the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/13/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:45 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Hello, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  It’s great to see you.  I think if we close the door back there we’ll get less of an echo.

Before I begin, I wanted to make note of something and that is that we welcome the announcement today from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency that will help more responsible Americans get access to credit so they can realize the American Dream of homeownership.

While we are encouraged that the housing market is showing signs of recovery, we recognize that lingering scars from the financial crisis have resulted in significantly constrained access to mortgage credit for some borrowers.  That is why the President has repeatedly called for regulators to cut red tape so that all responsible families can get a mortgage -- not a return to the days of unsound lending practices, but ensuring that responsible, creditworthy families from all communities can obtain access to sustainable mortgage credit when they’re ready and prepared to buy a home.

Since the beginning of his administration, the President has made access to mortgage credit a priority with support for refinancing and foreclosure prevention programs throughout the housing crisis.  Last summer, the President called for more certain, brighter-line rules for lenders to encourage more lending to creditworthy borrowers. 

Today, we applaud the FHA for doing just that with the announcement of their Quality Assurance and Homeowners Armed With Knowledge initiatives.  And we applaud the Federal Housing Finance Agency for issuing certainty and clarity on the rules of the road for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Given the key role played in the current mortgage market by FHA and FHFA, today’s announcements represent a meaningful step towards helping more Americans own their home and continued strengthening of the housing market.

And now I’ll take your questions.  Jim.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  On Ukraine, today the Germans are trying to broker talks between the government in Kyiv and the Russian separatists.  Does the White House support that effort?  And do you all believe that the Germans are better positioned to be brokers than the U.S. or other Western allies?

MR. CARNEY:  We work very closely with our key ally, Germany, on this matter, and we commend the Ukrainian government’s efforts to hold roundtables on constitutional reform and national unity, facilitated by the OSCE, including with Ukrainians from the eastern and southern regions of the country. And we call on Russia to support this effort.

So as I noted yesterday, the Ukrainian government in Kyiv has proactively initiated a process whereby Ukrainians from the eastern and southern regions of the country can participate in roundtables to discuss a path forward through constitutional reform and discussions about national unity and the degrees of autonomy that regions of the country might have through a negotiated political dialogue. 

That is the path to resolving these challenges.  The path taken by separatists and endorsed by Russia is unacceptable.  It’s illegal under the Ukrainian constitution.  And it is unacceptable under international law. 

So we commend the Ukrainian government for the efforts it has initiated, and we certainly support the efforts of our allies and partners, who have stressed all along, as we have, that this is something that can be resolved appropriately through roundtables and discussions and a national dialogue among Ukrainians throughout the country.

Q    Russia apparently is saying that they want swift implementation of the OSCE plan.  Is that a welcome development? Do you believe what the Russians are saying?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, they also said they support implementation of the results of the referenda -- referenda that are illegal and results that are essentially meaningless.

So we certainly are glad to see any support from Russia, or separatists, for that matter, for the notion of an OSCE-led process or facilitated process around dialogue.  That is certainly something we support, and that’s something the Ukrainian government supports.  But when it comes to Russia’s rhetoric and its actions, we, of course, look very closely at its actions.  And on the issues that concern us, the support for armed militants, separatists in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere, we have concerns that we’ve expressed quite clearly.

The presence of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine continues to concern us.  And despite statements by Russian government officials, we have not seen a pullback of Russian military units from the Ukrainian border.  So these are matters that continue to be of great concern. 

Q    On another subject, the President is presenting a Medal of Honor today.  It’s, I think so far, 13 medals for action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I wondered if the President thinks this is an adequate number of medals for conflicts that have gone on for more than 10 years.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t had a discussion with him from that perspective.  I know that he greatly looks forward to the results of the processes in place at the Department of Defense that lead to the awards -- the awarding of Medals of Honor.  Those who have been awarded are inspirations to all Americans, and certainly that’s true of the individual today.

But you certainly make a good point that these were -- in Iraq’s case, were, and in Afghanistan’s case, continues to be -- very long kinetic military engagements.  And the heroic actions of so many American men and women in uniform will be remembered throughout history, and this is one means by which we can do that. 

Q    Speaker Boehner says most of his caucus is willing to act on immigration reform this year.  Is this a message he’s conveyed here?  And are you willing to make any concessions to bring him to the table? 

MR. CARNEY:  The President has long believed, as I think he said earlier today, that there is an opportunity available to the House of Representatives to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform this year.  That opportunity is not everlasting, at least in this Congress, but it is urgent and it is necessary. 

We have long believed that there is a majority in the United States House of Representatives that supports comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of the principles embodied in the Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support, and along the lines of the principles that the President established several years ago, prior to the development of and passage of the Senate bill.

So we welcome any indication that Republican leaders in the House see an opportunity and a possibility to move forward with immigration reform.  As the President has long noted, as was the case in the Senate, it would certainly be the case in the House that comprehensive legislation that emerged would not be written word-for-word the way he would write it, but it would have to meet the principles that he set forward.  The Senate bill certainly does that, and the House has the opportunity to do it as well. 

This is an opportunity here that doesn't come very often in Washington or in our country, where you have a broad coalition -- bipartisan coalition across the country, a coalition that represents not just members of both political parties, but business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement leaders.  You have compelling data from independent economists that demonstrate that passing comprehensive immigration reform would provide great benefits to our economy, would increase growth, would increase innovation and would reduce the deficit significantly. 

These are all selling points that I think members of both parties can take with them in making the case for comprehensive immigration reform.  So the President hopes to see progress in the next several months, as he has mentioned.

Q    Does it have to be one large piece of legislation, or can it be done piecemeal?

MR. CARNEY:  We have always said that the House will have to address this in its own way.  The result has to be a comprehensive immigration reform package.  The reasons -- and I won’t bore you with them because I’ve done it in the past -- but the reasons why a comprehensive package is necessary are many, and what the President wants to see emerge from Congress is legislation that achieves the principles that he laid out when it comes to enhancing security, when it comes to holding -- making sure that all of our businesses in this country are playing by the same set of rules; improving our legal immigration system and enhancing the capacity of folks in technology and science who are educated here to stay here and build businesses here in the United States that hire here in the United States; and when it comes to dealing with the 11 million undocumented people in this country and providing them a clear path to citizenship that begins at the back of the line and presents requirements to them. 
These are principles that he laid out.  These are principles that are met in the Senate bill.  How the House gets there is obviously up to the House, but we would certainly hope and expect that legislation that emerged from the House and then emerged from the Congress could be signed by the President.

Jim.

Q    The President in those remarks on immigration reform said he’s not hell-bent on every word.  Would it have to be nearly every word?  Or are there parts of it that he’s less wedded to than others?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s a good question, and I think what you saw in the process in the Senate reflects what the President was discussing today, which is even the Senate bill does not reflect word-for-word the legislation as it would have been written by the President or his team, so there were compromises contained within that process in the Senate, but compromises that helped create the bipartisan majority -- the significant bipartisan majority that passed the bill in the Senate.

Similarly -- let’s just stipulate that if the House simply took and passed the Senate bill, it would not be a bill that the President would have written himself word-for-word, but it would meet his principles.  So the same perspective applies to the House process.  What he is looking for is legislation that would meet the principles he laid out prior to the legislative action in the Senate.  And he would hope the Senate -- the House would do the same.

Q    Is it doable this year, do you think?

MR. CARNEY:  It is doable, absolutely.  Again, you cannot doubt that comprehensive immigration reform along the lines that the Senate passed could pass the House with a majority and with votes from members of both parties.  What is required is the decision by the leadership in the House to move forward. 

There’s a lot of pent-up, I think, interest in getting this done within the Republican Party -- and I’m not just saying that because I’m guessing it.  You see it reported on all the time.  And that’s because of the benefits that comprehensive immigration reform would provide to our economy, and to our security, and to our capacity to innovate and grow.

So we hope that whether it’s what the Speaker of the House has just said, or what other leaders in the Republican Party have said, or action that we hope to see take place up on Capitol Hill, what we hope all of it represents is movement towards achieving this goal.

Q    Has it popped up on the radar screens over here at the White House these cases of MERS that have come out of Saudi Arabia?  Apparently now in Florida there are a couple of health care workers who are being treated for symptoms that may be related to this.  What’s the administration --

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, it has.  Thank you for asking.  The President has been briefed on this development.  The CDC is taking the current situation very seriously and is working in close coordination with local health authorities.  I believe the CDC and the Florida State Department of Health discussed this yesterday in a public press conference, and it, as I understand it, has been confirmed that there is now a second case or was a second case established.  So CDC is monitoring this very closely. It’s something that is of a nature that would be briefed to the President and has been briefed to the President, and our team is watching it very closely.

Q    And just very quickly, tomorrow at the event at the Tappan Zee Bridge, where the President will be talking about infrastructure, is there going to be a midterm campaign pitch here?

MR. CARNEY:  No, this is about getting something done that has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, which is passing legislation that invests substantially in rebuilding our roads and bridges across the country and thereby putting people to work right away, and investing in our economic foundation and our future by enhancing our transportation networks. 

One of the reasons, as Secretary Foxx said yesterday, that international investors look to the United States as a good place to put their money and to invest in businesses or build businesses is because they have faith in our infrastructure.  And we need to make sure that faith is maintained.  We have an infrastructure that’s in far worse shape than it should be, that is crying out for significant investment.  The President has laid forward a very specific plan for how we can do that.  And as Secretary Foxx said yesterday, he looks forward to seeing Congress move on this so that we can put folks back to work, we can restore and rebuild bridges and roads and other transportation projects around the country and enhance our economic competitiveness by doing so.

Move around -- Wendell.

Q    There are new calls for Secretary Shinseki to resign today, and there’s question -- there are questions about whether the VA system has the capacity to deal with 9 million, I guess, veterans who are due medical care.  What’s your reaction to both of those?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, my reaction to the first point you made is what it has been, which is that the President takes the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously, and that’s why he immediately directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate.  And Secretary Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review. 

It is essential that we ensure that our nation’s veterans get the benefits and services that they deserve and they have earned.  The President remains confident that Secretary Shinseki has the ability to lead the department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings.

I appreciate the question because I think it’s important, since we discussed this yesterday at the briefing, that when we talk about the claim backlog -- because there was a back-and-forth yesterday on this -- the claim backlog refers to the disability compensation, not to VA health care.  So the issue under investigation in Phoenix has to do with access to VA health care.  The issue of the claims backlog has to do with disability compensation.  And the VA has cut the disability claims backlog by 50 percent since March of 2013, and is continuing to push hard to make progress on that backlog.

I can also tell you that under the leadership of Secretary Shinseki and his team, the VA has made strong progress to better serve veterans both now and in the future.  And there’s more work to do, and the Secretary, of course, knows this.  The VA’s progress includes enrolling 2 million veterans in high-quality VA health care, reducing veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent, providing Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students, and decreasing, as I noted, the disability claims backlog by nearly 50 percent. 

So there is a broad effort underway to improve services, to attack the disability claims backlog, and also to investigate what happened in Phoenix.

Q    One of the points the President wants to make -- and certainly Sergeant Kyle [sic] who is getting the Medal of Honor today -- is to encourage vets who may need care for PTSD to seek it.  Does the problems in Phoenix, Durham frustrate that call in any way?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s an excellent question.  The President has committed to ensuring that our veterans, including veterans from our most recent wars, have access to the health care they need and to the disability compensation that they deserve. 

One of the reasons, as I’ve discussed, that you have -- that the claims backlog expanded several years ago was because of the inclusion of PTSD within that process -- the presumption around PTSD when it came to a disability claim.  And that was a very important and positive thing to do on behalf of our veterans.  It added to the backlog, but it was the right thing to do.

The same is true of the decision to create a presumption around claims involving exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam conflict -- the right thing to do, but obviously one that increased the disability claims backlog, and another reason why the VA has been aggressively reducing the backlog as it has -- 50 percent since March 2013.

Q    How would you escribe the level of trust that the President has in the Syrian Opposition Coalition and as a group that represents moderate opposition in Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we do recognize, as you know, the Syrian Opposition, and we recognize President Jarba -- who is meeting with National Security Advisor Susan Rice today, along with other National Security Council staff.  As I mentioned yesterday, I don't have any specific presidential scheduling announcements to make, but I would not rule out the possibility of President Obama joining that meeting.

So we have worked very hard with our partners to assist the moderate opposition, to ensure that the aid that we are providing the opposition is getting into the hands of the moderate opposition and not falling into the wrong hands.  And this is something that has been a concern and an issue obviously since the beginning of the conflict there, but it is one that we take very seriously.

Q    Has that concern been assuaged to the extent that it allows you now to provide them with weapons, or let other partners provide them with weapons you refused in the past?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, each nation obviously makes decisions for itself about what kinds of support it will provide to the Syrian opposition.  We provide significant assistance, and we’re committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition.  But we’re also not going to catalogue or detail every single type of the assistance that we provide.  But when we provide that assistance, we make sure that the recipients of it are vetted and that they are members of the moderate opposition.

Q    Can I follow on Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Two questions.  Ban Ki-moon just announced the resignation of Lakdar Brahimi as an envoy to Syria.  Your reaction to that?  And second, are you looking for a different framework for the negotiation since Geneva doesn't seem like it’s going anywhere?

MR. CARNEY:  On the first question, the United States deeply appreciates Joint Special Representative Brahimi’s tireless efforts to work towards a lasting peace in Syria and is grateful for his leadership and his counsel.  We look forward to the appointment of his successor.  And I would refer you to the United Nations for questions about his successor.

On the matter of the Geneva talks, they are certainly on hold.  Resuming the talks and starting a third round of negotiations is dependent upon the Assad regime agreeing to discuss among other issues a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as cited in the Geneva Communique.  The regime refused to do so in the first two rounds of the talks.  That has to be the first item on the agenda.

The regime also needs to postpone its upcoming presidential elections, which as I noted earlier, represent a sham democratically and are entirely inconsistent with the Geneva Communique’s call for the establishment of a transitional governing body.

The Assad regime alone is responsible for the talks’ lack of progress thus far.  Its refusal to engage seriously in negotiations based on the Geneva Communique has stalled progress -- whereas the Syrian Opposition Coalition accepted the Geneva Communique as the basis for negotiations and conducted itself in accordance with the communique’s provisions during those talks. 

So that is our view on the process.  It is still very much our view that there must be a negotiated political settlement to this conflict and that that has to include a transitional governing body.

Q    Meanwhile the French, your ally, are introducing a resolution to take Syria to the ICC, to try to them for war crimes.  Are you going to join in on that?  Are you going to support them?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t seen that report, so I’ll have to take the question. 

Let me move around a little bit.  Jon, yes.

Q    Yes, just a follow-up.  This summer it will be three years since the President first said it’s time for Assad to go. Now we see, as you mentioned, Brahimi stepping down.  The rebels have abandoned Homs.  The momentum clearly seems to be with Assad.  Is the White House now going to undergo a review of whether or not it’s time to change a policy that has fundamentally failed in the objective of removing Assad from power or ending the violence in Syrian?

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, we are constantly reviewing our policy options when it comes to Syria and constantly working with our partners, including the Syrian opposition, in an effort to assist the Syrian people, assist the Syrian opposition, and press forward towards a negotiated political settlement.  There is no question that this conflict has gone on far too long and has cost far too many lives.  The responsibility for that is unquestionably with Syrian President Assad and his regime that has engaged in a conflict against its own people with horrific brutality. 

We will continue to work with our partners and the opposition, continue to provide assistance, step up that assistance where we can and it’s appropriate.  Today’s meeting with the Opposition Coalition President and the National Security Advisor represents the level of cooperation that we have established with the opposition and that you will see moving forward.

In the end, the course of this conflict on the battlefield will inevitably result in no permanent outcome -- will not result in Assad ever controlling Syria as it used to exist and in the manner that he used to control it.  There is no alternative, ultimately, when it comes to resolving this conflict to a negotiated political settlement, and that’s what we’re going to continue to press for.

Q    Will you acknowledge that the policy that’s been pursued up to this point has not been successful?

MR. CARNEY:  I certainly acknowledge that the conflict has continued and that we have continued to work with the opposition that we support, the moderate opposition, and our many partners in this effort to help the opposition and to isolate and pressure Assad into a negotiated political settlement that would lead to a transitional governing body. 

What I will also note is that because of the threat that one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons posed to the region and the world, the United States led the effort to initiate a process through which the Assad regime, for the first time in its history, acknowledged that it possessed these weapons and has rid itself of 92 percent of those stockpiles.

It is absolutely incumbent upon Syria and on Russia, one of Syria’s only friends -- the Syrian regime’s only friends -- to complete that responsibility and to make sure that the remaining 8 percent of the chemical weapons stockpiles possessed by the Syrian regime are transferred for destruction to the OPCW.  And we are monitoring that very closely.  That is a very important aspect of the conflict that we’ve seen with regards to the regional and global security that -- or threat that those weapons presented.

Q    On another subject, Hunter Biden has now taken a position with the largest oil and gas company -- holding company in Ukraine.  Is there any concern about at least the appearance of a conflict there -- for the Vice President’s son to take a --

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.  I saw those reports.  Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the Vice President or President.  But I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.

Q    Jay, would the President support negotiations with Boko Haram if they would lead to the release of these young girls?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I understand the report that you’re referring to.  What I can tell you is that we’re focused on working with the Nigerian government to locate and bring home those girls.  That includes a team of individuals that I itemized yesterday.  It also includes manned reconnaissance flights that I can confirm we are conducting in cooperation with the Nigerian government.

When it comes to the approach to Boko Haram, in this case, Nigeria, of course, has the lead and we play a supporting role.  It is the policy of the United States to deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, and that includes ransoms or concessions.

Q    Would the White House or the U.S. officials that are there -- is that the advice that they’re providing Nigeria, that they propose they do not negotiate with these individuals?  Among those, there are hostage negotiator consultants, or hostage negotiators.

MR. CARNEY:  That’s certainly our position.  I can’t speak to every conversation, but that is certainly the position of the United States -- that we, as a matter of policy, deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, and that includes ransoms or other concessions.

Q    I want to ask you a couple of other questions quickly. I know that we heard from the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers again yesterday in an interview on CNN where he criticized all sort of individuals, including black people in general, suggesting that they -- and his language was basically that they do not help members of their own community.  I’m curious if the President had any comments on what he heard, including the comments that Donald Sterling made about one of the President’s own friends, as they’ve met at numerous events, Magic Johnson.

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken to the President about that interview.  The President spoke about this general issue at a press conference not long ago, so I would point you to those remarks. 

Q    We heard -- Karl Rove a couple days ago said something about Hillary Clinton’s health situation.  Specifically, his language was she spent “30 days in the hospital and when she reappears she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have Traumatic Brain Injury.  We need to know what’s up with that.”  Obviously, they have their motivations behind perhaps raising this topic as they consider 2016 --

MR. CARNEY:  You think?  (Laughter.)

Q    -- but I just want to get a sense of, as the White House was working with Hillary Clinton at the time as the Secretary of State -- is there something about her health concern, Traumatic Brain Injury or anything, that was communicated to the White House that has not been communicated publicly?  Or can you right now say --

MR. CARNEY:  You’re asking this question based on the assertion of a political consultant -- which is a kind way of putting his job -- and his medical evaluation.

Q    I'm allowing you the opportunity to say that he’s wrong --

MR. CARNEY:  Here’s what I would say about cognitive capacity, which is that “Dr. Rove” might have been the last person in America on election night to recognize and acknowledge that the President had won reelection, including the state of Ohio.  So we’ll leave it at that.  (Laughter.)

Q    I just want to go back to Steve’s question about immigration reform.

Q    Are you saying he’s brain-damaged?  (Laughter.) 

Q    He needs special glasses. 

MR. CARNEY:  Mara.

Q    Just to go back to Steve’s question about immigration reform, are you just watching the Republicans’ internal debates from afar about whether they should go forward with this?  Or is there some kind of communication that you’re having with Speaker Boehner --

MR. CARNEY:  About immigration reform?

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  We have been, as a matter of course, for some time now communicating with lawmakers of both parties on comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate and the House.  And those conversations continue.  I don’t have specific recent conversations to detail to you, but to be sure we are pressing the case both publicly and in private conversations on Capitol Hill. 

But I think we are not under the illusion that simply calling for it from this podium or this building will persuade fence-sitters to embrace it.  We think that the merits of moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform are strong enough to compel lawmakers to get off the fence and get it done by themselves. 

And as I noted earlier, the arguments in favor of comprehensive immigration reform aren’t liberal arguments; they’re even, some might say, conservative arguments.  When you talk about deficit reduction and economic growth, and holding people accountable, and ensuring that businesses across the country all play by the same set of rules, when you talk about enhancing our security, they’re everybody’s values and principles.  And that is why you have this broad coalition across the country -- and unlikely and diverse coalition that supports passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  The time has come. It’s the right thing to do.  And we hope and expect that the House will move forward.

Q    But no recent communication with the House Republican leadership on this subject?

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t say that.  I just don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you.  This is something we discuss with members and leaders who are interested in Capitol Hill with great regularity.  You saw from the President’s comments today that he remains very focused on and hopeful about the prospects of getting comprehensive immigration reform done this year. 

Dave.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  I don’t think this came up yesterday.  Did the President express any thoughts about Michael Sam being the first gay player to be drafted by the NFL?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is that the President congratulates Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams, and the NFL for taking an important step forward in our nation’s journey.  From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are, and certainly the fact that Michael Sam was drafted represents and reflects what he did on the field in his college career.

Q    Did the President think it was appropriate that the Miami Dolphins punished, fined, disciplined that player who tweeted --

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken to him about that.

Carol.

Q    The President’s nominee for the U.S. District Court in Georgia has faced some opposition from members of his own party, particularly on his positions on abortion and some issues that he dealt with involving the confederate flag.  I’m wondering if you have a comment on their specific criticism and how you would respond to that.  And secondly, if you can talk about whether there’s a problem here in the President’s nominations given that he’s had other issues with nominees from members of his own party, including the Surgeon General and another one earlier this year.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me focus on this specific question.  And I think it’s important when we discuss the context of this nomination of Michael Boggs that we review how this process works a little bit.  The President agrees that home-state senators should be consulted in the judicial nomination process.  However, problems arise when senators abuse the so-called blue-slip system, either by vetoing nominees and potential candidates without explanation, or by refusing to engage in our efforts at consultation in a timely manner.  This abuse is a significant constraint on the President’s selection of potential nominees and on his ability to nominate quickly individuals to fill long-standing vacancies. 

In the case of Georgia, we’ve been trying to fill these judicial vacancies for more than three years, but two of the President’s nominees were blocked for nearly 11 months and returned at the end of 2011.  Our choice is clear:  Do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise, or should we leave the seats vacant?  Given that option, four of these vacancies are judicial emergencies and we believe it would be grossly irresponsible for the President to leave these seats vacant.

Judge Michael Boggs was recommended to the President by Senators Isakson and Chambliss as part of a compromise to fill six judicial vacancies in Georgie.  Senators Isakson and Chambliss have now also agreed to support the President’s nomination of Leslie Abrams to fill a seventh vacancy.  These seven nominees include five women, one who would be the first female district judge on her court, and two who would be the first African American female lifetime-appointed judges in Georgia.

Based on Judge Boggs’s 10-year track record as a state trial and appellate court judge, the President believes he is qualified for the federal bench.  Of all the recent criticisms offered against Michael Boggs, not one is based on his record as a judge for the past 10 years.  What has distinguished his as a state court judge at the trial level as well as on the court of appeals, is that he has taken a keen interest and leading role in criminal justice reform. 

The President thinks he’s qualified -- I think it’s important in any reporting on this nomination to understand, as I know many of you do who’ve covered the Hill, but I’d urge you share that understanding with your readers and viewers, that you understand how this process works and how this nomination arose.

Q    So just two quick follow-ups.  So the President would urge Democrats to compromise and back off?

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that he is qualified and ought to be confirmed, yes.

Q    Secondly, do you see any kind of -- is there a disconnect between the White House and members of the Democratic Party on the Hill in terms of who the President wants to see be confirmed?  Because this is not the first time that something like this has happened.

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President’s track record on getting his nominees supported by Democrats has been very strong and continues to be strong, and we look forward to confirmation of all of his nominees in a timely fashion.

Justin.

Q    I wanted to ask about net neutrality.  Back in February, you guys kind of said you were going to leave it up to the FCC.  But now that Wheeler has come out with his proposal, I’m wondering if you support it or endorse it, especially ahead of the vote that is coming up.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I can tell you is that the FCC is an independent agency and I can’t offer much beyond what we have said before, which is that the President strongly supports net neutrality.  The FCC Chairman has said that it is his goal to preserve an open Internet and that he has all the tools he needs to do it.  We have been clear from the start that we support that goal and will be closely following developments as the FCC launches its proceeding. 

But beyond that and the fact that the President remains committed to an open Internet, consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use.  I really don’t have much more comment on the independent agency’s process.

Q    So no reaction to the sort of fast-lane proposal that’s garnered a lot of criticism?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a specific reaction.

Jessica.

Q    Just a follow on Ukraine.  The French Foreign Minister was here today and said that if there were sectoral sanctions, he would like to see them simultaneously hit arms, energy, and banking at the same time.  I’m wondering how much pushback the U.S. is getting as it considers sectoral sanctions as the next step.

MR. CARNEY:  We have worked very closely with all of our European partners, including France, Germany, the UK and others, as well as our G7 partners, including Japan, on the matter of acting in a coordinated fashion when it comes to imposing sanctions in the Ukraine situation.  And you have seen that coordination all along, and you’ve seen it in the telegraphing by European leaders of what next steps would be when it comes to the imposition of sanctions should Russia engage in further transgressions -- should Russia, for example, send significant military forces across the Ukrainian border, should Russia take steps to disrupt the May 25 presidential elections in Ukraine, which are the focus of our attention right now and the focus of the attention of the Europeans and all of our partners on this matter.  And we call on Russia to support those free and fair democratic elections.

So I think that we have been speaking with a great deal of unanimity in terms of our view of this and our view of the need to ratchet up the costs for Russia should Russia continue to engage in transgressions.  We’ve made clear that more severe sanctions, higher costs will come to Russia if they take the steps that I just described, and that includes the possibility of targeted sanctions aimed at sectors of the economy.  But for more details on how that process would work, I would ask for your patience.

Obviously, we remain hopeful -- skeptical but hopeful -- that Russia will, instead of ratcheting up activity that destabilizes Ukraine and attempts to disrupt the elections, would instead support the dialogue that the Ukrainian government supports and that would be facilitated by the OSCE when it comes to constitutional reform and national unity, and would support a process that has been affirmed by the international community through the OSCE, which is being implemented, to allow for free and fair democratic elections for president on May 25.

Q    But just in terms of the point that he raises, basically saying you’re going to spread -- we want you to spread the pain, we want -- we’re prepared to go forward with the sanctions, but we’d like to see them hit sectors where everybody in Europe has to pay a price, how does the White House feel about that approach?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that we are very mindful, as the President has said and I have said, that imposition of more severe sanctions will come at a cost to the global economy and, therefore, the economies of those nations that are imposing the sanctions.  Of course, the costs will be much, much higher for Russia and the Russian economy.  And we take that into account as we review our options when it comes to imposing sanctions, and as we work with our partners and discuss with them actions that they are considering when it comes to the imposition of sanctions. 

So it’s absolutely the case that the economic impact of sanctions on the nations imposing the sanctions is something that is very closely evaluated.  What I think I would point you to are statements by European leaders and obviously by the President here that despite those costs to the global economy, should more serious sanctions be called for because of Russian transgressions, they would be necessary.  And we would have to deal with those costs because the actions that Russia would have taken in that case would be necessarily met with a higher cost the Russian economy.

Olivier.

Q    On the MERS briefing, can you say what kind of official brief the President -- was it national security, was it a scientist, was it someone from CDC?

MR. CARNEY:  The coordinator for these kinds of issues is Lisa Monaco, who is the Homeland Security Advisor, and so she would be the individual who would provide the briefing on those issues.

Q    And the French Foreign Minister also dramatically said that the world has 500 days to avoid climate chaos.  I’m wondering what your countdown clock says.

MR. CARNEY:  I would point you to the National Climate Assessment that was released last week that made clear in the view of the science that climate change is upon us and the effects and impacts of climate change are being felt today. 

We’ve laid out a comprehensives strategy aimed at helping communities around the country prepare for the effects of climate change, as well as a strategy to reduce our carbon pollution, enhance our energy independence, and address climate change in the future to try to mitigate future impacts. 

There’s no question that this is a global effort that has to be undertaken because of the nature of carbon emissions around the world.  But I don't have a specific reaction to that statement except to say that the National Climate Assessment that was released last week I think paints a pretty stark picture about the fact that these impacts are already here.  In some cases, they’ve arrived sooner than expected -- sooner than scientists expected, and that only reinforces the need to approach this in the kind of comprehensive way that the President has laid out.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, also claimed that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons 14 times since last October, and that President Assad has hidden part of his stockpile.  We also have a report from Human Rights Watch earlier today claiming at least three attacks with chlorine in northern Syrian.  Would you agree with those assessments?   What is your reaction?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ve seen allegation of additional attacks in Syria using chlorine, as we’ve discussed here, and that is deeply concerning.  The OPCW, as you know, has a fact-finding mission looking into allegations of chlorine chemical weapons use, and we support them in their efforts, and we’ll continue consulting closely and sharing information with the OPCW and our international partners as we work to determine exactly what happened.  Syria needs to cooperate fully with the fact-finding mission. 

I think it’s -- as I think I’ve mentioned before when asked about this after earlier reports of the use of chlorine, that chlorine itself is used in commercial and industrial processes and is not required to be declared under the CWC unless it is directly related to a chemical weapons program.  As a general matter, repurposing chlorine for use as a weapon would be a violation of the convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the actual use of chlorine as a weapon would be a further violation.  So this matter is being investigated by the OPCW.  We take it very seriously, and it’s deeply concerning.

I think I’ve been told we’re done, so I thank you very much.  And I’ll see you next time.

END
1:36 P.M. EDT