Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Joint Base Andrews, 5/23/2014
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews
10:47 A.M. CDT
MR. CARNEY: Happy Friday to you all. Thanks for joining us aboard Air Force One as we return from Chicago to Joint Base Andrews and then to the White House.
I know you’re aware that the President will be making a personnel announcement later today from the White House, announcing that he’s going to nominate current HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to be his next OMB Director, and Mayor Julian Castro to replace Shaun as HUD Director. He’s excited about both nominations, and you’ll hear from him today about them.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Jay, there are some assurances apparently from Russian President Putin that he is going to work with the elected government in Ukraine. And I’m just wondering how confident the President is of those and whether he has or is planning to talk with Mr. Putin before the elections.
MR. CARNEY: I have no new conversations to read out between the President and President Putin, and I’m not aware of any plans for President Obama to reach -- to speak with President Putin in the next several days before the May 25th elections in Ukraine.
We did see the comments by President Putin, and he said a lot of things about Ukraine -- many things that we profoundly disagree with. But we would welcome an indication from Russia that they will accept the results of a free and fair democratic election in Ukraine. We certainly hope that would be the case. And we further urge Russia to use its influence to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere to vacate buildings they’ve occupied, to lay down their weapons, to cease the activities that they’ve engaged in that have caused violence and instability in those parts of Ukraine, and instead to participate in the democratic process in that country.
Q Do you believe him?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll have to see whether, in fact, Russia does recognize and then take steps to engage with the Ukrainian government and the victor of the presidential election. Right now we’re focused on Ukraine’s ability to carry out that election freely and fairly. And we appreciate the efforts of the OSCE in assisting Ukraine to help that come about.
Q Jay, can I ask about Mayor Castro? What would you say to a skeptical member of the public who would be concerned that this is a stepping stone to national office for Mayor Castro rather than someone who will focus their full attention to the needs of the nation’s transportation system?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that Mayor Castro is highly qualified to bring to scale his success over five years as mayor of San Antonio to the federal level. His record in San Antonio speaks for itself, and it has been recognized in many areas, including in terms of urban development and housing, as well as education and successfully attracting business investment.
The President thinks Julian Castro will make an excellent next Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Q I’ll ask a similar question about Shaun Donovan. He’s been -- I mean, his entire career he’s been an advocate for affordable housing and working on housing issues. So how does that translate to running OMB and being the Budget Director and taking on that role?
MR. CARNEY: Shaun has been an exceptionally successful director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under his leadership, HUD has helped stabilize the housing market and worked to keep responsible families in their homes. In the wake of the crisis, Secretary Donovan reaffirmed HUD’s commitment to building strong, sustainable, inclusive neighborhoods that are connected to education and jobs and provide access and opportunity to all Americans. He made critical investments to speed economic growth while offering new savings proposals and ensuring fiscal responsibility.
He also, as you know, took on the significant task of chairing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which developed a comprehensive regional plan based on local vision for redevelopment to guide long-term disaster recovery efforts.
Shaun has a track record of using data to make good decisions and drive results, very much like Director Burwell, who will be his predecessor. He has extensive experience managing large federal budgets and financial management systems, and he has a proven track record of implementing evidence-based reforms to deliver impact for working families.
So I think he’s very qualified, based on his long experience, including for the past five-plus years as Secretary of a Cabinet agency, to be the next OMB Director.
Q Jay, on the Veterans Affairs investigation, is Rob Nabors back from Phoenix? Is he still in Phoenix? Has he reported back to the President? Has he spoken to the President about it? And secondly, what would you say to critics who say the administration isn’t tackling this urgently enough?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to VA for an update on Rob’s travels. I just don’t know the answer to that question, whether he is still in Phoenix. I think we read out or previewed some of the meetings he was going to have and the work he was going to do there, but I’d refer you to the VA for more details.
He has not reported to the President yet because, as the President said a few days ago, he’ll be reporting to the President next week a preliminary report -- or, sorry, I’m getting my reviews confused. Secretary Shinseki will be reporting preliminary results of his review next week. Rob is conducting a longer, broader overview of operations at the VA, including at the VHA. So I don’t have any calls or conversations to read out between the President and Rob on this matter.
On the other one -- I think I would simply note that the President ordered Secretary Shinseki to conduct this review. He supported Secretary Shinseki’s recommendation that the independent IG conduct an investigation. He dispatched one of his most trusted advisors to the VA to assist with Secretary Shinseki’s review of the specific allegations surrounding wait times, and to conduct a broader review of VA and VHA operations. So I think that reflects the seriousness with which the President treats these matters and the seriousness with which he takes the sacred trust that he believes we all have and he, of course, as Commander-In-Chief especially has to ensure that as a nation we’re taking care of our veterans, providing the benefits and services to our veterans that they have earned and deserve.
Q Will the President be meeting with some vets as part of the Memorial Day observation? Anything that you haven’t announced yet that you can give us a preview of?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any more details at this time of the President’s schedule for Memorial Day.
Q There have been reports that the White House has been having meetings with lawmakers about Obama’s foreign policy. Is there anything that you can tell us about that and what the objective is there?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific meetings to read out, but senior members of the President’s team, including the President himself, regularly engage with leaders and rank-and-file members of both Houses to discuss matters of national security and foreign policy, and that’s certainly the case now.
Q Any reaction to the fact that Senator Corker seemed to call the meetings “bizarre”?
MR. CARNEY: I don't --
Q What was so bizarre about the meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know what he’s referring to.
Q Will the President talk about his foreign policy at his speech at West Point next week?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s a fair assumption given the setting that national security would be something the President would talk about at West Point. But beyond that I’m not going to preview the President’s remarks.
Q Jay, there’s a signing of a bill in the Oval Office this afternoon that is stills only. We’d like to wonder why TV cameras are not being allowed in, editorial is not being allowed in.
MR. CARNEY: The President right after that is going to be in front of TV cameras and in front of all of you when he makes his personnel announcement. He’s meeting with the -- what are they called -- the Doolittle Raiders, the folks that he’s honoring and signing and bill. So there’s still photos -- we’re making that available to still photographers. But again, he’ll be in front of cameras and speaking in front of all of you shortly thereafter.
Q Given the very animated conversation the President had with Mayor Emanuel at the landing zone yesterday, is there anything you can say about what they were talking about and why the President was so animated in ways we rarely see him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve known Rahm since 1993. I’ve never had a conversation with him that wasn’t animated. So I think it rubs off on all of us. But I don't know that it was anything more than a couple of friends and former colleagues catching up.
Q Do you know what the President did last night?
MR. CARNEY: He stayed at his residence. I don't know -- I don't have any information about like what he did there, but I know he -- this morning I was talking to him. He said it was just really nice to be back in Chicago. He enjoyed his OTR this morning and just being back, especially at this time of year when Chicago on a sunny day and a warm day is really -- rivals any city in the world in terms of beauty and overall niceness -- I think. I thought it was great.
Q Even D.C.?
MR. CARNEY: D.C. is great too, but before it gets all humid and sticky. In the spring, D.C. is wonderful. But I just --
Q -- missing all the other cities --
MR. CARNEY: No, I just said it’s up there at the top at this time of year. I’ve always found, and the President and I were talking about it, that when the lake is sort of shimmering and the air feels fresh and clean --
Q He’s pretty much a warm-weather resident now.
Q He’s bringing the Hawaii to Chicago.
Q He’s been talking about the -- he did talk about --
MR. CARNEY: He’s certainly been back to Chicago in other seasons, but I don't think you’d be surprised to know that spring and summer are his favorites in Chicago.
Q You mentioned real quickly that President Putin had said a lot of stuff, not just the stuff about intending to honor the outcome of the elections, and that the U.S. disagreed with a lot of it. Is there anything beyond what we already know you disagree with that you want to highlight?
MR. CARNEY: Well, his description of what happened when the previous President left office, vacated his office, and suggesting that the United States and other countries supported a coup, well, that just doesn't square with the facts. We all know what the facts are.
There was an agreement that the President was supposed sign. He had 24 hours to sign it, and instead of signing it, he disappeared and left the city, left the office vacated. And then the democratically elected parliament overwhelmingly -- including the members of his own party -- overwhelmingly voted to support the new government. Those facts are hard to reconcile with the view expressed by President Putin of what happened in Kyiv that led to that transition of power.
And right away, keeping its commitments, the new transitional government called for new presidential elections on May 25, and lo and behold, there will be presidential elections -- free and fair democratic elections on May 25, which is a good thing.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I do not. I’m sorry. I don't think I got that paper. But we’ll get it to you when we get to Washington.
Q Thank you.
11:02 A.M. CDT