Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/15/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. I have no announcements to make, so I’ll start with your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple things. On Korea, so far we haven’t seen any test missiles fired by North Korea. Does the President take that as a signal that things are cooling down, perhaps? And Secretary Kerry said over the weekend that the U.S. could reach out to Kim Jong-un under the appropriate circumstances. I wondered if you could talk about what those circumstances would be.
MR. CARNEY: On the first part, we have seen a pattern of behavior reassert itself in recent weeks. And we would not be surprised if that series of provocative actions and bellicose statements were to continue. So we’re monitoring the situation very carefully.
We are taking the prudent steps that we’ve talked about in terms of ensuring that our homeland is defended and our allies are defended. And we are engaging with the Chinese and the Russians, as well as others, to urge them to prevail upon the North Koreans, using their specific influence, to ratchet down the behavior and the rhetoric because it does nothing good for anyone -- it does not help for the cause of stability in the region. It certainly does nothing for North Korea’s aspirations to rejoin the community of nations. It does nothing for the North Korean people.
On the matter of negotiations, it has long been our position -- and this is I think something that Secretary Kerry made clear -- that North Korea has available to it a path it may take -- could take if it agreed to the basic principle that it needs to be committed to its international obligations; it needs to be committed the proposition of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And through the Six-Party Talks, there is a path available.
But North Korea has unfortunately chosen another path, a different path, the path of provocative behavior and rhetoric that has only served to isolate it further and to bring more harm to its economy through sanctions and the like. So that's what Secretary Kerry was referring to -- is that this path is available to North Korea, but that has long been our position.
Q The fact that -- you’ve talked in the past about how this has been a pattern of activity on the part of Pyongyang. But the fact that they haven’t fired a missile, though, seems to be a break from tradition, given the particular anniversary. Is that heartening to the President that they haven’t done this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, any absence of provocative behavior or unhelpful rhetoric is a good thing in this case. But, again, I would not suggest that we believe the cycle of behavior has ended necessarily. We are monitoring this as closely today as we were over the weekend and in previous days and weeks, and taking the necessary measures and working with our partners and allies to make clear to North Korea what the result of that kind of decision would be in terms of condemnation and isolation and further sanction.
But I just don't have an assessment to make over the fact that something has not happened. We certainly would not be surprised if North Korea were to take that action. It would be in keeping with past behavior.
Q On Venezuela, any reaction to Nicolas Maduro’s election? And does the closeness of that election say anything to the President about the relative weakness of the Chavistas in Venezuela?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we congratulate the Venezuelan people for their peaceful and orderly participation in this electoral process. Now, given the tightness of the result -- around 1 percent of the votes cast separate the candidates -- the opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for a 100 percent audit of the results. And this appears an important, prudent and necessary step to ensure that all Venezuelans have confidence in these results.
In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome. And while our two countries have differences, the United States has long desired a dialogue with Venezuela on matters including counternarcotics, counterterrorism, and the commercial relations between our two countries.
Q Does this new government -- does this offer the chance for a new start in relations with Venezuela?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would simply say that we congratulate the Venezuelan people on their participation in this process. The result, as reported, is extremely close. The opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for an audit, which again, in our view, seems like an important and prudent step to take. So I don't want to get ahead of that process. I only want to say at this point that the people deserve our congratulations for their participation in the electoral process.
Q Now, Jay, in Guantanamo Bay, there’s hunger strikers. There was a clash between the guards and the prisoners over the weekend. Is there anything you can do here to lessen the situation? Or is it becoming increasingly untenable and it requires some sort of action on the White House part?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. First, we’ve been monitoring, of course, the situation at Guantanamo closely and we’re informed by the Department of Defense of the steps it was going to take to move detainees from Camp Six -- or at Camp Six from a communal situation to single-cell living in order to ensure their health and security. More details can be provided by DOD, SOUTHCOM, and the Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
More broadly, it is our view, the President’s view that that facility ought to be closed. And we have taken steps in processing detainees and in transferring them to third countries. But the obstacle to closing Guantanamo Bay -- obstacles have been raised by Congress, and that remains a reality. But our position is clear: It’s in our national security interest to pursue that, and the President remains committed to it.
Q And any movement in Congress, anything you’re doing with Congress to try to make this happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are always discussing with Congress our belief that we should take the action that the President has long supported, that military commanders and the President’s predecessor supported, because it’s in our national security interest. Congress has, as you know, raised obstacles to this, legislatively, and that has made it obviously more difficult to pursue this. But that does not change the fact that it is the President’s objective, and we are constantly looking for ways to move forward on that objective.
Q Over the weekend, President Abbas accepted the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. This must be disappointing to the President. And how worried is the administration this will impact the possibility of constructive movement toward peace talks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I want to say that we recognize the important roles that both President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad play, and we appreciate their efforts as we and others work to support the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state.
Now, it is our understanding that, while the Palestinian Authority should be the source for further details, Prime Minister Fayyad will remain in a caretaker capacity, as least temporarily. And I would say that Prime Minister Fayyad has been a strong partner in the international community and a leader in promoting economic growth, state-building, and security for the Palestinian people. We look to all Palestinian leaders to support those efforts.
And while we greatly appreciate the work of Prime Minister Fayyad, it is important to remember that the Palestinian Authority remains -- it is important to remember that this is about the aspirations of the Palestinian people. It’s not about one person. These issues are bigger than any single individual. And we are committed to moving forward with institution-building efforts in the West Bank and to working with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders in reenergizing the commitment to peace.
So, again, Prime Minister Fayyad has been an important partner in these efforts, as has President Abbas. Prime Minister Fayyad is, as we understand it, remaining in a caretaker --
Q Until someone new --
MR. CARNEY: -- position temporarily. Broadly speaking, this work that has been done by the Palestinian Authority, with the guidance of these two leaders, is more important and greater than any one individual. And we consider -- we continue to pursue that path with the Palestinian leadership.
Q And switching to guns -- it looks like a logical count suggests this legislation in the Senate might require up to 10 Republican votes for it to pass. What is the President doing to reach those Republicans? And how concerned is he that their votes aren’t there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said last week and he said, this is a difficult challenge, and the fact that we had progress last week on the procedural vote to allow for debate on the underlying bill does not mean we have gotten to where we need to be, which is passage of legislation that is common-sense and that will reduce gun violence in America.
This upcoming vote on a bipartisan amendment on background checks is very important. And our position is the same as it was on the procedural vote, which is that it is incumbent upon the senators to allow a vote; if they're opposed to it, to vote no and explain why; and to understand that if they vote no, they will be siding with the 10 percent and not the 90 percent in the United States who support background check legislation. And now maybe that is a position they want to take.
Q And you guys will make that known?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think anybody would -- who suggested otherwise would be wrong, given the efforts we have undertaken, the President's speech in Hartford last week, the --
Q Is he working the phones, or does he plan to?
MR. CARNEY: -- the fact that he brought -- he invited Newtown family members of victims to travel down to Washington with him aboard Air Force One; the fact that we took the unprecedented step of having Francine Wheeler deliver the President's Weekly Address. The President's commitment on this issue is very clear. And his call to the Congress -- and in this case, the Senate -- to vote with the 90 percent could not be clearer.
So in terms of the President's efforts, they will continue. He is in contact with lawmakers on this issue; has been in the past and will continue to be. I don’t have specific conversations to read out to you, but you can be sure that he is engaged on this.
It is an absolute priority, and it's essential for, as I said, for those senators who will vote on this amendment to consider their position carefully; to allow a vote, first and foremost; and then to decide whether it is really in the interest of the American people and the effort to reduce the scourge of gun violence in America to take a position that only 10 percent of the people support as opposed to the position that 90 percent of the American people support -- a position that Democrats, Republicans and independents support; a position that gun owners support, which is to improve our background check system to ensure that those who should not have a weapon are not able to obtain them because of loopholes in the existing system.
Q Jay, it is certainly tough to get the 60 votes on this compromise you're talking about. But is the President concerned that this compromise is watering, is playing down to the point where it won't do any good? I mean, the background checks are not universal, and this actually includes pro-NRA provisions, including one to make it easier for gun owners to transport guns across state lines.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that we applaud senators Manchin and Toomey for their leadership on forging this bipartisan agreement. As you noted in your question, this is not an easy task, and it's an agreement that comes together around common-sense background checks that will make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.
Now, this is not, as you point out, the administration's bill, and there are aspects of the agreement that we might prefer to be stronger. But it represents welcome and significant bipartisan progress, and it recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue. And we don't have to agree on everything to know that we've got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence.
Now, there are some red herrings here when it comes to some of the provisions we're talking about. As I said and tried to make clear last week, when it comes to family members, family-to-family member transfer, or loaners from sportsman to sportsman, those are exemptions that the President supports. And the fact is, is that while this is not the bill as we would have written it word for word, it does represent a significant improvement on our background check system.
And the President has made clear, if everything that he supported became law and all the executive actions that he ordered taken were done, that would not eliminate gun violence in America. That would not mean that there would never be a senseless act of violence that took innocent lives.
But it would reduce the number of these incidents, and it would save lives. And it is incumbent upon the members of Congress and all of us who are working on this issue to take prudent, common-sense measures that do not in any way violate Second Amendment rights, but will reduce gun violence in America and prevent the pain, for at least some parents -- the pain that the mothers and fathers of kids in Newtown continue to suffer; the pain that mothers, fathers and relatives of the victims of Virginia Tech and Aurora continue to suffer. We can and should do this. It’s common sense.
On the amendment that you talk about, that is a 90 percent issue in this country. And we talk a lot about what the right thing to do is, and this is the right thing to do. But when it comes to simply public opinion, public opinion is on the side of doing this. And we hope that the senators for whom that is an issue take it into account.
Q Can you help me quantify, though, how much of a victory this is? I mean, this would be no assault weapons ban. It would be no ban on the high-capacity magazines. It would not be universal background checks. It would include provisions the NRA has favored, making it easier to transport guns and others. Is this a 50 percent victory? A 20 percent victory?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say -- first of all, you haven’t -- all of those provisions, the ban on military-style assault weapons, the limit on the capacity of ammunition magazines, those haven’t been voted on yet. You’re presupposing outcomes that I would simply suggest to you a lot of people presupposed that we couldn’t get cloture last week, and instead we got it. The supporters of this bill got it. The American people got it because the voices of the American people were heard.
Q But your allies on the Hill are saying that those things are not going to happen; this is the one thing that has a chance to pass. If only this passes, is this anything near a victory for the President?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to accept the premise that other provisions can't pass. We have to have a vote on all of them. There should not be procedural efforts to block votes on any of them, and we will see where senators stand.
The fact that this is difficult, Jon, you’ve covered this long enough to know that all of this is hard, and that if anyone had predicted to you six months ago what we would be where we are with the far in excess of 60 senators who voted to have a debate on this bill last week, you would have probably discounted that prediction given how hard this is.
So we’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go. And that's why we urge lawmakers to continue to listen to the voices of Americans who believe that common-sense measures to reduce gun violence are the right way to go, that these measures in no way violate Second Amendment rights that this President supports. And we hope that having heard those voices, the members of the Senate will act accordingly.
Q Jay, on immigration, obviously, Senator Rubio did a lot of shows yesterday trying to put out his view on all of this. And I wonder if you could react in general but also on a specific, such as a path to citizenship. The President has talked about a clear path to citizenship. Senator Rubio is talking about a plan with a 13-year path. Is that a clear path in the White House’s view?
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that he would support legislation, or it is a threshold for him that it can contain within it a clear path to citizenship.
Now, the President’s plan is very consistent with the ideas that I think we have heard discussed of late with regards to the Gang of Eight legislation, because that path is a challenging one. It’s a clear path, but it requires paying back taxes. It requires paying a penalty. It requires learning English. And it requires first and foremost getting to the back of the line. That is the President’s plan and the ideas that he supports.
And I think that while we have not seen final language on the legislation that the Gang of Eight will be putting forward, as we understand it, that is consistent with the President’s position.
And also consistent with the President’s position is an insistence that we continue to take steps to enhance our border security. The President has overseen considerable improvement in our border security that includes 21,000 boots on the ground, more than doubling the boots on the ground since 2008. It includes apprehensions being down nearly 80 percent since 2000 and 50 percent since 2008. We have more boots on the ground, as I was saying before, than any time in our history.
So these are compatible ideas: enhancing border security, allowing for a clear path to citizenship that requires a number of very specific steps. So the President is very pleased with the progress we’ve seen thus far. We will evaluate the legislation when we get the final language. But what we have seen is I think a remarkable, in Washington, level of consensus between and support for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform -- whether it’s business groups or labor, evangelicals, immigration groups. Democrats, Republicans -- there is a consensus here that is required to get this done, but it exists. And we remain cautiously optimistic that this progress will lead to legislation that can pass and the President can sign.
Q It sounds like beyond being optimistic. I mean, you’re not really quibbling with the principles that Senator Rubio laid out in terms of the path to citizenship -- I know not every single line -- but you’re saying in general it shares with the President.
And then, on enforcement, there are some Democrats who are concerned that maybe these specific provisions and triggers and whatnot would be too much. I’m not hearing from you that you’re worried about that. It sounds like you think the President shares the idea that border security has to be a big part of this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President made clear that it was one of his basic principles, basic priorities when it came to comprehensive immigration reform that enhanced border security be very much atop the list with a clear path to citizenship, responsibility on behalf of employers. And what we have seen thus far, as we await the legislation itself, is in keeping with those basic principles and with the underlying details of those principles that the President has had available to the public now for quite some time.
Again, we’ll look at the legislation when it arrives. But enhancing border security and allowing for a clear path to citizenship are cornerstones of the President’s proposal and we will await to see what the Gang of Eight produces. But it sounds like that is a path they are taking as well.
Q One other topic. There’s a murder trial in Pennsylvania that I know you know is getting a lot of attention, more attention, and in the media was not getting a lot of attention. Kermit Gosnell, this doctor who is accused of having -- delivering some babies who were literally screaming and then beheading them, he’s facing murder charges on that. It hasn’t been decided yet, obviously; still on trial. Is the President following this at all? Does the White House have any reaction to that kind of situation that is alleged?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll say two things. One, the President is aware of this. Two, the President does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial, so I won’t as well.
Certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling, but I can't comment further on an ongoing legal proceeding.
Q I understand the legal proceeding. The President as a state senator in 2003 voted against a bill that would provide medical care, as I understand, to babies who would be born after a botched abortion like this. And the President at the time said he couldn’t support it as a state senator because he felt like any doctor in that situation would take care of a child.
When you hear this kind of evidence that suggests there’s at least one doctor who apparently did not, I understand you can't comment -- you can't deal with the deliberations of the case, but is there some legislative solution or at least a conversation that needs to happen in Washington? Because on guns, you were just saying, we need common-sense reform, we need to save lives. In this case, do we need to be saving lives as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you’re relating it to a case that I can't comment on and the President can't comment on. I would simply say that the President’s position on choice is very clear. His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be safe, legal and rare is very clear. I just don't have comment that could shed light on this specific case.
Q Just last one on this then. Is there any sort of common-sense reform, though, without restricting abortion rights? Does the White House see any line in there where if there is a baby that is still alive, they should be taken care of without restricting abortion?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I just -- you’re asking for hypotheticals about legislation or proposed legislation that I haven’t seen, so it’s hard for me to comment on.
Q Jay, thanks. Back to Gitmo. When was the President made aware that the raid was going to take place?
MR. CARNEY: Again, as I think I said, we were informed of the Department of Defense’s intent to transition detainees from communal setting to single-cell setting for their own security and health. As I think, I would point you the Department of Defense and others for the details about it.
Q When did that happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in advance, but I haven’t got a specific time of day for you. But the fact is, as they’ve put out, we had a situation where cameras were being covered. It was impossible to know through the monitoring of it, whether the security of detainees was being maintained, and so this decision was taken. But, again, the details for this mostly reside at the Department of Defense.
Q And how concerned is he about this ongoing hunger strike?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, it is overall an issue, as I mentioned earlier, that the President would like to see addressed through closure of Guantanamo Bay. The fact is we have faced obstacles with Congress on this, but we continue to monitor the hunger strikes, specifically, very closely. But the Department of Defense is the place to go in terms of the assessments about where that stands right now.
Q And just to make one more point, is he prepared at all to take any further steps at this point in time to transfer the detainees who have been cleared for release?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, since the beginning of this administration, after the review that was conducted, over 70 detainees have been repatriated or resettled to third countries. And the bottom line is that this administration remains committed to closing the facility and will not send more individuals to the prison there. The assessments about transfers are something that’s ongoing, but we have reduced the population there and transferred over 90  detainees either through repatriation or transfer to a third country.
Q And just going back to guns, Jay, there are Democrats as well who have said that they’re not prepared to vote for this legislation. I know you were just asked about what type of outreach we could see from the President this week specifically. Will he -- will the Vice President be picking up the phone and making calls to Democrats, encouraging them to vote for this legislation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you will see the entire administration, and certainly the White House, the President, the Vice President engaged in the effort to make progress on this effort to reduce gun violence. It is certainly the case, as I think I said in answer to a question last week, that when -- just as a basic proposition, without counting votes or getting into where any specific individual stands on any part of this -- that when 90-plus percent of one party supports something and 90-plus percent of another party opposes it, if it doesn’t succeed, it is fair to say that the party that was opposed by 90 percent was the principal roadblock. So the idea that there might be a handful of lawmakers from one party who have problems with it or might oppose it is not the cause for the troubles we have here in getting these kinds of things passed.
Q The President has now had dinner with about two dozen of the 45 Republicans in the Senate. Where do you think we are with a grand bargain? Do you think we’re closer than we were before some of this outreach began? And what’s your assessment generally about whether we’re going to get to a grand bargain?
MR. CARNEY: The House has passed a budget. The Senate has passed a budget. The President has presented what he believes is a compromise budget that represents a willingness to -- as it did when he made the fundamental offer to Speaker of the House Boehner -- meet Republicans halfway and to produce a deficit reduction package that would achieve another $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction, bring the total to over $4 trillion over 10 years, exceeding the goal set by economists to get our deficits and debt under control.
So he hopes -- and this is a hope he has expressed in his conversations with Republican lawmakers -- that there is an openness to this path of compromise, that there are lawmakers of the Republican Party who seek to occupy this common ground with him. And we will see. We certainly would hope that regular order would be observed and conferees would be appointed to see if there’s a way to bridge the substantial differences by the House-passed budget and the Senate-passed budget. And the President will continue his efforts to engage with Republican lawmakers to see if we can find some common ground.
But there’s a threshold issue here, which is -- now, while there have been lawmakers, both publicly and in their conversations with the President, who have made clear that they would support a balanced approach, that they would support both savings from entitlements but also revenue from tax reform as part of a balanced package, we haven’t seen it. We have seen at the leadership level an adamant refusal to engage in that, even though Speaker of the House Boehner said he could achieve a trillion dollars in revenue from tax reform by closing loopholes and capping deductions.
The President is proposing $580 billion out of that process because it's the right thing to do. The wealthy and well-connected ought to have skin in the game. It can't just be, as the House Republican budget suggests it should be, that senior citizens and students and families with kids with disabilities ought to bear the burden alone of further reducing our deficit. He won't do that.
Margaret, how are you?
Q I'm great, thank you. I know you follow Russian news, obviously, as do I. So Tom Donilon is in Russia and he had a meeting, and the readout from Yuri Ushakov was that the Russians feel like, A, Congress is a Russophobic Congress; and, B, the administration is taking "no action" to get Congress in line. So I guess I'm wondering, do you know what Mr. Donilon's response was to that? And what's the administration's position both on Russia's take and on whether it's your role to get Congress to like Russia more?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. First of all, we also had a readout:
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon held discussions with President Putin, Security Council Secretary General Patrushev, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and Presidential Foreign Policy Advisor Ushakov on the full range of bilateral and global issues in preparation for the meeting between President Obama and President Putin on the margins of the G8 Summit and a U.S.-Russia bilateral summit in early September. The discussions were comprehensive and constructive. They covered a range of issues.
I think I addressed the Magnitsky issue. And, look, one way to resolve this is for the Russian government to take action against -- investigate and to take action on those individuals responsible for Mr. Magnitsky's death. That’s the clear, right response to the international outcry over his death -- conduct a proper investigation and hold those responsible for his death accountable, rather than engage in tit-for-tat retaliation. So that’s our view.
But as I've said repeatedly, not just in the last week but for my entire time at this podium, we have an important relationship with Russia. We have considerable differences on some issues, and we are clear about those and candid about those, as I just was. But we also have areas where we have and can make real progress where our interests align. And that’s why we engage with the Russian government on a range of issues. That’s why Tom Donilon engaged with Russian officials in his meetings, including President Putin on a range of issues -- because we have a lot of important business to do with the Russians. We disagree on some matters, and we are able to cooperate and agree on others.
Q I had another -- it's a total non sequitur. Can you shed any more light on Friday, between now and Friday? We've read some local reports about the President's plans for the end of the week, but I haven't --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I'm sorry, scheduling. I don’t have any scheduling announcements for later in the week at this time. When we have more details, we'll give them to you.
Q If his is about Russia, you can go ahead.
Q Thank you. Just to follow on that -- Russian officials are also saying that Mr. Donilon passed a letter from President Obama to President Putin, and could you confirm that? And also, they're saying that it involved some non-proliferation issues and some economic cooperation issues. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that letter -- if that happened -- what it contained?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm that the letter was passed on from Mr. Donilon. I don’t have details on the substance of the letter beyond what I've said in general about the substance of our communications with Russian officials from the President-on-President meetings and conversations down through the various levels of government, and that is that they encompass a range of issues -- including bilateral trade issues, including Iran and North Korea and other matters, Syria.
So I think you can expect that the conversations that Tom Donilon has had covered a variety of issues, and that any communications that the President might have with President Putin would also cover a variety of issues, as will their discussions on the margins of the G8 and later in September in St. Petersburg.
I'll keep with the Russia theme briefly. Andrei -- yes.
Q Basically, the same question in a different wording. (Laughter.) The Russians have been saying that they want this upcoming summit to be devoted primarily to economy and trade. What is your main focus in that summit?
MR. CARNEY: On which summit? Sorry.
Q The upcoming meetings between our Presidents. The Russians have for a long time said that they want the meetings to focus on economy and trade.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that matters of economic relations and trade relations are very important, and I'm sure they will be a focus of meetings.
Q What is the focus?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to characterize. Who knows what events in the world might drive the conversation that won't take place for a number of months now, so I wouldn't predict. But those are matters of importance between Russia and the United States, as are a variety of international issues that we work on with the Russians and cooperate on, and other matters like Syria and elsewhere where we have disagreements. All of those things I expect will be the topics of conversation whenever we meet with our Russian counterparts.
Q Certainly so. Are we beyond reset? What is now? What phase are we in now? They settled the reset? How would you define it?
MR. CARNEY: I'll leave that to you and others. I would simply say that the reset was an important adjustment in our relations with Russia that began a process that I think I've been echoing from here, which is that we understand we have differences. And we are very clear and transparent and candid about those differences. And we engage with Russian officials on those differences, whether it's missile defense or the Magnitsky legislation or Syria. But we also have areas where we can cooperate in ways that are useful and in the interest of both Russia and the United States. And we have done that. This administration, this President have done that over the past four-plus years. And that has been a productive thing to do for both countries, and we believe that's the right course to take.
Going back to Mr. Landler. And then, Ari -- sorry.
Q On missile defense, about North Korea -- the Secretary of State made sort of an interesting proposal over the weekend in Beijing, where he said that were the nuclear threat from North Korea to decline over time, the U.S. would consider taking out some of the missile defense batteries that it's installed in the past few months. I'm interested in your thinking about what's behind this sort of offer, this proposal. And I'm also curious about the timing. Given that you said at the top that there's no evidence that the provocations from the North have subsided and there may be further provocations, why dangle the possibility of pulling back these batteries at a time like this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you may be reading a little too much into it. I think we have been clear that these precautionary measures, including the steps taken to enhance anti-missile defense systems have been in reaction to the provocations. And clearly, if North Korea were to commit itself in a verifiable way to denuclearization and commit itself to abiding by its international obligations with regards to its nuclear program and to its missile program, that would be a positive thing and would result in steps that we and our international partners would take also to help bring down tensions in the region.
But first things first -- North Korea knows what path is available to it. Pyongyang and the leaders there understand that they need to embrace as a principle that the Korean Peninsula should be denuclearized. They need to demonstrate in a verifiable way that they are committed to that. And they need to abide by their international obligations on their nuclear program as well as their missile program. So that's the path available.
And if North Korea shows that it's serious about pursuing that path, then negotiations are the course through which that can be achieved. But I don't think that the statement that you cited is inconsistent with where we've been for quite some time. And the actions that we've taken on the anti-missile defense arena have been in direct reaction to these provocations.
Q And then just one quick follow, which is in the short time since the Secretary was in China, have you seen any evidence that the Chinese have taken some of this on board in terms of the communications, the warnings that they may or may not be issuing to North Koreans?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything new, so nothing to convey to you in the last day or so. We have certainly seen in the statements by the new Chinese President, President Xi, an indication that -- a welcome indication that China is frustrated, as so many nations are, with North Korea's provocative behavior. And so we are urging the Chinese to use their influence to prevail upon the North Koreans to cease this course of action and to take steps to reassure China, Russia, the United States, the international community that it would prefer a path that can lead to denuclearization and fulfillment of its international obligations.
Q On Friday, Congress quietly passed changes to the STOCK Act, and government transparency groups say the changes basically gut the law. They're urging the President to veto it. Does he plan to sign it into law or veto it? And why?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President was scheduled to sign the legislation today. Let me get my language here. As you know, with regards to this, both houses of Congress passed this bill unanimously and it was not done in a vacuum. Congress changed the online posting provision only after a panel of experts from the National Academy of Public Administration studied this issue and issued a report recommending indefinite suspension.
In fact, one author of the report was someone we all know well -- Martha Kumar, who is not here today -- for her shout-out. If you take some time to read the report, which I would recommend doing, the NAPA points to substantial national security, personal security, and law enforcement issues on this matter. And it is also worth noting that NAPA concluded that in the context of the executive branch, that posting requirements had no positive impact in identifying conflicts. The independent Office of Government Ethics also recommended this change to the Congress, pointing to the findings of the NAPA study and noting that this information is already available to the public. So that's our position on this and the President was scheduled to sign it today.
Q Just a quick one. Do you have any information on the U.S. delegation to the Thatcher funeral later this week?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information. I expect that we'll have something for you relatively soon. But I can't even put a time on that. Once we do, we'll be sure to let you know.
Q President Obama in his State of the Union address promised more details on the targeted killing program. And some of the congressional panels said they have not been able to get White House officials, administration officials to testify. Do you plan on sending it to anybody -- up to the Judiciary or to the House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President was referring to himself. And I would point you to the President's comments about how he has addressed this issue and how senior members of his team have addressed this issue publicly, and how we will continue that progress. And the fact is we have worked with Congress in terms of providing information about our counterterrorism efforts and we'll continue to do that. And the President believes, as he has said publicly, that this is an important issue and that the questions about it are legitimate. And that's why he has pursued these matters the way he has, because he believes it's very important to have a kind of architecture in place that lives on beyond his presidency, because our efforts in the counterterrorism sphere will be with us for some time to come.
Q So is that a maybe on getting something up to the Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything about congressional testimony. We've been very cooperative in general with Congress on this issue. I don't have anything for you specifically with regards to that. I can tell you that the President's commitment has been kept and will continue to be kept, which is to provide as much information and transparency as possible on these matters both to Congress and to the public.
Q Jay, there was a hearing on the Hill today about the veterans disability claims. I was just wondering if you could update us. I know last week there were some meetings here at the White House on that subject with VA officials. What is the President doing to try to either address that immediately or through his budget?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, because this administration will continue its unwavering commitment to serve our veterans. Currently, too many veterans are waiting for far too long to receive the benefits they have earned and that they deserve, and it’s simply unacceptable. That's why the President has directed Secretary Shinseki to fix the problem and to eliminate the VA backlog by 2015.
The President has been clear that he expects results. This administration is engaged in an all-out effort to complete this critical mission. And as Denis McDonough said recently, eliminating the VA backlog is a national priority. The President is kept abreast of this problem regularly. It’s one he considers a significant priority of his. And he is very impatient for results.
In the back.
Q You mentioned earlier about Guantanamo, that the administration is doing things every day to close it and that most of the roadblocks are from Congress. Can you talk a little bit about what the administration is doing to close Guantanamo or to mitigate the number of people there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think I said despite the legislative roadblocks, progress has been made. And since the beginning of this administration we have repatriated or resettled to third countries over 70 detainees. And we remain committed to closing the facility and we will not send more individuals to be held in prison there.
Q Has the President’s drone program mitigated the need to send more people there?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the President’s commitment to closing Guantanamo has been and remains clear. It’s in keeping with our national security interests, as a number of leading figures in the national security establishment have said, in agreement with the President; as Senator McCain and President George W. Bush have said. And the President remains committed to this policy objective. We do have constraints placed on us by Congress, but that doesn’t lessen in the President’s view the need to pursue this agenda.
Cheryl, last one.
Q Just to follow up quickly on budget -- is the White House seeking a formal budget reconciliation process this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we have said all along, we have heard the call from congressional leaders for a return to regular order. We encourage the process that led to the passage in the Senate of a budget and that, of course, led to the passage of a budget in the House. And we urge Congress to then move forward in trying to reconcile those efforts. We'll see how that process proceeds.
In the meantime, the President is engaging with lawmakers of both parties, and most, I think noticeably to you, in recent weeks with Republicans on this issue to see if there’s common ground -- to see if Republicans will cross that fundamental threshold to accept the idea that balance has to be employed as we reduce our deficit; that we can't simply do it by asking seniors to bear the burden, or by asking middle-class families or students to bear the burden, and we don't have to.
The President’s budget -- which is a compromise document, as we’ve made clear, contains within the offer he made to the Speaker of the House, contains within it entitlement reforms that were two of the three demands made by Republican leaders -- demonstrates that you can reduce our deficit in a responsible way, protect our middle class, protect our seniors, and make the investments that will allow our economy to grow in the future and create jobs in the future.
Because the President’s objective is not balance for balance’s sake, when we talk about balanced budgets. I mean, it is -- when the House Republicans pass a bill with no details, a budget bill with no details that simply says zero at the end and therefore they claim it balances, nobody takes that seriously. There’s no -- they don't say how they’re going to achieve that when they give a $5.7 trillion tax cut mostly to the wealthy. They just declare it so.
But if balance were the objective, we could balance it tomorrow. We could eliminate defense spending, eliminate Medicare, eliminate Social Security. You get to balance pretty fast. But that's not the point. The point is to have policies that protect our citizens, protect our seniors, ensure that we have a growing and thriving middle class, and that we're investing in areas like education, and research and development and infrastructure that allow our economy to grow. And while we're going that, we reduce our deficit in a responsible way, in a way that brings our deficits down and puts our debt on a path that economists say is essential. And that's what the President’s budget does.
1:48 P.M. EDT
March 16, 2016
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