James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:32 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome to the first gaggle of the second term. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Precisely. The first only comes once.
So, as you know, the President is -- you’ll see the President later this afternoon. He has a personnel announcement, and therefore I decided to move my meeting with you to the morning, do an off-camera gaggle, something that a number of you have asked that we do a little more frequently and I’m happy to oblige.
We’re going to do this -- for those of you who aren’t familiar with it -- kind of try to, in keeping with tradition -- efficient, no seven questions for members of the first row before we get to move it around. Maybe one way that I think this has been done is sort of one topic per person so we can move around, try to do this in 20 minutes, and so you guys can get back to work.
With that, I’ll go to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks. On the Pentagon’s announcement on women in combat, can you explain what the President’s role was in that decision?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that the President is very pleased with the announcement that Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey will be making official on this important policy change later today. I’ll let the Secretary and the Chairman discuss the details.
The President fully supports this effort to expand opportunities for women, to serve in our armed forces. As you know, women are already serving in critical roles throughout our military, and the President believes strongly that we should continue to remove these unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.
Despite the existence of these barriers heretofore, as you know, women have fought and bled and died in Iraq and Afghanistan in uniform, and the President believes that this is a very appropriate policy change.
Q Did he ask Secretary Panetta to take this on?
MR. CARNEY: This is something that he and the Secretary have discussed in their regular meetings over time. But obviously, this is a decision that is generated by the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary, which is appropriate -- not a directed decision. But it’s certainly one that the President believes is appropriate, and I think that’s a position he’s held for some time.
Q And does he think it’s appropriate for women to serve in all combat forces, including Special Forces, like the SEALs or the Delta Force?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll let Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey talk about the details this afternoon before we go into the details here. I think that’s appropriate given that this is a military decision that’s being I think recommended by the Joint Chiefs to the Secretary, so we’ll let them present. And then I’m sure tomorrow I can take more questions on it.
Q Jay, North Korean officials have made some belligerent comments, including talking about how there are rockets and tests targeted at the United States. Could you comment on that, and also talk about whether any repercussions are in the offing?
MR. CARNEY: North Korea’s statement is needlessly provocative, and a test would be a significant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Further provocations would only increase Pyongyang’s isolation, and its continued focus on its nuclear and missile program is doing nothing to help the North Korean people.
As you know, the U.N. Security Council in a resolution adopted just two days ago expressed its determination to take significant action in the event of a further launch or nuclear test. Resolution 2087 is a strong message of the international community’s opposition to North Korea’s provocations, and these tightened sanctions will help impede the growth of weapons of mass destruction programs in North Korean programs -- in North Korea rather -- and the United States will be making -- taking additional steps in that regard. But I have nothing more for you on it.
Q Do these comments tell you anything about the direction of the regime of Kim Jong-un?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we judge North Korea by its actions, and provocations like these are significant violations. And we act accordingly. We certainly haven’t seen a noticeable change in behavior.
Q John Boehner -- Speaker Boehner was quoted saying that “the President’s goal is to annihilate the Republican Party.” What’s the President’s reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about that, but I know it’s not his goal. His goal is to work together with Congress, with members of both parties to achieve progress on behalf of the American people. You heard him say in the inaugural address that even though we have profound differences and differences that we will not resolve necessarily in the next year or two or three or four, it is imperative that we come together and act on behalf of the American people. And there are things that we can and must do together.
The President believes that a strong two-party system is the foundation of our democracy and looks forward to working with Republicans as well as Democrats to get things done.
Q He wouldn’t object to the annihilation of the Republican Party, would he? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think he would object to -- he believes that the two-party system is part of the foundation of our democracy, and that it is a healthy aspect of our democracy even if it’s contentious.
Ours is not the only politics in the world that is contentious and appropriately so. What he believes, however, is that we need to have spirited debates but not debates that paralyze us. We need to compromise, not be absolutists, but agree that the call -- that the need to act on behalf of the American people should compel us to make reasonable compromise while we stick to our principles. And that's the approach he’s taken since he entered the White House, and it’s the approach he intends to take in the second term.
Q Without betraying anything that happened in his private conversations on Inauguration Day, second Inauguration Day, did anything in any of his meetings with the leaders who were here or up on the Hill lead him to believe that there will be more comity, or was there any -- c-o-m-i-t-y --
MR. CARNEY: I applaud the use of that word.
Q -- or goodwill, or was there any exchange of promises?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any specific information about conversations that took place on Inauguration Day. I think that it was appropriately a day where we celebrated as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans. And it is a remarkable thing that we have, without drama, these peaceful transitions of power or extensions of time in office. And that's something to celebrate as Americans, and the President feels that way.
But we -- as I said yesterday, I believe, and previous to that, some of the decisions that Republicans have made recently, including a decision to abandon a strategy in their approach to the debt ceiling, is a welcome development.
One of the things that the President believes firmly is that we are not helping ourselves or helping the American people, or helping the American economy when we govern from crisis to crisis -- manufactured crisis to crisis. And we understand -- he understands that there will be tough negotiations over how to further reduce our deficit, for example, in a balanced way, but that we can do that if we, all of us, approach the task with compromise in mind and not confrontation and crisis.
Even with some of the positive signs we've seen and avoiding the debt ceiling crisis, I think there are Republican leaders on record saying they want a shutdown, for example, because it would be good for member management. That's a hard thing to sell to the American people, right? That's not a great strategy, I think in the President’s view. But, again, we'll see how things unfold. The President looks forward to working cooperatively with members of both parties in Congress.
Q Jay, which of those regulated by the SEC know about Mary Jo White’s qualifications? And does it suggest a new level of aggressiveness of regulatory enforcement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can confirm that the President, later today, will announce his intention to nominate Mary Jo White to serve as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. I'll obviously leave some of this to the President, but it’s certainly out there and been confirmed.
Mary Jo White -- for those of us, as you were, here in the ‘90s, know of her extraordinary record as a U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. I mean, she prosecuted a number of large-scale white-collar crimes in complex securities and financial institution fraud. She brought justice to the terrorists responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center and for the bombing of American embassies in Africa. She also served as a director of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange.
As you know, the SEC plays an essential role in the implementation of Wall Street reform and rooting out reckless behavior in the financial industry. The President believes that that appointment and the other one -- the re-nomination he’s making today -- demonstrate the commitment that he has to carrying out Wall Street reform, making sure that we have the rules of the road that are necessary and that are being enforced in a way that ensures we don't have the kind of financial crisis that we had that led to the worst economic crisis that we've seen since the Great Depression.
Q Don’t mess with the SEC.
MR. CARNEY: Look, she's got an incredibly impressive résumé, and the President is very pleased to be able to nominate her.
Q Jay, to follow up -- the debt ceiling having now been shuffled back to May, the next deadline is the return of the sequester. Is the President going to submit a proposal of his to replace the sequester, which he doesn't like?
MR. CARNEY: The President has submitted a proposal, as you know, and as I said yesterday, that proposal stands. He has put forward significant spending cuts and additional revenues gleaned from tax reform and closing of loopholes and capping of deductions that would significantly go beyond, in terms of size, the sequester.
Q I thought that's a larger-scale thing --
MR. CARNEY: It is. But the whole point of a big deal was that it would eliminate both the sequester and achieve broader deficit reduction for the long term, and that the President still believes that we need to come together to finish the job; that instead of doing in whole, we've been doing in steps to achieve $4 trillion-plus over a decade of deficit reduction through spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and increased revenues.
Q So that's the way he's going to attack this is to go back to trying to get the big deal, as opposed to --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have specifics to play out for you in terms of what tactical approaches we'll take. But the President's broad principle and the specifics of how he believes we can responsibly cut spending as opposed to taking a hatchet in an across-the-board way, which is what the sequester does -- and nobody supports that enactment. And as a counter to that, he's put forward very specific proposals.
Q I understand that. I'm just saying that the immediate deadline is the sequester. So he's not going to try and deal just with the sequester? He could --
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're asking me what like specifically we may have to propose for that in however many weeks or months. Broadly speaking, the sequester is --
Q Four weeks away.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, so weeks -- fair, right? Or a month. Anyway, I don't have anything specific for you beyond what the President has already put on the table, which is detailed and substantial and which the President looks forward to discussing with congressional leaders.
Q Jay, we know that probably a few minutes from now, Dianne Feinstein is going to introduce the assault weapons ban. The Vice President will be in Richmond tomorrow with the Governor and some others discussing this. Can you give us a little bit of a sense -- given the fact that for a lot of Democrats this is challenging, sort of treacherous territory -- how the White House views pursuing what were three of his top priorities, which are magazines, assault weapons, and background checks if the order by which you pursue that is significant and how he sort of prioritizes going about that to be able to accomplish the biggest change?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to lay out to you a legislative strategy. We're obviously working with Senator Feinstein and other leaders in Congress on this matter. As the President made clear, the fact that some of these are hard to achieve -- all of them in many ways are hard to achieve, some of his goals -- doesn't mean that we should not work aggressively to achieve them. There's broad public support for taking action.
Not a single one of the President's proposals that he put forward last week would take a gun away from a single, law-abiding American citizen. He believes that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is important and he supports it. But we ought to be able to take common-sense measures to reduce the amount of gun violence in this country and to increase the amount of security for our people, most especially our children.
Q How does pursuing the assault weapons ban first not make it more challenging to pursue the others, given that's the one with the most opposition?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don't have a lot of process answers to give you and tactical or strategic answers to give you. We're working with Congress. The things you've mentioned are the -- represent the legislative portion of the President's proposals, and they mirror in many ways action that members of Congress, Senator Feinstein as you mentioned being one of them, want to take. And we'll work with them on moving forward with congressional leaders on how they will move forward on these proposals.
And the President made clear that he will use the power of his office, as will the Vice President, to help bring about these important reforms.
Q Thanks. A two-parter. Do you expect any troubles with Cordray and the confirmation this time, given the recess appointment history last time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say two things. One, when the President nominated Richard Cordray to this very important post, which provides important reforms to protect consumers, he was widely praised by Republicans and Democrats. He had worked with Republicans and Democrats in his position in Ohio. There were no objections on substance to his nomination. Unfortunately, it was blocked because -- for political considerations, because some folks in Congress don't believe that we should have an effective Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The President strongly disagrees. The American people strongly disagree.
Hopefully, the fact that Richard Cordray has substantial bipartisan support out in the country and at the time -- and we can provide that to you -- was praised by Republicans and Democrats -- former Attorneys General, as he was -- hopefully it will convince the Senate to move forward and allow the up-or-down vote that he deserves.
Q So you expect clear sailing then pretty much?
MR. CARNEY: That's not what I said at all. (Laughter.) I wouldn’t want to predict an outcome except to say that there are no objections to him on substance. He is absolutely the right person for the job. He has done an excellent job in his position, and the President hopes very much the Senate will confirm him.
Q Okay. Can you update us a little bit on Jack Lew? Mr. Geithner’s last day I believe is either today or tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: I didn't see him today. I don't know when his -- I can't remember. Tomorrow.
Q Are you expecting an acting --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again I’m not going to predict how the Senate will handle any particular nomination. It’s the Senate’s prerogative to confirm nominees. The President feels very strongly that Jack Lew is an excellent and highly qualified nominee, and we hope -- he hopes that the Senate will move expeditiously to confirm him. We have a highly qualified deputy Treasury Secretary who remains in place -- Neal Wolin. And again, we just -- we hope the Senate moves quickly.
Q Thanks very much. On immigration, has the President given any more thought on moving forward on immigration -- whether you can do it in one full package, whether he’ll end up breaking it up into separate pieces? And has he reached out at all to Marco Rubio whose plan has been out there, and the President’s has been somewhat receptive --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t seen a plan and I don't think anybody else has. He’s spoken about it. And the principles, as I said the other day, reflect very closely the blueprint that is available on WhiteHouse.gov for the President’s approach to comprehensive immigration reform, and we find that a good thing.
The President looks forward to working with Congress, members of both parties. He has always said that this is the kind of thing that has to be bipartisan and has in the past enjoyed bipartisan support from Republican leaders as well as rank-and-file senators and members of Congress.
President George W. Bush, as you know, was a strong proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, as was Senator McCain. And the President looks forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in achieving comprehensive immigration reform. He does absolutely believe that we need to do this in a comprehensive way, that that's the appropriate way to move forward to ensure that we put in place the kind of comprehensive reform that achieves all the goals that are necessary here.
Q How soon will we see something --
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that he intends to act very quickly --
Q How soon?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to hem him in by putting a timetable on it, but I think you can expect him to be true to his word, which is to take up this issue very early in his second term. And, by the way, this is the third full day of his second term.
I think John, I said, and then Peter.
Q Two more, Jay. Will the President ask or has he already asked the Vice President to take a lead role in dealing with Congress on these budget issues -- sequester and debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: The Vice President has always played an important role in these issues and will continue to play. There’s not a set negotiation right now over these issues, but the Vice President has and always will play a role in working with Congress on financial and budget issues, on issues related to gun violence and immigration reform. And that's one of the things that the President counts on with the Vice President, is being able to have the Vice President take a role because of his substantial relationships on Capitol Hill.
Q But are we talking about the kind of direct and active role that we saw him play in December on the fiscal cliff?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think we're in a position to say how the endgame of these things will play out. We hope that this moves forward in a way that allows us to achieve a bipartisan solution that is balanced, that protects seniors and families with disabled children, people trying to send their kids to college; that reforms entitlements in a way that strengthens them, makes sure they’re there for future generations; that enacts tax reform that makes sure that corporations and wealthy individuals are paying their fair share and that the burden is not being borne entirely by the middle class or vulnerable communities.
And those are the President’s principles. They’re embodied in the proposals he’s put forward. And his entire team will be working with Congress to try to achieve them.
Q Can I go back to the first question on the women in combat? The way you suggested it makes it sounds like the President was more of a passive player rather than a decider on this. Were there deputy meetings? Were there principal meetings? Is this something that the --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a process to read out to you. I would ask you to wait for the formal announcement later today from Secretary Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Again, this is something the President has supported, believes is important. I think it in many ways formalizes a reality that has been taking place on the ground, but it also opens up enormous possibilities in terms of positions for women in the armed forces, and the President views that as a very, very good development.
But it’s also very important that this be something that is -- that comes through the military, because the military, our armed forces, will be implementing it. And that's a welcome thing.
So I'll allow --
Q But he’s the Commander-in-Chief, though. Does he have to sign off on it, as opposed to just simply supporting it?
MR. CARNEY: He is Commander-in-Chief.
Q Right, so does he just support it, or does he have to sign off on it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, why don't we wait for the announcement. He is -- he’s the boss.
Yes, all the way in the back. One more and then we'll go.
Q Thank you, Jay. About -- because we saw yesterday, there could be some senators holding a press conference and saying they were sending a letter to the President pressing him to -- how to make his decision on the XL Keystone Pipeline faster. How close are we to a decision on this?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department. We appreciate input from lawmakers, but as you know, as is in keeping with longstanding tradition, multi-administration tradition, these reviews are conducted by the State Department, and when the State Department concludes that process, we'll move forward, there will be a decision. But I'm not going to get ahead of that process.
So the timeline will be --
Q Has he received this letter?
MR. CARNEY: I'm aware of the letter. I don't -- I'm sure we have it. But again, it’s not -- this is not an issue to be decided that way. We're keeping with formal tradition here. The State Department reviews it, and I refer you to them for the timeline.
Thanks very much.
10:58 A.M. EST