Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Killeen, TX, 4/9/2014
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Killeen, Texas
10:10 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to the great state of Texas. I think you understand -- or know the President’s schedule for the day, so we’ll go right to your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. You’ve been supportive of Ukraine’s restraint amid pressure from Russia. Now Ukraine is saying that if pro-Russian protestors don’t evacuate some of these government buildings in Eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s government will remove them by force. If the protestors don’t oblige, will the U.S. support Ukraine removing the protestors by force?
MR. CARNEY: Josh, we’re following the situation in Eastern Ukraine very closely. We are concerned about it, and we continue to condemn any violence. The Ukrainian authorities continue to act professionally and with restraint. We admire that approach in a very difficult situation.
The Ukrainian government has made clear that it is offering to resolve that situation through dialogue, and we support that approach. As I noted yesterday, there is ample evidence, both in traditional and social media and elsewhere, that some of the protestors are being paid, that they’re not locals, and that is certainly of concern to us. But again, we support the Ukrainian authorities’ approach to this matter.
Q Who’s paying them, Jay? Who’s paying them and where are they coming from?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the reports showing that some of them have been paid. I think it’s clear that Russia has not played a helpful role in trying to reduce tensions in Ukraine, but rather, through a variety of actions, has sought to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. And as Secretary Kerry said yesterday on Capitol Hill, we urge Russia to instead pursue a path of deescalation to withdraw its troops -- or draw down its troops, return them to their pre-crisis positions and numbers; to engage directly with the government of Ukraine; and to allow international monitors to assess on the ground whether or not ethnic Russians are in any way having their rights compromised in parts of Ukraine.
Q Jay, earlier today, Putin threatened to shut off imports from Ukraine. Does the U.S. regard this as a provocative act at all?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific reaction to that report. I would say that, again, we urge Russia to refrain from provocative actions and to instead pursue a path of de-escalation. The cost of further escalation, of further transgressions and provocations I think are clear to the Russians. The authorities exist under the executive orders the President signed to increase sanctions on Russia. The authorities exist to allow the Treasury Department to identify sectors of the Russian economy in which entities and individuals could be sanctioned should the United States make that choice in reaction to further provocations and transgressions by Russia. Those costs are real.
But Russia has an alternative. Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry have been in discussions about moving forward towards a path of de-escalation. And we continue to engage in a dialogue with Russia and our partners on this matter, as well, importantly, as with the Ukrainian government.
Q One follow-up. Do you think this might be an attempt by Russia to destabilize Ukraine before the main elections?
MR. CARNEY: What might be an attempt?
Q Blocking of imports.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have a specific reaction to that report. I can say that it is clear that Russia has engaged in actions that have as an effect destabilization in Ukraine and presumably a goal of destabilizing Ukraine. That’s what we saw in Crimea and that’s what we see with the positioning of large numbers of troops on the Ukrainian border and with some of the other actions that we’ve seen. Obviously, that’s not helpful. It’s something we urge the Russians to cease and instead to pursue a path of deescalation.
Q Is the President making any further calls about this to Putin, European leaders, Ukrainians?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Peter, the President has been engaged with our partners and allies on this issue since the crisis began and has had a number of conversations, lengthy conversations with President Putin. I don’t have any new calls to report to you, but we’ll certainly keep you apprised if there are some that we can read out.
Q Are there meetings, regular meetings? Is he having briefings on this beyond the normal, daily PDB kind of briefing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are as a rule, within the -- on the President’s national security team, meetings on this subject, as well as others that are top of the agenda, and the President is regularly briefed on developments in Ukraine. I don’t have any specific meetings involving the President to read out. Ukraine was of course one of the subjects discussed in the President’s meeting with Secretary Kerry that the Vice President joined yesterday, I believe it was.
Q Jay, does the President -- has he been briefed on the school stabbing incident this morning in Pennsylvania? Do you have any information about that incident?
MR. CARNEY: I only have information that I’ve seen in media reports. The President is aware of it, but I would refer you at this point to local law enforcement.
Q Jay, this is the second time that the President has gone to Fort Hood after a mass shooting. I’m wondering what he thinks can and should be done that hasn’t already been done to eliminate the possibilities of these kind of events, and what he thinks in particular of suggestions that more military personnel should be allowed to go armed on military installations.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the Defense Department has spoken on that issue. The President described accurately this event as heartbreaking. And he is deeply saddened by the fact that he’s making a trip to Fort Hood again for a memorial ceremony. He will meet with families of the deceased, as well as of the wounded, and offer whatever comfort he can. He will be joined by the First Lady, as you know.
On the broader issues of gun violence, you know the President’s position. You know the efforts that he’s undertaken. You know the disappointment he felt when the Congress failed to heed the desires of an overwhelming majority of the American people and refuse to pass a commonsense measure to expand background checks. But he has committed to take actions that he can that were outlined in his plan to reduce gun violence, the actions that he can take through his executive -- using his executive authorities. And he has followed through on every one of those, as well as some others. So that effort continues.
Q Specifically on the idea of letting military personnel carry guns on bases, is he for that or against that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think the Defense Department -- the President’s Defense Department has spoken to this, and I would refer you to what they’ve said.
Q Jay, is the President satisfied with the actions taken by Director Pierson to sort of address the situation that continues to pop up with the Secret Service?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has full confidence in Director Pierson and supports the approach she’s taken as a general proposition in having zero tolerance for misconduct of this nature. I haven’t spoken to him about the specific actions that were reported today.
Q One more on Ukraine. These aggressions that you see Russia taking, whether they’re covert or whatever, are they moving closer to more sanctions coming down the line from the U.S., from allies? What’s the trigger mechanism that we see more sanctions now against Russia?
MR. CARNEY: We are, as we assess the situation in Ukraine on the ground, reviewing the authorities that permit the United States to impose sanctions. As I’ve said a few times I think this week, under the authorities, the United States has already imposed sanctions in response to actions taken by Russia and others with regards to Crimea. And it certainly remains possible that further sanctions could be coming in response directly to the action in Crimea. And I just want to always emphasize that, and not say that any new sanctions would only be related to new provocations, because the authorities remain open and available with regards to the actions in Crimea.
As for further provocations and transgressions, we are assessing what we are seeing on the ground and what the Russians are doing and not doing in that regard. And we’ll certainly let you know if we take further action.
Q Are further sanctions imminent, would you say, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t want to characterize that, Steve. We’re reviewing it. We have significant concerns, as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, about Russia’s actions that serve to at least attempt to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, and that’s an approach that is counterproductive, to say the least.
Q Would you talk about the speech tomorrow a little bit? What does he hope to accomplish with this speech at the Civil Rights Summit?
MR. CARNEY: Without previewing the speech, which the President is still working on and which he looks forward to delivering, I would say that President Obama has deep appreciation for the effort that went into passing landmark civil rights legislation -- an effort led by President Johnson, and a successful effort that will be forever to President Johnson’s credit.
I think it's fair to say there is a connection between the passing of that legislation, and the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States says a lot about America.
So he looks forward to it. And beyond that, I won’t characterize his remarks.
Q Is he impatient with Congress for failing to --
MR. CARNEY: Never. (Laughter.)
Q -- come up with a new formula to replace the one the Supreme Court struck down on the Voting Rights Act?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President appreciates that there is a bipartisan effort underway to work on this issue, and that is a good thing. I haven’t assessed his level of patience. I know that he believes Congress needs to address this, and he’s heartened by the fact that this is a bipartisan effort.
Q Jay, on the Friday trip to New York and speaking at Reverend Sharpton’s organization, is there any second thoughts given the reports about his involvement with the FBI and the mafia just in terms of timing and awkwardness?
MR. CARNEY: No. Reverend Sharpton and the National Action Network have made significant contributions to civil rights efforts, and the President looks forward to appearing at the conference.
Q Is this his first time at that conference?
MR. CARNEY: No. I know I’ve been with him at least once when he’s spoken to the group.
Q Jay, Secretary Jeh Johnson is meeting today with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about their ideas for reforming deportation. Is there a timeline for action on that? And if Speaker Boehner indicates he won’t move on anything before the recess, will this administration act by itself?
MR. CARNEY: On the matter of Secretary Johnson’s review, I would refer you to DHS.
Q But Obama asked for that review, so --
MR. CARNEY: He sure did, yes. And he has great confidence in Secretary Johnson to conduct a thorough review and to do it expeditiously. But I don't have a timeframe to attach to it.
The President believes there remains an opportunity for House Republicans and the House Republican leadership -- not just Speaker Boehner, but Leader Cantor, Congressman McCarthy -- to do the right thing for the country, for the economy, for our security and for the Republican Party, and to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. So I’m not going to speculate about what might happen if they fail to take action, because the President is hopeful that they will.
Q Jay, as we head to fundraisers this evening, what’s the President’s, just generally speaking, level of confidence heading into the midterms for particularly Senate Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. For specifics, I’d obviously refer you to the DNC or the party committees. But the President is very pleased to be assisting Democrats running in this election cycle. He believes that he and they have an agenda that is broadly supported by middle-class Americans across the country in all of the states where there are competitive elections.
And I think if you look at the debate just this week, the distinction that we see is one that highlights how President Obama and Democrats are working on behalf of Americans, and in this case women, to expand opportunity and ensure that there’s a level playing field when it comes to opportunities in the workforce.
I have honestly been surprised a little bit by the fact that Republican leaders seem to proudly tout their opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act, proudly tout their opposition to every action that this President and previous Presidents and Democrats in Congress have taken to support paycheck fairness and pay equity and women’s rights in the past. I can’t imagine how they think that’s good politics. It’s certainly not good policy.
Q Understood. But what’s his level of confidence that this message is getting across to voters? Does he think that the Senate -- that the Democrats are going to be able to hold the Senate, win back the House? What are his expectations?
MR. CARNEY: He and we are confident that the Senate will retain -- that Democrats, rather, will take control of the Senate because of the policy agenda that Democrats support and are actively working on. And he believes Democrats will do well in House races as well. I mean, again, for specifics about race-by-race analysis, I’d refer you to the committees.
Q Is the President going to cross paths with any other Presidents in the next two days? Is he going to see Bush, the elder, in Houston or see any of the other Presidents at the LBJ event?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I know that when it comes to those former Presidents who are speaking, I think that it’s staggered in a way that -- I know that President Carter has already spoken and I believe President George W. Bush is speaking tomorrow evening after the President. So I’m not sure what that means in terms of any encounters President Obama might have with any of his predecessors. I’ll try to get an answer to that question. I know he would enjoy it as he did at the opening of the George W. Bush Library, and he certainly enjoyed the many hours he spent with President Bush 43 and First Lady Laura Bush on that trip for Mandela’s funeral.
Q Has he commented on the paintings yet?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think he has. I have. (Laughter.) I think you and I have both covered President Bush. At least I’ll speak for myself -- are both surprised and impressed by the pursuit that he’s taken up and the clear dedication he has given it. So I know when he was onboard Air Force One with President Obama and Secretary Clinton that he showed the President and the First Lady and Secretary Clinton some of his paintings on his iPad and I think everybody was impressed.
Q President Obama going to pick up the hobby himself?
MR. CARNEY: What’s that?
Q Is President Obama going to follow suit?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve got --
Q Eisenhower painted in the White House.
MR. CARNEY: -- close to three years remaining in the President’s second term, so he’s got his hands full at the moment.
Q Does he want Bush to do a portrait of him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that would be up to President Bush. I don’t think they had that discussion.
Q When he’s at the LBJ Library, will he be looking with an eye towards what his own library should look like? Is he looking for ideas?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think so. I think that the President will be focused on the meaning of the event, the significance of the anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I think that will be his focus.
Q Is he having meetings with John Lewis or any of the other civil rights figures who will be there? Is there anything on the agenda other than the speech?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, Peter. If we have more details on the President’s schedule that we can provide, we will. But I’m not aware of anything.
Q Anything the First Lady is doing independently of her husband that we should know about?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, everybody.
10:30 A.M. EDT