James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. As you can see, I have some guests with me today — Ambassador Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor; Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. They are here to brief you on the President’s upcoming trip to Asia. I think Susan will start.
If you could –
AMBASSADOR RICE: Ben will start.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, Ben will start, sorry, and then Susan. And if you could address the questions you have for them at the top of the briefing, I will stick around for questions on other subjects. But we want to try to get through this by 2:00 p.m. because I know some of you will want to cover the President’s remarks at the Commander-in-Chief Trophy presentation.
And with that, I give you Ben Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Okay, I’ll just be very quick in going through the President’s schedule, for this is his fifth trip to Asia, being able to go to Malaysia and the Philippines, which he was not able to do during the government shutdown last fall, as well as to two of our closest allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
We’ll begin in the evening of the 23rd, Wednesday, in Tokyo, where the President will have a private dinner with Prime Minister Abe. Following that private dinner, he’ll be down for the night.
The next morning he will have an official arrival ceremony at the Imperial Palace. This is a state visit that the President is taking to Japan. That will be followed by the bilateral meeting and joint press conference with Prime Minister Abe.
Following the press conference, the President will head to the Miraikan Science and Youth Event that we have set up, which will involve a tour of an exposition, followed by remarks by the President. Innovation is part of the comparative strength of the U.S.-Japan relationship economically, and we’ll be able to lift up some of that science and technological cooperation and innovation through this event. Afterwards, the President will have a cultural visit to a Meiji shrine.
Then, later that afternoon, he will attend a business roundtable that we are doing with a variety of business leaders in Japan, where he’ll have an opportunity to promote the SelectUSA Initiative that serves to advance investment in the United States and job creation in the United States. Then, that night, he will attend a state dinner hosted by the Emperor.
The next morning he’ll have a farewell greet with the Emperor of Japan, and then he will leave for Seoul. The first thing he’ll do in Seoul is go to the National War Memorial where there will be a wreath-laying ceremony. Then he will have a cultural stop at the Gyeongbok Palace. Following that, he will have a bilateral meeting with President Park of the Republic of Korea and joint press conference with her. And then, that evening, the two leaders will have a working dinner.
Again, this visit follows on the trilateral meeting that we had with Japan and the Republic of Korea during the Nuclear Security Summit as we’ve been both investing in these alliances but also the trilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia.
The next morning the President will once again have a meeting with business leaders to discuss the U.S.-Korea economic relationship, both the SelectUSA Initiative, also the implementation of KORUS, our free trade agreement. Again, throughout this visit the President will be making sure to have these types of engagements with the business community.
Then he will head to the Combined Forces Command, where he will have a briefing from the commander on the ground there about our efforts to be resolute in support of our Korean ally and also in the face of North Korean provocations. He will then have an opportunity to give remarks at Yongsan Garrison to an audience of U.S. servicemembers, as well as embassy staff. And that will conclude his time in Seoul.
Then he will move on to Malaysia, the first visit by a President of the United States to Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson. After an arrival ceremony upon arrival, he will attend a royal audience and state dinner that evening.
On Sunday, the 27th, the President will begin with a cultural visit to the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. He will then have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Najib, a working lunch and press conference. Then the two leaders will head to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Center. Malaysia hosted the Entrepreneurship Summit, which grew out of the President’s initiative last year. They did an exceptional job, and are following up with a number of initiatives focused on entrepreneurship that can help grow the Malaysian economy but also serve economic growth in the Asia Pacific more broadly.
Following that tour, the President will head to Malaya University, where he’ll have a town hall with young leaders from across Southeast Asia. So this is a particularly interesting event in that we have invited young people from all 10 of the ASEAN countries to come to this town hall. The President will be speaking — giving a speech there, but also engaging with the young people. We’ll be launching a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, somewhat similar to the initiative we have in Africa, to build relationships across Southeast Asia in coordination with our broader strategy of engaging the ASEAN countries — again, not just at a leader level, but at a young leader level as well.
Then, that evening, he will also have a meeting with leaders in Malaysian civil society.
On Monday morning, the President will leave for the Philippines, where he will have a bilateral program with President Aquino and a joint press conference. Then, that night, he will attend a state dinner hosted by President Aquino.
And then finally, on Tuesday, the 29th, he will begin his day by viewing a new electronic* vehicle, the COMET. Those of you who have may have spent time in Manila know that this is one of the principal means of people getting around. There’s a new electric vehicle that’s being supported by a technology maker in the United States, and so he’ll have a chance to review progress on that project.
Then he will go to Fort Bonifacio, where he will give remarks to an audience that will include U.S. and Filipino servicemembers and veterans to underscore our deep security cooperation over the years, but also our security cooperation in the current environment in the Asia Pacific as we seek to build out and advance the relationship between our militaries.
Then he will have a wreath-laying ceremony at the American Cemetery, which holds such importance to those who fought in World War II. And that will conclude his visit and will return to the United States on that Tuesday, the 29th.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Susan.
AMBASSADOR RICE: Thank you, Ben, and good afternoon. The President’s trip to Asia is an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia Pacific region. President Obama has pursued a strategy of rebalancing to the Asia Pacific region given its stature as the world’s largest emerging region.
Over the next five years, nearly half of all growth outside the United States is expected to come from Asia. Moreover, it’s a region that includes several important U.S. allies, developing democracies, and emerging powers. So we increasingly see our top priorities as tied to Asia, whether it’s accessing new markets or promoting exports, or protecting our security interests and promoting our core values.
The countries that we’re visiting — Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines — intersect with our leading priorities. And these are modernizing our alliances, supporting democratic development, advancing TPP and commercial ties, investing in regional institutions like ASEAN, and deepening cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
Unlike many of the President’s overseas trips particular to Asia, there are no large summits involved, so the agenda in each country can focus intensively on energizing our bilateral relationships and advancing the different elements of our Asia strategy.
And at a time of ongoing regional tensions, particularly with regard to North Korea and territorial disputes, the trip offers a chance for the United States to affirm our commitment to a rules-based order in the region. There’s a significant demand for U.S. leadership in that region, and our strategy of rebalancing to Asia includes economic, political, security and cultural interests in Northeast and Southeast Asia. The different components of our strategy will be on display throughout the trip.
No other nation other than the United States has a network of alliances and partnerships in Asia that match ours. And our alliances remain the foundation of our strategy. We’re focused on modernizing these alliances to make them more relevant to the 21st century and to our security challenges, while building them into platforms for cooperation on regional and global challenges.
Given its rapid economic growth and political clout, Southeast Asia has been another cornerstone of our strategy. And the President’s historic visit to Malaysia, as Ben said, the first since Lyndon Baines Johnson, as well as to the Philippines, will advance our engagement with this critical region. Expanding American trade and investment links with Asia is also fundamental to our efforts to access new markets, create American jobs, export more goods from here in the United States to that very important region.
Throughout the trip, the President will have the opportunity, as Ben said, to meet with business leaders and to promote initiatives like SelectUSA that support investment in the United States.
The TPP is a focal point of our effort to establish high standards for trade across the Asia Pacific and to ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses and workers. In visiting Japan and Malaysia, two of the 12 key TPP partners, the President will have the chance to continue to make progress on this important agreement while insisting that it meets America’s objectives. The President will reaffirm as well our steadfast commitment to our allies and partners, which allow us to deter threats and respond to disasters.
On the trip, the President will build on the progress of his recent trilateral meeting with Japan and Korea in The Hague, as we seek to advance trilateral defense cooperation more broadly. It will allow us to reaffirm our commitment to the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes consistent with international law. And it will allow us to underscore our commitment to help respond to humanitarian and other disasters.
Our Asian partners frequently look to the United States as a partner of first choice given our significant and unique capabilities, and our technical expertise. And indeed, in each of the countries we will be visiting, we have seen in the last few years tragedies of the sort that have been exceedingly taxing and traumatic for the people of those countries. And in each instance, the United States has been able to lend prompt and very effective support to our friends and partners in support of their response.
We have demonstrated throughout — whether from the Japan earthquake in 2011, the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, the Malaysian Air flight 370 tragedy, and now the ferry disaster in South Korea — that we are there for our friends and partners when they need us most.
Ben and I are happy to take a few questions.
Q You’re obviously heading to Asia against the backdrop of the situation in Ukraine. And I’m wondering what your sense is of how that crisis is impacting the way that some of these Asian leaders are viewing their own territorial disputes with China and the threat that they feel from Beijing. And while we have you here, if you could just give us a sense of the status of this agreement between Russia and Ukraine, given that the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine have said that they have no plans to leave the buildings they’ve occupied.
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Julie, we’ve been in close communication, as you can imagine, with our allies and partners around the world, including in Asia, as it relates to what is happening in Ukraine. And we have been talking with them about the importance of a strong international front to uphold principles that they and we all hold dear: the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, the need for peaceful resolution of disputes. And we will continue to have that discussion throughout each of the stops on our trip.
And I think it’s fair to say that Japan and South Korea, major global economies, will — as we have had to — continue to reassess the implications of what has transpired in Ukraine for their economic and diplomatic relationships, and particularly with Russia. And we have coordinated closely with Japan in the G7 context on our shared responses to what has happened in Ukraine and will continue to do so.
But I think the countries of the region clearly are watching this carefully and are cognizant of the implications for the larger international order, given the importance and the unity of the international community in insisting that Ukraine’s sovereignty be upheld and maintained and the global condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
These are countries that are part of the United Nations. And you will have seen that, a couple of weeks ago in the General Assembly, there was an overwhelming vote of condemnation of Russia’s actions. And we all share a commitment to, as I said, a rule-based order.
With respect to what has transpired since the agreement yesterday in Geneva — which, as you know, committed all the signatories of four countries, but obviously, particularly Russia and Ukraine, to disarm the irregular forces that are engaged in destabilizing activities — to require that those forces vacate the buildings and public spots that they are occupying illegally; that there be an amnesty granted to those that lay down their arms willingly and peacefully; and that there be a constitutional process, which is Ukraine’s own constitutional process, to resolve the issues that — the political issues that are so critical to Ukraine’s future.
Now, we expect, and we will be watching whether Russia does or does not uphold its responsibility to use its very considerable influence to restrain and withdraw those irregular militia from the buildings and spaces that they’ve occupied. We’ll look to see what Russia says, what it does, and whether it supports another critical aspect of the agreement, which was the agreement that the OSCE will send in monitors to those towns where they’re most needed to help to facilitate a peaceful resolution of these standoffs.
So we will see over the coming days whether Russia upholds its agreement. We’ve already seen the Ukrainian government begin to take steps to do its part by beginning to take steps to implement an amnesty law for those that do lay down their arms; by the President and the Prime Minister making very constructive public comments today about constitutional reform and decentralization.
If we don’t see action commensurate with the commitments that Russia has made yesterday in Geneva, which we all welcome, then obviously we’ve been very clear that we and our European partners remain ready to impose additional costs on Russia for failing to adhere to its obligations.
Q Did you give Russia — did Secretary Kerry and others in Geneva give Russia a firm deadline on when you needed to see that progress happening by?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Secretary Kerry had very direct discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov, both privately and in the context of this quadrilateral meeting; made very clear the United States’ expectations. And we will be looking to see in the coming days whether the agreement that was reached is, in fact, implemented. It will be obvious as events unfold.
Q Susan, how do you think the situation in Ukraine — or do you think at all it will influence the conversations you’ll have with South Korea and Japan about the air defense identification zone that the Chinese established; the concerns, as Julie brought up, about disputes over territories in that region? And what are you trying to accomplish with Japan and Korea on the question of the IDIZ — ADIZ, rather?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Major, I expect that the issue of territorial claims and disputes in the region will come up in our discussions in both countries. The United States’ position has been very consistent and very clear: We don’t take a position on the sovereignty claims, but we have insisted that these disputes be resolved peacefully on the basis of international law and through — without resort to coercion or the threat or the use of force.
That has been consistent, and that is indeed the same principle that we have applied to the situation in Ukraine. So I expect whether we’re talking about the ADIZ or other aspects of the maritime and other territorial claims, that we will continue to reinforce that American perspective.
Q Ambassador Rice, back on Ukraine — it seemed as though earlier in the week senior administration officials were saying that sanctions — new sanctions could come immediately after the meeting if there was no progress. And then Secretary Kerry — and apparently it seemed the President — pushed that deadline back to past the weekend. Is that, in fact, a hard deadline that the United States is looking at?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, in fact, there was some progress in Geneva yesterday. And while Geneva was a document to which all sides committed, and it was a document with some very positive commitments in it, what we have said is it’s not the words, it’s the actions. So we will be watching very carefully over the coming days to see whether the commitments that were made in Geneva — which, if honored, would be a very positive set of actions — are in fact honored. And if they’re not, we have been very clear that we are ready, along with our partners, to impose additional costs.
Q Just to be clear, I’m saying that now that there has been progress, would the period of time you’re watching, is that over the weekend?
AMBASSADOR RICE: It’s over the coming days.
Q And then the other thing I wanted to ask you about is there’s a report out in The Times of London that the United States is looking at actually putting sanctions on President Putin’s personal wealth in Switzerland — in hidden accounts in Switzerland. Is the United States looking at sanctioning the President of Russia personally?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I’m not going to get into foreshadowing particular individuals or entities that the United States may target. But let me just say we’ve been clear that there are additional individuals, officials, close associates of senior leadership, oligarchs, and those entities that they’re associated with that remain very much potential targets of additional sanctions. We’ve also said that there are other potential ways in the framework of our executive orders that we could impose costs, should that be necessary.
In the event of a dramatic escalation or significant escalation, including, as we’ve said repeatedly, the potential for Russia to move its own forces on the border inside of Ukraine, that those costs and sanctions could even include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy. But beyond that, I’m not going to be specific.
Q Madam Ambassador, are you saying given that one of the leaders of the pro-Russian forces has already rejected this agreement and claimed that the current Ukrainian government is illegitimate, are you saying that we hold Moscow responsible for making sure that these rebels, if you will, pro-Russian forces leave the buildings they’ve occupied and the roads they’ve barricaded?
AMBASSADOR RICE: What we’re saying is that we believe that Russia has considerable influence over the actions of those who have been engaged in destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine. And we expect — and Russia, indeed, is committed to use that influence to try to deescalate and defuse the situation. And that includes vacating the buildings, disarming, vacating those other public spaces that are being illegally occupied, allowing and cooperating with the OSCE monitors and other steps, including public statements that would signal a commitment to try to work constructively to deescalate the situation.
Q Ambassador Rice, can you give us a better understanding of the conversations that have taken place in regards to reports, and now in fact confirmation from members of the Jewish community in Donetsk reporting that there were some pamphlets, perhaps isolated, nonetheless outrageous — as described by the Secretary of State as “grotesque and beyond unacceptable”; what the President’s thoughts were when he heard about that, and what the administration is committed to doing to make sure that this isn’t something more than an isolated incident?
AMBASSADOR RICE: The President expressed his disgust quite bluntly. I think we all found word of those pamphlets to be utterly sickening. And they have no place in the 21st century. And we have conveyed that view very forcefully to all concerned. Secretary Kerry had that conversation very plainly with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. And indeed, the joint statement that was issued in Geneva made reference to anti-Semitism and other forms of biased action and behavior precisely for that reason, because we were so outraged and alarmed by the surfacing of such pamphlets.
Q Ambassador, you mentioned TPP. Would you describe that now in the context of this trip as being at a stalemate? And if you don’t have any deliverables on that, on this trip, will that make it less of a success?
And one follow-up to your other comments about the trip — some analysts are calling this a “China containment tour.” Do you view that differently?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, with respect to TPP, first of all, we have made a great deal of progress over the last many months in terms of achieving ultimately a comprehensive, high-standards regional trade agreement. And we expect very much that the President’s travels and our continued work in the coming weeks and months on TPP will continue to yield progress. And we expect that as a result of that we will be able to conclude an agreement.
So I think this is yet another opportunity to advance our efforts, and I believe that our TPP partners view it that way. And in the run-up to the trip, some progress has been made and we expect it to continue through and after the trip. So this remains a very important aspect of our rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, one that holds great promise for the countries in the region as well as for the United States. There has been some outside estimates by experts that suggest that as much as $123.5 billion in additional exports annually from the United States could accrue from a successful conclusion of the TPP. So we’ll continue to work towards that given its significance to all concerned.
With respect to the trip and whether it ought to be viewed as a containment of China, I would say this trip has a very positive, affirmative agenda and that’s how we are looking at it — as an opportunity to solidify and modernize our alliances and partnerships; as an opportunity to advance our economic agenda, including TPP and our commercial interests; as an opportunity to affirm our commitment to the region and its security; and to show that the United States is and will remain for the long term a major security partner and a force for rule of law, stability and democratic development; and also, as I said, an opportunity to deepen our people-to-people ties and relationships, hence the Young South Asian Leaders Forum, which we’re looking very much forward to hosting the President’s opportunity to engage with civil society and young people throughout the region.
So this is a positive trip with a positive agenda that underscores that the United States’ commitment to this region is growing, and is a cornerstone of our global engagement and is going to be there for the long term.
Q Ambassador Rice, I know you’ve said repeatedly that you expect the Russians to use their influence to rein in these pro-Russian groups, but a day later, a day after this agreement, have you seen any actual sign that they’re doing that?
AMBASSADOR RICE: We’ll continue to watch very carefully how they proceed — what they say, what they do, and how indeed the OSCE monitors are allowed to operate when they deploy, which we believe will begin over the weekend.
So I don’t take the statements of an individual rebel leader here and there as dispositive or definitive at this stage. But I do think over the coming days, as I’ve said, we’ll have the opportunity to see what Russia can do and will do to uphold its end of that agreement.
Q Can you say definitively whether or not Putin’s assets — or whether you are considering sanctioning his assets? Can you say –
AMBASSADOR RICE: I just said I’m not going to get into naming individual potential targets.
Q But you’re willing to say that sectors are on the table.
AMBASSADOR RICE: We have said from the outset — and if you read the President’s third executive order — that there is a potential for sectoral sanctions. And we’ve even illustrated in that executive order the range of potential sectors.
Q Why not knock down, then, the idea that Putin –
AMBASSADOR RICE: I just don’t think it’s constructive, as a policymaker, as we make very complex and difficult decisions, to start to get into naming individuals that may be on our sanctions list. In fact, if you know how sanctions enforcement works, to presage that is counterproductive.
Q China has obviously been looking very carefully about how the President talks about these maritime disputes in the South and East China Sea. Is he going to use the kind of language that Danny Russel used a while ago which kind of angered China somewhat? And on a separate issue, is the President going to meet Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, or will anybody else from the delegation?
AMBASSADOR RICE: On the question of territorial disputes, I mean, I think you will hear the President say what has been consistently U.S. policy, which is that these disputes need to be resolved, ought to be resolved through peaceful means, not through coercion, not through threats, not through anything other than peaceful diplomatic means based on the rule of law — and in this instance, the international law, and particularly the law of the sea. And that will continue to be our strong view, and we have shared that in all of our engagements with concerned parties, including when the President had the opportunity to meet with President Xi Jinping most recently in The Hague.
With respect to your second question, I think that the President is not likely to have that meeting, although there may be other engagements at other levels.
Q Ambassador Rice, you mentioned that the U.S. has demonstrated to its Asian allies that we’ve been there when they needed it the most. Does the administration feel any need to reassure them? Is there any worrisome-ness from them about U.S. willingness to defend them in terms of aggression in the region?
AMBASSADOR RICE: There should be no question that where we have alliance commitments and treaty obligations in the Asia Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, we will uphold those obligations willingly and definitively.
Q But has there been any unease expressed from –
AMBASSADOR RICE: No, I’ve not heard unease expressed. In fact, I think that we go to the region at a time when our allies in the region are very much appreciative of and committed to our alliance relationships. And these alliances are only strengthening in the context of a more uncertain security environment.
MR. RHODES: We’ll take one more because Jay needs to do domestic stuff.
Q Ambassador Rice, can you inform us or give us any additional information on the possibility of a joint U.S.-NATO monitoring of the elections in Ukraine coming up in May?
AMBASSADOR RICE: NATO doesn’t do election monitoring.
Q Well, then U.S. — is there any form of monitoring that might be possible going on?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, I expect that if the Ukrainian government invites in outside monitors that they may be forthcoming; whether they invite them from non-governmental organizations, individual friendly states, the EU, the OSCE, is their choice, of course. But NATO is an alliance, not an election-monitoring or political organization.
Thank you all very much.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Thank you all for that. And I’ve got a few minutes for questions on other subjects.
Victoria, in the back.
Q Going back to the anti-Semitic flyers, does the U.S. have any knowledge of who did put those flyers out?
MR. CARNEY: I think Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Rice have addressed our views on the existence of such flyers. I don’t think that we have specific, confirmed information about who produced them, but their mere presence is highly disturbing. And that view was expressed by Secretary Kerry to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we expect that everyone in Ukraine and the region should, if they haven’t already, make clear that they oppose that kind of really disturbing and highly provocative action.
Q I’d like to stay with human rights. It’s nearly a year now since Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran, and there have been over 500 executions in that country since he was elected, many of them for minor crimes — according to a new report by Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office — which is second only to China. And also, they report that the persecution of religious minorities has not gone down under him either. In fact, internal reports indicate that they’ve gone up. Do you regard Hassan Rouhani as a moderate one year into his presidency?
MR. CARNEY: We’re not in the business of assigning labels to leaders of any country. We’re in the business of assessing how they lead and the actions they take. As you know, since his election, we have been pursuing with Iran a very a clear-eyed effort with our allies on the P5-plus-1 to press Iran to forsake and give up its nuclear weapons program. And we continue to work on that effort.
What we haven’t done is change our view of Iran’s objectionable practices in a whole range of areas, including its abuse of human rights within Iran itself; including its support for terrorist organizations; including its support for the Assad regime. So that’s our overall view. But what is certainly the truth is that in the wake of his election, an opening appeared to see if we could in a verifiable way produce an agreement with Iran for Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons program. And it is in the interest of the United States, the region, and the world that we pursue that opportunity.
Q Do you think it’s possible, or do you think it’s not practical to put pressure on Rouhani at the same time to do more about his human rights record as it is to work with him on the nuclear issue?
MR. CARNEY: Victoria, again, our approach on the range of disagreements we have with Iran has not changed, even as we pursue a potential agreement with Iran with our P5-plus-1 partners over its nuclear weapons program.
Q The U.S. has said repeatedly that we won’t go to sectoral sanctions unless Russia invades Ukraine. But in essence, haven’t they already? And isn’t this — it was almost an invasion by invitation. Wouldn’t you see it as being an invasion already? And doesn’t this set a precedent for the future that this could happen again, I mean, especially because we’re going on this trip –
MR. CARNEY: What we’ve said, Michelle, is that the President has authorities available to him to impose sanctions that can escalate in breadth and severity according to, or in response to actions taken by Russia, or other individuals, entities, groups that might take action that undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.
And our very clear explanation of the executive orders the President signed says that we now have the flexibility essentially to escalate the consequences to Russia as Russia escalates.
So I think your question reflects the fact that there are things short of an armed invasion by Russian army battalions that Russia can do and has done, especially with regards to Crimea, that represents a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we have a number of tools at our disposal to respond to actions short of a full-scale armed intervention by Russia.
Q Jay, on immigration, the Wall Street Journal reported today that Speaker Boehner appears to be telling Republican donors that he’s hellbent on passing immigration reform. Then, his spokesman — the Speaker’s spokesman came out and said nothing has changed on their position. The other day, the President called Eric Cantor; there seemed to be a sense that their conversation went well from the White House, but Cantor put out a statement immediately denouncing the President’s sort of demagoguery of Republicans on immigration. Does the White House think that the Republicans are purposely sending two different messages here as some sort of endgame? Or what motive might they have here about why they’re doing that?
MR. CARNEY: I think your question reflects a reality, which is there is a great deal of internal conflict within the Republican Party on this issue — the President said as much yesterday. The politics of this are hard for the GOP because of opposition within the Republican base to immigration reform.
There is also great support among some Republicans for immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, here in Washington and around the country, and great support for comprehensive immigration reform from groups and organizations and individuals who traditionally support the Republican Party.
The President is aware of these countervailing pressures, but he hopes that, as he said yesterday, the wisdom of passing comprehensive immigration reform will overcome the resistance to doing so within the Republican Party in the House, and that we can get this done for our economy, for our security, for our future.
Q But do you read the signals that the Republicans have that define — their leadership has a defined strategy here, and that’s what’s going on, or that there is this sense that they have to play both sides?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is a certain amount of probably not deliberate confusion about the approach House Republicans are going to take and have taken, because we have seen over a number of months now, since the passage in the Senate of comprehensive immigration reform, a variety of indications and counter-indications from within the House leadership itself as to what its intentions are.
The President is focused on making clear the advantages; focused on making clear that there is overwhelming support in the country, bipartisan support for doing this — overwhelming support among very disparate elements within our nation. Business leaders large and small, labor, law enforcement, evangelicals — they all support comprehensive immigration reform. There is an island of opposition within the House Republican conference to pursuing this, and that is unfortunate given the kind of coalition that’s been assembled here on behalf of reform.
But the President believes there remains an opportunity here for the House to act, and hopes that it does.
Q Jay, can I just follow on David’s question? Because the President has spoken personally to the Speaker and to Congressman Cantor himself, does the President take his cues about what the intention may be at the House conference from the Speaker himself and from Cantor, from those conversations, separate and apart from what David is highlighting as the external public confusion?
MR. CARNEY: Are you asking — sorry –
Q Is the President taking his cues about what the desire and the direction of the Speaker and the Majority Leader may be directly from them in the conversations that he has?
MR. CARNEY: Well, since he speaks with them, or has spoken with them directly –
Q So he trusts they’re telling him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he believes that Speaker Boehner sincerely supports the idea of getting immigration reform done. Now, he’s not suggesting that they would each write a comprehensive immigration reform bill word for word in the same way, but that the Speaker believes it’s necessary to move forward and get it done. But as we have seen more than once in recent years, that doesn’t always mean the House will act.
And what we’re trying to do is make clear that this isn’t about President Obama, it isn’t about the Democratic Party. This is an opportunity for Washington to demonstrate to a broad, diverse, bipartisan coalition that it can get things done on behalf of the country that can benefit our economy and our security.
So that's the approach that we've taken. The fact that there is internal disagreement and conflict within the Republican Party on this issue isn’t new. But what is new, at least in the last year or so, is that there have been some indications at various times that the House Republicans are serious about pursuing this. But they ought to get around to doing it.
Q Just to follow up –
MR. CARNEY: I think we can do one more because POTUS is about to speak.
Q To follow on immigration quickly, it now appears that many who are pro-immigration reform are, in fact, turning on the White House. Today FAIR said that together, both Congress and the administration have manufactured a painful moral crisis in our communities. Of course, what they’re talking about is the deportations. What is the situation as far as the White House is concerned? If you were — if the White House were to, as they’re being asked by your allies, in fact, to limit deportations even further, what’s the downside of that? Why won't you do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this question has been addressed numerous times by the President, by others, by me in terms of the fact that you can't — you cannot solve this problem through administrative action, the broader problem that a broken immigration system represents. What the President has asked his new Homeland Security Secretary to do is review procedures pursued by DHS when it comes to deportations, and to do so with an eye towards the pain caused for families when there are separations, and to make sure that we are following the prosecutorial discretion guidelines that have been in place that are aimed at making sure that the focus is on those with criminal records and similar situations.
Now, I think it's important, and it has been noted of late in the last 48 hours — I think there was a story in The New York Times yesterday about the fact that that effort to more carefully follow these guidelines has caused a reduction in deportations and more of a focus on the priorities that DHS has laid out and that the President supports.
I also think, when you go back to the top of your question, that some of the comments that we've seen of late have been clarifying for the advocacy groups about what the problem is here and where the obstacle is when it comes to getting comprehensive immigration reform done. And I think that some of the groups have seen the comments as clarifying for that reason.
Our focus, again, is on — in addition to what the President has asked Secretary Johnson to do — trying to get House Republicans to “yes,” trying to get the Congress to respond to the will of this broad coalition and diverse coalition of interests that support comprehensive immigration reform. And that's what we're going to keep at.
If I may, Ben laid out the President’s schedule on the Asia trip, so I just wanted to, in the week ahead, alert you to the news that the President and First Family will participate on Monday, April 21st, in the White House Easter Egg Roll. The event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and Easter egg-rolling.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Oso, Washington, to view the devastation from the recent mudslide and to meet with families affected by this disaster, as well as first responders and recovery workers. Following his visit to Oso, the President will travel to Tokyo, Japan, where he will begin his four-nation trip to Asia.
And with that, I'll end today’s daily briefing. For some reason, some of you might expect that I have bounteous brunches at my house sometimes on the weekends. But I assure you if I were to invite you this weekend you’d find some cereal boxes and maybe a couple of eggs. (Laughter.)
Anyway, thanks very much.
Q Jay, is there a red fox running loose on the White House grounds? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: As I'm told and seen.
Q Will it be at the egg roll? (Laughter.)
2:02 P.M. EDT