Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en Route Aurora, CO, 7/22/12

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Aboard Air Force One
En Route Aurora, Colorado

3:13 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for joining us today.  As you know, we're flying to Colorado, to Aurora, where the President will visit some of the families of the victims.  We'll have more detail on his schedule once we're on the ground.  I'm not going to be able to give you a great deal of detail during this gaggle on the record. 

I also wanted to mention to you that President Obama met this morning with his senior national security team to get an update on the situation in Syria.  The United States continues to believe that there must be a political transition in Syria in which Bashar al-Assad leaves power as soon as possible so that Syria can move forward toward a government that is responsible to the Syrian people's aspirations.  We will continue to work with our friends, allies, and the Syrian opposition on behalf of a political transition. 

And with that, we will take your questions.  Jen Psaki is here.  I don't know if you have anything to open with.

MS. PSAKI:  I don't have anything to add at this point.

Q    Jen, this is probably a question for you.  Has the President talked at all about how, if at all, he thinks the shooting might affect the tenor of the campaign going forward?  And does he plan to do anything to change sort of his own approach, the campaign's approach going forward?

MS. PSAKI:  Clearly, the tragic events of last Thursday have changed both the tone and the schedule of events.  As you know, we pulled down our event in Portland that was scheduled to happen on Tuesday -- which is a grassroots event -- for two reasons.  One is, of course, the nature of the tragedy and the feeling, while there's not a playbook for this, that given the tone of grassroots events, it was the right step to take.  The second reason was that in order to come to Colorado -- which was a big priority for the President, to visit with the families, to do that as soon as it was possible and made sense on both sides -- we had to pull down an event in order to have the resources to do that.

So his actions are -- and our actions are clearly conveying how this has impacted him and how this has impacted our approach. Just like everybody, we're taking this day by day.  It's too early to say on the specific policy issues what that will mean.  But again, we're taking it day by day.

Q    The ads are still off the air in Colorado?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, they are, through at least tomorrow.  And I'll get you an update before the end of the flight here on whether there's any update on that. 

Q    When we return, Jen, do you know if you're going to change the makeup of the ads or are you going to less contrast ads, or do you know yet?

MS. PSAKI:  I don't have any update on that.

Q    What does he do tomorrow?  He's going to the VFW in Reno and is sort of like beginning the campaign again.  Do things start again tomorrow?  Do we go back on the attack, or is there still a timeout?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you know he is speaking at the VFW tomorrow in Reno.  That's an official event where he will discuss his administration's work to secure our nation, fight terrorism, renew American leadership in the world, better serve our troops and military families and honor our veterans. 

Then he does have a schedule back on the West Coast that's campaign related.  Jen can address that.

MS. PSAKI:  I can go over the events just so you know.  Tomorrow he has, after the VFW speech, he'll have a roundtable in Oakland.  We expect about 25 people.  Tickets are $35,800 per person.  The contributions go to the Obama Victory Fund.  Then he's going to hold a dinner at a private residence.  We expect about 60 people.  The tickets are $35,800 again.  And then he'll end the day with a reception in Oakland at Fox Theater.  So that's the full schedule for the rest of the day.

Q    Three open that day then?

MS. PSAKI:  Three tomorrow, correct.

Q    On Tuesday, is he doing campaign events of any nature?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, he has a schedule of events on Tuesday.  I indicated to you the change in the Portland grassroots event, but the rest of his schedule will move forward on Tuesday.

Q    Jay, you mentioned terrorism as one of the topics the President is going to talk about at the VFW.  The Governor of Colorado called the shooting an act of terror, called the shooter a terrorist, this morning on some of the Sunday shows.  Does the administration agree that this was an act of terror?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think broadly defined, I think it is a terrifying thing to imagine and a terrifying moment for anyone in that theater to have experienced what this individual perpetrated.  What we have said, and continues to be the case, is that we at the federal level, and I believe this is true at the local level, do not see any connection between the assault and terrorist organizations or terrorist -- any nexus with terrorist organizations or terrorism. 

As to motive, we obviously will continue to work with local law enforcement officials.  It's their investigation, but the FBI is providing assistance, and of course, the President has made clear that he wants all federal assistance available as needed.  So I don't think we're in a position yet to assess motive behind these actions.

Q    Jay, do the political reality just preclude any sort of policy response in terms of access to firearms?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm sorry, say that again.

Q    Does the gun lobby just really preclude any sort of policy response in terms of access to firearms?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that the President's views on this are as he has stated and as he spelled out in the op/ed that was published in an Arizona newspaper, which is that he believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.  And there are a number of steps that have been taken and a number of others that can be taken to accomplish that goal.

I don't have any -- the Department of Justice can provide more details in terms of some of the steps that we've taken involving making higher quantity and quality of information available in background checks, and other measures they've taken which I know they can provide to you, working with law enforcement agencies.  But the President's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law.  And that's his focus right now.

Q    In terms of like assault weapons or something like that, there's no renewed push for a renewed assault weapons ban?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, there has been opposition to that since it expired within Congress, and I think -- I wouldn’t argue with your assessment about that.  So the President is focused on doing the things that we can do that protect Second Amendment rights, which he thinks is important, but also to make it harder for individuals who should not, under existing law, have weapons to obtain them.

Q    Does the President believe that this issue of gun control should now have sort of a larger role in the campaign?  It hasn’t really been talked about much before this. 

MS. PSAKI:  I think this stage where this is so fresh and new for so many people, including the people in Colorado, who are still mourning the loss of their loved ones, will be for a long time, many people are still recovering, we're still learning what exactly happened here and more details -- that's where our focus is right now.  And so it's really too early to say how this will play.  And again, we're just taking it day by day.  That's what our focus is today.

Q    On foreign policy, on Syria, has the President had any information about the security around chemical weapons holdings that the Assad regime have?  Does he have concerns over how secure they are -- to make sure they are -- stay secure?

MR. CARNEY:  I can answer that.  First of all, we've repeatedly made clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard and stockpile the chemical weapons and that the international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation. 

The U.S. is closely monitoring Syria's proliferation-sensitive materials, which include chemical weapons, and facilities, and we believe that Syria's chemical weapons remain under Syrian government control.  But given the escalation in violence in Syria and the regime's increasing attacks on its own people, we remain very concerned about these weapons.  And in addition to monitoring the stockpiles, we are actively consulting with Syria's neighbors and our friends in the international community to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons and the Syrian government's obligation to secure them. 

We've long said the mere presence of chemical weapons in the region undermines stability, and we continue to call on the Syrian government, as we have in the past, to give up those weapons and to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Q    So, Jay, what do you do if you lose confidence in the Syrian government's ability to control security around those weapons?

MR. CARNEY:  As I said, we believe that those stockpiles remain under the control of the Syrian government.  We are concerned, however, as I just expressed, and that's why we're consulting with our partners in the region as well as broader allies within the international community about this issue because it is a matter of concern.  But I don't want to speculate about what action the international community or the United States might take if the disposition of those weapons were to change.

Q    Jay, can you define what "hold accountable" means?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that there are a variety of ways that a government or individuals can be held accountable for this kind of -- the kind of behavior that would result in the deliberate release of chemical weapons or use of chemical weapons.  I wouldn’t want to speculate about what particular measures would be taken.

Q    Jay, back to Colorado -- we just saw the wildfires over the last couple of weeks.  Does the President think about all the extreme weather that we've seen and if there's any relation to climate change?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had that discussion with him.  I think that he has on a number of occasions visited states that have been hard hit by extreme weather, most recently Colorado because of the wildfires.  Last year I remember being with him both in Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, cities that were devastated by uncommonly powerful tornados. 

His concern is that we, as a people, and that the government specifically, take every action it can to help those who are affected by these kinds of events, and to, as he did when he returned to Joplin, make clear that the American people and the people’s government does not forget about the terrible impact these storms have had, even after cameras have moved on to another story -- because as we saw in Joplin, the impact is long-lasting.  As we also saw in Joplin, the remarkable capacity of the American people to rebound from these events is inspiring, both to the President and I think to everyone across the country.

Q    Jay, just on a different topic.  Does the President think that Penn State made the right decision this morning to remove the statue of Joe Paterno from outside the stadium?

MR. CARNEY:  I have not had that conversation with him.  I know he feels very strongly about the events and about the failure of the institution in what should always be a primary responsibility, which is protecting children.  But I haven’t discussed with him the statue.  I have a feeling I know what the answer is, but I want to check with him before I bring it to you.

Q    Jay, why are we going to the Bay Area tonight?  Why is the President going to the Bay Area tonight?  Is that just, like, logistics?  Just hard to --

MR. CARNEY:  It just has to do with -- yes, we have, as Jen was talking about, assets and resources.  And since we were going out West to begin with, it was -- this was the logistically feasible thing to do, to continue on from Colorado, go to San Francisco, and then begin our schedule pretty much as it had been planned prior to this.

Q    And staying in Colorado would have been -- you’ve taken resources away or something?

MR. PSAKI:  That’s a tricky question, because obviously there are a lot of factors that go into resources and where they are.  We’re staying in the same hotel two nights in a row, so as you can imagine, that makes it a little easier.  But I don’t want to speak to kind of how assets and resources are divided.

It’s really because the President wanted to make it easier for the press that you guys can leave your stuff in your room.  (Laughter.)  He thought, they’ll have a nice glass of wine tonight, give them a break.

MR. CARNEY:  This looks like a crowd that loves the cuisine of San Francisco -- it must be said.  (Laughter.)  I know the President is, generally in situations like this and specifically in this case, always mindful of not taking resources that are needed elsewhere.  And I don’t know whether that factored into the decision.  I think it has more to do with what Jen said, which is the ability to stay in the same hotel twice creates -- makes it a little logistically easier.

Q    For Jay or Jen, I know you said we would get more detail on the ground when we get there.  Can you say that we will hear from him?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think I will -- I’ll have to wait until we hit the ground to provide more details about that.  I think what we have said is all I can say at this point, which is that he will meet with families of victims as well as local officials.  And beyond that, we’ll have to wait until we’re on the ground.

Q    Is he meeting with them individually or as a group?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I want to wait until we get there.  I’ll wait until we get on the ground.

Q    Where are we going to meet with the families?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s part of the specifics that I will provide when we’re actually on the ground.

Q    In Portland, is there any Portland fundraisers on Tuesday?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, there are.  I can get you the details on the specifics of the Tuesday schedule.

Q    But there’s definitely one fewer than what they had announced?

MR. PSAKI:  There’s not -- well, the event that we -- the event we pulled down was a larger grassroots event, which there’s a different energy and enthusiasm to that type of an event.  So as -- for the two reasons I mentioned -- one was we felt it’s an appropriate step given the tragedy in Colorado.  And second was, in order to come to Colorado we needed the resources to be able to do that.

Q    Thanks, guys.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you all.

END
3:29 P.M. EDT