Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EDT
Q Two quick things on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association.
MR. EARNEST: Please do.
Q We want to thank you for letting the entire pool in yesterday for the Secret Service event. And we hope that --
MR. EARNEST: We’re glad you enjoyed it.
Q We hope it rubs off on Mr. Carney when he returns to the podium. (Laughter.)
Q Pass that along, too.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, he deserves as much credit for getting in there as I do.
Q Thank you. Media people come and go and we don’t always get to acknowledge that. We don’t get to acknowledge the men and women who work behind the cameras as well. And I just wanted to very quickly thank you for letting us thank Mike Greene, cameraman at CNN, who’s retiring. And to be fair and balanced, a Fox White House producer, former producer, Dave Shott, left us yesterday after 17 years. He’s going to the NFL Network, which is a very cool job.
But Mike has been here for 25 years. (Applause.)
Q Obviously, I didn’t have the sense to leave. (Laughter.)
Q Number of Presidents -- five. Miles flown on Air Force One and the press charter -- probably hundreds of thousands. And having cheese on the charter -- priceless. (Laughter.)
I wanted to say thanks, and I want to yield to the gentle lady from CNN who wants to say something.
Q Mike has been looking forward to this day since we got here. He’s been counting down. (Laughter.) Every day might be State of the Union day to us, but it was 52 days until retirement for Mike. You always have a great attitude and make us look great. And thanks to everybody for your indulgence. (Applause.) Thank you.
Q It means a lot coming from the likes of you. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Congratulations, Mike.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. EARNEST: I’ve got two quick things I wanted to do at the top. Later this afternoon, delivering on a promise from his State of the Union address, President Obama will sign an executive order creating a presidential commission on election administration. As you may remember, the commission will be chaired by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, who, among other leadership roles, served as the general counsel for the President’s reelection campaign and the national counsel for Governor Romney’s campaign, respectively. We thank them for the hard work they’ve already dedicated to this effort and for the hours and experience they’ll donate to ensuring its success in the months ahead.
The executive order will direct the commission to submit a final report to the President within six months of the commission’s first public meeting, and it will also ask them to consider a variety of ways to shorten lines and promote the efficient conduct of elections.
That report is intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voters’ experience at the polls under their existing election laws. The President also continues to support legislative efforts in Congress to improve the voting experience, make voter registration easier, and increase access to voting for all Americans.
I know that after the State of the Union address, many of you were interested in how this process would advance, and we’ll have -- it will advance this afternoon when the President signs the executive order. As usual, we’ll distribute the text of the executive order after the President has signed it.
Q When is that going to be?
MR. EARNEST: It will be later this afternoon.
Q Pool coverage?
MR. EARNEST: Not this time.
Q Oh, Josh. Your batting average has dropped. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: The second thing I wanted to announce -- I know this is something that we discussed quite a bit yesterday -- about the date that the budget would come out. I know so many of you plan your social lives and professional lives around this. The budget will be released on April 10th of this year. So let’s get the countdown clock started on the appropriate networks.
With that, Josh, I think I’ve exhausted all of my announcements. So we’ll let you start with the questions.
Q Thanks a lot, Josh. This morning, the President in remarks on gun control seemed to be focusing really specifically on background checks, speaking about the broad level of support that he says it receives, and urging Americans to ask their members of Congress specifically to lobby on that issue. Has the White House shifted its focus to background checks as the most attainable of the gun control measures that you’d like to see happen?
MR. EARNEST: It is fair for you to believe, Josh, that the President remains firmly behind the range of legislative proposals that he offered up in mid-January when he gave some remarks on this issue.
As you’ll recall from that January speech, the President initiated 23 separate and specific executive actions that he could do and his administration could do unilaterally to try to put in place some policies that would reduce gun violence. At the same time, he rolled out a whole set of legislative proposals that he would forward to Congress, and he vowed to encourage Congress to act on those proposals. He’s making good on that promise, and that’s what part of today’s event -- that’s what today’s event was about, was ensuring that Congress understands that the President and his commitment to these issues has not waned.
It is clear from some of the public polling that the President cited that there is a lot of bipartisan support all across the country for the common-sense proposals that the President has put forward. There’s also a lot of support among gun owners across the country for the proposals that the President has put forward. We now just need to see some bipartisan action in Congress to get it done.
Q And he spoke this morning pretty emotionally about not wanting to forget about the victims of Newtown, and said shame on us if we do forget. Is he concerned that the moment to act on gun control is slipping away?
MR. EARNEST: No, he’s not concerned about that. What he is concerned about is he’s concerned about making sure that Congress understands that there is strong support all across the country for common-sense measures that both respect the Second Amendment, but also will take important steps, make important progress in reducing gun violence in communities across the country. These steps include a whole range of options -- everything from proposals that would improve mental health services in communities, things that would -- measures that would improve school safety, but also some measures related to gun ownership -- things like closing the loopholes in the background check system that you referred to earlier.
But it also means keeping military-style assault weapons off the streets of our communities. It also means cracking down on people who -- so-called straw purchasers, essentially people who walk into a gun store and purchase a gun with the express purpose of providing it to somebody who shouldn’t -- who wouldn’t otherwise be able to purchase that gun themselves. And also putting in place tougher gun trafficking laws to try to crack down on gun violence in this country.
So the President remains, as you pointed out, passionate about this. And I think that you can anticipate that you’ll hear more from the President on this in the days and weeks ahead.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about what we’ll see this afternoon when the President meets with African leaders?
MR. EARNEST: I can. The President has been looking forward to this meeting for quite some time. Today’s visit is an opportunity for the President and for the United States to underscore our support for sub-Saharan Africa and for democracy. As he has in the past, the President is inviting these leaders here because they represent a side of Africa that is too often overlooked: nations that are making impressive progress and can serve as a positive model for democratic development across the region.
Some of the things that they’ll cover in the context of this meeting would include strengthening support for democratic institutions in these countries, but also in countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They’ll also talk about the need and the potential that these countries have for expanding growth and trade and investment in their countries. That certainly promotes economic opportunity in this country as well. They’ll also talk about some strategic issues in terms of how we can advance peace and security in these countries, but also throughout the region. And we’ll also talk about some development opportunities that would help these countries continue to make progress in strengthening the economic infrastructure of those countries.
Q Can I follow on that, since I asked you yesterday --
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q Thank you. Josh, when you’re talking about development issues in Africa, is the issue of China coming into play? Because there has been a concern for many, many, many years that infrastructure in Africa and many of the countries in Africa has been built by the Chinese in exchange for oil. And Secretary Kerry has said that this is a major concern about China and Africa, just in recent weeks. Is that going to be one of the topics in the --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the meeting. And there will be a pool spray with the entire pool, Mark, where the President will talk about --
Q Your batting average is better now.
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) It’s improving. We’re back on the upswing here. But the President will have the opportunity to talk about the conversation that he does have with the leaders of these countries. And I don’t know, frankly, whether or not China will come up in those meetings, but the President will have the opportunity to talk about that.
What I can assure you is that the President is looking to strengthening the relationship that we have with these countries; that there is an opportunity for us to build stronger economic ties between our countries and -- between our country and theirs. That would promote economic growth both in their country and in ours.
These strong ties also are helpful in helping these -- in supporting the democratic institutions that these countries are struggling to build and to capitalize on the progress that they can make, and to ensure that they can actually serve as a foundation of peace and stability in a region that isn’t always known for its peace and stability.
Q So will Secretary Kerry also do a drop-by? Because since he’s having a meeting directly after the meeting with the African leaders --
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know the logistics of Secretary Kerry’s schedule today. We can look into that for you or you can check with the Department of State.
Josh, did you have anything else? I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Okay.
Q Thanks, Josh. The United States flew two stealth bomber practice missions today over South Korea. What message is the United States trying to send with those flights?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, Jeff, the United States has been working with our allies in South Korea on a range of military exercises that are defensive in nature. We do these exercises on an annual basis or so. This exercise today -- or at least in the last day or two -- has included, in this case, some exercises that involved B-2 bombers.
What we have said for quite some time now, in the face of the bellicose rhetoric and threats that have been emanating from the North Koreans, is that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in South Korea to ensure that their -- that the interests of the United States and the allies of the United States remain protected. And that is something that should be evident from the comments of senior administration officials, but should also be evident from the close security cooperation that we have with the South Koreans, including these recent military exercises.
Q And on a separate topic, the President is going to Florida tomorrow. You said before that he would be talking about the economy. Can you give us any more sense about what the message will be tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: I do have a couple of thoughts on that. As you know, the President believes that even as we pursue balanced deficit reduction, we need to make smart, targeted investments to create jobs and boost our economy. One of those investments that he discussed in his State of the Union address is the need to put Americans back to work -- is the need to put Americans back to work right away building the infrastructure that American business and that American workers need to compete and win in a global 21st century economy.
Tomorrow, at the Port of Miami, the President will continue to flesh out some of his detailed proposals to do just that. The Port of Miami is a major center of commerce and an example of the critical infrastructure improvements that are being undertaken to remain competitive in the global marketplace using the types of combined investment from the federal government, state government and local government, and private investors that the President has called for.
So this is a good opportunity for the President to illustrate the value, both in the short term and the long term, of the important infrastructure investments that the President has talked about for quite some time.
Q So will there be new proposals or is it just a follow-up from proposals he's already made?
MR. EARNEST: Well, stay tuned. I think that we've got a couple of tricks up our sleeve for tomorrow. Okay? Good.
Q Is the President relying just on the bully pulpit for gun control, or is he actually calling any of the members who are at home in their districts right now?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any specific presidential calls to read out to you, but over the course of the last several weeks the President has been in touch with a number of members of Congress, in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to talk about a range of the President's legislative priorities. It should be evident from the President's passionate remarks today about measures that could reduce gun violence in our communities that that is a legislative priority of his.
So the President did indeed talk about his support for some of these proposals, and did encourage members of Congress to take a close look at the specific proposals that the President has offered both because we should be able to find bipartisan common ground around proposals that would demonstrate or that reflect the President's commitment to protecting the Second Amendment, but also reflect the President's commitment to finding measures -- common-sense measures -- that would reduce gun violence in our communities.
Q But will he do it personally, as well as through the media?
MR. EARNEST: I would anticipate that the President will have additional conversations with members of Congress as these measures make their way through the legislative process.
Q How does he feel about Mayor Bloomberg's effort to stimulate the gun control in various key districts?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't had a specific conversation with him about this political campaign that Mayor Bloomberg has undertaken. I can tell you, as a general matter, that as you heard -- I think the President was pretty unequivocal about this in his comments today, that there is strong support all across the country for the common-sense measures that the President has put forward and for some of the measures that are going to be considered in the Senate in the next couple of weeks.
And he was pretty candid about encouraging members of Congress -- or about citizens to contact members of Congress to encourage them to support these proposals. And if there are others across the country who want to make a similar appeal to citizens, to contact their members of Congress and encourage them to support these common-sense measures, the President certainly welcomes that.
Q So he wouldn't object to what Mayor Bloomberg is doing?
MR. EARNEST: No, not at all.
Q And one other question. Is he going to throw out the first pitch somewhere?
MR. EARNEST: That's a good question. I haven't seen that on the schedule yet. But if we add that, we'll let you know. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun.
Q Why not? (Laughter.) And take the pool, will you?
MR. EARNEST: We will.
Q On Bill's question about guns -- obviously, we should note that Republicans are threatening a filibuster in the Senate, and most Republicans in the Senate and House are talking about opposing a lot of these gun control measures. But, as you know, there's a core group of Democrats in the Senate -- maybe about a dozen or so -- who, when the President said today some people are getting squishy, that includes some Democrats as well. In addition to the calls that he might make that Bill was talking about and the targeting that Mayor Bloomberg is doing of Republicans and what not, are there Democrats the President is going to call out and say, look, you've got to come along here, this is an important issue for me?
MR. EARNEST: I'm confident that the President will be speaking to both Democrats and Republicans about his strong support for these proposals. As I mentioned -- and I think the President mentioned this in his remarks as well -- that if you take a look at some of the polls that have been conducted, not just polls of members of Congress, but polls of Americans across the country, that there is very strong support for many of the initiatives that the President has put forward.
Closing loopholes in the background check system is probably the best example of this. There are a couple of polls I've seen now that demonstrate that 90 percent of Americans support closing loopholes in the background check system. And those aren't just Democrats that these polls are surveying. These polls include Republicans -- about 86 percent of Republicans in a recent poll are supportive of efforts to close loopholes in the background check system. And the other thing that I think is notable about this is that these polls also include surveys of gun owners, and 86 percent of gun owners actually support closing loopholes in the background check system.
The President and his spokespeople often will talk about the need to find common ground. It is not hard to find common ground on this issue. It is clear that the American people agree that, for example, closing background checks is a pretty good place to start in terms of common-sense measures that would reduce gun violence.
Q On the issue of common ground, on guns, he wants that. He says, on immigration reform -- he did these interviews yesterday saying he wants bipartisanship. And he is having dinner with Senate Republicans, we hear, in a couple of weeks to talk about grand bargain again. If he wants --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think he'll cover a range of his legislative priorities in that dinner. So I wouldn’t be surprised -- I guess to Bill's question, I wouldn't be surprised if the President's support for some of these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence does actually come up at the dinner. This is something that is a legislative priority of the President's, and I'm confident that will come up at the dinner.
Now, I think, at the same time, the President is very interested in having this dinner because he is looking forward to the opportunity to hear from these senators. So they'll have a healthy conversation, but it will include some of these common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.
Q So my question is he wants to have that healthy conversation, he wants bipartisanship on all of these issues, and yet, we hear next week he is going out fundraising back on the campaign trail to help elect House Democrats for 2014. When Jay Carney was asked about this a couple of weeks ago -- I think there was a Washington Post story saying the President was going to be focused on 2014, putting Nancy Pelosi back in as Speaker, and he said, no, no, that's not his focus. And here we are beginning of April, way before the 2014 election. Why is he going fundraising already?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has some responsibilities as the head of the Democratic Party to support other Democrats. I don't think that's particularly surprising. And I don't think that the President views those two activities as being in conflict. There is an opportunity for the President to try to build common ground in Washington, D.C., to advance his agenda. And whether it is measures like closing loopholes for background checks that have strong bipartisan support -- we're seeing bipartisan support for some of the immigration proposals that are being discussed in the Senate right now. There's even some pretty good bipartisan support around some of the budget proposals. Now, that hasn't necessarily yielded prompt legislative action, but there are Republicans who are sending signals that they agree with the President's balanced approach, or are at least willing to consider it.
So it is certainly possible for the President to continue to move forward in a bipartisan fashion on a range of his own legislative priorities while fulfilling his responsibilities in his support for Democrats in elections. I think the thing that's notable about this -- and I think you alluded to it in your question -- these elections are almost two years away, or at least more than a year and a half away. So there's no reason we need to get wrapped up in discussions about elections. There's plenty of work to do here in Washington, D.C., before we turn our attention to the midterm elections.
Q Last quick thing. He is meeting with the African leaders, you mentioned, this afternoon. He just came back, obviously, from an important foreign trip. Gallup had a survey earlier this month that surveyed citizens in 130 countries, and they found that median approval of U.S. leadership around the world has declined by eight points from 2009, when the President took office, down to 41 percent -- the lowest of his presidency. He obviously made a big deal in the 2008 campaign saying, I want to restore America's standing in the world. Why then do you think it's still in a pretty low standing right now?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen that poll. The thing that I would say is I think that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that American leadership on President Obama's watch has strengthened significantly. I think that was evident anecdotally in the speech that the President delivered in Jerusalem. The reaction that he got from a crowd of Israeli citizens I think was really powerful, and I think that that was reflected in some of the coverage from those remarks.
The President has an upcoming trip to Mexico and Costa Rica at the end of next month, and that will be an opportunity, again, for him to talk about how we can strengthen the ties between the U.S. and Central America -- that there are important people-to-people ties, that there are a lot of immigrants to this country that originated in Central America, so that there are strong cultural and individual ties. There are also strong economic ties, and that there is an opportunity for us to build on that relationship in a way that strengthens the economy here in the U.S.
So there’s an opportunity for the President to demonstrate his leadership in the international community in a really important way, and I think that has been enhanced over the course of his presidency.
Q May I follow on the dinner?
MR. EARNEST: Sure, Jessica.
Q What kind of work is the President doing in between these two dinners to build his relationship with Republican senators?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don't have any specific conversations or calls to read out to you. What the President has certainly demonstrated I think over the course of the last several weeks in particular is his interest in trying to build a rapport, even if it’s just socially, with members of Congress, rank-and-file members of Congress.
And the President is hopeful that that can lay the foundation for constructive dialogue and progress on a range of legislative priorities. We haven’t seen that yet. But this is a process and an effort that I think should be judged over the long term, and I think you’ll do that.
Q Okay, so to dial back and try to come at it at a different direction -- is the White House laying groundwork in between these two dinners to try to get something concrete out of the next dinner?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t anticipate a specific agreement or an avail in the lobby of some restaurant here in Washington to announce a bipartisan agreement on something.
Again, I think these are -- the dinner that the President had at the beginning of this month and the dinner that he’ll have at the beginning of next month are an opportunity for him to lay the groundwork for future agreements. And I think that this is something that I know I’ve been asked about previously, and I know that many people lament the deteriorating social relationships between senior figures in Washington, D.C. that previously -- that there have been -- that some people have speculated that personal relationships have been important to bipartisan agreements. I don't think anybody -- and I don't think even the people who are asking me the question were thinking or were suggesting that just showing up at a cocktail party was going to be the difference between getting a bipartisan agreement and not. But we’re hopeful and the President is hopeful that establishing a useful rapport can be helpful in fostering constructive dialogue down the road.
Now, the other thing I think that the President has found interesting about this process is he has found it helpful to hear directly from these members of Congress about their priorities and their perspectives on some of these things. It’s a helpful dialogue to try to find some common ground. I think many members of Congress have expressed a similar view -- that there were positions that the President has long supported that they weren’t aware of.
And so this is an opportunity for them to put aside the posturing -- to do so without having to worry about the prying eyes of the media, but to actually have a private conversation about their priorities can be useful to finding common ground moving forward. Again, I don’t think that’s something that’s going to happen right away, and there’s certainly not going to be an avail right after the dinner to announce a historic bipartisan agreement. But we’re hopeful that it’s useful in laying the groundwork to more bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C.
Q But should we make something of the fact that it’s also on April 10th, the day you say the White House is releasing its budget?
MR. EARNEST: Just a happy confluence of events.
Q Josh, if I can follow up on guns. And as long as we’re on the topic of statistics in terms of the number the President cited -- I think it was 9 out of 10 Americans saying -- or the stat you cited -- that they support expanded background checks. But there was another series of statistics that came out I think earlier this week from our colleagues at CBS -- thank you, Bill, for those -- that say that support for stricter gun control laws stands at 47 percent today versus 57 percent, that it’s dropped 10 percent in barely 100 days since Newtown took place. And while the President said, “Shame on us if we have forgotten,” and that these families he stood with today haven’t forgotten, isn’t there some responsibility of this White House not to have acted, notwithstanding 20 events in 100 days, to have done more while that window of opportunity existed?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President did move really quickly after the tragic events at Newtown to try to advance the discussion about common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. The President acted unilaterally, as we discussed. On the day that the President rolled out his proposals in mid-January, he announced 23 executive actions that his administration would take unilaterally to put in place some measures that could contribute to a reduction in gun violence.
The Vice President has been very visible on this topic, as we discussed a little bit yesterday. Between the President and Vice President, they devoted their time to about 20 different interviews and events and other public appearances to encourage Congress to take action. And I think because of the support that’s cited in the poll for a number of the proposals that the President has put forward, I think that you can judge those events as very constructive to this process.
But again, we’re not stopping here. You said the President was demonstrating a pretty clear commitment to continuing the effort on this. And this will actually continue into next week. On Tuesday, the President will travel to Denver where he’ll continue to ask the American people to join him in calling on Congress to pass common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. He’ll meet with local law enforcement officials and community leaders to discuss the new measures the state has recently put in place, including closing back -- 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. So the President started on this very quickly, and our efforts on this will continue forcefully.
Q So given all of those efforts -- and it seems, as you indicate, a lot of emphasis on this, including what's going to happen on Tuesday -- still, at least from these stats, and you cited some stats earlier today, 39 percent of Americans say they want laws kept the way they are; 11 percent say they want them to be less strict. That means that 50 percent of Americans, even after all the emphasis the White House and Joe Biden, the Vice President, has put on this, that Americans, it seems disagree that new laws are needed.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that this -- the numbers that you're citing and the numbers that I have cited are an indication that a lot of these are -- a lot of these policy decisions that need to be made are complicated; that they reflect difficult questions, or at least complicated questions, not necessarily difficult ones, but complicated questions related to heritage, related to the rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, but also related to broader societal challenges that we face in terms of trying to keep our community safe.
But the President has been resolute about challenging Congress to take action, and not allowing them to suggest that because these things are so complicated, we shouldn’t take action. The President has said, if there is one thing that we can do that will make one child safer, then why wouldn’t we do it?
Q Following up very briefly on a different note. Last week while we were traveling with you and with the President when he was overseas, he said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be viewed as a "game changer." Today, we learned about a series of new attacks -- these by rebels against the Assad regime, or I think at least 10 people were killed there. But the President said that the investigation was basically still underway to determine whether the use of chemical weapons existed. So where do we stand on that, and how much longer do we wait to find out what actually happened?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you referenced the mortar attack that took place in -- at Damascus University today. We've noted the increased tempo in clashes in the Damascus area. We're deeply concerned by the reported mortar attack on a Damascus University faculty of architecture building today, which resulted in reportedly at least 10 deaths.
We cannot confirm at this time who is responsible for the attack, but we have been clear in our insistence that all sides should abide by international law, including not deliberately targeting citizens. So that’s an important part of this.
The second thing is, as you know, the United Nations announced earlier this week that Mr. Sellström of Sweden would head the U.N. fact-finding mission that will investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.
The United Nations is continuing their efforts to compose the remainder of the team, drawing on expertise from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization. And we understand that they hope to begin their investigation within the next week. So we’re certainly pleased to see the U.N. moving quickly to work out the details, and it demonstrates the unique importance the United Nations is placing on the investigation.
Now, this investigation is only going to be successful if the Assad regime cooperates with their efforts to investigate any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, so we’re hopeful that the Assad regime will cooperate with the group that Mr. Sellström is pulling together.
Q You mentioned Denver next Tuesday. Is he doing that on the way the California?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q You said the Election Commission report will be six months after the first meeting. Do you have any sense of when the first meeting would be?
MR. EARNEST: I don't yet have a date for that first meeting.
Q Also you mentioned Colorado’s gun law. There are by some reports more than 20 states considering laws going in the other direction to put up roadblocks to any limits on the Second Amendment. Is that on the President’s radar? Is he at all concerned about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the measures that the President has put forward would not affect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. That is a priority of the President’s as well. The President believes in the Second Amendment, so none of the measures that he’s put forward would have any impact on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
Q Let me rephrase. There are more than 20 states that are considering legislation or passed legislation that would move in the opposite direction from the direction President Obama would like to go. Is that concerning to him?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is hopeful that we can -- that the Obama administration can work in bipartisan fashion in Washington and where appropriate to work with state and local officials about measures, again, that would reduce the impact -- or reduce the likelihood of gun violence in communities all across the country. This is one of the reasons that we’re going to Colorado to talk to law enforcement officials and other elected officials in Colorado who have recently taken steps that would make their community safer there in Colorado.
Q We know the -- Secretary of State Kerry will be here this afternoon. And we also know that he has been speaking to his counterparts in NATO, in the region, in the Far East, as well as Defense Secretary Hagel. How much of that meeting with the Vice President and President will the discussion of the provocative actions and statements from North Korea be a part?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you’re referring to the regular weekly meeting that the President has with him. We have made it a practice not to read out the details of that meeting. But suffice it to say that Secretary Kerry has had a very busy travel itinerary over the course of the last week, so I think they’ll have a lot of things to discuss.
The other part of this -- and I think you could get more detail on this from the State Department -- but the State -- senior officials at the State Department have been in regular contact with our colleagues throughout Northeast Asia to talk to them about the continued provocative acts from the North Koreans, and the provocative statements from the North Koreans. As I mentioned a little bit in the briefing yesterday, our allies in the region have a significant stake in resolving those tensions in a diplomatic way and without violence. So I’m confident that our diplomats in the region and our diplomats here in Washington have been coordinating with their counterparts as we work through a delicate situation there.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Goyal.
Q Two questions, thank you. Secretary Kerry just came back from Afghanistan, and people of Afghanistan now asking and they trust now President Obama as ending the war, and also what they're asking me now, what is their future after U.S. or NATO leaves Afghanistan? Was Secretary Kerry carrying any -- carrying any message from the President for the people of Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that might be a better question for the State Department, because they can give you more details about the conversations the Secretary had during his trip.
But as the President has expressed many times that the American people want to continue to work with the Afghan people to help them build the democratic institutions that are going to be critical to the safety and security and stability of that country moving forward, even after the war has ended there.
Q And second, as far as the immigration issue is concerned on Capitol Hill, like you’ve been mentioning for the last couple of days, progress has been made there. Talking to more of the Latinos and also illegal people in this country, now they have more faith and trust in President Obama than four years ago. What they are now saying is that time has come for the President to bring them out of the shadow, and working in bad conditions or low wages, and all that. And they are willing to pay taxes and also whatever is needed, just like a good citizen. What they’re asking now -- really, what is their future now, immediate future? What message do you have and the President has for them? And also, what message the President has for the small businesses and its impact on the immigration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the tenets of the comprehensive immigration reform that the President is advocating is a clear path to citizenship for undocumented workers in this country. So what we’ll see in that reform package is a -- what the President would like to see and what the President feels strongly about is ensuring that there is a clear path to citizenship for them.
The President also believes that a top priority needs to be continuing the progress that we’ve made to secure the border. I talked a little bit yesterday about the extensive investments that have been made to secure our border there in terms of the 22,000 personnel that’s on the border, the commitments that have been made in terms of technology, in terms of aircraft, in terms of building fences -- about 650 miles of fencing and walls have been built along the border to secure the border. That’s an important part of comprehensive immigration reform as well.
And I think this clear path to citizenship and these efforts to secure the border reflect a lot of the common ground that we’re hopeful that we can find, to find a bipartisan compromise, to move quickly on comprehensive immigration reform.
Q What have we heard of in this immigration issue -- because President Bush also had the same issue during his presidency, and then President Obama of course has been following and pushing this issue. Where is this big hurdle now? Because this can bring the economy online as far as illegal immigrations are concerned.
MR. EARNEST: There are certainly obvious economic benefits that can be derived from passing -- from the passage and enactment of comprehensive immigration reform. That’s one of the reasons that the President has made it a priority. You do rightly cite that in the past there has been -- there were some efforts to try to find bipartisan ground around comprehensive immigration reform, but quite frankly, Republicans lost their nerve last time.
So we’re hopeful that as we move this process forward, we’re going to find constructive conversations with Republicans in Congress. So far, that’s exactly what we’re seeing. That’s encouraging to the President, it’s encouraging to this administration, and it’s why we’re hopeful that we’re going to find -- as the President said yesterday, that we’ll have comprehensive immigration reform done before the end of the summer.
Q Josh, I just want to follow up on the oral arguments that took place in the Supreme Court this week. In the wake of those proceedings, is the President confident the Court will strike down Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Chris, it was about a year ago that I was actually standing at this podium, in this room, where people were warning of the terrible argument that had taken place before the Supreme Court in defense of the President’s Affordable Care Act, and people warning that the Supreme Court was poised to strike down that in a pretty decisive fashion, based solely on the arguments that were made by the attorneys and by the questions that were posed by the justices. Those predictions demonstrated how unwise it is to make predictions about the outcome of Supreme Court cases based solely on the arguments that are presented orally. So I don’t want to judge or prejudge or predict what the Supreme Court’s ruling will be when it’s announced later this summer.
Q Would the President welcome a ruling from the Supreme Court that would institute marriage equality nationwide?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don’t want to get into parsing what -- how the President would respond to possible decisions that are offered by the justices. So when we get an announcement of a decision from them later this summer, you can expect a reaction from us.
Thank you, Chris.
April, a second bite at the apple.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.) How is it determined -- what’s the process within the White House of how it’s determined when an administration official will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and sit in the court and listen to arguments?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know that there’s a formal process necessarily. This is obviously an issue that the President has spent a lot of his own time thinking about, and I know that there are a number of senior White House officials who were encouraging of the arguments that were being made by the Department of Justice before the Supreme Court.
So it’s not surprising that when you have a high profile argument, like the one -- like the arguments that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, that there would be senior administration officials who have been involved in this debate, or senior attorneys at the White House who are eager to see those arguments take place in person.
Q So have they been to any other of the days where there were other arguments for other groups that they strongly support in this administration?
MR. EARNEST: I know there were some senior administration officials at the Supreme Court for the Affordable Care Act arguments that I mentioned earlier. But I’m not sure if I have a complete listing of the --
Q They were involved in that. These were officials that were just sitting there, listening to the arguments in support of same-sex marriage.
MR. EARNEST: It's my understanding that there are White House personnel who went to observe the hearings -- or to observe the oral arguments during the Affordable Care Act case last year, as well. So I don’t frankly know how common that is.
Q Thanks, Josh. I want to kind of ask you, once again, on guns. I think the CBS News poll was cited showing that public opinion has waned, and the question was whether the President had moved quickly enough or if he has lost momentum. He cited a Politico story earlier this morning, saying --
MR. EARNEST: You like it when he does that, don’t you? (Laughter.)
Q -- in that story we noted that the Patriot Act was passed within 45 days of September 11, and it's now 100 days. Couldn’t he have done more sooner? Or what went into the decision to take it so methodically?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think I would not agree at all with your description of this process as methodical. I think what you've seen from this administration is an aggressive process to move quickly to build public support, and to put together specific proposals, proposals that the President could act on unilaterally in the form of executive actions -- 23 different ones, 23 different proposals -- but also a set of legislative proposals that were forwarded to Congress.
As you will recall, just three days after the President appeared at the memorial service for the victims of the Newtown shooting, he stood at this podium with the Vice President right behind him and he called on Congress to hold speedy votes banning military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and an initiative to close loopholes in the background check system. That was something that the President did less than a week after the shootings.
So the President I think has been very forward-leaning in terms of the way that he is engaged in this process. And the reason for that I think is readily apparent to anybody who is in this room or in the East Room earlier today and heard the President talk about it. He's passionate about these issues. He understands and has seen tragically how families have been ripped apart by violence like this.
And it is the President's determination to see progress made on these issues, and he is going to -- he has already acted quickly to try to build public support, to try to find common ground in a way that both respects the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but in a way that will reduce gun violence in communities all across the country.
These are common-sense measures. Again, that’s reflected in the strong support that these measures have among Americans all across the country, including among American gun owners. So what we need is we need Congress to reflect the will of the people who elected them and act quickly on some of these common-sense measures.
Again, I don’t want to stand up here, and I don’t think even the President would stand here and say that these -- that there are any easy answers to the complicated policy questions posed by the spate of gun violence. But we can't allow that complexity to be an excuse for inaction.
Q So are you saying that the complexity of the issue is why it's taking so long?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know why -- again, I don’t think it's taking really long. I think what we're seeing is, we're seeing a President who has engaged in this process from the very beginning and has demonstrated a sustained level of engagement at a pretty high operational tempo to marshal public support and encourage Congress to act.
But again, the President has taken 23 executive actions that he could do unilaterally to try to address this problem. So the President has taken definitive action, and he took those actions about a month after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the same time, the President laid out specific proposals that required congressional approval that would also have an impact on gun violence in communities all across the country.
The President has acted very aggressively, and the President's tempo is sustained. He held this event today, that I think many of you found interesting. It was a pretty persuasive message to people all across the country to make their voices heard to their member of Congress on this. And you will hear more from the President on Tuesday in a place that is powerful because of the legislative efforts that they've taken at the state level there to act on these challenges.
So again, we can't -- Congress and others should not be in a position of suggesting that they won't act because it's too complicated. That’s not an excuse. That is not a good excuse.
Q Thank you, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: I’ll take one more.
Q Thank you. Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met in Dublin this week for a summit. What is the White House's thoughts and views on the BRICS summit and the decisions they took during the summit, including setting up a development bank?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen some of the reports about this. I don't have in front of me a specific reaction to that. But I can consult with my colleagues at the National Security Council and see if we can get you a specific reaction to that.
I just want to clarify one thing that Amy handed to me. I may have been a little unclear. The visit in Denver is next Wednesday. So I believe that's --
Q We tweeted it already.
MR. EARNEST: I know, I know. (Laughter.) So let's just make sure we get this right before I leave. So, yes, it's next Wednesday, which I believe is April 3rd. Do I have that right? So Wednesday, April 3rd, the President will be in Denver.
Q Is the budget really April 10th? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: The budget is really April 10th. I got that date right. One out of two isn't bad -- right, Mark?
Q Josh, more seriously, just before you go -- on the issue of Nelson Mandela, obviously this appears like this is a more serious health issue than past visits he has had at the hospital. Has the President had conversations with Mr. Mandela recently? And how is he being kept apprised of his health?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know the President has found President Mandela to be an inspiration in his own personal life, but also in his professional career. The President had the opportunity to meet former President Mandela when he traveled to Africa as a senator. And I know that they've had telephone conversations.
The First Lady and the Obama girls had the opportunity to visit Mr. Mandela in his home when they traveled to Africa just a couple of years ago. And I know that they found that to be a very powerful visit for them. The President is being kept apprised of the former President's health condition. And, certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to the former President and his family.
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