Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 04/22/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions I wanted to let you know that on Thursday afternoon, after the formal opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the President and First Lady will travel to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to attend the memorial service for those lost and injured in the deadly explosion at the fertilizer plant there.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. It appears as though the suspect in the Boston bombings is having some level of communication with investigators. Can you give us any sense about how much information he’s been able to provide to authorities, and are they getting any closer to being able to identify a motivation in the attacks?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a few things. First of all, at the request of the hospital, the FBI did put out a release this morning on the suspect’s condition and that is that he remains in serious condition.
When it comes to the ongoing investigation and the prosecution of the suspect, I am not going to give a play-by-play -- for obvious reasons. There is a comprehensive investigation underway. As you heard the President say on Friday, we need to know everything we can about why this happened, what the motivation was, how it happened, and all of those issues are under investigation.
As for the process that the Department of Justice and the FBI are using to move forward in the investigation, they can comment on that. But I think it is entirely appropriate when you have an investigation like this into a terrorist act that that process be protected so that it is as effective as possible.
Q Is the President, though, getting a play-by-play briefing on what authorities are able to get from this man at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you saw on Saturday, President Obama convened the National Security Council here in the Situation Room to review the events in Boston and he was updated on the apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the related investigation. He was also briefed by the leadership of the intelligence community about our ongoing efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people.
He commended the work done. And it is extraordinary work and worth noting the work done by law enforcement officials at the state, local, and federal level last week, the remarkable period from Monday to Friday night, in the act of terrorism in the terrible bombings and the tragedy, the immediate coming together of all relevant authorities at the state, local, and federal level to investigate these acts; the ability through remarkable work to provide to the public video and photographic images of the suspects; and then the successful apprehension of and bringing to justice of the suspects on Friday night -- that really is quite remarkable. And so the President commended the work that was done and underscored the need to continue gathering intelligence to answer the remaining questions about this terrorist attack going forward.
And the President has been and will continue to be updated regularly on the progress of the investigation and related matters. But as I said in answer to your first question, this is an ongoing investigation that is really still in its early stages.
Q There are some questions being raised by lawmakers about whether the FBI was thorough enough as it looked into the older brother in 2011. Is the President comfortable with that review that the FBI did at that point? Has he asked for there to be any further review of what the FBI did at that point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say, first of all, as you heard the President comment on Friday, the FBI did extraordinary work in responding to this attack -- identifying the suspects, and working with state and local authorities to bring them to justice.
With respect to the events in 2011 that you mentioned, the FBI has spoken about this and put out a statement. It is clear from that, that the FBI followed up on the information that it received about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother. They investigated it thoroughly and did not find terrorist activity, domestic or foreign.
As for the President, you heard him say on Friday, and I think it merits repeating -- I don’t have it here, but it merits repeating in that he called for answers to a number of questions, as I said earlier: why this was done, what the motivations were, how it was done, any possible associations that the suspects may have had. And all of this is being investigated. And I think that you absolutely can expect that all the agencies involved as part of the broader investigation are examining these issues.
Q There’s some chatter now that the immigration reform effort could be derailed because of what happened in Boston. What’s the White House view on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we agree with what some of the coauthors of the bill -- including, I believe, Senators McCain and Graham and Rubio -- have said, which is that one of the positive effects and one of the reasons why we need comprehensive immigration reform is because it will enhance when implemented our national security. And it is another reason why we need to move forward with this very important bipartisan legislation. That is certainly our view.
Q Are you worried that the effort may lose some momentum now because of this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will simply say that it should not because of the reasons I just mentioned, and that Republican authors of the legislation as well as Democratic authors of The legislation I think have said, which is that one of the reasons why we need comprehensive immigration reform is we need to bring out of the shadows the roughly 11 million residents of this country who are here illegally. The process of moving along the earned path to citizenship and the various hurdles that have to be cleared in that process allows for much more information to be known by the relevant authorities and agencies about these individuals. And that's very important. It also enhances the entry and exit procedures that are part of the immigration process.
So we will continue to press forward in a bipartisan way with Congress to move this legislation because it’s the right thing to do for the middle class, for our security and for our economy.
Q Some Senate Republicans -- lastly, Jay -- are saying that the Boston suspect should be treated like an enemy combatant. Is that something that you guys have looked at or made a determination on?
MR. CARNEY: He will not be treated as an enemy combatant. We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions. And it is important to remember that since 9/11, we have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists. The effective use of the criminal justice system has resulted in the interrogation, conviction and detention of both U.S. citizens and noncitizens for acts of terrorism committed inside the United States and around the world.
The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully handle the threat that we continue to face. And there are a number of examples of this -- high-profile: the Times Square Bomber, Faisal Shahzad, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Abdulmutallab, the so-called Underwear Bomber, was sentenced to life in prison. Warsame, a Somali national who was a member of Al Shabaab and has close associations with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is now currently in this system and we have acquired valuable intelligence from him through the process that is allowed in the system.
So this is absolutely the right way to go and the appropriate way to go. And when it comes to United States citizens, it is against the law to try them in military commissions.
Q Does the President believe that there is a system in place to adequately target and deal with lone operators, those who may not be tied to some kind of larger extremist organization?
MR. CARNEY: You have heard the President and many others address the evolving threats that we have as a nation. As we have taken the fight to al Qaeda and have met with significant progress in removing from the battlefield senior members of al Qaeda Central, we have seen other threats develop and emerge. And John Brennan, the President, many others, the Attorney General have spoken about those threats.
I would not in any way characterize the suspects in this investigation in any way with regards to that question because that is something that is being determined by investigators and prosecutors. But there is no question that the threat remains. It remains from al Qaeda Central, even though it’s been decimated. It remains from affiliates of al Qaeda, as we've talked about -- AQAP and the like. And it remains within the context of your question, self-radicalized actors, individual actors who pose a threat. We have to remain vigilant in the face of all those threats. And the President, of course, expects our various agencies within the national security apparatus to do just that.
Q I want to follow up on an earlier question about whether or not the President feels like law enforcement, the FBI, adequately dealt with this issue back in 2011. During his briefings, has he been asking specific questions about what law enforcement knew and is he comfortable with the answers that he's getting?
MR. CARNEY: Without getting into specifics of the meetings he has had, he has been thoroughly briefed and has asked a host of questions, as you would expect. And what I can tell you is that the FBI -- as the FBI itself has said -- thoroughly investigated the information that it had received in 2011. That included checking U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. And the FBI, as you know, interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members and at the time did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.
As part of the overall investigation into these two individuals, into the bombings in Boston and obviously the events later in Watertown, there will be a whole picture I think put together to find out exactly what led to these bombings, the motivations that were behind them, any associations that may have existed if they did. And that is part of the process that's being undertaken now, now that these suspects -- one is obviously deceased and one is in custody -- there is a process underway to thoroughly investigate the whole matter.
Q And as that picture is being painted and put together at this stage, is there any indication at all that, looking back on it now, there are some things that pointed to what happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the statement the FBI made and that I just repeated, which is, looking back on it now at this time, the FBI did thoroughly investigate this matter when it received information from a foreign government and went through the process that I just described. All of this obviously will be part of an investigation into an ongoing matter, and that is the investigation and prosecution of the suspect in custody.
Q Jay, I've got two things. First, a quick follow on immigration. Senator Rand Paul is saying at the very least that the process should be slowed down. We understand what happened in Boston. And he wrote a letter saying, "Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented?" My question: Do you think Rand Paul has a point at all, that what happened in Boston reflects something wrong with the current system of immigration that should cause us to slow down a little bit and figure it out?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that we need to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform for a whole host of reasons and the benefits that reform will provide to our country, to our economy, to our security. And we agree with those coauthors of the legislation in the Senate who have made the point in recent days that enhancing our security is one of the reasons why we should press forward with comprehensive immigration reform.
Speculation about this particular matter is fine, but this is under investigation. The fact is that comprehensive immigration reform, as anybody who has looked into it and can attest, would enhance our security for all the reasons that I talked about at the top.
Q Okay. Now I'll ask about the FAA furloughs, which started yesterday. A group of almost the entire airline industry, including air traffic controller unions, flight attendants, pilot unions, and the industry itself, have written Denis McDonough and the White House a letter saying that the FAA should be granted flexibility so they don't have to furlough the air traffic controllers. What do you say to this broad coalition? They say that other agencies have been given such flexibility and they believe the FAA should have the same flexibility.
MR. CARNEY: Let me give you some facts. The Department of Transportation is required by law to cut about $1 billion between now and the end of September; $637 million of that comes from the FAA. The FAA has initiated a series of cost-saving measures for personnel and non-personnel related, including a hiring freeze, restrictions on travel, termination of certain temporary employees, and reductions to contracts, among other savings.
But furloughs cannot be avoided. Seventy percent of the FAA’s operations budget is personnel. The FAA must furlough 47,000 employees for up to 11 days between now and the end of the fiscal year.
And that's why Secretary LaHood, here in this room two months ago, called on Congress to replace these dumb sequester cuts and put instead in place a smarter approach to deficit reduction. Remember, this is a result of sequester that was never meant to be law. And it was never meant to be law for reasons like this -- because the across-the-board nature of cuts. And in an agency like DOT and the FAA, because they’re personnel-heavy, the effect of these cuts inevitably will be felt at the personnel level.
Congress can act. It could have acted in the past. It could have brought down the sequester and avoided it entirely. Congress could act now to do that. Republicans in Congress could decide that the victory party is over and it’s time to get serious about the economy, get serious about the effects of the sequester on Americans across the country in a variety of ways, and either postpone it by buying it down or take up the President’s balanced approach to broader deficit reduction that would eliminate the sequester entirely.
Q But this coalition, again, it’s the industry, it’s all the unions. I mean, theoretically, they know a little something about how the FAA operates. They point out that the Bureau of Prisons, the meat inspectors, other agencies have been able to figure out another way. Are they just wrong?
MR. CARNEY: I think I enumerated the ways in which the FAA has already done what it could to mitigate the effects of the sequester. The FAA, unlike other agencies, is personnel-heavy, and in the end, you cannot avoid -- when 70 percent of your budget, of your operating budget, is personnel, you cannot avoid, when the cuts are as deep as they are in the sequester, the kinds of actions that are taken. These furloughs, that's the unfortunate fact of arbitrary, across-the-board cuts like this. They affect agencies differently depending on the makeup of an agency’s budget, what kinds of actions they can take within the law to mitigate the impacts of the sequester.
In this case, those actions have already been taken. So it’s an unfortunate result. And it is unfortunate, just as those families whose children are no longer on Head Start or will not be on Head Start because of the arbitrary nature of the sequester’s impact, those seniors who are not getting Meals on Wheels because they can’t participate anymore because funding cuts. There are a variety of effects of this, and none of this was necessary, nor should it be necessary going forward if Republicans would simply revert to their previous position that they held vociferously, which is that the sequester was terrible policy that shouldn’t become law, that would do damage to our economy and to job creation.
They were right then. When they called it a political victory and a tea party victory, they were wrong -- at least wrong when it comes to the American people and the economy.
Q When the Russian government asked the FBI or the U.S. government and the FBI to check on the activities of Tamerlan and the FBI reported back they had no evidence of terrorism, there was also a report that the FBI asked the Russians for further information, which was not forthcoming. Is there going to be an attempt to find out what else was in the pipeline?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President spoke with President Putin on Friday and we have a useful, cooperative relationship with the Russians when it comes to matters of counterterrorism. That has been true in the past and will be true going forward we expect. And that coordination and cooperation is ongoing, and I think that that applies specifically to this matter and broadly on a host of issues. It also applies to our counterterrorism cooperation with a number of countries, which is very similar.
Q Do we know why their cooperation apparently failed in this earlier request?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the FBI has put out a fairly detailed statement about that time period and its investigation into the elder Tsarnaev, and I would refer you to that statement.
What is and was the case is that we have a cooperative relationship with the Russians. It is also certainly the case that information passed on by a foreign government would not necessarily lead to the arrest of an individual. We have a process in this country where we have to find grounds for action, and the FBI did an investigation and did not find grounds for action at the time.
Q On another subject, what gives you confidence the agreement reached by the core group of the Friends of Syria this weekend will actually keep weapons out of the hands of extremists in that country?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, as you know, we have upped our provision of nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition. We have increased our humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.
I would also, since I’m discussing Syria, be remiss if I did not note that we are appalled by horrific reports that hundreds of Syrians were killed over the weekend in a Damascus suburb. And as the violence drags out while President Assad clings to power, we cannot lose sight of the men, women and children whose lives are being so brutally cut short. And we reinforce our solidarity with the Syrian people, even as we strongly condemn this massacre.
At the President’s directive, we will continue to work with the coalition and other opposition representatives to determine how the new $123 million in nonlethal assistance can best support their efforts to accelerate a political transition and build the inclusive, democratic Syria that its people deserve.
This new pledge brings our total nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition and civil society groups to $250 million. A portion of this nonlethal assistance will be used to implement the President’s directive to provide an expanded range of support to the Supreme Military Council. We intend to expand our support beyond military food rations and medical kits to include other types of nonlethal supplies, which will be determined in collaboration with the SMC leadership.
Now, this is a process that we have engaged in now for some time where we have increased our aid. As we make assessments about the opposition, we have recognized the Syria Opposition Coalition and we have been increasing our nonlethal assistance. And together with our international partners we are working to bring about the day when the Syrian people can decide their future, and that future cannot and will not include President Assad.
Q Can I ask the question again? The agreement itself, what about that gives you confidence that other countries’ lethal assistance will not fall into the hands of extremists in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we work with the Syrian opposition and we have recognized the coalition because we recognize their assertions about democracy for the Syria people and their intentions to bring about a more democratic and prosperous and freer Syria.
This is an issue that we have discussed repeatedly over the last many months now, and it’s one -- it’s the kind of assessment we make all the time about providing assistance to the Syrian opposition. We obviously make the decisions that we make based on the aid that we provide. We work with our partners and allies in this matter. Other countries obviously have to make the decisions that they make based on the assessments that they have.
Q A lot of the criticism of Friends of Syria of the Syrian government, of Bashar al-Assad, has fallen on Russia. But Xinhua this weekend said that the meeting of the Friends of Syria further complicates the crisis. Is China equally culpable as Moscow in holding back the effort to get rid of Bashar al-Assad?
MR. CARNEY: We pursued a process through the United Nations Security Council with regards to Syria that was, unfortunately, not successful because of actions and vetoes taken by the Russians and the Chinese. We were very clear about our disappointment in that and our frustration in that, and we discussed with both countries -- in particular the Russians because of their relationship with the Syrian government, the Assad government -- why we believe it is essential to bring about a future in Syria without Assad because Assad has so much blood on his hands, the blood of his own people; because there is no possible better, democratic, more prosperous future for the Syrian people as long as Assad is there. But these are conversations we have all the time.
It goes to the point I’ve made previously about the fact that we have an important relationship with Russia. We have our disagreements and we have areas where we can cooperate, and we are clear and candid about both of them.
Q One final question. The North Koreans apparently had moved a missile near the coast in preparation for a test. We haven’t heard much from them in the past couple of days. Do you feel that the crisis is -- I won’t say over, but tempers have cooled?
MR. CARNEY: We monitor this situation very closely and carefully. We have said for some time we would not be surprised if there were a missile launch because it is in keeping with a pattern of behavior that we have seen before. Unfortunately, that pattern of behavior is one that flies in the face of North Korea’s commitments to the United Nations, its commitment to denuclearization, its commitment not to pursue the kind of missile development that it has pursued.
And we are working with our partners and allies to isolate and pressure North Korea to get it to cease and desist this kind of provocative behavior, to dial back the provocative and unhelpful rhetoric, and instead to choose the path open to it -- the path that is best for the North Korean people -- and that is one that recognizes the need to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and for North Korea to verifiably abide by its commitments.
Q Does the lack of recent rhetoric suggest it’s working?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we would not be surprised if action of the like that you’ve asked about were to be taken by the North Koreans. And we remain in a state of constant monitoring and vigilance with regards to all the developments that we have seen in recent weeks. So we’re not in any way prepared to say that this episode or period is over.
The fact is North Korea remains out of compliance. It continues to say and do things that serve no other purpose than to heighten tensions and to further isolate the North Korean people and the North Korean regime with negative consequences for the North Korean economy and, as I said, the North Korean people. So we’ll continue to monitor this.
Q Jay, I want to ask you, ahead of the President’s trip on Thursday to Waco, Texas -- ask you specifically about the deadly explosion that took place there. That facility was last inspected by OSHA in 1985. The risk plan, we’re learning, filed with regulators listed no flammable chemicals. It was cleared to hold many times more ammonium nitrate than was used in the Oklahoma City bombing. As a result of some of these findings, there are a lot of safety advocates, work-safety advocates who have been saying that the U.S. government needs to better crack down on facilities like this, citing some stats about OSHA in particular, and sort of the ratio of OSHA employees has dropped dramatically in the number of employees in sites that they’re checking these days.
Is the White House satisfied that there is sufficient -- that the regulators are doing sufficient work right now and that there’s a sufficient number of people doing this?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a few things. First of all, as I think many of you noted on Friday night, shortly after 10 p.m. when the President came to the briefing room to discuss the apprehension of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, he made also the point that our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of West, Texas, where so many good people lost their lives, some lost their homes, and many were injured and are still missing.
As you know, the President has spoken with Governor Perry and the Mayor of West, Texas. The President has directed his administration to make sure that the people of West have the resources that they need to recover and rebuild.
On Friday, the President approved an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act for the state of Texas, including public assistance for emergency protective measures and direct federal assistance.
On the issue that you raise, this is currently, obviously, an active investigation. The cause is still unknown. And it is still too early to point to specific violations, if any. The National Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives along with the National Criminal Enforcement Response Team and a criminal investigative team from the Environmental Protection Agency are on scene to investigate the explosion at the fertilizer plant.
Let’s be clear, though. Chemical plant safety is a high priority and all of the relevant departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the EPA, the Department of Labor, including OSHA within the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Chemical Safety Board continue to work together within their authorities to assess this tragic situation on the ground and provide technical assistance as requested.
Q I just want to follow up if I can. I want to move quickly back to the conversation we’re having about what took place in Boston and on the issue of guns that was in many ways sort of lost in the conversations about Boston last week. We’re learning more details about the firearms and at least one rifle that was being carried by these two men during the firefight that took place Thursday night into Friday. The Cambridge Police Department just said recently that there was no record of Tamerlan Tsarnaev having a license to carry, among other things. What, if anything, does this reflect? Obviously they don’t have -- law doesn’t give them the right to carry explosives, but about guns in particular, the fact that they had access to these weapons -- does that demonstrate anything that underscores the message you're trying to send?
MR. CARNEY: This is an active investigation that's just still in its early stages with regards to the Boston bombings. There’s no question that in the bombings themselves and in the events in Watertown on Friday that there was a lot of firepower deployed. But beyond that, which is information that's obvious to anyone who was paying attention, I'm not going to characterize the investigation and I'm not going to characterize what weapons may or may not have been recovered.
On the separate matter of the efforts that the President spoke about last week, which is the need to continue to take common-sense measures and make them law to reduce gun violence in America, the President remains committed to that. And it was a sad day, as the President said, in Washington when a minority of United States senators voted against -- not just against the majority of the American people, not even a large majority -- 90 percent of the American people who understand that expanded background checks, making better the system that already exists to prevent people who by law should not have access to weapons was the right thing to do and remains the right thing to do.
Q This is a different issue. Does the President support legislation allowing states to require Internet retailers to collect sales taxes? And if that were to pass, would he sign that into law?
MR. CARNEY: We believe that the Marketplace Fairness Act will level the playing field for local small business retailers who are undercut every day by out-of state online companies. Today, while local small business retailers follow the law and collect sales taxes from customers who make purchases in their stores, many big business online and catalogue retailers do not collect the same taxes. This puts local neighborhood-based small businesses at a disadvantage to big, out-of-state, online companies. And because these out-of-state companies are able to cut corners and play by a different set of rules, cities and states lose out on funding for K-12 education, police and fire protection, access to affordable health care and funding for roads and bridges.
This administration has carefully considered the legislation and our team has met with a broad array of people on the issue, and we have heard overwhelmingly from governors, mayors and the business community on the need for federal legislation to level the playing field for our businesses and address sales tax fairness. The bill also provides an important exception for small business and has bipartisan support, which I'm sure you know. It is broadly supported on a bipartisan basis.
This is simply about leveling the playing field so that bricks-and-mortar businesses that depend on customers to survive are not playing at a disadvantage, competing at a disadvantage, and selling products that others are selling online but not collecting taxes.
Q You were ready for the question.
MR. CARNEY: I was brilliantly prepared for the question.
Q Jay, whose decision was it to try this terror suspect the way he is going to be tried, in the civilian courts?
MR. CARNEY: This is a matter that is decided by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General, obviously, at the top of that. The whole national security team supports this decision. And let's be clear, there is not an alternative for a U.S. citizen to be tried in a military commission by law.
Q Did the President weigh in on this, too?
MR. CARNEY: The President has had many briefings on the Boston bombings, on the investigation, on the progress being made thus far, and he has been an active participant. But I'm not going to characterize his specific comments within those meetings except to say that the entire national security team that he leads is in agreement on this approach.
Q Now, looking ahead on the Bush Library dedication, can you characterize what President Obama's relationship is with George W. Bush?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there is, and he believes that there is a special bond between those who have served their country from the Oval Office. There’s no job like it and there are very few in our history who have held it. And there are, fortunately, a number of living ex-Presidents and the President looks forward to meeting with all of them. And he is firmly of the view that every one of his predecessors that he will be seeing in Dallas approached their job trying to do the very best for the country, that they all love their country, and they're all patriots, and they made policy decisions based on what they thought was the right thing to do.
Q How much has he relied on Mr. Bush for any advice? How often are they in touch?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into private conversations that the President has had with any of his predecessors except to say that he looks forward to the event. And he had a nice, obviously, conversation with and meeting with former President George W. Bush when he was here for the portrait unveiling. But beyond that, I’m not going to characterize their conversations.
Q Yes, just a quick follow-up on that. What is the President’s role on Thursday at the dedication?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll get more details for you on that.
Q Will he be speaking?
MR. CARNEY: Let me find out and get that for you.
Q Quick follow-up on the immigration question’s relationship to Boston: What is it about immigration reform that might have had a connection to a case like this? I mean, how are these -- these two men don't seem to have been in the shadows at all.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not making any assertions about this case with regards to immigration reform. I’m simply saying that it is a fact -- as Senator Rubio, McCain and Graham have been saying, and others -- that our nation will be more secure if we enact comprehensive immigration reform, that there is a national security benefit from implementing this legislation. It will bring --
Q You don't think it would have made any --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not -- I have tried hard, in answer to some of these questions about specific matters related to this investigation, to back up and not characterize or color anyone’s views, at least with regards to the White House, on that investigation, but to make broader points about, in this case, immigration reform, about the need to look into the whole array of questions that are raised by the Boston bombings, including motivations and possible associations, again, without making assertions specific to this case.
Q Jay, last week at this time, there still seemed to be some hope in the White House that the background check bill could pass. Since the failure of the bill, have you -- has the White House done any kind of look-back at what went wrong, what could have been done better? And a second question related to that: What’s the next concrete step the President will take to try to revive this legislation?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a legislative plan to present to you. If I did, I might not present it. But let’s be clear what happened. Ninety percent of the American people were in favor of one thing; a minority of United States senators derailed that. What the President made clear in the Rose Garden is that this will happen. The time will come when this legislation passes, when we expand and improve our background check system, because it has to be done. It is common sense. Americans across the country from different regions, rural and urban, red, blue and purple states, support this approach. And it will happen. As we have seen in our history, sometimes Congress takes a little bit of time to catch up to the American people. This is one of those times.
I don't have a specific next step to tell you about. I know that we are continuing, obviously, to implement the 23 executive actions that the President made part of his comprehensive proposal to reduce gun violence. But we will clearly, as Senators Reid and Manchin and others have said, continue to pursue legislative remedies that are common sense, that respect our Second Amendment rights, that have the support of the American people because they are very common sense about this, including gun owners who support expanding background checks.
I think you heard from, in an editorial, Gabrielle Giffords a remarkable expression of disappointment and commitment to action. And those are sentiments that the President shares.
Q On the legislative strategy component of this, is there any look-back at why the President was unable to convince enough members of his own party, as well as Republicans to vote for the bill?
MR. CARNEY: We are absolutely -- well, let me say two things. One is this just happened, and we -- everybody here worked, from the President on down, worked hard to bring about this action on legislation that in the end Congress has to vote on.
The fact is, and I’ve noted it and the President noted it, and it is I think essential to recall that this is an issue that 90 percent of the American people support. It is an issue that 90 percent of Democrats voted for and one that 90 percent of Republicans voted against. So 90 percent of Republicans voted with 10 percent of the American people.
So there is no question the President is disappointed with all those who did not vote yes. But the fact is there was a decision made largely within the Republican Party that they did not need to listen to the majority of the American people. And for whatever reason -- and there was no plausible reason laid out at a policy level for why we should not simply make better a background check system that has been in existence for a long time now, that has been effective where it is in place in preventing criminals from getting weapons, which should be a goal that we all share -- why not make that system better in a way that does no harm to Second Amendment rights, in a way that 90 percent of the American people support, that gun owners support, that avid sportsmen and women support? We should do that. And the President believes we should do that.
And the fact that a minority in the Senate disagreed with not just the President -- it’s not about the President -- disagreed with 90 percent of the American people is I think unfortunate and will -- they will go down, I think, as being wrong on this because it will happen.
Q Did he speak individually to the Democrats who voted no before the vote? Did he lobby each one of them personally?
MR. CARNEY: The President, the Vice President, everybody here was involved in this effort, and everybody here was having conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders. I’m not going to -- some of these conversations that the President had haven gotten out, but I’m not going to detail every one of them. You can believe that he was engaged in this process, as was the Vice President.
Q You don't think he could have twisted more arms or done more personal one-on-one lobbying for this?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President spoke to this issue numerous times, as you know --
Q We know that, but --
MR. CARNEY: -- and he made numerous phone calls and had numerous meetings, and his entire team here engaged in this process completely and thoroughly.
And I think it is -- the fact is a phone call from the President in this case matters. The fact that 90 percent of your constituents support something and you vote against it should matter even more. And there are those who chose to ignore the 90 percent.
Alexis, and then Peter.
Q Jay, the Boston suspect has been charged while in the hospital. Can you clarify why the indictment is sealed? When the public safety exception actually expired, can you confirm that he has been Mirandized, told his rights? And can you offer any information --
MR. CARNEY: As you can imagine, there is a firewall here on this matter. I was not aware that that indictment had been announced. If you’re -- I’ll take you at your word, so I would have to say that these are matters that the Department of Justice, rightly, both evaluates and answers questions on. So we’ll have to point you to the Justice Department on that.
What I can tell you is that we have a long history here of successfully prosecuting terrorists and bringing them to justice. And the President fully believes that that process will work in this case.
Q I have a quick follow-up. The FBI statement that was put out about the 2011 investigation talked about searching for derogatory information through telephone conversations and also Internet websites. Can you tell us whether the government used the FISA Court to eavesdrop on the family’s phone conversations or their website use before interviewing them?
MR. CARNEY: The FBI conducted a thorough investigation. It made inquiries. It had interviews with -- interrogated both Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his family members, and did a search for derogatory information and any connection to terrorism, foreign or domestic. And it made the assessment that it made. For more than those many details, I would refer you to the FBI.
Q Jay, can I just follow up on that on the Miranda issue?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And then, sorry, Peter --
Q Did you say you don’t know if the suspect has been Mirandized yet?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this happened while I was up here.
Q Okay. And can you also say has the President been personally involved in conversations about when that should happen?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you a couple of things. One, the President has been regularly updated. Two, not commenting on this specific case, it is a fact that the public safety exception to Miranda allows for law enforcement to quickly interrogate a suspected terrorist without giving Miranda warnings under certain circumstances to gain critical intelligence and national security information.
Again, it is not for me to characterize the specific procedures in place in this investigation in its early stages, in this prosecution in its early stages. But it is important to note that that public safety exception exists and why it exists.
Peter -- change your mind?
Q No, no --
MR. CARNEY: Are you coming to Texas?
Q I am coming to Texas.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a perfect confluence for you.
Q Perfect storm.
MR. CARNEY: Yes -- I wasn’t going to say storm.
Q Did you say that -- you probably said this and I missed it. Did you say he’s going to speak at Baylor at the service, or attend?
MR. CARNEY: I simply said he was going to attend. We’ll get back to you about how he’s participating.
Q All right. And on the gun thing, the discussion we were just having now, you rightly point out that 90 percent of the public in the polls suggest they support background check expansion. What does it say, though, about the President’s future ability to get legislation through -- other than, say. immigration where there’s an obvious Republican response at this point -- if he can’t convince Congress to pass something where 90 percent -- what is the future for him in the next three years legislatively if on something like this he’s unable to do it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a few things. One, we made clear from the beginning that this would be difficult, that all of these pursuits legislatively had not come to pass, had not been successful in the past precisely because of the obstacles that exist and, unfortunately, continue to exist, and presumably led a minority of United States senators to vote against the vast majority of the American people.
But this President will continue to push on that front, as well as on all the initiatives that he has put forward to help our economy grow and create jobs, as well as on comprehensive immigration reform, which we are very pleased with the progress. But nobody should be making any assumptions about the fact that this, too, is challenging work. And we remain committed to working with the Congress to bring it about.
It was the case during the discussions about legislation to reduce gun violence that at various times it was conventional wisdom that one of at least two -- the background checks or limiting the capacity of ammunition clips -- would be easy. And you're shaking your head, Mara, but I got those questions -- “well, that's in the bag, but what about the assault weapons ban?”
So the fact is this is hard because there are institutional reasons, there are political reasons, and there are other, I'm sure, personal reasons for why senators chose to vote against the vast majority of the American people. But we will continue to press the case. And this President made clear on Friday that this is just round one of this fight, that this will happen because it's the right thing to do and it's entirely common sense, and it would result in lives being saved. And that's what we should be about.
Q What's round two?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said before, I don't have a legislative strategy to lay out to you today. But there will be a round two and there will be a continued effort by this administration -- and more importantly, by the American people who want this done, and by advocates like the Newtown families and Gabrielle Giffords -- to make it clear that it is unacceptable when the United States Senate defies the will of the American people in the way that they have.
Q Do we have to wait until after the midterm, though?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry?
Q Is that something we have to wait until after the next midterm or --
MR. CARNEY: I would not predict that at all. I think that we need to press forward and make it clear that, most importantly, through the voices of the American people who support this sensible action, that they are not happy with the result. They are not happy with a Senate that entirely dismissed the position of the vast majority of the people.
Q Continuing on the gun issue, does the President have a philosophical objection to using his power of the presidency -- as the American public has just been educated by the Lincoln film where President Lincoln used those threats almost against people in Congress -- does the President object to --
MR. CARNEY: The President promised to use every tool in his toolbox, every lever available with him and the power that comes with the office that he holds to try to make this happen, and he did. And part of that resulted in the fact that the American people was engaged and made clear -- in red states and blue states and purple states -- that they wanted this done. And there was a decision by a minority of United States senators to buck the will of the American people.
And as the President made clear in I think remarks that reflected his passion on this issue in the Rose Garden, this fight is not over. Nor should it be, because we need to do common-sense things to reduce gun violence. And those who decide that it’s politically safer to flout the will of the vast majority of their constituents we hope will reconsider that position.
Q One more.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Connie.
Q Does the President have any stand on capital punishment in this case? And also do you think this case make it more difficult for Muslims to emigrate into America?
MR. CARNEY: On the first part, I will obviously not characterize any potential outcome to a prosecution that has not yet taken place. The President’s views on capital punishment are known and his support for it in particularly heinous instances is known. But I won’t comment beyond on that.
And obviously, we need an effective comprehensive immigration system that is functional both for dealing with legal immigration, as well as dealing with the 11 million illegal immigrants who are in this country.
Q Thank you.
1:38 P.M. EDT
April 19, 2014
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