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, 5/16/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:18 P.M. EDT

     MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Happy Friday.  Before I take your questions, I have something at the top here.  As I think some of you, or most of you saw, on Thursday, May 29, President Obama will host a summit at the White House on youth sports safety and concussions, where he will be joined by stakeholders, including young athletes, parents, coaches, experts, professional athletes, and military servicemembers. 

     At the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, the President will announce new commitments by both the public and private sectors to raise awareness about how to identify, treat and prevent concussions, and conduct additional research in the field of sports-related concussions that will help us better address these problems.

     As both a parent and an avid sports fan, the President appreciates the role that sports play in the lives of young people.  And this administration is committed to helping ensure that children continue to be active and play sports safely.

     And now I’ll go to your questions.  Jim.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  On immigration, Valerie Jarrett was quoted in Las Vegas as saying that there’s a window between now and August to get immigration overhaul done.  And she says, “We have a commitment from Speaker Boehner, who’s very frustrated with his caucus.”  Now, the Speaker’s office has denied that there’s a commitment.  And in a tweet today, Valerie herself said that this was lost in translation and that she actually meant that it was a commitment to trying.  But I guess the question is -- a commitment to trying what and when?

     MR. CARNEY:  Speaker Boehner, other House Republican leaders and leading Republicans outside of the House of Representatives have all expressed deep interest in moving forward on immigration reform.  And we have found those comments and that interest to be encouraging and indicative of some movement among Republicans in the House towards support for comprehensive immigration reform.

     What the President has said and others have said is that the opportunity before us is something very rare and we ought to seize it here in Washington, all of us.  The House ought to follow the Senate’s lead and pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, a comprehensive bill passed with Democratic and Republican support. 

Republicans across the country, business leaders across the country, faith leaders and law enforcement leaders across the country are behind this effort.  They recognize that passing comprehensive immigration reform will provide a huge boost to our economy, to our security, to principles of fairness.  And for those reasons we ought to move forward, and what we hope is that the House will move.  And that’s a message that Valerie was carrying and that we have all been carrying for some time now.

Q    Is the suggestion here that if doesn’t happen by August, or at the end of August -- have an August recess -- that the President will take matters into his own hands, he has some authority to do some things -- that we do something beyond just tweaking the margins?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to speculate about the future.  What we have always said will always remain true, which is comprehensive immigration reform requires action by Congress.  The President is always interested in moving the ball forward on his agenda where he can, even if Congress refuses to act.  But there are some things that require congressional action, and this is one of them.

So the Senate acted in this Congress, and has put a bill forward that enjoys broad bipartisan support across the country in communities and among interest groups that don’t often get together behind the same priority.  And we hope that Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Chairman Ryan and others hear all the voices of support, including traditional Republican voices, traditional conservative voices for comprehensive immigration reform and move forward with it.  That’s what Valerie was talking about.  That’s what the President has talked about and I have talked about and others.

We should get this done for our economy.  We should get this done for our security.  We should get this done because it will allow us to innovate more here in this country in ways that will build our economy and create high-paying jobs in this country.  So the opportunity is there for the taking, and we hope that the Speaker and other Republican leaders in the House avail themselves of the opportunity.

Q    A question on Ukraine -- reports today of pro-Russian insurgents pulling out of buildings, government buildings in the city of Mariupol.  And this is because steelworkers employed by one of the wealthiest men in Ukraine are patrolling the streets with police officers.  I’m wondering, is that a welcome development at the White House?  Or is there a concern that the government in Kyiv is relying on oligarchs to essentially run the government in these tense regions?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret the story that you’re referring to.  We certainly welcome any indication that separatists that have seized buildings, who have set up roadblocks, stockpiled weapons, are vacating buildings and ceasing the kinds of activities that have only destabilized the situation in Ukraine and led to confrontations and violence.  So that would certainly be a good development.

And the fact that significant portions of the population in Ukraine, including in eastern Ukraine, do not support the agenda of Russian-backed separatists but support a united Ukraine and support a process by which decisions around constitutional reform and devolution of power from the center are made in an appropriate way -- that’s a good thing.  These are the kinds of issues that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv has promised will be discussed in dialogue with Ukrainians from all parts of the country at roundtables that are facilitated by the OSCE.  That’s a good thing.

And all of this comes as we move closer now to a presidential election on May 25.  And our focus and the focus of the OSCE and the Ukrainian government and all of our partners in this effort is on ensuring that those elections are able to go forward.  And the OSCE has reported that the preparations, the technical preparations for the elections are proceeding well. 

Separatists have disrupted preparations in some isolated areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, but in the vast majority of the country, as you know, Jim, the situation is calm and preparations are on track.  And that’s certainly a good thing and a welcome development.

Jeff.

Q    Jay, General Motors was assessed a $35 million fine today over its ignition switch issues.  Does the President believe that fine is enough?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t discussed it with him.  I would refer you to obviously the agency involved here, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety and Traffic -- NTSB, whatever that acronym stands for.  (Laughter.)  But they’re the bodies that you should address questions about it to.

Q    Has he been following that issue?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he’s certainly broadly been following it.  It’s been an issue that’s received a lot of attention, understandably.  But in terms of that process, that’s not something that I would have a lot to say about.

Q    Two quick foreign policy questions.  You’ve talked a lot about the issue with China and Vietnam, and wanting that to be resolved in a way that is diplomatic and without provocation.  Do you want China to move the oil tanker?

MR. CARNEY:  Here’s what I’d say about that -- and I appreciate the question.  First of all, we’re closely following, out of our mission to Vietnam, the protests in Vietnam around this issue.  But regarding the broader issue of China’s unilateral decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels for the first time in waters disputed with Vietnam, we would say what we have said repeatedly, which is this is a provocative act and it raises tensions in the region, and by raising tensions makes it more difficult to resolve claims over disputed territory in a manner that supports peace and stability in the region.

So we consider that act provocative and we consider it one that undermines the goal that we share, which is a peaceful resolution of these disputes and general stability in the region.  We’re very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by government-controlled assets operating in this area.  And we call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight, to exercise restraint, to take steps to lower tensions, and to address competing sovereignty claims peacefully and in accordance with international law.

As you know, sovereignty over these islands, the Paracel Islands, is disputed.  This is occurring in waters claimed by both Vietnam and China near those islands.  These events highlight the need for claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law and to reach agreement on appropriate behavior and activities in disputed areas. 

As I’ve said before, the United States does not take a position on these competing sovereignty claims, but we do take a position on the conduct of the claimants who must resolve their disputes peacefully, without intimidation, without coercion, and in accordance with international law.

Q    Thank you.  And one last foreign policy question.  Do you have a reaction to the election in India?

MR. CARNEY:  I do.  First of all, we congratulate India and the people of India on an historic national election, which saw more voters cast their ballots freely and fairly than in any election in human history.  We congratulate Narendra Modi and the BJP on winning a majority of seats in this historic election.  Once the government is formed, we look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to advance our strong bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values.  We would also like to thank Prime Minister Singh for the role he played in transforming our strategic partnership during his 10 years in office.

     Q    Thank you, Jay.  Mr. Narendra Modi was banned the U.S. visa for the last 10 years.  Do you think that was a step which could not have been taken -- was not the right step in the direction at the time?

     MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry, the question -- I understand about the visa, but what’s the question?

     Q    Do you think that was a wrong step taken by the previous administration, or do you stand by that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the State Department for general answers to questions about the issuance of visas.  I can tell you that the Prime Minister of India will be welcomed to the United States.  And I would also note that U.S. officials, including Ambassador Powell, have met with Mr. Modi so he is certainly not unknown to us.

     Q    And does the President have any plans to call him?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President does plan to reach out to Mr. Modi, and I’m sure we’ll let you know when that’s happened.

     Q    Just a follow-up, quickly?

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Goyal.

     Q    One -- if the President preparing to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House.  And second, if you can confirm if the President has received a farewell letter from outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -– Dr. Manmohan Singh.

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything on any correspondence the President may have received, and I think it’s a little early to talk about a visit.  The President will be reaching out to Mr. Modi and, as I noted, we congratulate him and the BJP on winning a majority of seats in these historic elections.  So, again, this is an important relationship, a strong, bilateral partnership, and the President looks forward to building on the progress we’ve made with Prime Minister Singh in our relationship, in our bilateral relationship with the next Prime Minister.

     Q    And finally, the entire President’s administration, all these eight years, Mr. Modi was banned from coming to the U.S. -- because there were several occasions when he was going to attend several functions in the U.S.  Do you think there’s a bitterness there between the two countries because of this?  And now there is a landslide victory by the BJP and Mr. Narendra Modi, and the sweep-out of the outgoing government.  What is the future of the U.S.–India relationship?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think the future is bright.  We have long said that we look forward to working with whomever the Indian people choose in these elections.  And the U.S.–India partnership enjoys broad support across party lines in both of our countries.  And I am confident that we will continue our successful and productive partnership with the new Indian government.  The President looks forward to speaking with Mr. Modi and to working with the new government once it is formed.

     Let me move on.

     Q    A follow-up on that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Let me get to –- I promise I’ll get to you.

     Jon.

     Q    Jay, a follow-up on the immigration question.  I’m just wondering where the White House stands now on the issue in what is acceptable and what is not.  Is it essential still to the White House that whatever finally emerges from Congress include a path to citizenship?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s the President’s position.  It is elemental to the principles that he put forward.  It is reflected in the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate.  And the President strongly believes that it needs to be a part of comprehensive immigration reform. 

     We have long said that the House would necessarily pursue its own path in the construction of an immigration reform package, but comprehensive immigration reform is essential because the whole works together in a way that achieves all of the important benefits to the economy and to the country that we are looking for with the passage of this legislation.  So I’m not going to get into a lot of parsing of “what ifs” because we haven’t seen a thing out of the House yet, and we’re looking forward to the House acting on the urges we’ve heard expressed and the interest and desire that we’ve heard expressed by Republicans, including Republican leaders on this matter. 

And we want to see comprehensive immigration reform.  We want to see comprehensive immigration reform that meets the test set by the President when he laid out his principles a number of years ago.  And those principles are reflected in the Senate bill, as I’ve said many times.  That bill does not exactly mirror what the President would have written if he were to write a bill and see it pass through Congress, and he doesn’t expect that what emerges from the House, if the House has the courage to act on this, to match word for word what he would prefer.  But what he does insist is that comprehensive immigration reform adhere to the principles he laid out in the beginning.

     Q    So whatever the legislative process, not parsing that, the final bill that he would sign into law must include a path to citizenship?  I just want to be --

     MR. CARNEY:  We’ve said all along that comprehensive immigration reform needs to include a path to citizenship.

     Q    And he will not sign a law that is short of that? 

     MR. CARNEY:  Not sign a law -- there are just so many different --

     Q    He will not sign a bill that does not include a path to citizenship -- that’s my question.

     MR. CARNEY:  He signs a lot of bills that don’t include paths to citizenship.  (Laughter.)

     Q    You know what I mean.

     MR. CARNEY:  I know what you mean, too, but what I’m not going to do is -–

     Q    So you’re saying -- so he’s open to signing an immigration bill that falls short of a path to citizenship?  Is that still --

     MR. CARNEY:  His position, unlike the position of others, has been absolutely consistent from beginning to end -- or to this point.  Unfortunately, we’re not at the end yet, and I don’t expect it to change.

     Q    Okay.  And then on the VA, I’ve heard you and I’ve heard others at the White House talk about the VA as having a good record on dealing with the backlog of claims and actually praising the VA on this issue.  In light of the way this -- as we learn more about problems and not just in the Arizona office, but in other parts of the country, are you still saying you think that the Veterans Administration has done a good job in dealing with the backlog of claims?  I mean, are you still going to say that?

     MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question, Jon, and I think it’s important to note -- and I tried to the other day when this came up -- you’re conflating two separate things.  The disability claims, the backlog and disability claims -- this is a specific problem and challenge that the VA and the White House and others in the administration have been aggressively attacking.  And that is where you have seen a 50 percent reduction in the size of the backlog year over year, from this point to a year ago.  And that has been important progress. 

And the size of that backlog increased significantly when this administration, because our veterans deserve it, made the decision that there would be a presumption of acceptance of a claim if you were a veteran claiming problems associated with exposure to Agent Orange.  That’s the first time that’s ever been done; that’s what this administration did.  If you were a veteran of the first Gulf War and you felt that you were a victim of problems associated with exposure in that war, and if you were a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan and you experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, again, your claim would clear a hurdle automatically under this process that we established in this administration because we believe our veterans deserve it.  That immediately increased the population of people who had disability claims added to the backlog, and that backlog has been a focus of intense work and attention by the VA and the administration in general.

     On the matter of the absolute requirement that our veterans get the health care and services that they deserve and they get that in a timely fashion, the revelations or at least the allegations that have emerged from the situation in Phoenix I think have been greeted, in terms of reaction in the manner that Secretary Shinseki suggested yesterday, with a great deal of anger and frustration.  And if they prove to be true, people will be held accountable. 

But these are matters -- and other issues that have been discussed in the wake of those allegations -- that are properly under review at the order of Secretary Shinseki, under investigation at the recommendation of Secretary Shinseki by the independent inspector general.  And as you know, the President and Chief of Staff here have responded to Secretary Shinseki’s recommendation by sending one of the President’s most trusted aides over to VA to help with that review, to work with Secretary Shinseki on that review.

So I think that reflects the seriousness with which we approach this matter, our concern about some of the allegations that have been made.  But I just wanted to make sure that it was understood that there is a -- that the disability claims issue is not the same issue that is being discussed when we talk about the allegations in Phoenix. 

     Q    I think part of the confusion is when you and others have been asked about the problems in terms of veterans getting the health care that they need and deserve, you’ve answered with talking points on the disability claim backlog.  So are you really -- I mean, are you suggesting that this is a problem that is limited to the Phoenix office?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that there is an active review, as well as an investigation by the IG that will determine both what happened in Phoenix and, I’m sure, what happened elsewhere if some of the other allegations that we’ve seen merit investigation. 

What I’ve been saying is that under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership there has been a firm dedication to providing the kind of services that our veterans deserve.  It’s reflected in some of the decisions that were made to increase access to disability claims and to health care.  We have under his leadership reduced veterans homelessness by 24 percent.  We’ve provided Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students.  And we have decreased the disability claims.

     My point is that when I talk about the progress that has been made, I have been referring to questions about Secretary Shinseki and his leadership of the Veterans Affairs Department, and that progress has come on his watch and he certainly deserves credit for it.

     Q    Do you think it sounds strange, though, that given the evidence that we’re seeing coming out and suggestions that veterans have actually died waiting to get health services --

     MR. CARNEY:  I think the word you used is essential because you said the “suggestion.”  And this matter is under investigation -- I would point you to what the IG said yesterday.

     Q    But here you are praising the VA for all the things that have been done under Shinseki’s leadership.  There seems to be a --

     MR. CARNEY:  Let me just explain the way you just asked that question.  You’re saying there’s a suggestion that something terrible happened in Phoenix -- and that’s under investigation.  All we know is that it’s a suggestion.

     Q    But you don’t think there’s evidence that there has been a real problem with the quality of health care that our veterans are getting?  You don’t think that this is going to be -- we still need to study this further?  You don’t think there’s enough to act on right now to say that our veterans aren’t getting the care that they need?

     MR. CARNEY:  We are acting on the allegations and the suggestions that you pointed out, and I would point you to what the IG said yesterday about his ongoing investigation into the  --

     Q    -- you’re going to investigate more?

     MR. CARNEY:  You’re saying we shouldn’t?  We should just accept allegations as true without investigating them?  I don’t think that would be a normal procedure.  Meanwhile, we are moving aggressively in a host of areas to ensure that our veterans are getting the services and the care that they deserve.  And that’s reflected not least in the fact that the President has requested increases in the budget for the VA every year he has been in office in a time of very tight budgets.  And he has insisted when it came to the serious matter of the disability backlog that we attack that problem with aggression and with substantial resources, and that’s resulted in the reduction in the backlog.  And that reduction needs to be eliminated -- I mean, the backlog has been reduced, but it needs to be eliminated, and that’s an important part of making sure that our veterans are being taken care of.

     Let me move around a little bit. 

     Q    To follow-up on what Jon was asking, if General Shinseki is “mad as hell” about what went on, why is it the White House position that it’s just allegations and suggestions?  It seems to me he has made a conclusion in his mind that something bad happened.

     MR. CARNEY:  I think I would refer you to his testimony.  The fact is, if what has been alleged is true, that would be an outrage.  And that is an opinion shared by the President, by Secretary Shinseki, and I think everyone else who has looked at this matter and works on these issues.

     Q    Why hasn’t he expressed it?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President was asked about the allegations and answered forthrightly and expressed his concern about it.  The actions that we’ve taken reflect the concern that we have about it.  And the fact that he has sent one of his most trusted and top aides from the White House over to the VA to assist the Secretary in his review reflects the seriousness with which we take this matter. 

But, again, I would simply say that it stands to reason that when allegations are made, it’s important that they are investigated to find out the truth behind the matter before we just assume that what happened or what’s said to have happened is true.  I’m not in any way prejudging, because I don’t think we ought to prejudge.  I do think that it’s a matter of enough concern that the actions that Secretary Shinseki has taken and the actions that the President and the White House have taken are merited, and we’ll continue to aggressively tackle this problem.

     Q    Should the American people be able to trust -- the President says he’s -- you said the President is sending over one of his most trusted aides to oversee this.  Wasn’t General Shinseki one of his most trusted aides?  Why should the American public look at that and say, well, that’s the right thing to do instead of bringing somebody in from the outside perhaps to look at what’s going on at the VA?

     MR. CARNEY:  Jon, what I can tell you is the President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki, someone with an incredibly admirable record in the military and in service to our veterans.  And, again, under Secretary Shinseki there has been significant progress.  There remains a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure that our veterans get the services and care that they deserve, but Secretary Shinseki is aggressively tackling the challenges that we face on these matters. 

And when we see revelations like or accusations like what we’ve seen with regards to the office in Phoenix, it was certainly our view when Secretary Shinseki suggested it to our Chief of Staff that it was the right thing to do to add capacity, if you will, in order to make the effort more intense and more rapid to Secretary Shinseki’s team by sending Rob Nabors over to the VA.

     Ed.

     Q    Jay, on that point about the President speaking out -- today, for the second time this week alone, he talked about transportation funding, infrastructure funding because it’s a priority for him.  If fixing this VA problem is a priority for him, why have we not heard from him since April 28th?  A lot has happened since he spoke out at that news conference.

     MR. CARNEY:  Right, a lot has happened.  There have been allegations.  The Veterans Affairs administration has responded to those allegations by launching a review and suggesting and recommending and soliciting that the independent IG investigate.  The President has asked his Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, one of his most trusted advisors, to temporarily take an assignment over at the VA to assist Secretary Shinseki in that effort.  And Secretary Shinseki, as you know, was testifying on Capitol Hill just yesterday about this.

     This is something that, again, the President cares deeply about when it comes to our veterans and ensuring that we provide for them in a way that honors the service they provided us.

     Q    Why is he not speaking directly to veterans on this and saying, this is how much it matters and we’re going to fix it?  Your words are important, but if you’re -- on transportation funding, for example, he doesn’t just have you do it; he gets out there and says, Congress has to move on this.  Why is he not out directing veterans on this?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, he is taking action, Ed.  He has responded to this.  He has spoken about it.  I’m sure there will be an opportunity for him to speak about it again.  I think you would be the first to say that if -- and maybe you would, since Congress isn’t acting yet on transportation -- that speaking alone does not get the job done; acting gets the job done.  When it comes to transportation --

     Q    Sure, but you push them along.  But he pushes them along.  He doesn’t give up if Congress hasn’t done. 

     MR. CARNEY:  If I may, Ed, when it comes to transportation funding, that requires action by Congress so to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Americans aren’t thrown off the job come August.  When it comes to taking the actions that we’ve taken as an administration in response to allegations, that’s something we can do and that’s something that the President is directing.

     Q    How do you react directly to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?  He put out a statement yesterday saying he believes there’s a pattern at the White House where the Cabinet Secretaries take all the heat and the President ultimately is just not held accountable.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that this briefing suggests otherwise.  I would say --

     Q    It’s you, it’s not the President.  A briefing is not -– the point is that the Cabinet Secretaries --

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that in the time that since those allegations emerged in the press, the President has given four or five press conferences, so I think he has had the opportunity to address this and has been asked about it.  I think there will be other opportunities for him to address this.  But what he has also done is acted on it and so has Secretary Shinseki.

     Q    Last one is -- you were talking about immigration earlier and that the clock is ticking, and minimum wage, a lot of other important priorities that the President has been pushing –- transportation funding as well.  Is there any fear at all with Congress having hearings, that IG is having an investigation, there was talk yesterday that the FBI may get involved because there may be criminal charges in the VA scandal if, in fact, people did die because of this.  My question being is there any fear that this is a big –- I struggle to use the word distraction because it’s an important issue that veterans get their health care, but is this something that overshadows the attention of Congress right now so you can’t get immigration and other stuff done?

     MR. CARNEY:  I would simply say that it’s an important matter and that the resources necessary to tackle it so that we are providing the services and benefits that veterans deserve are merited, and the attention that is paid to it by those who are concerned about the problem as opposed to politics is absolutely appropriate.  That’s how the President views it.

     Bill.

     Q    Does the government have any confidence, this administration have any confidence that the Nigerians can ever retrieve the young women, particularly in light of today’s news that President Jonathan was supposed to go to the village from which they were kidnapped and decided at the last minute not to go?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that, first of all, a couple of things.  There is no question that the Nigerian people, the Nigerians face a real threat in Boko Haram.  Boko Haram has demonstrated it has no regard for human life and it has demonstrated an increased ability to conduct attacks, and those attacks have increased in frequency and lethality.  So this organization poses a serious threat in that country.

     When it comes to the efforts undertaken by the Nigerian government to find these girls, we’ve made clear that, in our view, time is of the essence and that we can and are assisting the Nigerian government in the search, but the Nigerian government has the lead and needs to act accordingly.  Now, we are -–

     Q    But they don’t seem to be making any progress.

     MR. CARNEY:  You mean the girls haven’t been found?  I mean, I think what we -- I think the --

     Q    No, signs from Nigeria are not encouraging.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think a circumstance -- I mean, I think that it was important -- and I tried to do this when we first started talking about the assistance the United States was going to provide -- to understand that despite the expertise we have, the capacities we have, and the kind of assets that we can bring to bear in this, that this is a tremendous challenge.  We’re talking about fewer than 300 people who are being searched for in an area at least the size of West Virginia, portions of which are very densely forested, as I understand it.  So this is a difficult challenge. 

And, again, this is a population of kidnapped girls that we hope remains intact and together, but obviously if they have been separated that makes the challenge even greater -- which doesn’t mean that we won’t provide all the assistance and assets that we can in that effort in helping Nigeria conduct this search, but it is certainly a challenge.

     Q    But the security situation is apparently so bad that the President of the country cancelled a visit to the area today.

     MR. CARNEY:  Is that a question?  I think the fact that the security situation, because of Boko Haram, is real is one that is self-evident and which I discussed moments ago.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t and that they can’t conduct a search, and that’s certainly what’s happening.  We’ve already, as I discussed earlier this week, launched both manned and unmanned aircraft as part of the reconnaissance effort, and we have a team of personnel assisting the Nigerian government in a variety of ways.  Other nations have lent their support to the effort and we hope that it will bear fruit and we will find the girls. 

     Q    Jay, has President Obama spoken to President Goodluck Jonathan, or does he plan to?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any conversations to read out. 

     Q    Did he have a reaction to canceling his trip?

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

     Q    And Nigerian officials, U.S. officials, officials from Britain and France are going to meet over the weekend and discuss their strategy moving forward.  What is the anticipation on the part of this White House about the tangibles that might come out of that meeting -- the series of meetings?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that we are focused on assisting the Nigerians in developing a concrete plan and a concrete approach to finding out where the girls are and recovering them so that they can be returned to their families.  And that requires coordination and it requires strategy.  And I assume that these conversations will be focused on that effort. 

     Q    Going back to Bill’s line of questioning, you have Alice Friend, who’s the Director of African Affairs, talking about some of her frustrations, frustrations on the part of the United States with the Nigerian government’s “slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics.”  Can you flesh out what some of the other frustrations are that the U.S. feels in terms of working with the government of Nigeria?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, I think that the challenge that Nigeria faces from this group is a serious one, and there are all sorts of issues that she and others have identified that make the challenge even greater and that we try to address as a friend of Nigeria in the assistance that we provide. 

That's why we provide security assistance, to increase Nigeria’s capacity to meet the threat, including by helping professionalize its military and helping it carry out responsible counterterrorism operations.  It's why we provide law enforcement assistance, to help Nigeria bring those responsible for attacks on civilians to justice.  It's why we support programs and initiatives that are aimed at combating violent extremist ideology, including by creating economic alternatives for those vulnerable to being recruited by terrorist organizations. 

     So we have a coordinated effort that is designed to help strengthen Nigeria’s ability to respond responsibly and effectively to these challenges in a way that ensures civilians are protected and human rights are respected.  And responding responsibly and effectively is important because that's, in effect, how you provide support for and reassurance to the population that is also having to deal with the threat posed by an organization like Boko Haram.

     Q    Just one on Rob Nabors.  Is there a timeline for the review that he is conducting?  Has the President said, I want you to --

     MR. CARNEY:  For questions like that, I would refer you to the VA.  They are obviously conducting the review.  So I don't have a timeline on Rob’s stay over at the VA except to say that it is temporary and he will be coming back and returning to his responsibilities as Deputy Chief of Staff here when that assignment is finished.

     Michelle.

     Q    The White House has repeatedly expressed confidence in Shinseki’s leadership, progress under his watch.  But the way that this all came out -- even if you're going to keep calling them all allegations and they seem to be more widespread than one hospital -- doesn’t that in itself indicate a major shortfall in his oversight and leadership of the administration?

     MR. CARNEY:  Michelle, I think I've addressed this question. What we have seen in response to the allegations that have been reported is a review instigated by the Secretary, one that we are now providing a senior White House official to assist --

     Q    My question is the way it came out, that this was all

-- all of these problems that have been built up and widespread, it all came out through reporting by the press, that some of this wasn’t even known about.  So doesn’t that, in and of itself, indicate a major shortfall there?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'd say a couple of things about that.  First of all, there are active reviews and investigations into what happened, and I think, again, I'm not going to pass judgment on what happened until we've seen the conclusion of an investigation.  And I think that's generally a wise approach to take. 

     Separately, should some of these allegations prove to be true, Secretary Shinseki has made clear that he would be outraged by that and angry by that -- the President certainly would be -- and he would expect people to be held accountable.  That's why there’s an investigation.  That's why there’s a review. 

     On the role of the press, I think the press, in general -- and again, I'm not going to pass judgment on whether or not the allegations are true because we don't know, but the role of the press is important in general as a -- on matters like this and in so many other areas.  So I wouldn't sell the press short when it comes to the important role they play.

     Q    And on Iran, these reports that have come out this week that Iran is actively pursuing ballistic missiles, what is the White House’s view of that and the possibility of eventually reaching a nuclear deal?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the question of ballistic missiles, we have made clear that all issues of concern are on the table during the P5-plus-1 negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement.  And we're not going to get into details of specific items of negotiations because negotiating in public wouldn't serve the goal here, but I would point you to the fact that the Joint Plan of Action lays out very clearly the elements for a comprehensive agreement and it talks about all concerns needing to be addressed, and it talks about making sure that we know that, in fact, this is an entirely peaceful program.  It also talks about U.N. Security Council resolutions needing to be addressed, including provisions relating to ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

     So ballistic missiles fall into the topics under discussion that would need to be part of a comprehensive resolution of this dispute and this challenge.  So that's the view we take.  Without sort of teasing out any individual item and talking about how that concern would have to be addressed in the final product, what we will do is point you to those U.N. Security Council resolutions, the fact that the Joint Plan of Action explicitly calls for those concerns to be resolved, and make clear that everything in the JPA is on the table and has to be resolved for a comprehensive agreement to be reached.

     Alexis.

     Q    Jay, I have two questions.  On the Ukraine elections, a statement that the Vice President put out this week used the word, “delegitimize” in the statement, that Russia would face additional costs should it disrupt or delegitimize the election results.  My question is a follow-up on a question earlier, which is who is the arbiter for the results of the election, whether they’re disrupted or delegitimized, since sectoral sanctions would be so important to determine a range.  Who decides that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, there will be international observers organized by the OSCE who will be able to make judgments about the conduct of the election and any efforts to undermine the election or delegitimize it.  The United States and the rest of our partners in the international community who have taken one side on this matter, and Russia, which has taken another side, I think will make judgments about how the elections proceed. 

President Putin, back when he also said or suggested that the so-called referenda should not be held on May 11, also said that the May 25 election might be a good step.  And we certainly agree with that -- not just might be, but a necessary and important step -- for the Ukrainian people because it would -- successful implementation of that election would allow the Ukrainian people to freely express their will when it comes to choosing their leader, their president.  And we are very focused on ensuring, with our partners, that the election takes place.

     Q    This is a small matter, but the President has a minor cold.  I'm not suggesting that he’s ill, but here’s the question -- I can't find any public record that the President has had his full medical workup, his usual exam, since before the election.  And maybe I missed it.  Can you tell us, update us when --

     MR. CARNEY:  I'll have to take the question.  I haven't looked into that.

     Zeke.

     Q    Hey, Jay.  Yesterday the FCC voted to create what they call Internet “fast lanes.”  I'm wondering, the President, as candidate in 2007, 2008, said he would oppose such efforts.  Is the President disappointed by the FCC decision, or is he contemplating going back on his campaign promise from six years ago?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President has made clear since he was a candidate, Zeke, that he strongly supports net neutrality and an open Internet.  As he has said, the Internet’s incredible equality of data, content and access to the consumer is what has powered extraordinary economic growth and made it possible for once tiny sites like eBay and Amazon to compete with brick-and-mortar operations. 

     The FCC is an independent agency, as you know, and we will carefully review their proposal.  The FCC’s efforts were dealt a real challenge by the Court of Appeals in January, but Chairman Wheeler has said his goal is to preserve an open Internet, and we are pleased to see that he is keeping all options on the table.

     We will be watching closely as the process moves forward in hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net neutrality.  The President is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet and we will -- and he will consider any option that might make sense.

     Q    Does the rule that was passed yesterday meet the President’s standards for net neutrality?

     MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think the rule -- what was passed yesterday was something that kept options on the table.  And that's what --

     Q    That's not a yes or no, though.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, if you have all options on the table, then the President will be looking very closely to see that the outcome of this results in a final rule that stays true to the spirit of net neutrality, which he supports.

     Q    I've got a couple questions.  Yesterday, Secretary Johnson said on PBS Newshour that you might be looking at changes -- or the President might be looking at changes to the Secure Communities program that’s part of reforming the deportation policy.  Does the White House have anything on that?

     MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t see that comment.  What I think you know is that the President asked Secretary Johnson to address -- to review procedures when it comes to enforcement, and that review is underway.  I would refer you to the department for any status update they might have.

     Q    And also this week, there were some documents released to Judicial Watch through FOYA -- a lawsuit -- that did appear that the Washington office of IRS did have more to do with targeting some of the tea party groups in this.  Does that --

     MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t see that report, so I don't have a response.

     Q    Okay.  Well, does the White House still believe that this was entirely out of the Cincinnati office, as the President said during the Super Bowl interview?

     MR. CARNEY:  Our position hasn’t changed and I certainly haven't seen any facts that suggest otherwise.  But I haven't seen the report that you mentioned.

     Scott.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  I'm just curious about this sports concussion event.  It will be a public event?

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes.

     Q    And what is the President hoping to get out of it?  Will there be a list of recommendations?

     MR. CARNEY:  We hope to see and expect to see some public and private commitments made towards the study of and education  about this problem.  I think the President, as a father who also has on his staff others who are parents, knows that this is a topic that a lot of families are discussing right now as more and more information is provided about the problems associated with concussions in sports, especially for our young.  And we have the ability here, because it's the White House and because he’s the President, to help elevate this issue and help draw attention to it and support for efforts to make progress on it so that we can ensure that our kids are being able to get all the benefits that come from participating in sports but are able to do so in as safe a way as possible.

     Q    Was Roger Goodell invited?  Will he be attending?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a list of attendees at this time.  What I can tell you is we aren’t prepared to announce participants or commitments at this time, but the President recognizes that raising awareness of and better protecting children and student athletes from concussions, and better identifying and treating them when they do occur requires a team approach.  And professional sports leagues, including the NFL, are certainly vital members of that team. 

     So this is an effort that a lot of people can be involved in and should be involved in.  And this is something that is often talked about within the context of football.  I have a son who’s expressing interest in playing tackle football, so it's something that I'm particularly interested in, but it doesn’t limit itself just to football.  Obviously we've seen a lot of reports about concussions in other sports, including soccer.  So this is something that I think a lot of families spend a lot of time worrying about and want to know as much as they can about, and want to be sure that they’re taking all the precautions they can on behalf of their children so their children can get all the great experiences that come from participating in sports.

     Q    And last question on this.  How does he prepare for an event like this?  Is he reading books?  There’s been some good ones -- League of Denial.  Frontline has done some documentaries.  I'm curious about how he prepares for --

     MR. CARNEY:  I know that it's something that he has addressed when asked a couple of times in interviews where he's noted that if he had a son he would have to think twice about saying yes to having him play football.  There have been -- obviously the report that came out last fall that helped spark this conversation, and there’s a lot of research that's been done within the government, including within the military, on some of these issues.

     So I don't have specific reading lists, but I know that it's a topic of conversation here just like it is around the country.

     Tejinder.

     Q    I have two follow-ups.  The first one is the ambassador already has retired and is expected to leave during this month.  Who is going to be the top diplomat in Delhi?  You're sending somebody from here to start the dialogue?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any personnel announcements to make.  It's obviously a very important post, but when the President has an announcement to make he'll make it. 

     Q    Are you sending somebody from here, one of your diplomats, to start?  Because if you see the baggage of nearly 10 years of visa denial, just a statement welcoming him may not bring him here.  So will the U.S. go beyond?

     MR. CARNEY:  You would have to speak to him about his views on this matter.  First of all, I think we've made clear that we congratulate the Indian people and Mr. Modi and his party on their victory.  We await the formation of a government, and we absolutely look forward to continuing all the progress that we have made in our bilateral relationship, and fully expect to be able to do so.

     Q    But just looking at the personal level, will it be kind of a hiccup, and if we are ready to do something to address that on a personal level?

     MR. CARNEY:  Again, the Prime Minister of India will receive a visa to travel to the United States.  We look forward to working with the new government and the new Prime Minister, and we congratulate Mr. Modi and his party on their victory.  I don't anticipate any problem in that regard.  What we do anticipate is moving forward with the new government and strengthening a relationship that has already been strengthened significantly over the past years with Prime Minister Singh at the helm in India. 

     Q    Thank you, Jay.  Do you have any result on the President’s call today to President Erdogan regarding the mine disaster?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a readout for you.  When we do we'll get it to you.

     Justin.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  Earlier this week, Secretary Hagel said that he was open to a review of the military’s ban on transgender servicemembers.  I was wondering if the President would back that review and whether or not he's had any conversations with the Defense Secretary about that issue.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President speaks with Secretary Hagel regularly, meets with him weekly.  I don't have a readout on all his conversations, but I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and certainly we support his efforts in this area.

     Q    And the President I don't think has ever spoken out on this issue before.  Does he think that that ban should eventually be lifted?

     MR. CARNEY:  I would simply at this point leave it to Secretary Hagel’s comments.  I haven't spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.

     Jessica.

Q    Does the White House agree with Chinese PLA General Fang who said yesterday that the Asia rebalance strategy has emboldened Vietnam in its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea?

     MR. CARNEY:  No.  I would simply say what I said earlier about the need for parties to these disputes to address them in a peaceful and diplomatic way, in keeping with international norms and international law.  I would note what I said about the unilateral decision and provocative one when it came to the -- when it comes to the oil rig and our calling on all sides to restrain -- refrain from taking actions that inflame tensions, as opposed to actions that calm the situation and allow for peaceful dialogue about it and resolution about the dispute.

     Q    Week ahead?

     MR. CARNEY:  Week ahead, Jim, you’re right.

     Q    Jay, before you give us the week ahead, can you just  --

     MR. CARNEY:  You got breaking news on your device?

     Q    No, no, this is not breaking news.  Can you give us the President’s reflections as we approach the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education?  He’s obviously meeting with some of the family members of the plaintiffs today.

     Q    And maybe tell us why that event is closed to press.

     MR. CARNEY:  It’s a private meeting that the President is having with families.  I would note that the First Lady will be speaking publicly about the anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court decision this evening in Topeka, Kansas.  The President feels, as I think so many people do around the country, that this decision was historic, that it enabled millions of Americans to get a better education.

     There was a good story this morning about the First Lady and how that decision affected her life, which I think speaks to why it is so appropriate for her to be speaking on it tonight.  We have more work to do, and that's why the President has the aggressive education agenda that he has.  That's why he is focused on making pre-kindergarten education available to all in this country, because that early start is so essential for a child’s future. 

So I think that we’ve come a long way in 60 years, and this is an important anniversary to note.  But the President’s views are that that is true and that also we need to keep moving forward when it comes to ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to provide a quality education to all of our kids.

     Let me give you the week ahead.  On Monday, the President will have lunch with combatant commanders.  In the evening, the President will attend a DCCC event. 

On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House. 

On Wednesday, the President will participate in an ambassador credentialing ceremony in the Oval Office.  At this event the President will receive the credentials from foreign ambassadors recently posted in Washington.  The presentation of credentials is a traditional ceremony that marks the formal beginning of ambassador’s service here.  Afterward, the President will welcome the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks to the White House to honor the team and their Super Bowl victory. 

On Thursday, the President will travel to Chicago to participate in two events for the DSCC.  The President will remain in Chicago overnight.

On Friday, he will return to Washington from Chicago.

     And I would be remiss in noting -- in not noting as I leave here that today is Kathy Ruemmler’s last day, and we at the White House will all miss her wisdom and good humor.  And we wish her well. 

 

     Thanks, everybody. 

 

END                     2:15 P.M. EDT