Aboard Air Force One
En Route Denver, Colorado
2:14 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thanks for joining us today on our flight to Denver, where, as you know, the President will be meeting with law enforcement officials and others at the Denver Police Academy where he will discuss the need for Congress to act on common-sense measures to reduce the scourge of gun violence in America.
I think you can expect that he will note that the legislation he supports that has been moving through Congress represents real, sensible, middle-of-the-road attempts to address this problem; that nothing he supports would in any way violate the Second Amendment rights of the American people, the Second Amendment rights that the President strongly supports.
One provision that he supports -- the effort to close loopholes in our background check system -- is supported by over 90 percent of the American people, by vast majorities of Republicans and Democrats and independents, by a substantial majority of gun owners, and a substantial majority of members of the NRA.
He has made clear in his effort, his concerted effort, to move forward with these measures since the Newtown tragedy; that it is imperative the elected officials of the American people allow all of these measures to come to a vote -- and, in his view, to vote for them -- but at the very least, to allow them to come to a vote. Because if you disagree with 90 percent of the American people on background checks, you ought to vote no, and not oppose -- not use parliamentary maneuvers to prevent a vote. That’s the President’s view.
In any case, he looks forward to this event. As you know, he will be going to Connecticut on Monday to continue this conversation.
Q When the President insists on these votes, particularly on assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines, is it because he thinks that there is a price to pay for voting no? And isn’t there just as well a price to pay by some members of Congress, some Democrats, for voting yes on those issues?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, there are definitely political issues involved in this. This has always been the case. But the President doesn’t look at this through a political lens. He’s not asking for a vote for political reasons, he’s asking for a vote because the victims of Newtown and of Aurora and Virginia Tech, and the countless lesser-known victims of gun violence across America deserve at least a vote. And the kids who were killed -- the 20 children who were killed in Newtown, they weren’t Republicans or Democrats; they didn’t care, and their parents don’t care about the political implications of voting yes or no on these bills. They want things done that give other children more protection from this kind of violence, and that includes every measure that the President supports.
Q Any reaction to reports that current and former cops think that today’s Denver venue is not the right place to have a speech?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, obviously people have a variety of views on these issues across America. I think it’s irrefutable that a majority of law enforcement professionals in America support common-sense measures that are at issue now and subject to votes in Congress. I don't think anybody would argue with that.
I think most law enforcement officials agree that closing loopholes in our background check system assists them in their job to protect the American people from gun violence. If you're opposed to taking measures to prevent criminals from getting weapons, vote no and explain why. Most police officers, law enforcement officers support the idea that we ought to take measures to ensure that the system that already exists is actually effective so that those who by law should not have weapons cannot obtain them. It’s a pretty simple proposition.
Q How do you fight the perception, though, that these measures are losing steam in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: I think perceptions are one thing, reality is another. And the fact is we are moving forward with Congress and are in regular conversation with members and staff from both parties about how to move forward. And the President is committed to pressing this agenda because it’s the right thing to do for our children and all the potential victims of gun violence in the country.
I think that as I said the other day and the President has made clear, he never believed and we never suggested that any of this would be easy. There’s a reason why these kinds of actions have not succeeded for many years now. There are a variety of reasons why. But it is incumbent upon every elected official sent to Washington to address this challenge, this scourge, and to -- he believes -- do the common-sense things that can help save the lives of our children in the future.
Q But there’s a difference, isn’t there, between saying this isn’t going to be easy and counting votes. And the votes for a lot of these things aren’t there.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the votes haven’t happened, first of all. Secondly, if the votes were there, Jeff, they would have been voted and done and signed into law a long time ago. That's why a process like this exists. That’s why negotiations are ongoing on a variety of pieces of this proposal in an effort to try to find the votes necessary. And, unfortunately, it is, as we've said many times, a feature of our system now that everything in the Senate is subject to a filibuster. And what the President has said I think very clearly is that it would be shameful to not allow any one of these measures to come up to a vote.
Q You talked about parliamentary procedures. Would you consider a filibuster an illegitimate procedure? I mean, it is part of the rules.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say it wasn't part of the rules. I said that the victims of Newtown -- the 20 kids and the 6 educators who lost their lives -- deserve a vote. And that if you want to vote no, vote no. Don’t block a vote. That’s not doing service to the memory of these kids.
Q You said that -- you have emphasized that the President doesn’t mean to impinge on anyone's Second Amendment rights, but there are a lot of people out there who believe that he does. And if I'm not mistaken, Saturday is the five-year anniversary of his speech in San Francisco where he talked about small-town Americans clinging to guns and religion. What about the optics of going there right after this event in Denver to call attention to his views on guns?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, and as everyone who is an expert on this issue can attest, there is not a single thing that the President has proposed that would take a single firearm away from a single law-abiding citizen in America. This President supports our Second Amendment rights. The proposals he put forward -- like banning military-style assault weapons, like limiting high-capacity ammunition clips -- these are proposals that in no way infringe upon Second Amendment rights, and, again, would not take any firearm away from any law enforcement -- law-abiding citizen.
When it comes to straw purchases -- I mean, again, this is about enforcing the law. If you have individuals who are routinely buying weapons as straw purchasers on behalf of criminals who cannot buy weapons themselves because of their criminal record, that’s a violation of the law, and we ought to take action to ensure that the law is enforced. That seems like a very common-sense, conservative principle to me, as does the idea that the background check system that already exists should be improved so that loopholes are closed that make sure that it does what it was intended to do, and that is ensure that those with criminal records and others who by law should not be allowed to, or are not allowed to purchase weapons cannot circumvent the law because of the loopholes in the system.
Q Does the President see Colorado as a model for other states after the legislation that they passed here?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that actions in Colorado, the actions underway in Connecticut do represent important progress on these issues, and I think are useful models to look at as we undertake efforts in Washington.
Q Do you know which lawmakers are going to be at the event?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I can try -- if I can find out, I’ll get that for you.
Q There’s a report that Senator Bennet would be there, but the other senator wouldn’t.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know. I’ll have to find out, or we may find out when we get there.
Q On a different subject. The President and Mrs. Obama are going to Dallas for the Bush Library opening. Can you tell me how that decision came about, how excited he is about going to Dallas to do this? What will be on his mind?
MR. CARNEY: He’s very pleased to be going, and looks forward to it. The office of the President of the United States is a pretty rare position to hold, and only those who have held it can fully appreciate what it means to be President of the United States. And he shares in common with President George W. Bush a love, a deep love for his country, and appreciates President Bush’s service, and looks forward to being there with him as well as President George H. W. Bush and Presidents Clinton and Carter.
Q Jay, on Keystone pipeline. One of his hosts today at the fundraiser in San Francisco is an active opponent of the Keystone pipeline -- Tom Steyer. There are also going to be protests planned outside the Getty mansion tonight. I guess I’ll try a third time on the Arkansas spill: Have you had a chance to talk to the President about that spill? And how does it affect -- how does the Utah spill affect his thinking on the Keystone pipeline, and what would he tell his hosts today if that issue comes up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to preview hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions. What I will say is that there are procedures in place --
Q The answers wouldn’t be hypothetical, the questions would be. The answers would be answers to the hypothetical.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the whole thing would be hypothetical, Hans, but thank you for your --
Q I’m just clarifying.
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re muddying, actually, but thanks.
Q No, you hide behind this hypothetical thing all the time.
MR. CARNEY: He asked me, if he’s asked, what would he say?
Q Right, but what he’d say would be his answer. The “if” is the hypothetical.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the question hasn’t been asked. He’s not here to give the answer to the hypothetical.
Q -- to the question is the hypothetical.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for your assistance in the briefing, Hans. As you know, when an incident like what has happened in Arkansas occurs, there are procedures in place. The EPA takes the lead; the responsible party is held responsible, as is the case in this situation. When it comes to Keystone, that is a process, as we’ve discussed many times, that is evaluated at the State Department, as has been the case for many, many years under multiple presidencies, and as is appropriate given the fact that it is a pipeline that crosses international borders. And that process is underway, as you know.
Q But do incidents such as Arkansas, such as the spill in Utah, inform the decision-making?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the evaluation of these proposals is made at the State Department. You can certainly ask the State Department about whether any incidents, present or past, what those incidents have in terms of an impact on their evaluation process. I think there are standards that are followed in this evaluation process that are being followed today at the State Department, but the State Department is the location where this process takes place.
Q Is the decision of the administration at all influenced by people like Mr. Steyer, who is hosting the President today? Is it at all influenced by the protest and demonstrators that the President sees?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think we’ve seen over time that there are strongly held views on this issue, on both sides. And the President is following a process that has been in place for quite some time, through multiple administrations of both parties, and that is the way it should be. As you know, the process was delayed because of a political action by Congress, but the -- nevertheless, the process is underway and being undertaken by the State Department.
Q Are there any updates, Jay, on North Korea and monitoring of the North Korea situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to monitor the situation. The provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric that we see from North Korea is obviously of concern, and we take -- are taking the necessary precautionary measures, many of which have been reported on. It is also the case that the behavior of the regime in Pyongyang that we are seeing now has a -- represents a familiar pattern, and as I think we’ve seen over the past several administrations.
So we are taking the necessary precautionary measures, but it is important to view this within the context of the kind of behavior that we’ve seen out of North Korea in the past. And it’s important to say that, in every instance, this refusal to abide by its international obligations and to engage in threats and provocative rhetoric and behavior only serves to isolate North Korea further, to make it more and more difficult for the North Korean economy to develop, and imposes more and more hardships on the North Korean people.
North Korea knows the path that's available to it -- the regime does -- and that is a path towards greater integration in the international community, stronger economic development, and better prospects for the North Korean people if they take substantive steps towards denuclearization and abide by the series of international obligations that they are currently flouting.
Q Jay, I don’t know if you were asked this in the past few days. But on immigration, Senator Leahy is saying he is calling for, once a bill is introduced by the Gang of Eight, that he wants to accelerate the process, to mark it up, and then advance it to the Senate floor. Marco Rubio is calling for regular order -- wants hearings, wants more hearings. He says we need to make sure that we really understand this bill. What is the administration's view? Do you believe that, like Senator Leahy, you have to move as fast as possible on this thing, because otherwise it could just die in the Senate because of it just being drawn out, and that we shouldn't go through regular order just because we've already had enough hearings over the past several years?
MR. CARNEY: I think the characterization of regular order here has to be understood within the context of the fact that this legislation in essence has been on the table and subject to debate in the United States Congress for many years now. The basic outlines of what has been under consideration and is being worked on by the Gang of Eight and has been proposed by the President reflects legislation that was considered in Congress, in 2006, 2007, I believe.
Senator Leahy, as I understand it -- and I would refer you to him and his statements -- has held multiple hearings on this issue. And the Gang of Eight and all of its members are the ones writing the legislation, which the President obviously believes is a good thing. And the progress that they have made thus far is also a good thing.
So I leave it to and we leave it to the Chairman and other leaders in the Senate to decide on the process they want to follow. But the President has made clear that he believes there is no reason to delay this process. There is no reason to postpone it. And he has been encouraged by the progress thus far, and hopes and expects that that progress will continue, and that it will result in the production of a bill and the consideration of the bill and a vote on the bill.
Q Now Rubio and other Republicans are saying, wait a minute, why rush it -- if it's good legislation, doesn't it deserve the test of scrutiny, of talking -- it is a new Congress. The country has changed in the past six years; don't we want to talk it over and look at it more, possibly offer other amendments, make it better. Do you fear that it would just get killed if it's going to be dragged out? Is that the problem? Or is it that people are being deported and you need to get this on the books and end the deportations that the administration is carrying out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, as veterans of the Senate know, this issue has been under consideration at very serious levels periodically for a long time now. There is a great need to act on comprehensive immigration reform and a great opportunity to do it now, as the President has made clear. It has been in the past, and seems to be now, a bipartisan priority. And that is as it should be, in the President's view.
And he has been encouraged by and welcomes the progress being made by the bipartisan Group of Eight. He has contributed to this process through the blueprint that has been available publicly for a long time now that outlines his principles when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, and again, looks forward to further progress by the Senate, and action -- and consideration of the bill and action on the bill.
Q Jay, on another -- one last thing. There’s a new independent report today -- among its leaders are Senator Sam Nunn -- and it says that the U.S. and Russia need to gradually take their nuclear weapons off ready-to-launch status. I was wondering if you were familiar with that, if the President is familiar with it. Does he endorse that idea?
MR. CARNEY: I am not familiar with it. I am obviously familiar with the very important work that former Senator Nunn and former Senator Lugar have done on the issues of proliferation and reduction of nuclear arsenals, but I’m not familiar with this report.
2:35 P.M. EDT