the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One En Route Mexico City, Mexico

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Mexico City, Mexico

11:29 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Mexico, the first stop on our two-country tour through the region.  The President is looking forward to the trip.  I think you were thoroughly briefed yesterday by two of our colleagues, but if you have more questions on that trip I will take them.  And I will take questions on other issues if you have them.

Q    The North Koreans have sentenced an American man to 15 years hard labor.  Does the U.S. see this as an attempt by the North Koreans to get some kind of high-profile visit or start any kind of talks with the U.S.?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we've seen those reports, Julie, and we're working with our protecting power, the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, to confirm them.  We don’t have any further information to share with you. 

Separate from that issue, the issue of talks -- we have made clear that there is a path open to the North Koreans that would allow for negotiations, but it is dependent upon the North Koreans demonstrating a willingness to live up to their international obligations in keeping with the 2005 -- September 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks.  And if they choose that path, then we and other members of that -- of the six-party talks are absolutely willing to have discussions with the North Koreans. 

But thus far, as you know, they have flouted their obligations, engaged in provocative actions and rhetoric that brings them no closer to a situation where they can improve the lot of the North Korean people or reenter the community of nations.

Q    One of the three people arrested in connection to the Boston Marathon bombings was allowed to reenter the U.S. despite having a lapsed visa.  Are you concerned -- or is the President concerned that this is a sign that sort of the information sharing set up after 9/11 isn't working?  And the fact that these men helped in some way even after the fact that, does that call into question his belief earlier that these guys were self-radicalized?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I said yesterday, these arrests are related to an ongoing investigation.  And I don’t have specific comments on the alleged role of these individuals. 

When it comes to the question of information sharing between agencies, that is a specific subject of the review that Director Clapper announced the other day -- to look specifically at the question of information sharing as regards to the Tsarnaev brothers, in particular Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and general matters regarding what we knew as a government about the Tsarnaevs before the bombing in Boston.

And I think that, more broadly, that’s the kind of review that the President considers standard operating procedure whenever we have this kind of development.  He expects that we will always examine situations like this to look at ways that we can improve our systems. 

Q    But this wasn't just the Tsarnaevs.  This was --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I understand.  I think that the broader -- I mean, I don’t have a -- I would refer you to Director Clapper's office for whether this will fall under his -- under the review that he announced with the inspectors general.  But the question of information sharing between our agencies is specifically one of the subjects that will be in that review. 

Q    Is it an indication, though, that the plot for these bombings was wider than the President and the government initially suspected?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question, but I think that the investigation needs to take place.  And it's -- I think it's tempting but not the right way to go to comment on ongoing revelations about what we're learning from the investigation as it unfolds.  We want to leave it to the investigators to find out everything they can and then build a case. 

Q    Have you had a chance to talk to the President yet about his feelings on the morning-after pill?  The Justice Department appealed the judge's decision last night.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken with him directly about that issue.  I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for their appeal of the court’s decision, with regards to the FDA’s original decision. 

What I said yesterday, and what I can repeat today, is that the President supported, as you know, because he addressed this himself, Secretary Sebelius’s decision to overrule the FDA’s initial ruling because she felt there was not sufficient data available about the safety and effectiveness and appropriateness of use of this medication by younger girls of reproductive age.  The new ruling by the FDA in response to an amended application by the manufacturer would make the medicine available to teens 15 and older.  And it's my understanding -- I would refer you to HHS for more details -- but that there is sufficient data available for teens 15 and older.

Q    And he's comfortable with -- he was very clear on his views a year ago when Secretary Sebelius made her decision.  He's comfortable with where the FDA has decided on the issue for now?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I haven't spoken with him.  But I think HHS has obviously spoken to this new ruling by the FDA in response to the applications.  And I don’t have any further comment from the President at this time. 

Q    Is there any chance you could speak to him at some point about this so we could get his --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you guys will be speaking to him.  You certainly can ask him this question if you like.  But this is -- FDA is an independent agency, made this ruling.  Secretary Sebelius and HHS has commented on it, and I have attempted to put it within the context given the President’s previous statements about the previous ruling.

Q    Jay, the President talked to Latino groups I think earlier this week and apparently told them that the Gang of Eight immigration bill is as good as it's going to get from their point of view, and that he would sign it if it passed.  Is that accurate?  And is that what he's also going to tell leaders as he’s going down?  Is that the message, that this is as good as they can get?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d say two things.  One, I won’t read out private conversations the President may or may not have had.  But we have been very clear that the legislation produced by the Gang of Eight represents enormous progress, and the authors of it are to be commended for that progress.  And significant in our view is the fact that the legislation is in keeping with the President's principles, which he laid out to the public quite a long time ago now. 

It's useful to stand back and remember that eight months ago, the official position of the Republican Party on immigration reform was self-deportation.  There was not a single leading Republican who was advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.  Quite a lot has changed since then, and the President campaigned hard on this issue.  He made clear that it would be a priority in his second term if he were to be reelected, and he has kept that promise and kept the focus on this issue.

He made clear early on that he believed that the best path to take would be through the work of the Gang of Eight and the efforts to craft bipartisan legislation.  That has borne fruit.  And the President hopes that progress will continue and we will see a bill emerge from committee and then from the Senate that has broad bipartisan support, and then, eventually, emerges from Congress in a form that he can sign.  And that would be a major accomplishment.  But obviously, there are hurdles to clear.

Q    Is the President concerned about the potential effect of including an LGBT provision in the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, and that it could be detrimental to the progress of the overall bill?  And has he communicated that to Senator Leahy?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we're in contact with all of the major players in this effort on a regular basis on Capitol Hill.  I don't have a specific conversation between the President and any lawmaker on this to read out to you, but we are in contact with all the major players, first of all.

Second of all, as the President made clear the other day and I and others have said, the legislation crafted by the Gang of Eight broadly reflects the principles that the President has laid out, but it is not word for word in keeping with all of what he would do if he were to write it himself.  And we have said that we support that provision, but we also think it's very important to recognize that the overall bill here accomplishes what the President believes needs to be accomplished and is in keeping with his principles.

As this process moves forward, we'll be working with the Senate every step of the way.  But the bill as written is a sign of significant progress.

That’s it?

Q    No, I have a question about Venezuela.  There's a lot of bloody protests in Venezuela, a lot of unrest there.  Is the President concerned about the state of affairs there, and does he have a message for the Venezuelan people as he heads on this trip?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll have to take the question.  I haven't had that conversation with him.

11:40 A.M. EDT