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Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route New Jersey, 5/28/13

Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Jersey

10:56 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to New Jersey.  I think you have been provided information about today’s visit to look at recovery efforts in the wake of Sandy, look at the progress that’s been made restoring the Jersey Shore.  The President looks forward to the visit.  And with that, let’s go to questions.

Q    Jay, on Syria, the U.N. has lifted the embargo on arming the rebels.  The Russians have announced a new sale of antiaircraft missiles to the Assad regime.  I wondered what the President’s reaction is to both those developments.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we welcome the EU action.  As you know, support for the opposition is a track that we are pursuing even as we also work with the opposition in an effort to realize the Geneva Communique and bring about the political transition that is envisioned in it.  And Secretary Kerry has been working on that issue, as you know.

On the matter of Russian arm sales, we've made clear in the past and made clear again our firm belief that providing arms to the Assad regime does not bring us closer to the political transition that Syria deserves.  So our position on that has not changed.

Q    Did you know that Senator McCain was going into Syria?  Did he carry a message from you there?

MR. CARNEY:  We were aware, of course, that Senator McCain was going to make this trip.  I would refer you to the State Department for more about that in terms of the administration, and to Senator McCain’s office in terms of the nature of the trip itself.  And we look forward to speaking with Senator McCain upon his return to learn more about the trip.

Q    So as far as you know, he didn’t carry a message from the administration?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would just refer you to Senator McCain’s office on that. 

Q    Jay, Senator Reid is saying that there probably won't be votes on the President’s remaining nominees until July.  What do you think is the effect of that delay?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have been working closely with the Senate to have the President’s nominees considered and confirmed, and we've made some progress in regard to that and we continue to work with the Senate to make sure that more progress is made.   

On some of the nominees there have been obstacles thrown up by Republicans, as you know, which, unfortunately, is part of a practice of slowing down or trying to block highly qualified nominees from consideration by the Senate.  But we'll continue to work with the Senate to bring about the confirmation that we need in order to effectively implement the President’s policies and administer the government.

Q    So if you end up having several nominees being considered in a compressed time period, does that -- is that a strategy you're hoping will help highlight --

MR. CARNEY:  Can you be more specific -- which nominees are you asking about?

Q    I'm talking about the remaining Cabinet picks, for example -- do you think it help to have --

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to Senator Reid for scheduling of votes in the Senate on nominations.  Our interest is in getting the President’s qualified nominees confirmed as soon as possible after the appropriate consideration by the Senate.

Q    Well, does the President have an opinion on the idea of further reform of the filibuster rules?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have expressed our concerns about the truly unfortunate delays in the confirmation process that Republicans have caused repeatedly.  The time lapse between consideration -- between committee hearings and consideration on the floor I believe is three to four times longer than under President Bush.  It’s unacceptable.  And it’s not an appropriate way to conduct the Senate’s constitutional obligations when it comes to the confirmation process. 

And we continue to urge Senate Republicans to act appropriately when it comes to the consideration of nominees.  They should be considered and then moved forward on.  We’ve seen again and again where nominees have been held up, blocked, holds have been put on them for no justifiable reason, and then eventually when months and months and sometimes years later, the nomination is voted on, it’s voted on unanimously in support, or with an overwhelming majority -- another indication that the delay in the process was simply about politics.

Q    Jay, last year Governor Christie took the step of praising President Obama for his leadership in managing the recovery of Hurricane Sandy, and it was before the election and it came at some -- caused a political kerfuffle.  And I’m wondering now, several months out, what does President Obama think about Governor Christie’s management of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey?

MR. CARNEY:  From what I know the President believes that Governor Christie has done an excellent job in the efforts he’s undertaken, in coordination with and with the assistance of obviously federal resources, to recover from and rebuild from Sandy.  I think a storm like that and the terrible impacts it has had underscores the need for that cooperation between local, state and federal authorities.  And the best way for us to recover from storms that are as devastating as Sandy was is to have that cooperation be smooth and efficient.  And we’ve generally seen that.

We’ve certainly seen that, from our perspective, in terms of the FEMA response and the effort undertaken by Secretary Donovan -- led by Secretary Donovan in the Sandy rebuilding effort.  And I think that this visit today, as was the case when the President visited the Gulf Coast during the recovery period after the Deepwater Horizon spill demonstrates that we in the administration remain committed to recovery efforts long after the storm has passed and, generally speaking, after the media attention has subsided.

Q    Jay, what do you think is their personal relationship? Do you have any sense of Christie and Obama and what they think of each other personally?

MR. CARNEY:  I wouldn't want to speak for Governor Christie. I know that the President has respect for Governor Christie and for his efforts on behalf of the citizens of New Jersey, and has found that focus to be key in creating the kind of coordination between federal, state and local entities that is so important when you have to recover from a storm like Sandy.

Q    On Sandy and FEMA, there have been complaints that FEMA has been slow to draw up new flood maps that would help homeowners decide how to rebuild their homes, and that that's holding up some folks.  Is the President aware of the FEMA flood plain issue and what’s being done about it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to FEMA for specifics, but generally speaking, I believe that the work of FEMA here in response to and as part of the recovery from Sandy has been viewed favorably because of the efficiency of it.  And the fact of the matter is, since Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey, FEMA has obligated billions of dollars to support state and local rebuilding efforts and disbursed more than $1.8 billion directly to more than 180,000 individuals across the affected region, covering eligible repair costs and meeting temporary needs.

And shortly after signing a $60 billion supplemental for Sandy aid, the administration worked expeditiously to get the first portion of that money out the door and, in February, provided an additional $5.4 billion to the affected states, with more money to support major rebuilding efforts on its way.

Just last week, Secretary Ray LaHood announced an additional $3.7 billion in disaster relief funds to help the four major transit agencies in New York and New Jersey that sustained the greatest damage from Hurricane Sandy.  The Sandy Task Force, as I mentioned before, is led by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and it along with FEMA continue to work closely with our state and local partners as they make decisions about long-term rebuilding needs. 
I think as you will hear from the President today, what we know is that more work needs to be done -- one of the reasons why we’re here is to make it clear that the recovery effort is not complete and that work needs to be done.  And when there are issues that arise that need attention, the President is committed to ensuring that his administration, whether its through the task force led by Secretary Donovan or through FEMA, will respond and continue the efforts that began immediately after landfall.

Q    Jay, was this visit at the President’s request or Governor Christie’s request?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know about the origin of the visit.  These kinds of visits are always done in coordination with the state as well as the administration.

Q    Jay, the Post says there’s a report that key U.S. weapons designs have been hacked supposedly by China.  Is this a fact, and is this going to be the lead item for discussion with the Chinese President?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ve seen the report.  I would refer you to the Pentagon for specifics about the potential hacking of weapon systems.  But I would note, as you’ve heard from the President, his National Security Advisor and others, as well as myself, cyber-security is a key priority of this administration.  It is a key concern that we have.  It is an issue that we raise at every level in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts and I’m sure will be a topic of discussion when the President meets with President Xi in California in early June.  It was certainly a topic of conversation when National Security Advisor Donilon was having meetings in China, from which he is just returning now.

Q    And just to clarify -- earlier on Syria, when it was asked, did the White House relay a message through Senator McCain, you said to ask John McCain?  Why would McCain answer that question?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d just refer you to Senator McCain for details on his visit.  I can simply say because I've been asked, and others have, that the administration was, of course, aware that he was making the trip.  Beyond that, we tend to refer members of Congress to comment on their congressional --

Q    You don't want to comment on --

MR. CARNEY:  I think as a rule we refer to members of Congress to take questions about their visits abroad.

Q    Can I ask you a quick question on Iraq?  There’s been a ton of violence in Iraq -- car bombs and as many as 350 deaths in the last couple of weeks.  Is this something that the U.S. is monitoring even though our war there is complete?  What’s your reaction?

MR. CARNEY:  We have an important and ongoing relationship with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people.  We engage with the government on issues all the time.  And it’s something that we continue to monitor and continue to provide advice on both with Iraq and with countries in the region.  This is a matter that I know, from having worked with him on it, the Vice President remains concerned about and focused on.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks.

11:12 A.M. EDT

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