay taxes without having a vote in Congress. Attaching these plates to the presidential vehicles demonstrates the President’s commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, home rule, and budget autonomy for the district.
That’s your answer. Sorry, I’ve got to go. Thanks.
Q Week ahead or are you going to brief tomorrow?
Q See you tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure you’ll hear from me in some fashion tomorrow. We haven’t decided yet.
1:03 P.M. EST
December 9, 2014
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