Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/15/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
See below for a follow up to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing.
*On Sunday, the President will place his hand on the Robinson family Bible when he takes the oath of office. On Monday, the President will place his hand on two Bibles: one from President Lincoln, the other from Dr. King.
12:59 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House Briefing Room. It is very good to see you today. I have no announcements to make, so I will head straight to the Associated Press.
Q Jay, on gun violence to start off -- do you expect the President to release these plans tomorrow? And absent any specifics that you can provide at this point, to what extent can the President address this problem through executive order, and how much of it needs to be addressed through congressional action?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. I can tell you that tomorrow the President and Vice President will hold an event here at the White House to unveil a package of concrete proposals to reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. They will be joined by children from around the country who wrote the President letters in the wake of that tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents. That event will be at approximately 11:45 a.m.
I will not get ahead of the President in terms of what his package of proposals will include. I will simply note that the President has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach. He has also made clear that there are specific legislative actions that he will continue to call on Congress to take, including the assault weapons ban, including a measure to ban high-capacity magazine clips, including an effort to close the very big loopholes in the background check system in our country. But I will, beyond that, leave it to the President to announce what actions he proposes tomorrow.
Q There’s been some fears among gun owners that the President might unilaterally try to restrict their right to bear arms or access to weapons. Does the President believe that his executive powers give him the authority to restrict someone’s right to access certain weapons or ammunition?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear. The President, as he has said often and said yesterday, believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. He believes and knows that most all gun owners are highly responsible; they buy their guns legally and they use them safely. He also has seen and believes that most gun owners support the idea of common-sense measures to prevent people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them. And that includes closing loopholes in our background check system, for example.
But when it comes to -- the President will take a comprehensive approach. But it is a simple fact that there are limits on what can be done within existing law. And Congress has to act on the kinds of measures that we’ve already mentioned because the power to do that is reserved by Congress and to Congress.
So I’m not going to get ahead of the President. He will announce a series of proposals, but certainly a significant part of what he hopes we together can achieve will have to be done working with Congress.
Q Separate topic, on Egypt: There are some comments, some anti-Semitic comments that have emerged from President Morsi recently. He delivered a speech in 2010, in which he instructed Eyptians to “nurse children and our grandchildren on hatred for Jews and Zionists.” He gave an interview around the same time in which he described Zionists in very insulting and derogatory terms. Does the President think that President Morsi should retract his comments, offer an apology? And to your knowledge, has Morsi offered any regrets to the White House over making these comments?
MR. CARNEY: We strongly condemn the remarks that then-Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi made in 2010. The language that we have seen is deeply offensive. We completely reject the statements, as we do any language that espouses religious hatred.
This discourse -- and this is a broader point -- this kind of discourse has been acceptable in the region for far too long and is counter to the goal of peace. President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths, and that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt.
Since taking office, President Morsi has reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to its peace treaty with Israel in both word and deed, and has proven willing to work with us towards shared objectives, including a cease-fire during the crisis in Gaza last year. These commitments are essential for our bilateral relations with Egypt, as well as for stability in the region. But we will always speak out against language that espouses religious hatred or encourages the use of violence. And we have raised our concerns over these remarks with the government of Egypt.
Q Does the White House believe, though, that Israelis can trust Morsi to uphold his end of the bargain, given these comments?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we strongly condemn these comments. And we believe that President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths and that this type of rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic Egypt. We work with President Morsi towards shared objectives because he is the elected leader of Egypt. He has demonstrated in word and deed his commitment to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, and that's significant. And he obviously worked with us to resolve -- or to achieve a peace settlement -- a ceasefire rather -- in the Gaza conflict last year.
So this is about action. It's about deeds. And we believe that language like that is too tolerated in the region and it has been acceptable in the region for too long. And we strongly condemn it, because it's counter to peace. It is counter to the long-term interests of everyone in the region who hopes for peace and greater prosperity.
Q Last week, the Vice President met with makers of first-person shooter video games and with the entertainment industry. And I'm just wondering if the President is going to have a message tomorrow for people in the entertainment industry about their role in the gun violence problem or their -- ways that they could help address it.
MR. CARNEY: I would ask you to wait for the President's event tomorrow, where he will broadly address the steps forward that he believes we need to take as a nation to try to reduce the scourge of gun violence in this country. But I don't want to get ahead of the President. It's certainly correct that the Vice President had that meeting.
Q Aside from legislative -- things that could be addressed through legislation, is there a sense, a building sense, a growing sense of how quickly the administration will be able to move on some of the other pieces of the proposal that can be done without legislation? And how quickly -- how important is it to move quickly, to sort of not let what happened fade away?
MR. CARNEY: The President certainly hopes that out of the tragedy of Newtown we can achieve progress towards reducing gun violence in this country. He believes that we can no longer stand by without taking action, even, as he did yesterday, as he acknowledges that no single thing that we can do will eliminate this problem. And he acknowledged yesterday that achieving some of the goals that he has already set might be difficult. Because they're difficult does not mean they should not be pursued.
As for timetables, when it comes to congressional action, that obviously depends on Congress. The President has called for congressional action. In terms of other measures that he might propose, I would leave it, again, to the President to describe those in greater detail tomorrow and perhaps address the question of timetable and speed tomorrow.
Q What commitment has he gotten from leaders in Congress, particularly from Senator Reid, to work on some of these things?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any conversations of that nature to divulge today. He certainly believes that congressional action is necessary. There is, I think, a significant amount of interest in moving on these issues, and he will work with members of Congress to try to advance these important initiatives. In terms of timetables, again, that's a congressional prerogative, but he will certainly be urging Congress to act quickly.
Q Following up on that -- thanks, Jay -- Senator Reid has said he doubts whether an assault weapons ban can pass the House. And the Senate will only move on something that can pass the House. So how frustrating is this for the President?
MR. CARNEY: I think we will put forward a series of proposals. The President has made clear that he supports and has long supported a renewal of the assault weapons ban. We will look to Congress to put together a legislative strategy. We'll work with them. And we will push for things that are hard because they're the right things to do. We're not going to prejudge --
Q But do you think the assault weapons ban is dead before it's started or --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe that. And I think that that doesn’t mean it's a sure thing, either. If these things were easy, they would have been achieved already. If renewal of the assault weapons ban were easily accomplished, it would not need renewing because it would have happened already.
The fact of the matter is the President is committed to pushing these proposals. He is not naïve about the challenges that exist, but he believes that, as he said yesterday, if even one child's life can be saved by the actions we take here in Washington, we must take those actions.
Q I know you all chafe at this, but the President is not always very fond of working phones and going up there and --
MR. CARNEY: Going up there? Because there is such a long history of Presidents going up there? (Laughter.)
Q Well, they do. And they also have people over here.
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s in a television program. But go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Over our heads, Jay. Over our heads.
MR. CARNEY: West Wing -- you know. Anyway, go ahead.
Q I'm not going to indulge your West Wing fantasies. But he could also have them over here, and there are a number of things he can do. I know the history. My question is how much is he willing to do that to win what he wants on the gun -- on the assault weapons ban and on gun safety in general? I mean, is this the issue that he’ll really break the mold?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would start by suggesting that premise is a little off. But I will simply say that the President is committed to this. He believes it's a high priority, not just for him but for the country. And he will push a series of proposals, and I think you will see that clearly when you hear from him tomorrow. That includes working with Congress to try to get some of these legislative actions done on behalf of the American people. So I don’t think you should doubt the President's commitment to this, and he will work to achieve what can be achieved here.
Q Okay. So just finally on this, does he have any commitment from Democratic leadership, like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, but especially Harry Reid, that they will push the assault weapons ban?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think this was addressed earlier -- the legislative strategy will be something that’s worked out with legislative leaders. The fact is the President is committed to the renewal of the assault weapons ban; a number of senators are committed to it. I think there are a variety of things that we need to act on legislatively, and the President has already put forward some of those.
In terms of how that plays out, I think we have to wait and see. But he is committed to acting and you’ll -- I mean, I think you’ve seen something that reflects that, which is the Vice President, at the President’s request, took on this task of bringing people together, formulating proposals and recommendations over the holidays and in the midst of a fiscal cliff fight and now other fiscal challenges and debates that we’re having with Congress, and did an extraordinary amount of work in order to present to the President a series of recommendations that he could choose from and put forward, which he will do tomorrow.
Q Does the President believe he can achieve his goals of reducing gun violence without an assault weapons ban?
MR. CARNEY: That’s hard to analyze what -- or quantify what that means exactly. The President will put forward a series of proposals that is not limited to one legislative action. And I don’t think he believes -- I know he doesn’t believe that even if everything that he put forward were acted on, made law when it comes to legislative action, or acted on in other ways that we would eliminate gun violence in America. He understands that that’s the case.
Q You know why I ask.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think our goal, obviously, should be -- as a country should be never to accept even one child’s death as a result of gun violence. So he believes that the things that we can do as a nation, together, in a bipartisan way when it comes to legislation, together outside of Washington, that, yes, we can reduce gun violence. But it’s something we have to do together. It’s something that cannot be done by a President alone. It can’t be done by a single community alone, or a mayor or a governor, or by Congress alone. We all have to work together.
Q Would he sign a package passed by Congress that did not include the assault weapons ban?
MR. CARNEY: The President is not saying that any single measure has to be part of -- let’s say there are -- I mean, I don’t want to quantify the number of actions that he might put forward tomorrow, but he believes we ought to move on all of them, and he’s not going to say that we have to move on this one or else we don’t move on that one.
He believes we should pass legislation that closes loopholes in our background check system. That’s something that I think we’ve all seen has broad support across the country, among gun owners and non-gun owners, among people in red states and blue states, Democrats and Republicans. And that’s something we should act on because it’s very important. There are a host of measures that we can take that can address this problem, and he believes we should take them as a nation.
Q Just to clarify, on the question of executive orders versus where Congress has to act, there are legitimate constitutional questions and protections in the Second Amendment. And just to make it abundantly clear, nothing that the President will talk about tomorrow on executive orders would touch upon those constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights?
MR. CARNEY: There are -- first of all, the President of the United States believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms. He has been explicit about this. And throughout his time in office, he has made clear that he believes we ought to take common-sense -- and enact common-sense measures that protect our Second Amendment rights but prevent people who should not have weapons from obtaining them. So his commitment to the Second Amendment I think is very clear.
There’s a lot of speculation about what actions he might propose tomorrow; we don’t have much longer to wait to see what they are. But his commitment to the Second Amendment is very clear.
Q Let me take you a little farther afield. What do you think, and what does the President think, and what conversations has he had either with representatives of the French government or anyone else about what’s going on in Mali? What are the U.S. interests there? What is the degree or level of our cooperation now and in the future with the French and what they’re undertaking in Mali?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. The President did speak with President Hollande last week, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region, and we support the French operation. We are supporting the French by sharing information, and we are considering a request for logistical support. We will stay in close touch with the French government and other international partners as the situation develops.
As I think you know, the United Nations Security Council condemned recent attacks by rebel and terrorist groups against Malian government forces, and the government of Mali asked for support. We call for swift implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2085 to restore stability throughout Mali. It is also imperative that the transitional government of Mali present a political road map for a return to democratic governance and negotiations with groups that reject terrorism and accept a unified Mali.
Q What’s at stake for the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we work with our international partners to combat al Qaeda-linked groups around the world. We share an interest with the French in depriving terrorists of a safe haven in North Africa, in a country like Mali, and we work with nations like France and others in that region and around the world to achieve the shared goals that we share -- the goals that we share. So I think that that is reflected in the actions that we’ve taken and the support that we have given to the French operation.
Q On the executive orders to be announced tomorrow, how do you address concerns that these are an attempt to go around Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think there have been reports about possible items that may be proposed by the President. Some of those reports have been linked to suggestions and recommendations or conversations that have occurred in the series of meetings that the Vice President has held as part of his effort to consider this issue on behalf of the President. I would urge you not to make assumptions about what the President will announce tomorrow based on reports that reflect at most an earlier stage of the process. The President will announce a plan that is the President’s plan, and he’ll do that tomorrow.
Q That, I don’t think, quite answers the question I --
MR. CARNEY: Well, you made an assertion about what he’s going to announce tomorrow, and I’m saying that reports that suggest or speculate or ponder what he might announce are premature.
Q In other words, there may not be executive orders?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in other words, I’m not going to get specific about what the President will announce tomorrow. What I have --
Q But what the President is doing tomorrow some people are concerned is an attempt to go around Congress.
MR. CARNEY: Right. I think I’ve answered this several times already in the short time I’ve been here, which is that the President believes in and supports the Second Amendment. He also understands that there are limits to what can be achieved without congressional action, which is why he is calling on Congress to act appropriately.
Q The fact that the President can propose or announce administrative actions also suggests that the government hasn’t been doing as much as it could have been in the past in terms of enforcement, for example. How do you address that question?
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that we all need to do more, and we all need to examine our consciences and acknowledge that we have not done enough to protect our children. If we had, some of the tragedies that we’ve seen in this country, most recently in Connecticut, might not have happened.
So you’ll hear from the President tomorrow about the package of proposals he believes are the right ones to help address this problem. He looks forward to working with Congress. He looks forward to continuing to work with stakeholders in this issue of all kinds moving forward.
This is something that we have to address as a nation. It’s not something you can do alone through executive action. It’s not something you can do with even a series of laws that Congress might pass. This is a problem that touches on a variety of areas of American life, and it needs to be approached broadly. And I think that's why the President asked the Vice President to take on this effort. It's why the Vice President met with so many different groups -- victims groups, gun safety organizations, advocates for sportsmen and sportswomen, gun ownership groups, representatives of the entertainment and video game industries, as well as members of the House of Representatives.
Secretary Duncan met with representatives from parent-teacher and education groups. Secretary Sebelius met with mental health and disability advocates. Senior White House officials met with a variety of stakeholders, including medical groups, community organizations, child and family advocates, business owners, faith leaders and others. And I think that -- the breadth of the effort represents the scope of the problem.
Q Perhaps this is following up on a question that was asked a moment before, but to try to pin down a little bit more about what the word "push" means in terms of the President's efforts -- given before the fiscal cliff deadline that he traveled to places like Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, will he go on the road for the issue of gun violence to try to pursue this campaign?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't any scheduling announcements to make. The President considers this a priority. I think that's been made clear by the speed of action that you've seen represented here by both the President and the Vice President. It will be represented by the event you see tomorrow that the President and the Vice President will hold. And I will leave it to the President to announce next steps.
But he believes we need to act now. He believes that we need to take steps that prevent, or help prevent the kind of tragic violence against our children, in particular, that we saw in Newtown, Connecticut, and we see in less spectacular form around the country all the time.
Q Yesterday, on the one-month anniversary of the awful shootings at Newtown, the NRA put out a new app that is for children as young as age four, at least according to its rating, on iTunes, that allows children or adults, whoever chooses to, to go to a shooting range and fire. Given the conversation with the gaming industry taking place, and others, do you think that's appropriate? Does the President think that's appropriate?
MR. CARNEY: I have heard about this, but I have not had the conversation with the President about it. I really -- I haven't seen the app that you're referring to.
Q Should four-year-olds be --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that these are good questions. And I think some of the answers, we don't know, in terms of what impact and influence apps and videogames and entertainment has. But that is why the Vice President's group had some of the meetings that it had, and that's why this conversation doesn't end tomorrow. It continues.
And I think for parents around the country, these are issues that merit examination. And as a country, these are issues that merit examination. And some of the issues that are presented here are not ones that are solvable by Washington action, necessarily. They are more of the nature that bend to the will of community feelings and parental guidance and the like.
So, again, I don't know much about the specific issue, but I think, broadly, that's why this issue is so complex.
Q And then finally, very briefly, in an interview that will air later this week, the cyclist Lance Armstrong will admit to doping, using performance-enhancing drugs during the time when he won seven Tour de France championships. I'm curious, given the fact that just last week we had a Hall of Fame induction where there were zero baseball players inducted, what the President's view is of the state of sports in America today, and if he has any opinion on Lance Armstrong coming forward with these acknowledgements, his admissions.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven't spoken with him about Lance Armstrong, and I know that there were reports about what he said in this interview, but I haven't seen the interview yet. What I will say is the President feels very strongly that it's inappropriate to use performance-enhancing drugs, and that any steps that any individual athlete takes or organizations take to reduce their use or eliminate them are good things. But beyond that, I haven't got a specific reaction.
Q Can I follow up, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q Okay, if, in fact, Lance Armstrong admits to doping, would the President consider directing DOJ to investigate whether he violated his agreement with U.S. Postal, and whether any of those payments should be repaid?
MR. CARNEY: It's a speculative matter, A; B, it's a speculative matter about a possible legal action. That's two strikes. And in this case, you're out. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have any update on how the President is preparing for his inaugural address? Any update for us on what historical texts he might be consulting as he drafts the speech?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have much for you. He's obviously thinking about and working on the address he'll give. It's something he feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to do for a second time. But beyond that, I just don't have any details for you.
Q Turning back to gun policy in recent days, the President said that just because things are hard doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tried. Is that the kind of tone we can expect to hear from him next week during his speech?
MR. CARNEY: You mean in the inaugural speech? Well, I think he was referring to specifically measures to reduce gun violence. I think broadly speaking, that reflects I think a very American mind-set that says we don't shy away from trying to do hard things because these things are important to do. But I wouldn't read into that anything about the inaugural address necessarily.
It’s certainly his view about why it’s important to push forward to take common-sense measures to address gun violence. Even if some folks out there are saying they’re really hard or they can't be done, we have to try.
Q Jay, when it comes to not just gun control but maybe immigration and other issues, how is the President planning to use, if at all, the grassroots network, OFA or some such, to engage the millions who were supporters during the campaign, to help get Congress to act?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know specifically about that particular network. I know that the President believes and has learned over the course of his first term that it is vitally important when trying to move forward on an agenda that is both necessary and enjoys popular support that we engage the public. And that's an approach he has taken for some time now, and I think, broadly speaking, it’s an approach he'll continue to take.
It’s not a question of do you sit down in a room with leaders of Congress, or do you go out and engage the American people. You do both. And he has, I think, demonstrated especially for the last two years that that's -- the both-and approach is the approach that's effective, and it’s the approach I think you can expect he'll continue to take.
Q It was never that successful in the first term. The payroll tax cut, a couple other things, but nothing on a large scale. Is there going to be -- can we expect to see sort of greater use or mobilization of that --
MR. CARNEY: I think for millions of Americans who saw their payroll tax cut extended, for millions of students who saw their student loan rates kept low, and for virtually all working Americans who saw tax cuts -- their taxes kept low, their income tax rates kept low as a result of the fiscal cliff deal -- for those people, the President’s success in using this strategy I think is pretty notable and those are big things -- big things for the American people.
Going forward, I think as a general matter, he believes that just because some of the issues that we debate here in Washington can sound arcane, can involve terminology like “raising the debt ceiling,” or “spending in the out-years,” or “entitlement reform,” these are issues that matter deeply to everyday Americans and affect their livelihoods and affect their potential in the American economy.
So he thinks the American people care. He thinks that they want to hear from their leaders in Washington about the things that they’re debating here. And he'll absolutely continue to engage with the American people on the policy proposals that he’s putting forward.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. If Jackie is finished. Jackie, do you yield to --
Q I yield to Ari.
Q Thank you, Jackie. (Laughter.) You just said it’s not a choice between engaging with Congress or the American people, you do both. Last summer you said the President had not spoken ever with Senator Marco Rubio about immigration. Now Rubio has come out and sort of laid out his key points on immigration. Has the President or anyone senior from the White House spoken with him yet about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Senator Rubio at the time had I think demonstrated and reported absence of support among Republican leaders for even the issues that he was discussing.
The President has put forward -- and there is a blueprint on whitehouse.gov that demonstrates this -- an approach to comprehensive immigration reform that he believes we need to move forward on, and that you can expect him to move forward on in the relatively near future.
The fact is we are encouraged -- referring now to recent reports -- that Senator Rubio's thinking, as reported, so closely reflects the President's blueprint for reform. The President has long called for partners from both sides of the aisle. And he has lamented the absence of partners from the other side of the aisle. It used to be a bipartisan pursuit, comprehensive immigration reform. For a while it ceased to be. But he certainly hopes that it will be in the future. And the reports about Senator Rubio's ideas bode well for a productive bipartisan debate, which we hope will start in earnest soon after the inauguration. We hope that it signals a change in the Republican approach to this issue, because if we are going to get this done it's going to take more than just a handful of Republicans working across the aisle. It's the kind of thing -- comprehensive immigration reform -- that requires significant bipartisan support. And he hopes that this augers well for the future.
Q But why rely on reports and what you hope he's thinking? Why not pick up the phone and call Marco Rubio?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're suggesting that we won't?
Q Or any Republican on immigration.
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that as we move forward with immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, that it will involve engagement with Democrats and Republicans. And you can expect that that will happen.
Again, to my knowledge, Senator Rubio has yet to put anything on paper, or draw up any legislation. We welcome reports of his positions and look forward to working with him and other Republicans in pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform because it's the right thing to do for the country and the President considers it a high priority.
Q As we've seen in the first term, it's difficult for Congress to move on two sort of complicated issues at the same time, and the President wants to push on immigration and on gun violence. And I'm wondering how he prioritizes the two. Is there one that he wants the Senate to take up first over the other? Is there one he thinks is more important or more urgent for the American people?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when we talk about efforts to reduce gun violence, we're talking not just about legislative action. And when it comes to legislative action, the President has already identified things that Congress is actively considering, either the legislation exists or is being worked on. And he calls on Congress to act right away on the measures that he believes are important -- the assault weapons ban, a measure to deal with high-capacity magazine clips, a measure to close loopholes in our background check system.
There is no doubt that we will move very quickly. I think I just made clear in the statement I read that he expects to move very quickly on immigration after the inauguration. And I think that while what you say is true about the capacity of Congress to move forward on things, I think there is no reason to believe that these kinds of issues can't be worked on at the same time. And you can expect the President to push for both measures to reduce gun violence and for comprehensive immigration reform because they are both priorities of his.
Q Speaking of the members of Congress, you're going to have lawmakers down here for the event tomorrow, I assume.
MR. CARNEY: I have only for you that there will be kids who wrote letters to the President and their families.
Q No lawmakers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no other attendees to announce.
Q Jay, also on gun control or the gun issue, you mentioned the prospect for ongoing conversations with all of the stakeholders. Given the NRA’s response very shortly after the meeting with Vice President Biden, do they have -- do you see any dialogue between the White House and them going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that it’s obviously up to each organization or group that wants to engage in this issue in a constructive way, and we are certainly open to engaging, as has been demonstrated by the Vice President’s effort thus far, with a broad range of interested groups. And that will certainly continue to be the case going forward. And I think it will likely continue to be the case when Congress is considering specific pieces of legislation.
But my point was that this is more than an issue between the administration and Congress, more than an issue between elected representatives from both parties. This is a broader national issue that requires a conversation to continue about gun violence in our country, gun violence in our culture. And I think the President believes that tomorrow is not the end of something, it’s the beginning of something.
Q Well, given their rejection to everything that was discussed at that table with the Vice President, do you see any role for them?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to -- each organization or group that has an interest in this issue will have to decide for itself how much it wants to engage constructively in pursuit of common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. I’m certainly not going to speak for one organization or the other.
Mike, and then Olivier.
Q Two matters if you’ll indulge me, the first one a foreign affairs issue. The American pastor that’s being put on trial in Iran, Saeed Abedini -- has the President been kept apprised of his situation? He’s supposed to be going before Iran’s “hanging judge” and do you have a statement on this case?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a statement. I’ll have to take the question. The President is obviously updated on a variety of issues with regards to Iran, but I don’t have anything specific for you on that. I’ll take the question.
Q And on the gun issue, I wanted to bring up something that you brought up a couple briefings ago, the President brought up on the day of the shooting, and that is the ATF director. Obviously, it’s been a longstanding open position, but in terms of the nominee the President put forward, the ranking Republican in the Senate, Charles Grassley, on the Judiciary Committee, said that the main reason that he’s not moving is they haven’t been given the documents that they’ve asked for, answers to questions that they’ve asked for. Where does the White House see the holdup on that nomination?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that it’s a simple fact that it’s been a very long time since the Senate has confirmed a head of the ATF and it needs to act. I’ll have to take the question on the specific issues that are in dispute here about why that hasn’t moved, but I think usually the case when -- usually when there’s a case of nominations being held up and congressional inaction, the problem is often with Congress. But we will certainly -- I will take that question.
Q Then let me just redirect that a little bit. Where do you see that fitting in to the problem that we have with gun violence -- the lack of an ATF director? What shortcomings does that leave in the federal law enforcement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think an agency with the responsibilities that ATF has that has lacked a confirmed leader for the amount of time that it does I think reflects the lack of necessary focus on these problems. It’s hard to measure what the impact of that absence has been, but it’s hard to imagine how it would be positive.
Q Jay, a couple for you, one on Mali. You said that the President is considering a request for logistical help. Does that request as currently written put American servicemen and women in harm’s way?
MR. CARNEY: We are not contemplating that kind of action. We are talking about logistical support, providing intelligence assistance. This is aid and assistance to an effort that the French are undertaking. I think Secretary Panetta has spoken to this. He’s traveling in Europe, but I think he spoke to this in the last few hours. But that's the nature of what we’re considering here, logistical support.
Q -- drones?
MR. CARNEY: I think you may be referring to a question from a leader of another country. But again, the logistical support we’re talking about here is of the nature I described -- refueling, that kind of thing.
Q And on a separate subject. I’m sure that you guys were thrilled that Senator Schumer came out strongly in favor of the Hagel nomination. But I’m wondering how you feel about his assessment that Israel is in “a dramatically more endangered position” than it was when the President took office?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't -- you’d have to flesh out the context there. I think that we certainly welcome the statement from Senator Schumer, statement from Senator Boxer, other senators who have come out in support of Senator Hagel’s nomination, and we believe that represents momentum behind Senator Hagel’s nomination. And we look forward to the confirmation proceedings continuing.
Again, I’m not sure -- you have to give me the context of --
Q Sure. Well, he talks about how Senator Hagel -- cast some of his past comments about Israel and about Iran as basically statements from that era and things have changed. I can try to pull the actual full Schumer statement. I don't know how productive that is, but he says that Senator Hagel expressed -- here we go, I got it --
MR. CARNEY: Wonders of technology. (Laughter.)
Q “Senator Hagel realizes that the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't want to embellish on what Senator Schumer said. There is no question that -- let's talk about Iran -- that Iran is recognized as a threat to Israel. And we certainly see it that way. That is why the President has pursued a policy that has put unprecedented pressure on Iran, unprecedented sanctions on Iran, a sanctions regime with international cooperation that has led to -- had a dramatic impact on Iran's economy, and why the President has made clear that it is his policy that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
I think that what is also clear is that this President believes deeply in the unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and our absolute commitment to Israel's defense. And that is a commitment that Senator Hagel -- hopefully, Secretary Hagel -- shares.
Q Thank you, Jay. Jay, I keep reading things about the U.S.-Russian relations that, frankly, surprise me.
MR. CARNEY: In your press or ours? (Laughter.)
Q In both. But I'm here to cover the U.S., so I'm reading the American press. And I'm reading how the relations are supposedly at their lowest point. Yesterday, I think the Post referred to a "poisonous unraveling" of relations. And sometimes, I have the feeling that the writers sort of present it as if coming from the top of the administration, from the White House. So my question to you is does the White House see it that way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you would be misinterpreting I think -- I'm not sure which reports you're reading. It wouldn’t be the first time that a writer maybe exaggerated the level of his or her sourcing. (Laughter.)
Here's what I would tell you. The President believes that our relationship with Russia is very important. We have worked cooperatively together since he took office across a spectrum of issues that have benefited both Russia and the United States. It is also the case that we have disagreements. One of the developments that's important in our relationship with Russia is that when we have disagreements we're very clear about them, but we do not let them get in the way of necessarily the areas of cooperation that we have pursued.
I think that the idea that our relationship -- I mean, you and I are old enough and have been around long enough to know that any characterization like that is ridiculous given the relationship at least between the Soviet Union and the United States and I think different periods even since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
We continue to work cooperatively with Russia. It's a very important relationship. We are very clear-eyed, as I think the Russians are, about where we disagree, and very aggressive in working with Russia on areas where we do agree and where we can achieve goals, shared goals together, both in the international arena and in our bilateral relationship.
Q I understand that Mr. Donilon is planning a visit to Russia soon. Can you tell us anything about that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling or trip announcements to make on behalf of the National Security Advisor.
Q Jay, looking ahead to this weekend, can you walk us through the Sunday private swearing-in? How is that going to unfold? Who is going to be here and what time is it?
MR. CARNEY: He will be sworn in -- the President will be sworn in prior to noon in the Residence, in the Blue Room, by Chief Justice Roberts. The attendees will be immediate family. There will be full live pool coverage. And he will be sworn in on two Bibles, as I think has been reported -- the Abraham Lincoln Bible that he used at his swearing-in four years ago, as well as a Martin Luther King Bible on top of that. So those are the details.
Q Now, the Inaugural Committee said he was going to use the two Bibles at the Capitol, but he's using a Robinson family Bible --
MR. CARNEY: I will have to check. I thought he was using both Bibles here as well. Let me check that for you.
Q This thing is only going to take, like, five minutes, then, right? Is there anything else?
MR. CARNEY: I would not expect a pre-inaugural speech. (Laughter.) Again, this will be -- everyone understands the reason why it's happening on Sunday and then the bigger event on Monday. And there will be full pool coverage of that event. I think you're right that it's not likely to take very long.
Q Can you post a clarification on the -- a verification on the Bible?*
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I mean, obviously PIC has the details, too. But we will post a clarification.
Q Jay, the President deployed U.S. troops to Somalia last weekend with the French on a rescue mission. Taking that into context, again, with the request of the French for help in Mali, does this represent an expanding front in the war on terrorism for U.S. forces? And what is the President's criteria going forward to provide aid in these kind of situations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let's be clear that, with regards to Somalia, on January 11th, French forces conducted an operation in Somalia in which they attempted to rescue a French citizen being held hostage by Al-Shabaab. Our forces provided limited technical support to the French forces in that operation, but took no direct part in the assault on the compound where it was believed that the French citizen was being held hostage.
U.S. combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation if needed. These aircraft did not employ weapons during the operation. Because the U.S. combat aircraft entered Somali airspace, the President provided a report to the Congress on the operation, in keeping with the War Powers Resolution.
On your broader question about our approach to these matters, we obviously work with our allies in an effort to deal with al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world and around both the Middle East, in North Africa, and elsewhere. The operation that the French have undertaken in Mali is one that we support, but it is a French operation.
We have, as you know, been focused not only on al Qaeda central -- which is the reason why we went to war in Afghanistan, was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda central -- in that region because al Qaeda launched an attack against the United States on September 11th, 2001, that took thousands of American lives. We have discussed our efforts in Yemen and elsewhere because those organizations -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula represent a direct threat to the American homeland, a direct threat to American citizens.
More broadly speaking, when you talk about other al Qaeda affiliates or other similarly inclined terrorist organizations, we work with our allies around the world to assist their efforts to deprive terrorists of safe havens, or deal with terrorist organizations that represent threats, in the case of Mali to French citizens. AQIM -- in Mali -- has taken a number of French citizens hostage, for example. So we work with allies like France in that effort.
Q Is the U.S. doing anything about the reported movement of arms from Libya into Mali?
MR. CARNEY: I would address that question to State or Defense. I can look into it as well, but I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take one more. Cheryl, way in the back.
Q Thanks, Jay. Is Denis McDonough going to be the next White House Chief of Staff?
MR. CARNEY: That’s an easy one. I have no personnel announcements to make -- (laughter) -- from the podium today. Thank you all very much.
Q One follow-up?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, one follow-up. Oh, wait, a different person, Donovan. Okay.
MR. CARNEY: That’s okay.
Q We’re just a few days away from the second term starting, and there are four Cabinet officials that have yet to announce their plans, including the Secretaries of Energy and Interior and Transportation. When can we expect to know that? I mean, it seems we’re getting right up to the end here.
Q I have no personnel announcements to make. I think you can expect, broadly speaking, the President to make announcements when he’s ready to make them with appropriate haste, but also with the appropriate amount of consideration. In other words, no answer. (Laughter.)
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