The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route Las Vegas, NV, 1/28/2013

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Las Vegas, Nevada

10:07 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thanks for being here aboard Air Force One as we make our first trip of the second term. 

I think you probably saw that the President today announced the approval of an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria.  This new commitment brings America’s total humanitarian aid to Syria to $365 million, making us the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

This new American aid will provide medicine, flour, wheat and clean water, clothing, blankets, boots, and stoves; health care for victims of sexual violence, and field hospitals for the wounded.

The dangers of operating in Syria mean that many Syrians may not know that the aid they are receiving is provided by the United States.  It is a cruel fact that humanitarian aid providers and recipients are being deliberately targeted in Syria.  Our priority is to get American aid to those in need without endangering them or our humanitarian partners, which is why much of our aid is provided quietly and without fanfare and acknowledgement.

Q    Jay, could you talk generally about the President’s mission today?  Is he negotiating the terms of comprehensive immigration reform?  Does he see his role more now as beginning to rebuild public support or trigger his campaign for passage of reform?  Can you talk about that a little bit?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  The President is traveling today to essentially continue a conversation with the American people about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.  He talked about it a lot during the campaign.  He has supported it for much longer than that and pressed for it. 

It was very clear both from the campaign itself and the results that the American people have -- that there is a consensus developing in the United States on the need to do this.  And you’ve heard him speak frequently about it since the election and his commitment to move quickly to try to enact comprehensive immigration reform.  That requires partners in Congress.  And he will certainly note today the promising signs we’ve seen in Congress, most specifically the bipartisan principles put together by a group of senators that mirror his own principles.  And that is cause for hope.

And what you’ll hear from the President today is how we need to take these initial positive steps and continue to move forward so that actual legislation is produced that can earn bipartisan support and that meets his principles so that he can sign it into law. 

So this is I think -- we are at a stage here that is very positive and welcome and that reflects a consensus building around some principles that the President has long supported and an approach that the President has long espoused.  We welcome the fact that Republican senators, including Senators McCain, Rubio and Graham who have -- in the case of Senator McCain, in particular, who has long been associated with this issue, that he is taking it up again.  And we look forward to working with Congress to achieve this major goal.

Q    Mr. Rubio has said that he won’t support this -- any kind of reform that doesn't have strict standards for border security.  Does the President believe that that can be achieved if it’s not tied to earned citizenship standards?

MR. CARNEY:  I would note that under President Obama we have had the most comprehensive border security program in history, and the results bear that out.  Since 2004, we have doubled the number of boots on the ground along the border, raising the number of agents from approximately 10,000 to more than 21,000.  The number of Border Patrol agents along the northern border has increased 700 percent since 9/11.  More than 21,000 Customs and Border Protection officers, including 3,800 along the northern border, manage the flow of people and goods at our ports of entry and crossings.

Additionally, since 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deployed a quarter of all its operational personnel to the southwest border region.  We’ve also taken steps to enhance investigative resources, to step up surveillance along those borders.  And the effect of this can be measured by the fact that fewer people have been attempting to illegally cross our borders.  We’ve seen in Fiscal Year 2012 apprehensions totaled nearly 365,000 nationwide; that's a 50 percent decrease from 2008.  And I will also be able to provide with you more information about the steps that we’ve taken to enhance border security.

We’ve also refocused our efforts when it comes to deportations to ensure that we’re going after those who pose a threat -- criminals and others who pose a threat to our national security.  And the facts back up the success and the progress of that effort. 

So you’ll hear from the President today that we need to continue to enhance our border security, that that is part of comprehensive immigration reform.  But I think it’s very clear from this President’s record that he’s very serious about this issue.

Q    But should the rest of an immigration reform package, as some Republicans are demanding, be linked to certain guideposts on border security? 

MR. CARNEY:  I think we’ve discussed it.  I’m not going to negotiate the details here.  What you guys seem to be missing is the enormous consequence of the fact that the bipartisan principles put forward by senators include an acceptance of the need for a pathway to citizenship, and that is something the President and others who have supported this effort have long supported.  And the fact is the principles that the senators put forward mirror very closely to what the President has put forward.

Q    But some of them want to link that pathway to their own border security ideas.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, obviously these are going to -- the reason why you’ll hear the President today call for action and no delay is that we need to move from principles to legislation, and details need to be worked out.  But when it comes to border security, A, this President’s record is very strong already; and, B, he will make clear that as part of his approach to comprehensive immigration reform enhancing our border security needs to be included.

Q    You said that he today will note the encouraging signs coming from Congress.  Are there any plans for him to sit down with the Senate working group or even, for example, to reach out to Senators McCain or Rubio and welcome them for coming on board and supporting a pathway to citizenship, for example?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any meetings or conversations to preview for you today.  But you can be sure that the President, the White House, the administration looks forward to working with members of both parties in both houses to get this done, and that includes, obviously, the leaders of this bipartisan effort. 

Q    There’s already been a lot of response today from on some Republicans in the House coming out saying that they won’t necessarily support this, so is there a concern that the appetite that we’re seeing in the Senate might not be mirrored on the House side?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, this is a hard issue and there's no question that we will have to work together with Democrats and Republicans to make sure that we can get something that will pass both houses and the President can sign into law.  The fact that some members, lawmakers are not entirely supportive at this moment is not really the news.  The news this week is the progress that's been made towards bipartisan support for these principles and movement by members in the direction of comprehensive immigration reform, which the President supports.  And we want to build on that momentum, compel everyone to move forward so that we can actually take this moment and have it lead to actual legislation that can become law.

Q    Gay rights advocated were disappointed that the Senate framework did not include extending immigration benefits for same-sex couples.  Is that a problem for the President and the administration?

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that it should be included and that should come as no surprise.  As we've said all along, this is consistent with the principles he has laid out over the last four years.  And the President has long believed that Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love.  And the President's position on this is consistent with how we've approached prosecutorial discretion at DHS and others.  So I think it should not be a surprise and it would be entirely inconsistent not to have that position.

Q    So you have anything more on Egypt?  The army chief there today warned that the country could possibly collapse if these protests and the political crisis there continues.  Do you share that assessment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you heard from me yesterday our concern about the violence in Egypt and our call to all Egyptians to express themselves peacefully.  And we call on all Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to make clear that violence and looting is not acceptable and to actively work to prevent further violence.  Egyptians need to engage in a peaceful process in order to reach a lasting solution to the current unrest.  This democratic process must adhere to the rights of all Egyptians.  And we look to the government of Egypt to ensure that the people's right to due process is protected. 

We're closely monitoring what's happening in Egypt.  And, again, as I said yesterday, a long-term solution here has to adhere to the rights of all Egyptians.

Q    Jay, was the decision on the additional humanitarian aid in Syria prompted by any sense of a specific deterioration and conditions on the ground or by feedback from other outside groups, the U.N. special rep, or anything like that?

MR. CARNEY:  I think for specifics, you might want to address that to the State Department.  The situation on the ground has obviously been a concern to the United States and other nations.  The aid that we announced today comes on top of significant aid we've already provided.  We already were the largest donor of humanitarian aid.  And the aid we've announced today represents the administration's commitment to the Syrian people and assisting them in this very difficult time. 

But I don't know of a specific trigger to that.  The amount of humanitarian aid has obviously been building as the crisis has continued. 

Q    There was a report that the U.S. signed a status of forces agreement in Niger, I believe it was, to have the option to put military personnel on the ground there.  Does that open the door to potential basing of drones in there or elsewhere in West Africa?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the Defense Department for possible basing options in the future.  I don’t have anything on that for you. 

Q    We got an alert on LaHood right before we took off.  Do you have anything on is he leaving?

MR. CARNEY:  Secretary LaHood is announcing that he is stepping down.  And you will hear -- will have a statement from the President about his appreciation for Secretary LaHood's exceptional service in his Cabinet, and his friendship.  But, yes, I believe that’s being announced as we fly west. 

Thanks, guys.

10:25 A.M. EST

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