Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
2:55 P.M. PDT
MR. CARNEY: Fire away.
Q The North Koreans have moved missiles into position in the east. Before the response was nothing new has happened. Can we just get a response to that?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that we've seen the press reports and we continue to closely monitor the situation on the Peninsula. Threats and provocative actions will not bring the DPRK the security, international respect, and economic development that it seeks. We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama's call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.
Q Have you verified with those reports independently?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters. I can tell you that simply we have seen the reports and the response is, as we've been saying, that actions and provocative rhetoric only serve to further isolate North Korea, to harm the North Korean economy, to set back any efforts the North Koreans might want to take towards rejoining the community of nations. There is a path available to North Korea, a path that would allow it to rejoin the international community, but it would require commitment to renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions and to abide by its international obligations.
Q Jay, given these latest reports, does this suggest that this is more than just bluster, that North Korea is actually going to take action this time?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we're monitoring both the actions taken by and the statements made by the North Korean leadership. And we're also taking prudent measures to respond to that activity and to those statements. It is still important to note that, as those who have worked on this issue or reported on this issue over the years know, what we are seeing now is a familiar pattern of behavior out of the North Koreans -- regrettable, but familiar.
Q Will the President address this personally -- publicly? Will the President address this?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling announcements today.
Q Jay, does the President see a potential red line, though, that the Koreans, the North Koreans might cross that would require a different kind of response from the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: We're taking I think a series of precautionary measures that have been reported and that we've discussed. The fact of the matter is North Korea has one path available to it if it seeks to improve its economy and reenter the community of nations, and that is to work towards abiding by its international obligations.
I think that it's important to note, again, as I said, that there is an element to this that is familiar, for those of you who have covered it and to those who have worked on it. It’s obviously of concern, and we're taking all the necessary precautions.
Q Did the President see Keystone protesters last night? And will they influence his decision, thinking on this?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure if in the motorcade he saw them. I think that, as he said, there is obviously a great deal of passion around this issue. But it is, as a policy matter, being assessed appropriately in the State Department through a process that has been longstanding through previous administrations of both parties. This is something that is evaluated on the merits, and that process is underway.
Q Jay, to go back to North Korea for a moment, can you update us on the latest conversations that the President has had with leaders in the region, with the leader of South Korea and Japan?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any leader-to-leader conversations to read out to you. The President has been regularly updated on both the actions and statements by the North Koreans, as well as the responsive measures, prudent measures that we've taken. We are obviously consulting regularly with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo, as well as other allies and partners.
And we are working with other nations, including the Russians and the Chinese, to try to influence North Korean behavior to, as I think we discussed on the plane yesterday, to discuss with the Chinese in particular the need to use the influence that they have with the North Korean regime to try to get the -- to ratchet down the provocative behavior and actions, and to maintain stability in the region.
Q Will there be any further test strikes, or is that something that the United States thinks now might actually inflame the situation?
MR. CARNEY: Will there be further what? I'm sorry.
Q Test strikes, test flights?
MR. CARNEY: Strikes or flights? Sorry. I think, look, we’ve engaged in exercises with the South Koreans regularly at, I believe, this time of year. I don’t anticipate any change in that, but I would refer you to the Defense Department.
Q Back on Keystone. Yesterday, at one of the events, the President made clear that any steps on environment and on climate change have to be taken with consideration of the economic needs of the middle class, as well. I'm wondering if that’s a consideration that he keeps in mind, the job creation potential of Keystone, of the pipeline as he makes -- as the administration makes that decision.
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a decision that’s housed within the State Department and made on the merits. I've seen some reports that stretch the meaning of what the President said beyond reason. He was not referring to Keystone. He never mentioned Keystone. And I would treat -- I think those reports suggesting that that’s what he was talking about are not backed up by facts.
But obviously, broadly speaking, matters of economic growth and job creation as well as middle-class security are always at the forefront of the President's mind, and they’re his top priorities. It is also a high priority of the President to take action to both enhance our energy independence and reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the environment. And he did that in his first term by passing the historic increase in fuel efficiency standards that will have an enormous positive effect on carbon emissions.
Q The host of the first fundraiser yesterday is very opposed to Keystone. Did the President discuss that with him beforehand? And how does the President feel about the actions that he's taking regarding the Massachusetts race?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't discussed that with the President, and I don’t have any private conversations to read out to you between the President and anybody yesterday.
Q If you could get back to us -- because at the top, the President said that he discussed kind of climate change with Tom Steyer, the host of the first event. If Keystone was part of that, if you could get back to us on that, that would be helpful.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to read out a private conversation. I think the President -- look, the President addressed this to the extent that he did, and I would refer you to his remarks.
Q Jay, on the President’s decision to give 5 percent of his pay back to the Treasury Department, when did he make that decision? Was it his idea?
MR. CARNEY: It was his idea. Right when the implementation of the sequester was upon us, the President indicated to staff that this was something he would like to do. He was aware, obviously, and mindful of the fact that hardworking Americans across the federal government, across the country would be affected by the implementation of the sequester -- the regrettable implementation of the sequester and indicated that this was something he wanted to do.
Q Jay, just another quick comment on that. Will he be taking that as a deduction -- the $20,000?
MR. CARNEY: He will not, no.
Q Is he calling on other people to give their pay? Members of Congress?
MR. CARNEY: No, this is a decision that each individual will make for himself or herself.
Q We've seen other Cabinet members take the same step. Does he expect other Cabinet members --
MR. CARNEY: No. This is obviously something that each such individual would decide for himself of herself.
Q Jay, you said he won’t take it as a deduction?
MR. CARNEY: He will not. Correct.
Q I wanted to ask you about the shootings of the prosecutor in Texas. Has the President been briefed about that? And how concerned is he that that’s been going on?
MR. CARNEY: He has been briefed about it. Obviously, a battle like this is always of concern. I believe I can refer you to the FBI for more information about what is obviously a state investigation, or a local investigation. But I believe they’re -- the FBI is where I can direct you for the federal response.
Q How concerned is the President about safety of prosecutors? There have been calls for federal prosecutors to be armed to protect themselves.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t discussed that with him. Obviously, the President is concerned whenever a law enforcement official is attacked or killed. But I would hesitate to comment any further on a case that’s under investigation and about the circumstances of which we don’t, as I understand, based on public reports, we don’t know a great deal about.
Q Jay, you mentioned earlier this week that OMB staff was going to be taking -- was going to be hit by furloughs, I believe. Any further information on how the rest of the White House staff might be affected by sequester?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, there are 11 components of the Executive Office of the President. Other components will be receiving -- staff members will be receiving furlough notices. I don’t have any specific updates for you, but I believe that process has begun.
Q Jay, can we expect the President to continue to make trips like this to talk about passing new gun laws?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you can certainly expect the President to continue to speak out on this issue and to encourage Americans to have their voices heard on the need for common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. What specific venues there will be and the methods that he will use to communicate that message I can’t preview for you now. But he will, as he has been for weeks and months now, he’ll be actively engaged in the effort to try to work with Congress to pass these very sensible, very common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.
Q And I understand from some of the people who are working on the legislation that they are thinking about some sort of compromise on background checks, potentially allowing a loophole for family-to-family purchases. Would the President accept something like that? And what is his expectation when it comes to background checks? Does he expect that to pass?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t put odds from him or from me on any of this, any of the elements of the legislative package. As he said in the beginning and I have echoed of late, all of this is hard, and it has been hard for quite a long time. And it requires a concerted effort of discussion and conversation and negotiation. It requires members of Congress and others involved in this effort, who are concerned about this issue, to step back and think about these issues differently, perhaps, from the way that they have in the past. And a lot of that has taken place.
And I think it’s -- while we are certainly far from having accomplished what needs to be accomplished yet, there has been progress, and that’s welcome. But I think, as the President has been saying, this is going to be -- these issues are -- have always been hard and require a lot of work, a lot of negotiation, and a recognition, I think, by everyone involved that, for example, when it comes to background checks, this is not an issue of registering guns.
I believe one of the representatives from a sportsmen's group who participated in the roundtable yesterday I saw had an article I believe in Politico, and he made clear that he believes and his members believe that background checks is an area where there should be broad agreement that sportsmen and women, responsible gun owners support background checks. And, as he said, I believe in that piece, and he said in the roundtable with the President, the legislation under consideration in Congress does not and will not establish a gun registry. So assertions to the contrary are false.
Q -- what happened in the last hour or hour and a half, but Chicago’s famous movie critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Roger Ebert, died, from the President’s hometown. I don’t know if he had a chance to see it, if the President heard about that news and if he had a reaction, and if he’s ever met Roger Ebert?
MR. CARNEY: He is aware of it. We talked about it on the helicopter ride that we most recently took. And as a Chicagoan, I think he feels the loss in a way that I think only Chicagoans can. Obviously, Roger Ebert became a national figure associated with the movies for Americans across the country. But it is a particularly keen loss for I think the city of Chicago.
Q Did you hear me say -- had the President ever met him, by any chance?
MR. CARNEY: I did not ask him that. I can find try to find that out.
Q Jay, can I ask you, at one point last night, the President said that he expected Nancy Pelosi to return as Speaker of the House, which implies, obviously, that Democrats retake control of the House. Most handicappers don’t think that's incredibly likely next year. Why does the President feel that that is likely?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is always optimistic about a process in which voters across the country decide which candidates support their priorities and support an agenda that has the middle class as its focus. And that’s certainly what the President has been putting forward and what former-Speaker Pelosi, Leader Pelosi supports. He obviously has been out working to, in these last 24 hours, to help candidates who support and share his priorities get elected.
I think it’s important to note that -- because you’ve seen a lot of rhetoric from the other side suggesting that there is something wrong with that -- that Republican leaders in the House and the Senate have been out raising money for Republican candidates; that this is a traditional exercise. And the President will continue to work with and expect and hope to work with Republicans in Congress to achieve bipartisan compromise on a whole host of important issues. And he certainly expects and believes that Republicans who are engaged in the effort to get Republicans elected will also continue to work with Democrats and with the President to try to achieve bipartisan compromise.
Q Does he actually expect to have a Democratic House for the second half of his second term?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is hopeful that candidates who support a common-sense agenda, a middle-of-the-road agenda focused on strengthening the middle class and investing in our children and in innovation will win the support of their constituents. I’m not sure, beyond what the President himself said, as you noted, that he or I is going to engage in more specific predictions about midterm elections. They’re a long way off.
Q Can follow up on that? The President said yesterday, both at the public event and also at the private fundraisers, he spent a lot of time talking about both sides need to maybe calm the rhetoric, listen to each other, and not talk across each other, beyond -- past each other. And he also said that he did believe there are Republicans who cared about their -- good Republicans out there who cared about their children's future.
At the same time, when he left the room yesterday, I believe it's been reported by people who are familiar with Steve Israel's comments, that he was very critical of Republicans. He called them "obstructionists," and basically disruptive to the country. He said that Republicans -- if they don’t -- if you don't elect a good leader like Democrats, Republicans are not going to have a good future for their children. Is the President familiar with the representative's remarks? Does he have a concern about that tone?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not familiar with them. And if you're telling me they occurred after the President left, I don't think the President is familiar with them. So I don't really have any comment beyond the fact that you guys are discovering the wheel here, or rediscovering it if you are surprised by the fact that Democrats are trying to get elected and so are Republicans in midterm elections.
Q That’s an election strategy, rather than if they -- I mean, you're saying it's sort of good cop/bad cop, the President saying it's okay to work with Republicans, but other -- that other is a strategy to get elected.
MR. CARNEY: I really don't see a story here. I mean, I saw a pool report yesterday that suggested the President was "bashing" Republicans. And I challenge anybody to find evidence of language that reflected bashing. Of course, he wasn't. But he does support candidates -- Democratic candidates who support the common-sense, middle-of-the-road agenda to strengthen the middle class.
And, look, as he said in the remarks that you cited at the top of your question, he believes that Republican leaders and rank-and-file Republicans believe in their positions and are advocating for their positions both in Washington and on the hustings. And that's obviously how it should be.
Q But he’s been much tougher on Republicans before. So was he purposefully dialing back his comments this time, then?
MR. CARNEY: I get confused about which piece of conventional wisdom I'm attempting to understand and rebut, because I thought we were engaged in a charm offensive. Hasn't that been the narrative of late, right? (Laughter.)
Q Carney is bringing his A-game. (Laughter.) Let the record show that Carney is bringing it.
MR. CARNEY: Let the record show that I appreciate the comments by Mr. Nichols. Look, both are true. The President obviously supports those candidates and those incumbents who are pressing for the same priorities that he is pressing for. It is also true that he believes we have an opportunity, particularly at this time, to get some big things done on behalf of the American people, things that will only happen if we get bipartisan agreement.
And that includes comprehensive immigration reform. It includes common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. It includes -- if there is a willingness by Republicans to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction -- achieving the full $4 trillion-plus in deficit reduction over 10 years that was laid out by the fiscal commission and others, and that the President has envisioned in the proposals he has put forward, in an approach that would both produce more savings through spending cuts and entitlement savings, but also ask the wealthiest and the well-connected to pay a little bit more through tax reform that closes loopholes that Republicans themselves only a few months ago said should be closed.
Q A foreign policy question. Japan's central bank took measures today to boost the Japanese economy through monetary easing, which may make it more expensive for manufacturers to sell to Japan. Does the U.S. have a position on that?
MR. CARNEY: If it does, it can be found at the Treasury Department. (Laughter.)
Q Let the record show I tried. (Laughter.)
Q Reports that the White House is telling lawmakers the chained CPI is going to be in the budget. Given that you guys have said that that offer is on the table, is that a pretty safe assumption to make that it will be in there?
MR. CARNEY: You know what they say about assuming.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will deliver you from all the speculation on April 10th, when the President releases his budget. And until then, I'm not going to preview the budget in part or in whole. We have said that since he made it, the President's offer to Speaker Boehner remains on the table. It was regrettable that the Speaker walked away from it at the end of last year, because it represented a good-faith attempt to meet Republicans more than halfway on spending cuts and revenues and savings from entitlements. And that offer has remained on the table.
But obviously the President's budget is something that won't be released until April 10th. And when it is, we'll overwhelm you with details and briefings.
Q And the President is pretty excited about releasing his budget?
MR. CARNEY: As excited as he ever is -- always is. Thank you.
3:17 P.M. PDT