Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 1, 2013 – 12:53 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. It’s very good to see you. Thanks for taking care of Josh in my absence last week.
Before I take your questions, I want to say a couple of things. One, and perhaps most importantly, I apologize for keeping you here to miss the opening pitches of the Red Sox versus Yankees game and the Marlins at the Nationals here. I, for one, wish I were at the stadium, because it’s going to be a very exciting season I think for Nationals and Red Sox fans, of which I am one.
I’d also like to say something about the fact that this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced its hearing for our D.C. Circuit Court nominee, Sri Srinivasan. As you know, Sri is the Principal Deputy Solicitor General, but you may not know that Sri was born in India and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, eventually becoming an all-star point guard at Lawrence High School. And, of course, he is still recovering today from the loss by his beloved Kansas Jayhawks over the weekend.
Sri is of course also a highly respected appellate advocate who has spent a distinguished career litigating before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, both in private practice and on behalf of the United States for both Democratic and Republican administrations. He has argued before the Supreme Court 24 times; drafted briefs and several dozen additional cases; and has also served as lead counsel in numerous cases before the federal and state appellate courts.
As a testament to how highly regarded he is by members of both parties, 12 former officials from the Solicitor General’s office — six of them Democrats, six of them Republicans — all announced their support for Sri today. The signatories of the letter, including Paul Clement, Ted Olson, Ken Starr, and Walter Dellinger, write, “Sri has a first-rate intellect, an open-minded approach to the law, a strong work ethic, and an unimpeachable character. Sri is one of the best appellate lawyers in the country.”
The D.C. Circuit, as you know, is often considered the nation’s second-highest court, but it has twice as many vacancies as any other court of appeals, and its workload has increased by over 20 percent since 2005. Sri’s confirmation will be an important first step to filling this court’s four vacancies, and he will be, when confirmed, the first South Asian circuit court judge in history.
We also urge the Senate to move swiftly to confirm the 15 additional judicial nominees waiting for votes. Of those 15, 13 were approved out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously; not a single Republican dissent. And four would fill judicial emergencies; six are represented by Republican home-state senators who support their nominations.
Now, as I mentioned, the last time I gave an update on our judicial nominees, we have seen some progress lately and we are grateful for that. Since the beginning of the year, the Senate has confirmed nine judicial nominees, and that is good. But it is worth noting that, on average, these nine judges waited 144 days for a floor vote, compared to President Bush’s nominees who waited an average of 34 days for a vote at this point in President Bush’s presidency. And it just underscores the seriousness of the situation; the uniqueness of the delay that we face in getting nominees confirmed; the arbitrariness of the delays when you have a situation where so many of them are voted out of committee unanimously and then never given a floor vote.
We urge that the Senate act expeditiously to take up and consider and confirm this particular nomination, but also to move forward on these others.
With that, I go to your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Let’s start with immigration. We got news over the weekend that business and labor had reached a deal on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Any reaction to the development?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say broadly that we are encouraged by the continuing signs of progress that we are seeing in the Senate as the Group of Eight and the Senate, more broadly, works on comprehensive immigration reform. We are also encouraged by reports, as you note, of an agreement, or progress at least, between the Chamber of Commerce and labor on that particular aspect of immigration reform.
The President’s principles are clear. We are, again, encouraged by the progress. We note comments by Senators Graham, Schumer, and Flake over the weekend about just how far that group has come and how close they are to producing an agreement, and we find that good news. However, we’re not there yet, and this process is still underway in the Senate. Legislation has to be written, drafted, and we will evaluate the specific aspects of that legislation when it is produced.
Q And on the path to citizenship, it’s looking like the legislation that’s going to come out in the Senate is going to have a path to citizenship that’s quite a long path — 13 years or so — and enough obstacles in it that far fewer than the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country would be eligible for that. Will the President lay down any markers about how clear a path to citizenship he needs to see in the legislation for him to be able to support it?
MR. CARNEY: The President has said that, and has made clear in his blueprint, that there has to be an earned path to citizenship and it has to be real. It has to end in citizenship. It also has to require folks getting into the back of the line, as we’ve said, and it is part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes strengthening border security, continuing that effort; holding employers accountable; and bringing our immigration system into the 21st century. There are four key parts of the President’s blueprint and I think we’ve seen from the progress being made in the Senate by the so-called Group of Eight that those principles are reflected in the work they’ve been doing.
I’m not going to, again, judge elements of the Senate legislation before it’s written, before it’s produced, before it’s agreed to. And I can’t — I’m not going to comment on reports about what may or may not be in it since that hasn’t happened yet.
Q Well, so then what does a real path to citizenship mean for him? I mean, would 13 years or 20 years — what —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate about what may or may not be in the bill. It would be counterproductive to speculate and say that this would be unacceptable, this particular, random suggestion, and then, of course, find out that it’s not in the bill at all. So — and I’m just using that as a general hypothetical, not specific to your question. So I’ll refrain from making those kinds of assessments from here. I would point you to the blueprint that I think is very clear and has been for some time about what the President believes a clear path to citizenship means and where it fits within comprehensive immigration reform.
Q And we’ve seen a string of disturbing incidents with prosecutors being killed in Texas and the prison chief in Colorado. Is the White House doing anything extraordinary to help with that investigation, and have federal prosecutors been informed that they could possibly be targeted as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the White House is not, obviously, involved in an investigation of that nature. I would refer you to the Department of Justice and the FBI for any role they might be playing at this time. I just don’t have anything for you on it.
Q Jay, a follow-up on immigration. Are you concerned or is the White House concerned at all that Senator Rubio’s support may be waning?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to comments by three members of the Group of Eight — Senators Graham, Schumer, and Flake, who made very positive comments about the progress that the group is making. I think it certainly is a fact that legislation hasn’t been completed, a bill hasn’t been produced, so the process continues and is not finished.
But two Republican senators are on the record saying, and I think I have it here, Senator Graham saying that, ”conceptually” — and this is a quote — “we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves, that has to be drafted. It will be rolled out next week. Yes, I believe it will pass the House because it secures our borders and it controls who gets a job.” That was Senator Graham. You also saw positive statements from Senator Schumer — “I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week.” These are all welcome signs. We’re not celebrating prematurely. We await the product. We are engaged at a staff level with those who are working on legislation, and continue to hope that it will produce what the President has made clear he believes is essential for fairness, for our middle class, for our economy, and that is comprehensive immigration reform. It’s obviously a top priority of the President.
Q Senator Rubio’s voice is especially important in this, right?
MR. CARNEY: I won’t speak for any individual senator, so I would direct your questions to him.
Q Well, the question is if you’re concerned about where he stands on this —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just point you to the statements by a number of members of the Group of Eight about the progress they’re making, how close they are to an agreement. I would also note that work remains to be done in drafting legislation, so I’m not going to get too far ahead of the process and I would — in terms of the comments that individual senators make about possible concerns they have, I would direct you to their offices.
Q Apropos concerns on a separate issue. Are you concerned about the escalating tensions with North Korea? And does the White House believe that the U.S. actions on this are contributing to those tensions in any way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, not at all. The United States is committed to maintaining peace and security in the region, as you know. North Korea should stop its provocative threats and instead concentrate on abiding by its international obligations. And pursuit of nuclear and missile programs — its pursuit, rather, of those programs, does not make it more secure but only increases its isolation and seriously undermines its ability to pursue economic development.
I would note that despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces. Now, we take this seriously. I’ve said in the past. And we are vigilant and we are monitoring the Korean situation very diligently. And as you know, we’re in close, regular contact with our team in Korea; that would be both General Thurman and Ambassador Kim, both of whom are exceptionally well-qualified for the positions they hold. And they are coordinating closely with our South Korean counterparts.
The actions we’ve taken are prudent, and they include, on missile defense, to enhance both the homeland and allied security, and others actions like the B-2 and B-52 flights, have been important steps to reassure our allies, demonstrate our resolve to the North, and reduce pressure on Seoul to take unilateral action. And we believe this has reduced the chance of miscalculation and provocation.
I would also note — and I’ve said this consistently, as have other officials — that this pattern of bellicose rhetoric is not new, it is familiar. And we take it very seriously. We take prudent measures in response to it. But it is consistent with past behavior.
Q Thank you. So just to follow on that — the fact that this has been going on for quite some time, this kind of rhetoric from North Korea, and that no assets have been moved around that you can tell, is there then the sense that this is more of Kim Jong-un trying to establish his reputation than it is anything else behind the threat?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would reiterate that we haven’t seen action to back up the rhetoric in the sense that we haven’t seen significant changes, as I said, in the North in terms of mobilizations or repositioning of forces, and that is important to note. And what that disconnect between the rhetoric and action means, I’ll leave to the analysts to judge. We simply evaluate it and take necessary precautionary measures, and make clear to North Korea, together with our allies that this provocation behavior, provocative rhetoric only isolates them further; brings them no closer to rejoining the international community of nations — in fact, moves them farther away from that potential and possibility.
So we take steps necessary to make sure that we can protect ourselves and our allies, and we judge both — we assess the rhetoric and we look very closely at what is happening on the ground.
Q On immigration — does the President consider comprehensive immigration reform a legacy item, as one of his former top advisors, David Axelrod, said on “Meet the Press” over the weekend?
MR. CARNEY: The President views comprehensive immigration reform as a priority for the nation. It is something that is necessary because it will be good for our economy; it will be good for our businesses; it will be good for the middle class. And it has been a pursuit, obviously, that both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in for some time now that, at various periods, has enjoyed bipartisan support, this being one of those periods. And the President is focused on working with Congress to get this very important piece of business done on behalf of the American people and the American economy. That’s his priority.
And you’ll note that in our approach to this — and we discussed this early on about the reasons behind it — we have made clear that we would like to see bipartisan action taken in Congress for legislation to emerge from the Senate, in this case, or in Congress, that’s bipartisan, that has the support of both Democrats and Republicans, that’s written by both Democrats and Republicans, because that allows for the best opportunity for legislation to become law — legislation that fits the principles the President has put forward.
These kinds of big things always require bipartisan action. There are ups and downs in the makeup of the House and the Senate and the party leadership of each body over the years. But, in general, it is usually the case that for big things to get done it requires bipartisan effort, and this is one of those instances.
So we have — the President is absolutely serious about this. He has made clear that he is encouraged by the progress that’s being made in the Senate, and wants to see it continue and to produce a result. But he is absolutely confident that the approach we have taken of having the Senate Group of Eight move forward with bipartisan negotiations and hopefully legislation has been the right approach.
Q On the prosecutor shootings, has the President been briefed at all on it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I’m certainly sure he’s aware of it. I don’t know if he’s been specifically briefed on that, but we’ll find out.
Q And one more thing. We at CNN and others have reported that Caroline Kennedy will be the President’s pick to be ambassador of Japan. Is she — what qualifications does she have to put her in a position to deal with some of the tough issues in the region, in particular North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no personnel announcements to make, and I have seen no reporting that sources supposed personnel decisions to anyone on the record, from the White House or the administration. So I think I’ll leave it at that.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Wednesday, why is the President going to a police academy in Denver to talk about gun violence so close to — a couple miles from the Aurora theater? Is he trying to — does he worry that the violent incidents not only at Aurora, Colorado but in Newtown will fade in importance and urgency for both Congress and state legislatures?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think those of you who were here last week — on Thursday, I believe it was — heard the President speak passionately about the need to move forward on legislation that would reduce gun violence, as well as the entire package of proposals the President announced back in January. And he had with him family members of victims of gun violence, including from, I believe, Aurora as well as Virginia Tech and Newtown. And he made that point very clear, that we — shame on us if just 100 days after Newtown the memory of that would not still be vivid enough to compel us to act, and the same holds true for Aurora.
Now, the President will travel to the Denver area, as you noted, on Wednesday, and he will there continue to ask the American people to join him in calling on Congress to pass these common-sense measures. He will also meet with local law enforcement officials and community leaders to discuss the new measures that the state of Colorado has recently put in place, including closing loopholes in the background check system to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have access to them.
And I think this is — since that’s one piece of what he’ll be discussing in the Denver area, it’s, again, important to note, and I think it’s important for your viewers and readers to understand, that closing loopholes in the background check system is, as we’ve noted, something that is supported by over 90 percent of the American people, by over 80 percent of gun owners, by Democrats, Republicans, independents, unaffiliated, completely un-political — all types — Americans across the board from every region of the country.
And it’s also important to note that there is an existing background check system. What needs to be done is action that improves that system, that closes loopholes to an existing system. We’re not talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. We’re talking about refining and improving it to ensure that those who should not have weapons cannot obtain them.
And this is something that the American people overwhelmingly support. It is something that we believe the Congress should act on. All of these measures should have a vote. Those families the President was with deserve that Congress vote on these measures and not hide behind filibusters.
Q Did the President watch the Louisville-Duke game yesterday? And did he reach out to Kevin Ware or —
MR. CARNEY: I am not aware of whether he watched that game or not, and I don’t have any conversations to read out to you.
Q Have you talked to the President since his basketball experience this morning? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: What are you saying? (Laughter.)
Q I’m asking you if the President has confessed that he feels badly about missing so many shots?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have not spoken to him about that, but the President doesn’t get to practice probably as much as he’d like to. (Laughter.) Having done a few shoot-arounds with him, he’s got a pretty good shot — pretty good shot.
Q He’s got a basketball court right out there to play.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, well, these are busy times.
Q So on immigration, is he planning to keep his distance from the Gang of Eight so that it doesn’t seem to be influencing, trying to —
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t put it that way. I would say that we, as I noted earlier, are engaged at a staff level with those who are drafting legislation. I think the fact that the principles that are evident in the President’s blueprint are reflected in the direction being taken by the Group of Eight says something about both the consensus that has emerged and the President’s leadership on this issue.
But it is also the case that we believe, as a matter of strategy, that it should be — the best course — and we’ve said this all along — was not for the President to drop his bill, proposed bill at the outset, but to let and encourage the Senate to move forward in a bipartisan way to try to craft its own legislation. Because his interest is in getting this done and getting it done in a way that keeps true to his principles, principles that are reflected in the efforts underway in the Senate, but also in the bipartisan efforts of the past that had the support of President George W. Bush and others, as well as then-Senator Obama.
So we’re engaged. We’re encouraged by the progress being made. And we encourage — we urge, rather, the Senate to continue to move forward. And hopefully the words of Senators Graham, Flake, and Schumer reflect that that progress will continue and that we’ll see legislation fairly soon.
Q It just looks like you may be hanging back so Republicans don’t have a target here.
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t characterize it that way at all. I think that he’s made clear, we’ve made clear that if the process stalls in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with proposing the President’s bill — our own legislation, but that the preferred path here is the path that is being taken and traveled along quite quickly, or relatively quickly, and that’s the process that we’ve seen underway in the Senate in particular.
Yes. And then Ed.
Q A follow-up on that point. Senator Graham, I believe over the weekend, said that once the bill is unveiled next week, they’re going to need the President’s help to get it passed. So given the kind of observation of what the President’s role has been — the preferred letting the process work its will in the Senate — how do you envision that changing starting next week, assuming the bill is unveiled? Can you sort of describe the differences between the current — whatever the current situation is and what you see going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the emergence of legislation. We hope that takes place and —
Q But assuming it does, though, what —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I wouldn’t want to assume that. But I’ll still address your point, and that is to say that the President will continue to be out there urging action on comprehensive immigration reform, making clear what his principles and priorities are. We will continue to work with legislators in the process of both drafting and then pushing for legislation, assuming that it — or hoping that it keeps with the President’s principles, and what the process produces is a bill that the President could sign and that could get substantial bipartisan support.
I think that we have chosen a path that makes a lot of sense, which is having — giving room for the Senate to make progress in a bipartisan way on this legislation. But I don’t think anybody should be under any illusion that we would not be where we are today, making the progress that we have made, if it weren’t for the fact that the President has made clear, consistently and very publicly as well as privately in conversation with rank-and-file members and leaders in Congress, that this is a top priority for the country and that — I mean, that’s why we’ve had — that’s why his blueprint, his views on comprehensive immigration reform have been out there and public for quite some time. So this is a cooperative effort I think that involves more than one leader, requires bipartisan action in Congress, but we are very much engaged.
Q But assuming that it’s something that he can support — obviously, it would be different if it wouldn’t be — but assuming that, he fully embraces it and — or are there —
MR. CARNEY: Again, before we know what “it” is, let’s — I don’t want to get ahead of the process. And we’re encouraged by — you think it’s a done deal?
Q No, I’m kidding.
MR. CARNEY: You’ve been around long enough to know that we wouldn’t want to make that assumption. But the fact is there has been significant progress and we’re encouraged by that. And we will assess the legislation when it emerges, and we certainly hope that’s relatively soon.
Q I want to ask about yesterday’s Easter Mass. The President brought his family over to St. John’s, as a lot of Republican and Democratic Presidents have. But was he surprised, were you surprised that the Reverend León decided to get so political and attack leaders of the religious right, at one point saying that they want, quote, “blacks to be back in the back of the bus.” It seemed sort of odd for Easter. Were you surprised by that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wasn’t there and I have not spoken with the President. I know that he enjoys going to Easter services with his family. And in keeping with a tradition that dates back many presidencies, he went right across the park here to St. John’s and attended those services.
I think it’s been noted that Reverend León has been there for quite some time. He has — I think he gave the invocation at President George W. Bush’s second inaugural. So, again, I wasn’t there. I don’t have a characterization to make of his comments. The President was just attending Easter services with his family.
Q He did speak at President Bush’s inaugural, and also did the benediction at President Obama’s most recent inaugural and said something about loving thy neighbor, et cetera. Do you think this kind of language, though, changes the tone in a positive way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, this is — he is not a politician. This is not a senator or a member of Congress or the President. This was a sermon that the — at a church here that’s been visited by Presidents of both parties for many, many years. And I think — I just don’t have anything more on it for you. I haven’t talked to the President about it.
Q Jay, thank you. Do you expect the President’s deficit reduction plans on chained CPI, Medicare beneficiaries might be part of his budget that he releases next week?
MR. CARNEY: I won’t get ahead of the release of the budget. I want to make that a fun and full experience for all of you. (Laughter.) So I would set that aside.
The items that you referred to were part of the offer the President made to Speaker Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations — the offer that I think was widely viewed accurately as meeting Republicans at least halfway on revenue and spending cuts, including cuts from entitlements — or savings from entitlement reforms. And that offer remains on the table, as we’ve made clear repeatedly since then.
So if even prior to the 10th of the month, if Congress were to miraculously reconvene and want to take action on that offer, the offer stands.
Q And also, can you talk about what you hope and expect will come out of the President’s dinner with lawmakers next week?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward to continuing the conversation that he’s been having with groups of lawmakers, individual lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats. This would be the second dinner that he will have had with Republican senators. The President asked Senator Isakson to build a guest list for it, and I don’t have anything more for you on that.
The President looks forward to continuing this conversation, to seeing if common ground can be found and where it can be found on the pressing issues of the day, and that includes budget and fiscal issues. It also includes immigration reform and gun violence legislation; how we need to move forward, as the President spoke about on Friday in Miami, on investing in infrastructure for our economy’s future as well as for its present, in terms of job creation; what we need to do to make ourselves more independent when it comes to our sources of energy. These are all priorities that he’s put forward and will discuss with those senators who attend at the next dinner. He looks forward to it.
Q Jay, right now we’re in the middle of the public comment phase —
MR. CARNEY: Does anybody have a score on Red Sox or Nationals? (Laughter.)
Q Nationals are winning.
MR. CARNEY: Second pitch of the season.
Q Yankees 8-0. (Laughter.) Sorry.
MR. CARNEY: What are you doing? Come on. (Laughter.) Don’t do that to me.
Q I’m from New York, originally.
Q Does anybody know Yankees-Red Sox?
MR. CARNEY: Zero-zero. Thank you.
Q Not that anybody was distracted from the riveting conversation that is the briefing during a ballgame. (Laughter.)
With the public comment phase now underway in terms of the draft of the environmental impact statement as it relates to the Keystone Pipeline, I was trying to get a sense — without any specific scheduling announcements — when we think we should expect to hear from the President on that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the process, as you know, is run out of the State Department. The timetable depends on that process, and I would refer you to the State Department for what those next steps are and when that process plays out. I don’t have anything — there is nothing — I can promise you there is nothing on the President’s schedule that relates to that question at this time.
Q Understood. Then given just a couple of days ago, I guess Saturday, the EPA classified a new leak that took place in Arkansas with several thousand gallons of crude oil spilling from a ruptured Exxon-Mobil pipeline in that state, the EPA describing it as a “major spill.” I’m just curious the President’s thoughts on that and, as they relate to considerations right now, even if not immediate, on that topic.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken about this incident with the President. We obviously have a system in place where the EPA in this case is the federal on-scene coordinator when you have a spill, an event like this. And they are working with and have been working with state and local officials, as well as the responsible party, as they respond to this incident; in this case, the responsible party is Exxon-Mobil.
We obviously take the safety of our many pipelines in this country very seriously. And we have an agency that is dedicated to the task of making sure that those pipelines operate safely, and, in cases like these that — investigations are undertaken and steps taken to both mitigate the damage and hopefully avoid them in the future.
Q Without asking you to comment on any impending personnel announcements, can you talk in a general way of the President’s opinions of Caroline Kennedy’s talents and abilities?
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.) But it was worth trying.
Q In these challenging and rather precarious times with North Korea, we understand that Kim Jong-un has disconnected the so-called “red phone.” If the President could speak directly to the leader of North Korea, what would he say to him today?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President and the administration judge the rhetoric and actions by the North Korean regime for what they are — actions and rhetoric that further isolate the regime, that demonstrate a repeated preference for bellicosity rather than tending to the needs of the North Korean people who suffer greatly under a regime that prioritizes nuclear weapons and missile programs over the welfare of their own people.
And it has been our position, as well as the position of our allies, that North Korea needs to abide by its international obligations; it needs to do so in order to end its isolation and to better serve its people. Because this kind of rhetoric does not benefit the North Korean people, it does not benefit the North Korean regime, and it only isolates them further.
Q Jay, the President later this week will be traveling wearing his partisan hat at his party to do some fundraising. Can you describe how the President decided how much he would participate in doing that, especially in the context of a week in which he’s going to be trying to build bipartisan support for his agenda, but going out to try to raise money to defeat Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he’s going to be raising money to try to elect people who he believes share his agenda and his priorities. I think that’s consistent with actions taken by past presidents — I know it is — and that’s certainly what he will be doing. But I think he will be out there talking about the things that he believes we need to do to move the country forward. And he both welcomes the bipartisan progress we’ve seen on some issues, like comprehensive immigration reform, and is engaged in conversations with Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats to try to foster more bipartisan cooperation to get the work of the American people done.
And it is simply a fact, as I was saying earlier, that in the world we live in now, no midterm election, or even presidential-year election, is going to change the absolute fact that to get important things done, we need bipartisan cooperation. And that, I predict at great risk, will be the case two years from now just as it today, regardless of who wins what races in 2014. Because that — to do the kinds of things that we’re talking about — immigration reform, actions to reduce gun violence, enhancing our energy independence while improving our environment — these are things that almost all require bipartisan cooperation, and that’s what the President is focused on.
Q And to follow up, sequestration impact in the Executive Office of the President — can you give us some data?
MR. CARNEY: Let me see what I have for you here. As you know, the White House is one of 11 components of the Executive Office of the President, which is, indeed, as we have said, subject to the sequester. Within the Executive Office of the President, several offices have sent furlough notices to their staff, including to 480 employees of the Office of Management and Budget. In addition, EOP leadership has managed our personnel costs in a variety of ways, including hiring slowdowns and delayed backfilling of open positions. And as the impact of the sequester progresses, furlough and pay cuts remain possibilities — or additional furloughs, as well as pay cuts, remain possibilities for additional White House employees.
Additionally, in order to meet the effects of the sequester, many components of the EOP have significantly scaled back equipment purchases and supply purchases, curtailed staff travel, reduced the use of air cards. And they are reviewing contracts that they have on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities to reduce costs, improve efficiencies without undermining their core mission.
It just means that all — everybody at the White House and the broader EOP is dealing with the consequences both — in many cases, in their own personal lives, but in how we work here at the White House, which is true across the federal government because of the impact of the sequester.
Q Just to follow up, because you can be so specific about the OMB impact, and we assume that federal employees get a 30-day notice if they are going to get a furlough notice, and the fact that you’re not identifying anybody who is working directly in the White House for the President as being identified to that, is that —
MR. CARNEY: The OMB works for the President. It is part of the Executive Office of the President.
Q Yes, but we’re talking about — I’m talking about the West Wing folks who work directly for the President. Those folks —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just — I completely take issue with the idea that the OMB doesn’t —
Q There are many hundreds of people who work for the President of the United States — you know what I’m asking you. So my question is, because you haven’t identified those people who have received any furlough notices, you’re saying that cost-effective shifting of dollars and holding down on dollars is for the time being going to prevent anybody from being furloughed? That’s what you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just said that within the Executive Office of the President, a component of that, OMB, there have been 480 employees who have been notified of furloughs.
Q Right, but you don’t work for OMB. So —
MR. CARNEY: No, but they work for the President, and so do I.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure —
Q You know exactly what I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I don’t.
Q I’m asking — okay, the White House —
Q Are those the only furlough notices or are there others?
MR. CARNEY: I have no other notices to announce to you. I can tell you that —
Q Why not?
MR. CARNEY: As I just said, as the impact of the sequester progresses, furlough and pay cuts remain possibilities for additional White House employees. I think you would find at agency after agency, as they make these assessments and make these budget decisions on a rolling basis, they’re having to make decisions about furlough notices and other measures that they have to take, and that is as true here as it is in other federal agencies.
Q Well, why can OMB give us a number of 480 and none of the other components —
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that that’s the number I have for EOP, and it’s 480 at OMB.
Q So the other 10 components, there is no furlough notices at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s what I have for you, Donovan. I don’t have any other furlough notices to announce to you.
Q So there haven’t been any?
MR. CARNEY: That’s what I have, not beyond what I can tell you. That’s what I know.
Q Previously, in times of tension with North Korea, the administration has communicated directly with Pyongyang through various diplomatic channels, including the U.N. Has that happened in the recent weeks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have — obviously, there’s been action at the U.N. with our allies at the Security Council, a resolution that passed unanimously with support from both China and Russia, as well as others. I don’t have any specific communications with the North Koreans to convey to you. I think it’s pretty clear that they know what the position is that we hold and that our allies hold in terms of both provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric, on the one hand, and then what steps they could take and what they need to do to reduce their isolation and improve the lot of their people.
So I don’t think there’s — I think that message has been fully communicated.
Q Has the White House — can you tell us anything about White House contact with China? Has there been specific communications with the Chinese government on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that, in general, whenever we have conversations with the Chinese government and our counterparts, depending on which official we’re talking about, North Korea is frequently a topic. I don’t have a specific conversation to provide to you, but that is — when we’re discussing with our Chinese counterparts areas of national security matters, including North Korea, this comes up frequently. So I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s been the case. But I don’t — maybe State has something more for you, but I don’t have anything specific.
Q Thanks, Jay. Given the ratcheting up of the tensions on North Korea, can I ask one more? Although, you’ve hit many of your main points. Does U.S. support encompass what we understand was a briefing for the South Korean President, which included plans or a proposal to launch a preemptive strike against the North should what they call an imminent nuclear or a missile attack be detected? Does U.S. support encompass that kind of —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not aware of such a briefing. We obviously have a very close relationship with the Republic of Korea and with the government there, and we have taken measures that I think I noted were designed to be both reassuring to our allies in the region and to make it clear that unilateral action is not necessary. And we continue to work with not just the South Koreans but other allies in the region on this important matter, and to make clear what the actions we’re taking are; what our view is of the rhetoric emanating from North Korea. And we’ll continue to do that as this goes on.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Last one. Yes.
Q For the changing of the North Korean regime — and North Korean behavior through the years, does South Korea have any preemptive strike against the North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just answered that. And I don’t have anything beyond to say that we have a very close relationship with the Republic of Korea; that we have taken some of the actions — the prudent measures that we’ve taken both on missile defense and with regards to flights by B-2 and B-52 aircraft designed to reassure our allies, to demonstrate our resolve to the North, and reduce pressure on Seoul to take unilateral action. In total, this, we believe, has reduced the chance of miscalculation and provocation in this arena.
Q Do you suggest, though, a warning to North Korea — or the time that could demonstrate — the bombing to whatever — airplane strikes. Why not — a preemptive strike to the North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Why not — I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Why not what?
Q Why not the strike to bombing North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think that’s a serious question, so I will — I’ll leave it at the answer I gave.
1:37 P.M. EDT