the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/2/2013

 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
 
 
12:50 P.M. EDT
 
MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon.  Thank you all for being here.  Before I start, I have two very important announcements to make.  The first, contradicting the April Fool’s joke that Jon-Christopher made yesterday, the Red Sox walloped the Yankees on opening day -- that’s important to note -- 8-2.  And second, the Nationals blanked the Marlins 2-0 with two homeruns by Bryce Harper in his first two at bats.  Excellent opening day.  
 
Second announcement is Monday travel.  You probably have seen, but I want to reiterate that on Monday, April 8th, President Obama will travel to the University of Hartford, where he will continue asking the American people to join him in calling on Congress to pass common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence.  Additional details on the President’s event at the University of Hartford will be forthcoming.
 
With that, I will take your questions.  Jim.
 
Q    Thanks, Jay.  I wanted to start with North Korea.  Yesterday you said that the U.S. has seen no large-scale mobilizations or reposition of forces in North Korea.  Today, Pyongyang said it will restart its plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material.  And I wondered if -- does that give the President some pause?  And are you reconsidering the view that this is a familiar pattern or simply belligerent rhetoric?   
 
MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  The fact is that North Korea’s announcement that it will reopen or restart its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon is another indication of its pattern of contradicting its own commitments and its pattern of violating its international obligations.  As you know, that facility has been dormant, as part of an agreement which North Korea, at least with this announcement, seems to be willing to violate.
 
And there is a path open to North Korea to achieve the security, international respect, and economic development that it seeks.  But this is surely not the path.  And as I said yesterday, it is our position and the position of a broad international alliance, if you will, that North Korea must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and abide by all of its international commitments.
 
We seek the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization through authentic and credible negotiations.  The U.S. and our international partners have a shared goal of ensuring the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a strong, common interest in peace and stability in Southeast Asia.  
 
As I said yesterday, we are working very closely with our allies in the region.  We are taking appropriate measures in response to the bellicose rhetoric and provocative actions out of North Korea.  But it is -- these actions and this rhetoric is in keeping with a pattern of behavior by the regime in Pyongyang.
 
Q    Jay, at the U.N. today, Ban Ki-moon seemed a little more alarmed, saying the current crisis has gone too far.  He said North Korea is “on a collision course with the international community” and that international negotiations are urgently needed.  Does the President agree?
 
MR. CARNEY:  The President has expressed his concern about the actions and behavior of the regime in North Korea.  And we have worked with our allies, most recognizably at the United Nations Security Council, when a resolution was passed unanimously, with China and Russia, condemning North Korean behavior in this arena.  And we will continue to do that.  And the steps we take, together with our partners, put more pressure on North Korea, further isolate North Korea; make it clear to the regime there that there is no benefit to the North Korean people to the path that they are taking.
 
Meanwhile, we obviously take the steps necessary to ensure the capacity to assist our allies and defend the United States.
 
Q    On the trip to Hartford, coming after the trip to Denver tomorrow, is this a recognition by the President that he faces some real obstacles in Congress on anti-gun legislation or gun violence legislation -- even on the background checks that seemed to have some movement before?
 
MR. CARNEY:  The President has always said, we have always said that this would be hard.  If that weren’t the case, it would have been done before.  If it were simple to pass measures through Congress that are very common sense but would reduce gun violence in America, those measures would have passed already.  And the President has always recognized that this is something that would be a challenge, but that in the wake of the horrific shootings at Newtown, was an obligation of all of us to work on and to try to get done.  
 
We remain engaged in conversations with the Senate and those senators who are interested in forging a bipartisan compromise on measures to reduce gun violence.  I noted, and the President has noted, that when it comes to background checks -- the measure you mentioned -- this is something that's supported by over 90 percent of the American people.  When you ask an average American whether or not it makes sense to have -- to require a background check if you're going to purchase a weapon, overwhelmingly, 90 percent-plus, they say of course it makes sense.  And most of them say -- or many of them say they just assume that system already exists.  And that's an important point to make, too, here, is that the system does exist.  
 
The goal of those, like the President, who are trying to improve the system, is to close loopholes within it that make it imperfect; that allow those who should not obtain weapons to obtain them.  And this is something we're working on very closely with members of both parties.  And that's why the President is going to Denver.  That's why the President is going to Hartford.  That's why the Vice President has held so many events and meetings and conversations.  And you can assume safely that lots of conversations take place between the administration and both staff and lawmakers on Capitol Hill on this issue, and we're going to continue to press forward.  It's very important.  
 
It's essential to the memory of the victims of Newtown that all of these measures get a vote, that they are not filibustered, and it is essential that action be taken, as the President said so passionately last week.
 
Q    Jay, back on North Korea.  When you say "working with our allies," what exactly does that mean? 
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are in close contact -- have been and continue to be -- with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo to coordinate on this issue, and we are regularly reaching out to Beijing and Moscow to encourage them to do more to restrain the North Koreans.  And as I noted moments ago, that we have seen cooperation from all the members of the Security Council, as well as obviously our allies in the region, on this issue, and that is very helpful when it comes to putting the necessary pressure on North Korea.
 
This is part of a pattern of behavior that we've seen out of North Korea.  North Korea acquired a nuclear weapon and tested it under the previous administration, and we have seen consistent behavior that is counterproductive, to say the least, to a goal that one assumes North Korea's leaders aspire to, which is an improvement of the lot of the North Korean people and an end to the isolation of their country within the international community.  
 
So the President is being regularly updated on this and briefed on this.  The entire national security team is obviously focused on this, as you would expect.  But I think it's important to note that, as I said yesterday, the rhetoric has not been backed up by action, and there is a pattern here, a pattern that is familiar.
 
Q    What are the Chinese and Russians not doing that they should be that would be more helpful?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it's not a mystery to anyone that China has influence on North Korea, or potentially has influence on North Korea, and we have in the past, and we are now, urged China to use that influence to try to affect North Korean behavior.  That is also true of our interactions with the Russians.  This is a broad diplomatic effort that includes coordination with our allies in Japan and the Republic of Korea as well as with China and Russia and others.  So we're going to keep up that effort.
 
Q    And are you sort of waiting for this whole crisis atmosphere to blow over and then engage the North Koreans to try to get them back to the negotiating table?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think North Korea understands fully what steps it needs to take to move down the path towards ending its isolation, and those steps have to be concrete towards abiding by its international obligations.  And there's a system in place for that to move forward.  
 
Meanwhile, during a period like this where we're seeing this kind of pattern of behavior reassert itself, we're consulting with our allies, taking necessary precautions, making clear to the North Koreans what our views are, what the consensus view is of the international community; what steps they need to take to improve their situation within the world.  And that process will continue.
 
Dan.
 
Q    Thank you.  Just to follow on Jim's question -- does the President concede that the kind of bipartisan enthusiasm that existed after the Sandy Hook shootings is no longer there?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would point you to what the President said last Thursday.  And he took great issue with the suggestion or the implication that a mere 100 days after that terrible event, somehow the country or Washington could move on.  The families that suffered the loss in Newtown will never fully be able to move on.  And those of us across the country who were horrified -- and as I think everyone in the country was -- by what happened in Newtown will never forget that day or the days after.  And it's a reminder constantly of why we need to act. 
 
As the President said way back in the wake of Newtown, if we can take some common-sense measures that would save one life, one child's life, we ought to do it.  And if we can do more than that through the proposals that he has urged Congress to act on and the initiatives that he has acted on and is acting on administratively -- if we can reduce the amount of gun violence, if we can protect our children better -- then we will have at least partly fulfilled our most fundamental obligation.  
 
And he believes that that passion, that urgency still exists around the country and still exists -- if not in full, then in part -- in Washington.  And that is why he is continuing to make the case and why he will make the case in Denver and will make the case in Connecticut.  It is why we are engaging with Congress on this very important matter. 
 
And I would just note that this process continues to move forward.  Negotiations and conversations continue to take place.  And it is essential that Congress act and essential that it take action. 
 
Q    Would the President, though, be as aggressively pursuing this on the road -- and the Vice President and others in the administration -- if the conversation up on the Hill was in a better place?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I think that sort of turns on its head the basic point, which is the President in the wake of Newtown made clear that the country needed to act and that he would act.  He immediately called on Congress to take up measures that he supported, in terms of legislation that would help reduce gun violence, common-sense legislation that in no way infringes upon Americans' Second Amendment rights.  He then asked the Vice President to lead an effort to assess what else we could do, what package of initiatives we could act on to address this problem.  And that, within a month, was put forward to the American people, and we have been pressing ever since.  
 
But from the beginning, as everyone here knows, the proposition itself was a challenging one for all the reasons that we understand about the efforts in the past to address gun violence through common-sense legislation or other means.  This is not easy stuff.  And the President has been clear about that from the beginning.  But that is not an excuse not to do everything you can to make it happen. 
 
Q    On another subject, former-Secretary of State Clinton will be stepping out to make a public speech this evening.  And I'm wondering if the President is paying any attention to this at all.  And does he continue to get any foreign policy advice from her?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I have no private conversations to read out to you with Secretary Clinton or anyone else.  But you know how the President feels about Secretary Clinton, about her remarkable service in this administration in his first term.  And I am sure -- I think you're referring to the Vital Voices event, and I'm sure he wishes her well tonight and going forward.
 
Q    Jay, does the President think he can change votes in Congress by going out into the country and making this appeal on guns?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Jon, I don't think it's an issue of changing votes.  It's a matter of what we've always said, which is that these are -- all of these issues that we are addressing here in Washington have a direct impact on the lives of average Americans, and they have a stake in what we do here.  And it has never been the President's belief that Americans elect their representatives, send them to Washington, and then disengage from the process.  In fact, it's been the President's belief that Americans remain focused on a care deeply about what happens here, and that they want to be brought into and engaged in the process.  
 
And that’s why the President has taken the approach on this issue and so many other issues that he has --because he believes that the voices of the American people are a very important part of moving forward on these tough issues, whether it's budget or fiscal issues, or immigration reform, or measures to reduce gun violence.
 
So I think that it's important -- it's an important part of the process that those of us who are here in Washington working on these issues are constantly reminded of the Americans out there in the country who care about what happens here and hold us accountable, and hold especially their elected leaders accountable for what they do and how they vote, and how they respond to national tragedies like the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.
 
So that’s part of a process that he's engaged in.  It's not an either/or, as we've always said.  As you know, and we've been very transparent about, he is engaged very deeply in an effort on this issue and others to have constructive conversations with lawmakers of both parties.  That process continues, and that’s reflected even when Congress is out of town with our engagement at the staff level with staffs of both parties on Capitol Hill on this issue and others.  And that will continue.
 
But at no point in this process does the President believe we should leave the American people out of it.  He will constantly engage them, and constantly make his views known and ask the American people to make their views known, because that's how stuff gets done, important stuff gets done.
 
Q    And the President obviously said this in the State of the Union, you just said it again -- it's essential that there be a vote on these issues.  What are you demanding and what's the President demanding?  A vote?  Or to get these things passed?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, he clearly -- every element of the package that he put forward he supports 100 percent.  It is a starting point to insist that they all get a vote, the legislative pieces of this.  Because it would be appalling, in his view, if the memories of the victims of Newtown and other places were forgotten through the process of filibustering a vote on measures that the American people expect, whether they agree or disagree, their elected officials in Washington to vote on.  That’s all.
 
I mean, these are all tough issues.  We've talked about it with every component of the legislative package.  But at the very least, we need votes on these.  Those who are elected and sent to Washington need to cast a vote and say -- explain their position and say where they stand.  The President is out there making an impassioned case for these common-sense measures.  The Vice President is out there doing the same.  A number of members of Congress are doing the same.  Other leaders around the country are engaged in that.  
 
And we understand, and the President has made clear that he understands that these are -- that there are regional differences on some of these issues and there are things that we need to engage in and recognize and make part of the discussion.  And the Vice President's process did that.  Conversations the President has had with lawmakers who have an interest in taking common-sense measures but who also historically had strong backing when it comes to their support for the Second Amendment -- the President understands all of this, and he understands it's all part of the process.  But he insists that we act.
 
Yes.  Welcome to the front row.
 
Q    A couple of questions revolving around the BRAIN Initiative this morning.  Do you think that this BRAIN Initiative has any chance of moving forward if the President doesn't get his way with the budget?  And if the budget deficit is running into trillions of dollars, how can the President justify proposing spending another $100 million on this?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, everything that the President is proposing will be paid for and will be in keeping with the cap set by the Budget Control Act.  That's number one.
 
Number two, there has historically been and there seems to be today bipartisan interest in this kind of innovative research that can pay huge dividends down the road for our country economically, medically, when it comes to the health of our senior citizens who suffer from Alzheimer’s or others who suffer from Parkinson’s.  I mean, this is -- the potential here is enormous and the investment is relatively small compared to the potential.
 
So the President expects that there will be -- that the tradition of bipartisan support for this kind of initiative and this kind of innovation will prevail.  One of the agencies he’s tasked here with undertaking this initiative is DARPA.  And as you all know, in its previous incarnation as ARPA, this was the agency that was seminal in the effort -- in creating the Internet and launching so many -- so much economic potential in this country and around the globe.
 
So I think that this is one of those investments, as the President has argued often, that are essential to make if we are going to continue to grow and maintain our lead internationally on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and economic and technological development.
 
Q    You don't think it’s a long shot given the current climate?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I don't.  Well, no, I think that budgets are all about priorities.  I think that -- I will stipulate now that the President’s budget will not be passed word for word into law.  It has never happened, and it won’t happen this time.  But the President’s budget will make clear what his priorities are; and many of those priorities will reflect the kinds of things that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past and we believe enjoy bipartisan support now.  And this kind of innovation and research is key to our future economic development.  It’s also key to the health and welfare of the American people.
 
Ed.
 
Q    Speaking about the budget, can you give us an update on the sequester?  Because yesterday the Customs and Border Protection Agency said that they're actually postponing furloughs and overtime cuts for Border Patrol agents.  I thought, in February, when Secretary Napolitano came out here with you, she told us it was dire, these Border Patrol agents were going to be furloughed, and that we were going to be less safe because of that.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think both are true.  What is a fact is that when you're dealing with these kinds of across-the-board, forced budget cuts in the middle of a fiscal year and you're having to make all sorts of adjustments to account for them and to reduce your expenditures accordingly, it’s a moving picture.  And that can be on the plus side, where furloughs may take place a little later, or on the minus side, where things may be more immediate.  I mean, that's just a fact.  That's true at every agency.  
 
But feel free to convey to your readers and viewers that the sequester doesn’t matter.  And then --
 
Q    Okay, well, first of all, let me just stop you, because I didn't say it didn't matter.
 
MR. CARNEY:  -- and explain -- nobody said it wasn’t dire.
 
Q    I said that the Secretary came in here and said that we were going to be less safe, that people were going to be crossing the border because there are less Border Patrol agents.  And then they announced yesterday, actually, we're not doing that.  So I'm not saying it's not important.  I'm saying, did she mislead the public?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not.  And I'm saying that this is  -- I mean, you're editorializing enormously in that, but the --
 
Q    How so?  February -- I'll give you -- February 25th she said, "If you have 5,000 fewer Border Patrol hours or agents, you have 5,000 fewer Border Patrol agents.  That has a real impact."  Those are her words.  That's not politicizing.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Right.  And how is that not the case?
 
Q    They announced yesterday they're not doing that.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, but there are reductions.  And whether it's those Border Patrol --
 
Q    Well, what are they?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Go ahead and report that, Ed.  We've made clear, look --
 
Q    Okay, she said 5,000.  They said yesterday, we're not doing that.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Talk to those who have been laid off at defense industries.  Talk to those who have been furloughed in the --
 
Q    Let’s talk about Border Patrol first.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Look, you can obviously go to DHS and --
 
Q    Well, that's what she said.  She said we're going to be less safe.  
 
MR. CARNEY:  Right.  And the impacts of the sequester will not all be immediate.  If you can predict to me when the sequester will end -- if it will end -- when Republicans will make the fateful decision to fund Border Patrol agents or fund our national security interests or fund Head Start at appropriate levels rather than continue to extend tax breaks to the wealthy and well-connected, tell me when that happens, and then we can assess what damage was done after the fact.  
 
There is no question that when you have these kinds of across-the-board budget cuts, as many Republicans warned -- and as many Republicans when they go home to their districts, as we speak, are complaining about -- when they affect their districts, the impacts are real and they affect real people.  And I know that there hasn't been a lot of coverage of the impacts on real people, on the families who had to be engaged in lotteries to see whether their child, on a Friday, was still going to be in Head Start on Monday.  Tell them it doesn't matter.  Tell them that the impacts aren't real.  
 
And I take your point.  Look, this is a moving picture.  Budgets are big things.  Outflows and inflows, that's why there are constant adjustments being made at each agency as they deal with their budget in terms of what the impacts of sequester are.  But they are real.  And they are progressive in the sense that they don't all happen at once.  And when we make predictions about what will happen in the future, it's going to change based on how the budget picture looks a month later.  But they're real.
 
Q    But the last thing on this.  When you said "moving picture," the other thing the administration kept saying in February was that there was no flexibility for these Cabinet Secretaries.  Republicans were saying they can move money around.  You said, Secretary Duncan said, others said you can't do that; there is no flexibility.  Now you're saying it's a moving picture, so the Border Patrol agents won't be laid off today but maybe -- I thought there was no flexibility.  I thought it was indiscriminate, it was across the board --
 
MR. CARNEY:  The law is written the way it's written, designed specifically not to allow the kinds of choices that the Budget Control Act and the sequester part of it were written to force Congress to make -- to be arbitrary and indiscriminate.  And that remains a fact.  
 
What is also true is as time progresses and savings are made by eliminating a contract, for example, or ending new purchases of equipment for a period of time, or other things that can be done, changes about the prognosis for furloughs can be made.  But that is not -- any more than it was uniform a month ago, it's not uniform now.  And this will fluctuate as time goes on.  It will fluctuate next month, and if the sequester continues, it will fluctuate on and on and on after that as the agencies adjust to that budget picture.
 
Q    Jay, thanks.  Does the President regret at all not doing more events like the one he's going to do tomorrow, the one he's going to do on Monday, given that when you look at public opinion polls, they actually show support for stiffer gun laws as dropping?  It's not just what's happening in Congress, but actually what's happening on the American people.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the data on this is quite mixed, and when it comes to some of the measures that we've just been talking about, including closing loopholes in our background check system, the data remains very strong and overwhelming in support of doing just that.  And the President has been doing events, has been talking about gun violence.  I think the most memorable moment I can recall from a State of the Union address in all the time I've been in Washington occurred at the end of the President's State of the Union address this year, when --
 
Q    But I mean going out, going on the road, talking to people like he's going to be doing tomorrow and on Monday.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Right.  Well, I mean, I have a list here that I can provide you of everything the President and the Vice President have done, and it's quite extensive, and the dates are December 16th, December 19th, January 19th, January 16th, January 25th, January 28th, February 4th, February 11th, February 12th, February 15th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 27th.  These are all presidential and vice presidential engagements or events regarding this very important issue.  
 
So I would -- the fact that it’s a challenge is something that was recognized at the outset by everyone, including this President, including the Vice President.  The fact that it would require concerted and consistent effort was recognized by the President and is embodied by -- is reflected in the actions that he’s taken ever since Newtown happened.
 
So tomorrow’s event, Monday’s event, that's part of this process.  Last week’s event is part of this process.
 
Q    Jay, on North Korea, one foreign policy expert said to me that Kim Jong-il seemed to know where the line was, and that Kim Jong-un doesn't.  Does the President share that assessment?  And does he therefore see this current leader as being more dangerous and less predictable than his father?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I would say that we are judging the regime by its actions and its -- mostly its actions, but also by its rhetoric.  And those are the assessments we make, and it’s not personality-based.
 
The fact is that the pattern we have seen of bellicose rhetoric and provocative behavior long predates the current leader of North Korea, as veterans of previous administrations can tell you.  So assessments about the current leader are obviously things that outside experts make and inside experts make, but as a policy matter, we base our policy decisions on overall actions and behavior by the regime.
 
Yes, sir.
 
Q    Yes, on the BRAIN Initiative that the President outlined today, you described the $100 million as this small initial investment --
 
MR. CARNEY:  I think I said a small investment compared to the potential benefit.
 
Q    A lot of experts say it’s going to take years and billions of dollars.  The President himself compared it to the Apollo program, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars.  How many years, how much money do you think ultimately it will take to sort of achieve what you guys envision?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that the scientific experts are best at predicting how soon breakthroughs will occur.  And even they, I think as history proves, are not likely to be dead on, spot on in their predictions.  It's impossible to know.  That's what makes this essential and exciting, because the potential is huge.  But it requires investments that allow for the necessary innovation and research that can bring us to that threshold.  
 
So the President believes this is the kind of thing that we ought to be doing.  It is the kind of thing that Republicans and Democrats have supported in the past as part of our economic development.  And he is very enthusiastic about the prospect for discovery and innovation in this field, as are so many experts in the field.  
 
Q    So you said that $100 million is small relative to the potential.  Do you agree just small relative to the overall cost involved in this initiative?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a projection to lay out to you based on what revelations might come from early stages of research and innovation and development.  What I can tell you is when we talked about budget priorities and we talked about the fact that the President's budget will -- the initiatives that are in it will be paid for, and that it has always been his position -- whether it's investing in infrastructure or in medical research -- that there are things that we need to do investment-wise, even as we trim our budgets and reduce our deficits, that are essential to future economic growth, and this is one of them. 
 
Roger. 
 
Q    Jay, the U.N. today passed a treaty regulating world commerce and arms trading.  The Senate last month opposed a symbolic treaty along those same lines, suggesting it's going to be an uphill battle to get it through for ratification.  How are you going to get it through?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that I can say two things.  One, we are pleased with the outcome of the conference, and the text achieves the objectives that we set out for this negotiation.  And we are pleased to join the consensus.  As is the case with all treaties of this nature, we will follow normal procedures to conduct a thorough review of the treaty text to determine whether to sign the treaty.  And what that timeline is, I cannot predict to you now.  And we are just beginning the review process, so I wouldn't want to speculate about when that process will end.  But we're certainly encouraged by and pleased by the outcome. 
 
Q    Do you have any idea how you're going to get it through the Senate?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think before we get to that, we're going to review the treaty and assess it, and then make judgments accordingly. 
 
Mara. 
 
Q    I just have a question about background checks.  You pointed out that in many polls it polls above 90 percent.  Yet Michael Bloomberg is spending a lot of money on this.  Organizing for America has made it kind of their maiden grassroots effort.  And the President has been out doing all these events that you cited.  So what is your theory of the case as to why this seems to be losing steam in Congress?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would at least in part suggest that the process continues.  And I'm not sure that I would agree with the assessment that it's losing steam.  I think it has always been challenging.  I think that predictions that any element of this legislative package would be easily passed were incorrect and probably naïve if and when they were made, whether it’s this particular aspect of it or any other aspect of it.  This has all traditionally been difficult.
 
I would note that -- I would send you to members of Congress to explain their position on these issues; if they’re in opposition, why they’re in opposition -- why they’re in opposition to a proposition that has 90 percent support from the American people and that enjoys support in every region of the country, and from Republicans and Democrats and independents.
 
Having said that, there are obviously challenges and have traditionally been challenges to moving this kind of legislation.  I would note that on the background check issue, a number of Republicans are on the record supporting the idea of closing loopholes in background checks.  A number of them voted for improving our background check system in the late 1990s, and I think there’s a reason for that.  And it’s important to explain to readers and viewers and listeners, and that is that background checks are the quintessence of a common-sense approach to how to address this problem.  And I think most Americans believe it makes absolute sense to check the criminal record of someone before they are allowed to purchase a gun, because they’re not allowed to have one otherwise.
 
So we’re simply saying, let’s enforce the law through an effective background check system to keep weapons away from those who should not by law have them.  That’s why gun-trafficking measures are so important as well.  
 
So having said that, this is always going -- it was always going to be a challenge, and that’s why we’re pressing hard to get it done; why the President is out there making the case, the Vice President is out there making the case; why legislators from both parties have been talking about it.  And we’re going to continue to press for action on it.
 
Q    Well, I can’t think of any other issue that polls above 90 percent and some polls above 94 percent.  I’m just wondering -- there must be a theory for this.  Is it the power of the NRA?  I mean, you guys must have some idea of why you think this particular piece of it is proving to be so difficult.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Look, I used to write articles about this, but I’m going to leave the political analysis to others and simply say that, for a host of reasons, advancing legislation that is common-sense and reduces gun violence has always been a challenge and probably always will be.  But it is essential to try to get it done and move forward on it.  And the American people expect that it should be done, and they recognize the object rationale behind closing loopholes in the background check system, making sure that people who should not have a gun by law do not obtain a gun, cannot obtain a gun, in a very simple -- and this is about, again, I know I'm repeating myself to you, but for those who are not engaged in this issue all the time, it's important to understand that system exists.  This is not about creating some registry or background check system.  The existing system does not -- is not a registry and will not be a registry.  It is a background check system that is in place, but there are holes in the system and those holes ought to be closed.
 
April.
 
Q    I'm following up on Mara -- since the NRA and other gun-lobbying groups are so powerful, has this White House thought about meeting with groups like the NRA again since the Vice President's meeting with the NRA?  Has the President thought about it?  Has the Vice President thought about another meeting?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, we're working -- when it comes to the legislation, we're obviously working with lawmakers of both parties, and that particular organization has connections and contacts on Capitol Hill.  I don’t think there is any danger in us not knowing where they stand on certain issues and vice versa.  There has been outreach and I'm sure -- I'm not saying there won't be continued outreach, but on the legislative side of this, the legislation has been written, it's moving through committees, and we're engaged in that process right now.  And we are working with lawmakers of both parties in trying to achieve a compromise that can make this happen, especially when it comes to the background checks.
 
Q    But realistically, this whole effort started out bigger -- much bigger than what it was, and it's boiled down to -- you're talking about a consensus on background checks.  And much of the holdup to include ammunitions, the reduction in magazines, is dealing with the NRA and the ammunition manufacturers.  Why not come together and talk it over to possibly find common ground to -- 
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, that’s what the Vice President -- the initiative the Vice President --
 
Q    That was months ago, and they're getting ready to come back to Congress.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Months ago -- well, first of all, it wasn't that long -- it was fairly recent, and it was what helped lead to the initiative, the package of initiatives that the Vice President put forward with the President.  
 
Look, there are a lot of conversations happening around this issue.  And the President's views on what he believes we should do are clearly stated and reflected in this proposal.  And I would challenge that it’s all come down to one thing.  There are other aspects of this that have been moving forward and we are encouraged by that, and we’re going to continue to press to get it done.
 
Q    And one last question on this -- realistically, once this is all said and done and a vote happens, what do you expect to pass, realistically?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I would hesitate to make predictions on any of this for the very reason that I’ve been saying, and that is that it was always going to be a challenge.  And if any of this were easy -- I mean the sad fact about Newtown is that it’s not the first of its kind, and the age of the victims made it particularly horrific.  But there have been other incidents at Virginia Tech and Aurora that are similar.  And the idea that suddenly all of this would become easy when it had been difficult in the past was never credible, but that doesn't mean we shouldn’t be working hard to get it done.
 
Christi.
 
Q    Thanks, Jay.  Is the President planning on weighing in on the Los Angeles mayor’s race?  Eric Garcetti has been a big supporter of the President over the years.
 
MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  In keeping with past practice, when there is a primary, a Democratic primary in a race like this, we’re not -- the President won’t endorse any candidate.  Mr. Garcetti is, of course, someone who has been a long-time supporter of the President.  The President appreciates that support, appreciates their working relationship.  But we won’t -- there won’t be a formal endorsement. 
 
Q    Do you expect that they will see each other this week when the President is in California?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure.  I think we’re in Northern California. 
 
Alexis.
 
Q    Jay, in the President’s visit to Colorado and Connecticut, the common theme in those two states is legislative action in the state, at the state level, and I’m assuming the President is going to talk about that when he’s in both states.  What are the common denominators that the President sees in those two states that compelled them to move in a way that he would like to have Congress pay attention to?  What are the themes, other than the horror being in their midst?  But why would they take action when the NRA has been very active at the state level too, whereas Congress is very reluctant?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I might look to state experts to make that analysis.  I think that you’re right that action has been taken in both states, and I think they -- a thing that connects them terribly is the tragedies that occurred recently in those states.  Beyond that, I think -- others might have a better assessment about why bipartisan action has happened in those states.  But I think that reflects the capacity around the country for bipartisan action, including here in Washington.
 
Q    And just to follow up, if the President doesn't see the willingness in Congress to do what he would hope at the federal level, to what extent does he hope that states themselves in a piecemeal basis can begin to act?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President is focused right now on the proposal he put forward, the set of proposals which includes pieces of legislation at the federal level.  And that's what he is focused on.  Obviously, he is -- I mean, it is important that other states address this issue as they see fit.  But right now, we're focused on the President's initiative. 
 
Mark.
 
Q    Jay, North Korea again.  You spoke about the mismatch between rhetoric and not seeing deployments change on the ground or mobilization.  Specifically on the Yongbyon reactor, have we seen any sign, any preparations that the North Koreans are going to try and restart it?  And beyond that, does the President -- would he accept the restarting of that reactor?  Would he take steps to stop it?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, we do not accept a violation of international obligations by the North Koreans.  And we have -- take action through the United Nations and elsewhere through sanctions and other measures that isolate and put pressure on North Korea for its violations of its international obligations.  I'm not going to predict what next steps will be if this action is followed through on.  I believe it was an announcement that North Korea just made.  I don't have any other information to impart to you about that facility. 
 
But this -- again, this is in keeping with a pattern.  And that behavior has been met with and responded to -- met with action by the international community, responded to often through consensus as it was at the Security Council not long ago. 
 
Jon-Christopher.  
 
Q    Jay, this is the 60th anniversary of the so-called armistice, which Kim Jong-un has basically rescinded.  The conflict there has been going on during 12 presidential administrations.  Has this administration been in touch with any of those individuals, going back to the Truman administration, who can lend some insight and some regional acumen basically to the President in terms of advice?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't have any specific conversations the President has had to read out to you.  The President is constantly speaking with those with expertise in different areas of both foreign policy and domestic policy, and I'm confident that he has had conversations with experts outside of government on this issue.  But I have no specific ones to read out to you.  It is certainly the case that this is -- North Korea's actions have been something that successive administrations have had to deal with, especially the last several.
 
Q    Thanks, Jay.
 
MR. CARNEY:  Last one, Ann -- I'm sorry, I did say Connie.   
 
Q    On the BRAIN research -- and thank you very much -- just some follow ups.  Will there be any private investment into this?  Is there any congressional opposition that you know of?  And would you please announce when there are clinical trials so that people who need them can try to get -- 
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don't think it will be for the White House to announce clinical trials.  I would point you to those who are overseeing the initiative at the agencies the President mentioned today.  I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there might be some congressional opposition.  (Laughter.)  I said earlier that there has been indication that there is bipartisan support for this kind of initiative, this specific initiative, but I can't predict where that will end up. 
 
What I do know is that this is something that does not have a political or partisan flavor to it.  This is the kind of potentially breakthrough research that results in enormous advances in the health of the American people as well as enormous economic advances, potentially.  So it's the kind of thing that we have done in the past successfully and we should continue to do.  That's what the President believes.  Thanks. 
 
Q    Private firms -- will private drug firms be involved?
 
MR. CARNEY:  I think we put out a lot of paper on this in terms of how the investments are made and leveraging issues. 
 
Ann.
 
Q    Real quickly -- should the oil spill in Arkansas that blackened a neighborhood have any impact on the State Department's or the President's consideration of Keystone XL?
 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, the assessment of that particular pipeline is ongoing at the State Department, and they assess a range of criteria.  And obviously, the assessments they make based on environmental impacts and the assessments that were made in the past had to do with some of these issues.  But I don't have anything for you specific on that, because it's a process that's underway at the State Department.  
 
Q    Have you spoken to the President about the Arkansas spill?  I know you were asked about it.  
 
MR. CARNEY:  I have not. 
 
Q    You still haven't spoken to him about it?
 
MR. CARNEY:  About that issue, no.  Thanks.
 
 
END
1:40 P.M. EDT