Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 04/07/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: It’s kind of a sparse crowd. Must be the weather.
Q It’s too early is what it is.
MR. CARNEY: It's a little early. I have a parent-teacher conference. So I'll try to get out by 1:00 p.m.
Q We like it early.
MR. CARNEY: Good, okay. Well, glad to be of assistance.
I have no announcements to make. Welcome here on this rainy Monday after what was almost a spring-like weekend -- a little chilly, but we'll take it.
Q Thanks, Jay. There have been a lot of developments in Eastern Ukraine over the last 24 hours or so, with pro-Russian separatists seizing an administration building, calling for a referendum that looks similar to the one that happened in Crimea. Does the White House believe that Russia is behind these developments?
MR. CARNEY: That's a very good question, Julie. We're concerned about several escalatory moves in Ukraine over the weekend and we see those as a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine. As you noted, we saw groups of pro-Russian demonstrators take over government buildings in the Eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. And there is strong evidence suggesting some of these demonstrators were paid and were not local residents.
In Donetsk, a handful of pro-Russian separatists in the barricaded Donetsk oblast government administration declared the creation of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” announced a so-called referendum on May 11 seeking to join Russia, and requested Russia send in military peacekeepers. These people lack the legal authority to make any of those decisions.
If Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention.
Q When you say that some of these people were paid and were not local residents, do you think that they were being paid by Russia?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we can divine from the strong evidence that some demonstrators were paid and that they were not local residents, and I think that at least suggests that outside forces, not local forces, were participating in the effort to create these provocations. But I'm not going to --
Q But you mean by outside forces, Russian forces?
MR. CARNEY: What we can say -- what’s clear is this is a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine. And we see it in the troops that have massed on the border. We see it in a variety of developments internally within Ukraine in the regions of the country where there are more ethnic Russians in some of the concerns expressed about the fate of ethnic Russians.
I mean, we’ve seen this along throughout this crisis out of Moscow where there have been discussions or assertions about ethnic Russians being mistreated, and certainly at the time when that first started, there were statements to that effect that bore no resemblance to the actual truth at the time.
So all of this is of concern to us, and we’ve made very clear that should Russia take action that violates Ukraine’s territorial integrity further, or violates Ukraine’s sovereignty further, there will be further consequences. As you know, the President signed two executive orders, and the second one creates authorities that would allow the United States to level more additional sanctions aimed at sectors of the Russian economy. Our partners in Europe and elsewhere have indicated a likeminded approach should there be further troubles.
Now, I say that, but I want to remind you that we are continuing to push for a diplomatic resolution to this matter, a de-escalation of the crisis. And we are working with -- or at least engaged in conversations with Russia and others about the need to have a dialogue between the Russian and Ukrainian governments that can be joined by international partners, the need for Russia to pull its forces back to its bases and to the levels that existed prior to the crisis, and for a series of other steps that need to be taken so that this situation does not escalate.
Q Have you received any concrete signs from the Russians since the Kerry-Lavrov meeting that they are actually interested in a diplomatic solution?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to be engaged with Russia in discussions, including at the level of Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. We also are engaging with our European Union partners and others, and importantly, directly with the government of Ukraine on these issues.
And I wanted to take this opportunity to applaud the steps that Ukraine has taken to continue disarming and reintegrating irregular forces, including parliament’s action to order law enforcement agencies to disarm immediately these groups. And that I think reflects the fact that the government in Ukraine has been handling this very difficult situation responsibly, and that has certainly not been the case with the government of Russia.
Q And if I can just ask quickly -- the White House and State Department both said at the end of last week that the President and Secretary Kerry would have a meeting to discuss the future of the U.S. role in Mideast peace talks. Has that meeting taken place yet?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any meetings involving the President to read out to you. Obviously, the President and Secretary Kerry are in regular contact about that issue, Middle East peace, as well as the many others that confront us around the globe, including the situation in Ukraine. But as you know, Secretary Kerry has a standing meeting with the President, and I assume that that will be one of many topics that they discuss when that meeting takes place.
Q The Russians had talked of pulling back some forces in Eastern Ukraine, Jay. Has that happened?
MR. CARNEY: I have no update on our view of that, and I think that our last statement regarding those reports was that we hadn’t seen any evidence to suggest that there had been an actual pullback of forces. And I think General Breedlove had said that.
Q And basically what we’re seeing in Eastern Ukraine, do you see this as a repeat of the Crimea scenario?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think circumstances are obviously different in the regions that we’re talking about, but we do see developments that are of concern, as I just noted, in Donetsk and Kharkiv and Luhansk, other areas of Ukraine. And we note the presence of a significant number of Russian troops on the border, as has been the case now for some time. And we monitor those developments and we have warned Russia against further intervention in Ukraine. In order to resolve and deescalate the situation, Russia needs to move those troops back from the border region and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government. As I noted before, we are prepared to impose further sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy should the situation escalate.
Q And are those sanctions ready to go, ready to announce as soon as you detect some movement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to delve too deeply into the process, but you can be sure that when the President signs an executive order of the kind that he signed, the second one -- which deals with the potential for sanctions on sectors of the economy -- that a certain amount of work goes into preparing that executive order, and work continues should the authorities contained within it be employed.
Q And lastly, Jay -- sorry -- now that you’ve hit the 7 million mark on Obamacare, will this allow the President to have more time to push his policies -- equal pay, minimum wage -- be able to promote those policies more?
MR. CARNEY: I think the way I would answer that is to say that the effort underway since October 1st -- from October 1st to March 31st, and particularly in the wake of the troubled rollout of the website, while enormously distracting for a lot of folks and something that required a lot of attention so that we could get it right, even then did not prevent the President from focusing on his number-one objective, which is to take action wherever possible, with Congress when possible, using his executive authority or his convening power when necessary, to expand opportunity for Americans around the country; to ensure that we’re putting in place policies that reward hard work and responsibility.
And he’s been doing that, and I think he’s going to continue doing that. You know he’s got an event tomorrow on equal pay. He’s going to take action using his executive authority in that arena, even as he calls on Congress to do what it should, which is to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
So, look, I think that, as we noted last week, that was an important milestone and we were all gratified at the extraordinary work that went into hitting the 7 million signup mark. And that number has only increased since then as those who were already in line, who had begun the process of signing up but weren’t able to finish it by March 31st continue to sign up. And that’s all to the good. But the President is going to be focused on what he was focused on in the past, which is expanding opportunity and rewarding hard work.
Q Putin was warned before they took action in Crimea. So the warnings that everyone issues now and the fact that we already have sanctions in place, do you think that there’s any evidence that what has been done already towards Russia is a deterrent to them doing anything further?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s hard to prove a negative. Obviously, they’ve had troops on the border in Ukraine --
Q Well, I mean, based on the conversations that have happened.
MR. CARNEY: -- they’ve had troops on the border in Ukraine for some time. We can’t be sure about Russian motivations. We are concerned about the presence of those troops. We’re concerned about developments within Eastern Ukraine. And we’ve made clear, as you noted, that further transgressions by Russia will be met with and responded to by further sanctions, including in the areas outline in the executive order the President signed.
So there are costs associated with the actions that Russia has taken already, and there could be further costs coming as a result of the actions that Russia has already taken. And there will certainly be more costs if Russia takes further action.
Q But even in that last conversation between the President and Putin, did Putin reiterate that they have no further designs on Ukraine? And also, he was supposed to put something in writing if he wanted to go further with discussion. Did that ever happen?
MR. CARNEY: On the first question, we’ve read out in some detail the President’s conversation with President Putin. And I would point you to public statements by Russian officials and note that whatever is being said by Russian officials is not something we consider the last word. We’re obviously looking at Russian actions, and that includes actions on the border, actions within Ukraine.
On the question of the so-called U.S. proposal that the two Presidents spoke about a week ago Friday, without getting into detail, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov continue to discuss how to deescalate the situation. And the U.S. is fully prepared -- or rather fully coordinated with the Ukrainian government on these discussions.
But within the context of these conversations, as you know, the general elements of an off-ramp that we have proposed include international monitors, a pulling back of Russian forces, and direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue, supported by the international community, as the Ukrainian government proceeds towards constitutional reform efforts and prepared for elections on May 25th.
Again, I’d like to note the responsible approach that the Ukrainian government has taken in these last weeks, despite the enormous pressure they’ve been under because of the situation precipitated by Russia’s actions in Crimea and elsewhere.
Q So we can't really say if they’ve put something in writing since --
MR. CARNEY: Look, there have been conversations. I’m not going to go into detail about the way they’ve communicated. But Russian officials understand what we have proposed very clearly, and we have been in discussions about our proposal, supported by our partners, for deescalation. And we certainly hope that those conversations produce a decision by Russia to deescalate.
Q Jay, we just passed the anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, and I’m just wondering if there’s any -- even your own analysis, this anniversary comes as we’re seeing what we’ve seen unfold in Syria, another mass humanitarian crisis, mass killing, more than 2 million displaced people. Are we looking again at another “never again” moment? Is there a concern within the White House not that the United States necessarily could have stopped what’s happened there, but it’s certainly been a failure on the part of the world community to stop yet another mass killing that is approaching the magnitude of what we saw in Rwanda?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I thank you for the question. Let me say a couple of things about Rwanda, and then I will address the question about Syria. You saw the President’s statement yesterday. And as the President said, we join with the people of Rwanda in marking 20 years since the beginning of the genocide that took the lives of so many innocents and which shook the conscience of the world. At this moment of reflection, we also remember that the Rwandan genocide was neither and accident, nor unavoidable. It was a deliberate and systematic effort by human beings to destroy other human beings. The world’s failure to respond more quickly reminds us that we always have a choice.
The President believes and the United States believes that in the face of hatred, intolerance, and suffering, we must never be indifferent. We must remember the humanity we share and work together as an international community to prevent atrocities and to bring an end to genocide once and for all.
On the question of Syria, we remain deeply committed to the Syrian people and are assisting those affected by the violence through our approximately $1.7 billion now in humanitarian assistance. We’ve consistently said that those responsible for atrocities in Syria must be held accountable. We’ve supported the U.N. Commission of Inquiry and other institutions helping document atrocities and build the foundation for transitional justice.
We are helping Syria’s neighbors, Libya -- I’m sorry -- Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq cope with the spillover from the conflict, and we are coordinating with partners to counter the threat of extremism. And we continue to push for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, in coordination with the United Nations and OPCW. We are continuing to look at what more we can do to end the conflict and ease the suffering of the Syrian people.
I think that the United States, this administration have -- we have acted aggressively in supporting the Syrian people, in assisting the opposition, in working with our partners to try to put pressure on the Assad regime, a regime that has committed unspeakable atrocities. We have taken the case with our partners to the United Nations repeatedly. We have been blocked by Russia at the United Nations Security Council, and I think the fact that you can number Assad’s friends on one hand demonstrates that the world community has elevated what’s happening in Syria so that everyone understands the appalling nature of the regime and the need for the world to act. And we’re going to continue to press in every way we can to assist the Syrian people.
Q But you may think you’ve acted aggressively, as you said, but you can't think that the efforts of the United States have been successful here, or the world community.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, certainly the war continues. The killing continues. What we are constantly doing is reviewing and assessing what else we can do. These kinds of discussions when bad things continue to happen in a place like Syria, always can be reduced to the question of, is the United States going to use its military forces to try to do something?
Q That's not the only question, though, right?
MR. CARNEY: And we may -- well, but I’m getting there for you in a way, and I’m saying that we assess all options and we make decisions based on what we believe is the right course of action to take in support of the Syrian people and in support of our national security interests.
Q And just a quick question on the issue of equal pay. The President has cited a figure of women making 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. I’m wondering if you’ve looked at the -- a couple people have looked at White House salaries. There was an AEI study that said the median salaries in the White House, women make 88 percent of what men make. And I think PolitiFact had a similar study back during the campaign. How do you explain what appears to be a wage gap here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things about this. We know that closing the gender wage gap is a key part of our economic agenda, women’s agenda. And here at the White House equal pay legislation deems that there should be equal pay for equal work, and that's what we have -- men and women in equivalent roles here earn equivalent salaries.
For example, we have two deputy chiefs of staff, one man and one woman, and they earn the same salary. We have 16 department heads, over half of them are women, all of whom make the same salary as their male counterparts.
And I think that it is worth noting, as anyone who participates in our senior staff meetings can see, that we have here in the White House over half the women -- over half the staff are women and fulfilling key senior leadership roles across the board, including Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett, Direct of Domestic Policy Cecilia Muñoz, Director Communications Jennifer Palmieri, Director of Legislative Affairs Katie Beirne Fallon, Director of Scheduling Danielle Crutchfield, and Director of Management Administration Katie Kale.
And what that tells you is the President has enormously qualified people in the most senior spots in the White House and they're --
Q But why is that the median salary of women in the White House is 88 percent of men then?
MR. CARNEY: I think that those studies look at the aggregate of everyone on staff, and that includes from the most junior levels to the most senior. What I can tell you is that we have -- as an institution here -- have aggressively addressed this challenge. And obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not 100, but it is better than the national average. And when it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level.
Q You made the point earlier that the administration is prepared to impose further sanctions on Russia -- sector sanctions. Do you have buy-in from the Europeans? Because sector sanctions will hurt both their economy and that of the U.S.
MR. CARNEY: As the President noted when he spoke on the morning that he signed that second executive order, imposing those sanctions on the Russian economy and sectors of it would not be our preferred course because there would be harm done to the U.S. economy, to the global economy, to the European economy, but it would be necessary to do so if Russia engaged in further transgressions against Ukraine.
What you saw when the President visited Europe and had meetings with our closest allies in Europe was just what you’ve asked about, which was a buy-in, if you will, a consensus among our European allies that this would be the next step that would have to be taken if the Russians engaged in further transgressions.
So, obviously I'm not going to speak for the European Union or individual European countries, but I would point you to what European leaders said while the President was in the Netherlands and in Belgium, and note that from Chancellor Merkel to Prime Minister Cameron to leader after leader in Europe, you have seen very strong statements about what Russia has done and very firm commitments to holding Russia accountable for the transgressions that have already occurred and for any potential further transgressions.
Q But given the reporting that we've seen since the European meetings, there seems to be a discrepancy between what Russia -- what Europe would sanction and what we would call -- or what would cause us to sanction.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure of the reporting that you refer to. I can tell you that we have been working very closely with our European partners, as well as Japan, as part of the G7 meeting, on this issue and feel that we've achieved a very strong, joint commitment when it comes to how to respond and how to act should Russia engage in further transgressions.
Q I just want to follow up on Jon’s question about pay equity. So you're basically saying that women at the senior levels here make equal or more than men, but if you're at the lower level and you're a woman on the White House staff, you don't make as much?
MR. CARNEY: No, that would be a misreading and misinterpretation of what I said. Everybody at every level here at the White House is paid the same for the same work, male or female. And that is reflected at the most senior levels here where half or more than half of the department heads are women; some of the most senior positions in the White House are filled by women, including National Security Advisor, Homeland Security Advisor, White House Counsel, Communications Director, Senior Advisor, Deputy Chief of Staff. It goes on and on.
Q So how do we get to the 88 cents?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I just explained that, but I'll do it for you as well, and that is that when you look at the aggregate -- and this includes everybody from the most senior levels to the lowest levels -- you're averaging all salaries together, which means including the lowest-level salaries, which may or may not be, depending on the institution, filled by more women than men. But at every level here at the White House you're paid the same for the work that you do regardless of your gender.
Q But couldn't federal contractors, some of them say that that's what they’re doing as well but the numbers are off because of what you just stated?
MR. CARNEY: The equal pay issue, Ed -- and I'm glad you're taking an interest in it -- is focused on ensuring that, for example, Lilly Ledbetter was in a circumstance where she had no idea that she was being paid less than men who were doing the same work until she was informed well after the fact through an anonymous tip. And the legislation the President signed in his first week in office addressed that issue. The actions he’s going to take tomorrow, using his executive authority, address those issues, and they have to do with making sure that women are not discriminated against when they’re doing the same job and being paid less for it.
Q Right. And Senator Reid is going to have a vote tomorrow, I believe, on this issue, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is putting out what they’re calling a GOP pay gap and saying that there are Republican senators who are preventing women from making the same amount as men. A couple weeks ago when I asked you about this issue and asked you if midterm election-year politics had anything to do with this you said you were offended at that question, that politics had nothing to do with this. With the DSCC pushing this issue in that way, do you still stand behind the idea this is not a political issue?
MR. CARNEY: That's like saying the DSCC pushing the minimum wage or pushing any agenda item that they believe is important policy is about the midterm elections. I would remind you that the President of the United States, the first law he signed, first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter bill. That was a long time from any election. So the actions the President is taking this week, the action that he supports that the Democratic senator is taking reflect a commitment that he’s held and proven his interest in from the very beginning of his time in office.
Q Jay, on immigration, we heard from former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, who said something -- I'm curious to get some of the White House’s thoughts on this. He basically said that those people who come to the country illegally do so because they have no other means to provide for their family. And he said what they did is “not a felony.” He said, “It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that's a different kind of crime.” Does the White House view that as a different kind of crime?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see former Governor Bush’s remarks. It's clearly the case that -- and I've heard former President Bush talk about this, too, and as you know former President George W. Bush was a firm supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. And he would say -- and I would note this -- I remember in the 2000 campaign, which I covered, that he would stand before rock-ribbed Republican audiences and talk about how family values don't stop at the Rio Grande. And I think that's what former Governor Jeb Bush is talking about. And certainly the President would agree with that -- which doesn’t mean that we’re not a nation of laws and that we don't need to enforce our border security, which we do, and this President is obviously committed to that. But we need to reform our immigration system. It’s broken.
And I believe both former President Bush, former Governor Bush support comprehensive immigration reform. And that reflects a broad consensus across the country that exists. Senator John McCain -- sponsor of comprehensive immigration reform. That consensus exists. And it's not ideological, it's not partisan -- it's got Democratic support and Republican support, and big-business support and labor support, support from evangelical communities, support from law enforcement communities.
And the reason why there is this consensus is because the need is so clear and the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform are so clear to our economy, to our security, to our capacity to innovate, and also to ensure that we're showing the kind of compassion when it comes to some of these issues that the President talked about recently.
Q I guess then, does that desire to have that sense of compassion, or your answer there gel with -- The New York Times put out an analysis today saying that internal government records show that since President Obama took office, nearly two-thirds --or two-thirds of nearly 2 million deportation cases involved people who had committed only minor infractions. They note traffic violations, no criminal record at all. Do those two gel?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a couple of things about that. Ninety-eight percent of ICE’s total removals last year met one or more of the agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities. Other than convicted criminals, the agency’s priorities include those apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, illegal reentrance -- individuals who return to the U.S. after being previously removed by ICE; and fugitives from immigration court.
It's important to note that 82 percent of the individuals removed from the interior of the U.S. were previously convicted of a criminal offense, and 72 percent of these individuals were convicted of an ICE level 1 or level 2 offense. These individuals we're convicted of aggravated felonies, other felony offenses, or three or more misdemeanors.
Additionally, 93 percent of all of ICE’s non-criminal removals were recent border crossers, repeat immigration violators, or fugitives from immigration court. It's important to remember that under U.S. law it is a felony to attempt to reenter after being removed, so those individuals fall into one of ICE’s enforcement priorities. And I think that points out one of the challenges here and one of the reasons why we need to reform our system comprehensively. Because, as the President has made clear, he remains deeply concerned about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system. And the President has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to do an inventory of the department’s current practices to see how the department can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.
So you have the facts before you, which is that we have, when it comes to enforcement prioritization, taken steps to make sure that in this case, 82 percent of the individuals removed from the interior were previously convicted of a criminal offense; 93 percent of all of these non-criminal removals were recent border crossers and repeat immigration violators. And yet there is still this issue of the pain of separation and the need to take action.
That's why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That's why it would be such a good thing for the House of Representatives, for Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy to listen to the voices out in the country calling for comprehensive immigration reform, listen to the business leaders calling for it, across the country calling for it, to the law enforcement leaders calling for it. Listen to the economists who talk about the boon immigration reform would provide to our GDP, to deficit reduction. Listen to those who argue about how important it is to ensure that all of our employers across the country are playing by the same rules. Listen to those out in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who are enormously concerned about the need to keep talent that comes to the United States, individuals who come and study here in fields like engineering and computer science, to let them stay here so that they can build businesses here and the United States can continue to be the leader in these high-tech fields that are so valuable to our economic growth.
So there are just so many great reasons to pass this. There are so many conservative reasons to pass this. And the President sincerely hopes that Republicans in the House hear those voices, hear those conservative arguments as well as the humane arguments -- not that those are contradictory necessarily -- I didn’t even get a laugh out of that? And then take action.
Q Very quickly, tonight in Dallas, the NCAA National Championship game will be held. You can give me the President’s pics -- UConn -- invited him on to the bandwagon -- versus Kentucky.
MR. CARNEY: Like so many of us, his picks washed out in the brackets.
Q So UConn invited him on to the bandwagon -- now is the time to get on. But I want to ask you more seriously, though, about the University of Kentucky, which starts five freshmen as part of what’s the one-and-done rule. A lot of people think that’s no way to run a university athletics program or it’s a bad tradition that’s being created in college sports. What’s the President’s opinion of schools inviting kids in basically for one season in an effort to groom them for the pros, as opposed to for the academic opportunities that it’s intended for?
MR. CARNEY: I confess, Peter, that I haven’t had that conversation with him. I know the President has addressed questions like this in some of the interviews he’s done with ESPN and other outlets on issues related to sports and academics within sports. I know the President believes firmly that it’s important for our student athletes to get an education, but I don’t have a specific response from him on the question of Kentucky’s freshmen.
Q You said in answering Jon’s question that the wage gap between men and women in the White House is better than the national average. Is that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s just based on the data that Jon told me.
Q When you say that, do you mean that that’s good enough for the White House?
MR. CARNEY: No --
Q Is there still work to be done in this regard?
MR. CARNEY: I think there’s work -- there’s work to be done across the country and we need to engage in that. I think that on the fundamental issue of do employers pay women equally for the same work, the White House record is crystal clear and the answer is yes. And not only that, but I think on a separate but related matter, when it comes to ensuring that there are women in senior positions, the White House can point to the very senior women on the staff here in positions ranging from White House Counsel to communications to national security and note that the President has enormously qualified individuals in those positions who happen to be women.
But the broader issue is one that we all as a nation have to address and that’s why the President is committed to it. The focus, obviously, of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the equal pay-related executive actions that the President wants to take is to ensure that women are not being paid less for the work that they do -- the same work that men do.
Q And very quickly on Ukraine, just to clarify -- you said that any intervention in Eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly by Russia would be a serious escalation of the crisis, which would elicit these sector sanctions. And you also said that the U.S. blames the current unrest on increased Russian pressure in the area and there’s strong evidence that these protestors have been paid. So given all of those facts, is it fair to say that these developments meet the threshold for the U.S. imposing sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that, if you look closely at how I answered the question, that we would consider Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine both overt and covert to be a serious escalation. We have the authorities already to impose further sanctions, and the President and his team will continue to assess Russia’s actions and whether or not to impose those further sanctions. We also have the authorities to impose further sanctions for the transgressions already made by Russia when it comes to Crimea.
So we are concerned about this. We have seen evidence, strong evidence that some of the demonstrators were paid, as I said, and were not local residents. We’ve continued to monitor developments on the border and the positioning and disposition of Russian troops on the border, and that is a concern. But I’m not announcing new sanctions. We don’t -- we have the authorities [that] are there.
Q What I’m trying to get a sense of is whether when you guys talk about any increased action by Russia, that that would elicit these new sanctions that the President signed the executive order to have the authority to do. Does what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours meet the threshold for imposing those new sanctions? I’m not asking whether or not you’re going to do that, but would this particular action be enough to elicit those sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that is a way of asking that question so what I’ll say is that we are concerned about what we’ve seen. We’re going to continue to monitor developments there to make clear to Russia that there will be costs for further transgressions, violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, even as we engage with Russia in an effort to encourage Russia to deescalate the situation and to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
Q When you say that there’s strong evidence of outsiders being involved, is that a way of saying that you believe the Russian covert services are using a tactic they’ve used before of paying outsiders and bringing them in to incite incidents?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that there is evidence that some of the demonstrators are not local, that some of them were paid. I’m not going to peel back the onion any further, but we’ve seen strong evidence of that and I think there’s been some evidence of that nature that’s been reported on in the press. And this is a matter of serious concern. But I’m not going to parse it further than that except to say that we’re -- the kinds of things that we’re seeing in Ukraine are the kinds of things that are of concern to us -- the potential that there might be incidents provoked that create a pretext for other kind of action, certainly developments that are not unprecedented in this kind of history. So we’re watching very closely.
Q If I can just ask about the Afghan elections over* the weekend. Does the evidence so far -- I know the results sort of take a while to come in -- suggest that the candidate that emerges from this process is going to look for a less contentious relationship with the U.S. than President Karzai?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the best way to answer that question is to say that, first of all, we commend the millions of Afghan men and women who went to the polls on April 5. And the campaign period over the past two months was full of open and responsible debate among the candidates and the Afghan people turned out in force to choose the direction of their country. And what’s important about this process is that it was and continues to be Afghan owned. The Afghan people secured this election, they ran this election, and most importantly, they voted in this election. It’s an important milestone.
Now, we’re still early in the process. The results will take some time to be tabulated and our perspective is simply that we don’t have a preferred candidate because the future of Afghanistan is up to the Afghans to decide. We look forward to a productive relationship with President Karzai’s successor, whomever that may be.
Q Two topics. Going back to something Jonathon asked on Rwanda and Syria, you’re saying that the President and this administration is constantly reviewing and assessing facts on the ground, what’s happening in Syria. But at the same time, understanding that Former President Bill Clinton, when he left office, said he had regrets about not moving into Rwanda faster and sooner -- he could have saved, he thought, at least a third of those who were killed in the genocides there -- are there any regrets as you’re going through the reviewing and assessments of what’s happening in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, I would say a couple of things on the comparative, which is that from the moment the Assad regime began slaughtering its own people, we spoke forcefully and clearly in opposition to that and we began mobilizing an international response in terms of aid to the Syrian people and actions to isolate the Assad regime and to help build up an opposition that emerged obviously from scratch.
So I think that it’s important to note that while the tragedy continues to unfold there, the fact of the assault on the Syrian people was one that this country and others responded to and acted on quickly.
There’s no question that it continues to be a terrible situation and that we continue to evaluate what we can do and what we can do with our partners to further isolate Assad, further put pressure on him. We continue to implore the Russians to reconsider their support for this horrendous tyrant. They have continually blocked action by the United Nations Security Council because of their support for Assad. And we think obviously history is not on the side of Assad or the side of Assad’s protectors.
So, again, when you talk about moving more forcefully in the comparative, we’ve had discussions here and the President has talked about considerations he has made when it comes to at least the suggestion that the U.S. ought to move in, in varying degrees, militarily in Syria and he has deemed those not to be the right courses of action when it comes to improving the situation in Syria and enhancing our national security.
So this remains a very difficult challenge for the United States and for the international community, and we’re continuing to work with our partners on it.
Q And the next issue, the selfie issue. How far-reaching will this ban go or has there been a determination that there will be a ban officially on selfies with the President? And what have been the conversations with Samsung and David Ortiz himself?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no discussion of a ban. I think that was --
Q That’s Dan Pfeiffer from yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: He was saying, I think humorously that the end of all selfies -- and I don’t think he just meant the White House.
Q So this a nationwide ban on selfies? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: We’re going to use our executive authority to -- (laughter.)
No, look, we have a standing approach to issues like this when the President’s image is used for commercial purposes. I think Dan spoke yesterday about the fact that White House Counsel had been in communication with her counterpart at Samsung. I don’t have any more details on that but we believe this issue will be resolved and we’ve taken the same approach on this matter as we have when we’ve had similar incidents or cases when the President’s image has been used for commercial purposes.
Q How far reaching is this going to go? Are you just talking to Samsung?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q Is the White House Counsel’s office reaching out to David Ortiz to find out more? Why can’t you talk about it?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- I am talking about it. No, we’re not reaching out. I am talking about it. I’m saying we talked to Samsung and that’s the sum total of the action with regards to this particular incident.
Q What does the President feel about this? Did he feel bad about being duped in the selfie?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t talked to him about that. I have I think told some of you that the President obviously didn’t know that there was a Samsung play here, if you will. But we’re not treating this any differently than we did in the past when there was a matter concerning the use of the President’s likeness for commercial purposes.
I think I promised you and then I’ve got to run to a very important meeting.
Q Just what’s the President’s current view on the outlook for the Israeli-Palestinian talks, given the reception that Secretary Kerry received on his last trip with everyone and the long-term analysis you all have?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met last night to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks. The meeting was serious, it was constructive, and both sides agreed to reconvene today to continue the effort.
The issue now is whether the parties can demonstrate that they are willing to make the difficult decisions necessary to move the process forward. The parties understand what the choices are and they understand that these are not decisions that the United States or any other country can make. The parties themselves have to make them. So we’ve obviously played a role, an important role in trying to facilitate these negotiations, these discussions, but ultimately the decisions that have to be made need to be made by the parties themselves, and we’re going to continue to engage in whatever way we can to try to facilitate this. But as I think others have said, this issue hasn’t gone unsolved for so long because it’s easy. It’s precisely because it’s so difficult that it has resisted a resolution for many, many years and resisted the sincere efforts of administrations of both parties over these many years.
But the fact that these challenges are so intractable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, it means you’re obligated, as the United States of America, to try, even if the odds are ever long. And they’re always going to be long in this situation, but not impossible. And that’s why we engage.
Q Do they seem a little longer now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I never would put odds. I would say that the sides continue to talk. We continue to participate in a way that we hope helps facilitate progress. And beyond that, I’d refer you to the State Department.
Q Jay, Mickey Rooney -- do you guys have a statement, or anything on Mickey Rooney, on the passing?
MR. CARNEY: Certainly a titan of the industry, but I don’t have a -- and certainly our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, but I don’t have anything beyond that.
1:04 P.M. EDT
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