White House Press Briefing by Josh Earnest, July 21, 2016

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 21, 2016 – 10:22 A.M. EDT

Q    Let’s see the socks.

MR. EARNEST:  Want to see the socks?

Q    Yes.

MR. EARNEST:  All right.  Got the socks on, man.  (Laughter.)  All right, now that we’ve got the socks out of the way — (laughter) — good morning, everybody.  Knowing of your intense interest in covering the visit of the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals — (applause) —

Q    Our intense interest?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  — we thought we would get the briefing out of the way so that then you could focus on what I’m sure is the big news story at the White House today.

Q    Clarify news interest today.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Exactly.  Exactly.

Listen, before we get started with questions I’ll just do one other thing.  There’s another reason, another significant thing about today that warrants mentioning.  Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  This is a piece of legislation that the President strongly supported, and it’s primarily because of the President’s belief that never again should taxpayers be on the hook for bailing out the economy because of bad debts that are made by Wall Street bankers.

That is why you’ve seen the President vigorously defend Wall Street reform from attempts by Republicans in Congress to roll back these critical financial and consumer protections.  And six years later, we’ve seen significant progress on behalf of taxpayers in terms of making our financial system stronger and more accountable.

Let me just give you a couple of statistics.  Over the last seven years, banks have added more than $700 billion of additional capital and can now withstand severe losses while still supporting the real economy.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created as a part of this bill, has put $11.7 billion in the pockets of more than 27 million consumers who’ve been harmed.  That’s $6.4 million for every single day that that agency has been in existence.  The $600 trillion derivatives market has been brought out of the shadows with additional requirements that ensure transparency in the market.

And contrary to the predictions of the critics of Wall Street reform, we have succeeded both in strengthening the U.S. financial system and presiding over the recovery and expansion of the U.S. economy.  Businesses in this time have created nearly 15 million new jobs.  A family’s wealth has grown by $30 trillion, exceeding pre-crisis levels.  Average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 2.6 percent over the last 12 months.  Foreclosure rates have dropped all the way back to pre-crisis levels, and business lending has climbed over 60 percent.

In other words, we have succeeded both in making the financial system more stable, even as our economy has essentially become the envy of the world.  And there was a lot of skepticism that these kinds of tough reforms would have a negative impact on the economy.  And the President, and the strategy that we have pursued with the strong support of Democrats, has actually proved those critics wrong.  We’ve been able to do both.  And it’s American taxpayers and American workers who benefit the most.

So this is certainly — when we talk about the President’s legacy, this is not the first thing that comes to mind, but the successful implementation of Wall Street reform, particularly in the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, is certainly an important part of I think what historians will assess about the Obama presidency.

So with that, Darlene, let’s go to your questions.

MR. YOST:  Excuse me.

MR. EARNEST:  Uh-oh, you guys.  Look out.  (Kansas City Royals manager and ballplayers come out.)

MR. YOST:  We had real fears that Josh would get in trouble by hijacking the President’s jersey, so we made a special one for him.  (Laughter.)

Q    Oooh —

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, wow!  Look at that!  Thank you, Ned.  I really appreciate it.  Look at this!  Hey, Salvy how are you?  Very nice to see you.  Thank you.

MR. HOSMER:  Here’s a mug for you.

MR. EARNEST:  That is a big mug.  (Laughter.)  I don’t think it will fit underneath the desk.  Thank you, guys.  Welcome to the White House.

MR. YOST:  Thank you.  We’re excited to be here.

MR. EARNEST:  So glad that you’re here.  I know the President is looking forward to it, too.

MR. YOST:  So are we.

MR. EARNEST:  And this is a celebration worthy of a World Championship.

MR. YOST:  Sorry we interrupted.  We know you have to work.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s all right.  You’re welcome here any time.   Nice to see you guys.  Hopefully we’ll see you later.

Thank you, Salvy.  Nice to see you.

MR. PEREZ:  Nice to see you, Josh.  Back to work.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if this is going to fit underneath the podium here.  (Laughter.)

Q    Are you going to put it on?

MR. EARNEST:  Course I am.  Look at this!  That’s pretty cool right there.  That’s pretty good.  All right.

Q    Is that your first one?

MR. EARNEST:  This is my first one, right here.  I’m going to have to wear that this afternoon.  (Laughter.)  All right.

Q    How do you top that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know.  I have no idea.  (Laughter.)  Back to Dodd-Frank.  Yes.  Yes.  Where were we?

Q    I wanted to ask what is the reaction from the White House to Donald Trump when he says that the U.S. may not come to the aid of the Baltic States if they’re attacked by Russia unless they fulfill their obligations to both the U.S. and NATO?

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, there’s obviously been a lot of discussion and debate and churn about the agenda being put forward and the rhetoric being used by the Republican nominee.  I’ll let other people weigh in on that.  Let me just be really clear about the policy that this President has pursued, which is a steadfast commitment to our NATO alliance.  The cornerstone of that alliance is a pledge that all of the allies have made to mutual self-defense.  The U.S. commitment to that pledge is ironclad.  The President renewed that commitment just two weeks ago today, when he traveled to Warsaw, Poland, to attend the NATO Summit.

Over the course of this presidency, one of the President’s priorities has been solidifying the transatlantic alliance and strengthening the transatlantic alliance, in some cases, even expanding it.  And NATO welcomed a new member, Montenegro, at this most recent summit.

It’s also important I think to recognize that the recognition that NATO is the cornerstone of American national security is a policy that the United States has pursued under every post-World War II President, Democrat and Republican.  So this is a longstanding commitment that has been strengthened under the leadership of President Obama.  And there should be no mistake or miscalculation made about this country’s commitment to our transatlantic alliance.

Q    Secondly, I wanted to ask about Turkey.  They are moving there toward imposing a three-month state of emergency after the coup.  There have been a lot of mass arrests, school closures.  The deputy prime minister there says his country is also moving to suspend the European Human Rights Convention.  How alarmed is the White House by some of what’s going on in Turkey? And also, the Germans today said — seemed to suggest that a three-month state of emergency was not necessary, that it could be shorter than that.  Does the White House think three months is too much time?  Or do you have an opinion on the length of the state of emergency?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific reaction to the length of time that’s been announced by the Turkish government.  What the President made clear in his telephone call with President Erdogan is that Turkey succeeded in fighting off the military coup because of the strength of that country and those citizens to democracy.  Turkey has a long tradition of democracy.  These are principles that are enshrined in their constitution.  And even in this time of turmoil, it’s important for the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey to protect them.

Now, at the same time, less than a week ago, some elements of the Turkish military launched attacks against those democratic institutions that resulted in significant loss of life.  So it’s certainly understandable that President Erdogan and other government officials are going to take steps to get to the bottom of what happened.  The Turkish people have an interest in accountability, particular for those individuals who conspired to attack the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey.

But it’s important, moving forward, that the democratic institutions that were critical to the success in repelling the coup emerge stronger than ever.

And the President made that clear in his telephone call to President Erdogan even as the Turkish government pursued an investigation into what happened.  The United States stands ready to assist them and we remain committed to the stability and success of our NATO allies.


Q    Josh, following up on Turkey.  The Turkish government has also said there will not be a return to the deep repression of the past, despite this three-month state of emergency.  Is the United States confident that that is, in fact, the case?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, the President indicated that we’re going to continue to monitor this situation closely.  And U.S. officials will continue to be in close touch with their Turkish counterparts to signal our support for their efforts to investigate this coup, and to bring full accountability to those individuals who may have been involved in trying to overthrow this civilian democratic government.

But at the same time, we’re going to continue to urge them to protect the kinds of democratic traditions and institutions that helped them repel the coup in the first place and are critical to Turkey’s success in the future.  These are institutions that have strong support among the Turkish people.  I think the best evidence I have for that is something I mentioned yesterday, which is that as the coup — the attempted coup was starting, there were strong statements from all of the political parties represented in the Turkish parliament condemning the coup.  Those statements included an unambiguous message from the political parties that have vigorous political disagreements with President Erdogan and his government.

So there is a commitment to the democratic process in Turkey.  And that is a tradition and a set of rights and a process that’s worth investing in and worth protecting.

Q    In order to start talks to join the European Union, Turkey had to abolish the death penalty.  Now that — the Turkish government has said it’s considering bringing that back to deal with plotters of the coup.  The United States obviously has the death penalty, which makes it a little tougher perhaps to comment on this, but does the White House have any concerns about the consideration of bringing back that penalty in response to this crisis?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States is not going to micromanage the situation in Turkey, but I think we are going to send a clear, unmistakable signal of support for the democratic institutions of Turkey, support for the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey, and continue to encourage that democratic government to rely on due process, democratic institutions, and rights that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.

Q    So what’s your thought about them bringing back the death penalty?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific reaction to that.  Obviously, the Turkish government and President Erdogan are going to have some decisions to make about how to proceed, and as they do, the international community will be closely watching.  And their desire for accountability as it relates to the failed coup is certainly understandable.  And at the same time, I think it’s arguably been as important as it’s ever been for the Turkish government to demonstrate their continued, clear commitment to a set of democratic traditions and principles that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.

Q    Lastly, Josh, on another subject.  The President has established strong ties with Malaysia and its Prime Minister during his time in office.  Is the White House concerned that these lawsuits to recuperate $1 billion stolen from the  development fund might affect the diplomatic relationship between our two countries?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what you’re referring to is a Department of Justice action and an enforcement action that was taken independent of influence from anywhere else in the executive branch.  This certainly is something that was conducted pursuant to U.S. law, again, without any influence from the White House.  So as it relates to that action and any sort of ongoing investigation, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

More generally, the President discussed this broader situation — not the specific Department of Justice investigation — but addressed the reports with the public and with Prime Minister Najib when he was in Malaysia last fall.  And the President reiterated how important it is, particularly for a fast-growing country like Malaysia, to be transparent, to demonstrate a commitment to fair play and good government and a business climate that will allow that country’s economy to continue to succeed.  And for business interests who are considering doing business in Malaysia, they’re going to be looking for signs that there’s a good business climate in Malaysia.

And the government should be conspicuous about making clear that they’re committed to transparency and good governance and the kind of rules that will encourage people who are considering investing in Malaysia’s fast-growing economy to have confidence that they can do so fairly.  But ultimately it will be the responsibility of the Malaysian government to address the concerns that have been raised, and that’s something that the President has been saying, dating back to his visit to Malaysia last year.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  A couple days ago, you mentioned that the Turkish government had transmitted some information to the U.S. government in relation to the cleric in Pennsylvania who they believe has been sort of responsible for this coup attempt. I’m wondering if, having looked over that information, you believe that that is an extradition request and if you’ve seen any evidence to back up what the Turkish government has said so far.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, as I indicated earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice and the State Department intend to be responsive to requests from their Turkish counterparts.  That includes reviewing relevant materials that are provided by the Turkish government and doing so consistent with the terms of the longstanding extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey, and consistent with the principles enshrined in U.S. law.

I’m not going to be able to provide a daily update on the progress of those interactions between U.S. Justice officials and their Turkish counterparts.  But I can assure you that that interaction and that engagement is ongoing.  And all of the decisions that are made as a part of the process will not be dictated by the President because this is not a presidential decision.  The outcomes will be dictated by the terms of the extradition treaty between our two countries and due process that individuals who live in the United States are allowed to — that are protected by.

Q    With relation to the three-month state of emergency, are you saying that the U.S. has no concerns that the state of emergency — which will allow for crackdowns on freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, sort of doing an end run around the parliament there — do you think there are no concerns that this could undermine the democratic institutions of Turkey?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I’m saying, Toluse, is that the United States government will be closely monitoring the situation in Turkey, and we’re going to continue to urge the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey to abide by the democratic traditions that the people of that country cherish.  The Turkish government has democratic institutions that are worth protecting. The rights that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution are worth protecting.  And we’ll continue to make that clear to the Turkish government, even as they conduct an investigation to determine who was behind the military plot to overthrow the democratic government of Turkey.

Q    And if they decide that after you’ve made it clear — and you’ve been making it clear for several months that every time the President talks to President Erdogan he does bring these things up — so if they decide that they were going to go forward with these crackdowns anyway, is there anything that the U.S. plans to do differently?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals.  Obviously our views on this topic have been made clear both publicly and privately, including at the highest levels.  And so we’re going to continue to monitor the situation in Turkey moving forward.  U.S. officials, particularly at the Department of Justice and the Department of State, will continue to engage with their Turkish counterparts.  And the United States is going to be continue to be unequivocal about our strong support for Turkey’s democratic institutions, for Turkey’s democratic traditions, and for the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey.

Q    And then one more.  In the interview with The New York Times, Donald Trump said that the U.S. doesn’t have a right to sort of lecture other countries because we need to fix our own mess when it comes to things like police shootings or what’s happened in Dallas or Baton Rouge.  How do respond to that idea, that the U.S. — in a sort of criticism that other countries have made as well — that the U.S. shouldn’t tell other countries how to manage their internal issues because we have our own problems to deal with as well?

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, this is not a controversial notion.  The President of the United States has a responsibility to advocate around the world for America’s interests and for our values.  And that’s certainly what President Obama has done.  And the President makes that case not because the United States is perfect, but because the United States continually strives to be perfect.  Our goal is to form a more perfect union.  And even when there are instances where we fall short, the American people and the U.S. government are committed to righting those wrongs, to addressing those shortcomings, and living up to the high standard that we’ve set for ourselves.  That is what gives the President of the United States the moral authority to go and make our case to countries around the world that they should try to do the same thing.

So the President has made this case on many occasions, including even before the United Nations General Assembly, on more than one occasion.  So the President has certainly spoken to this.  The irony is, is that occasionally there have been Republicans who have suggested that when the President makes this point, that he’s somehow engaged in a global apology tour.  That is a notion that has been thoroughly debunked.  But I guess it makes it a little ironic that — I guess it means that there’s some ironies associated with the case that’s being made by the Republican nominee at this point.

But the case that the President has made is one that is rooted in the exceptional nature of the country that he leads.  And the exceptional nature of this country is that we have set a very high standard when it comes to our values and our commitment to a set of universal human rights, and we never stop and we never tire of striving to live up to that high standard.  And that certainly is what we encourage other countries around the world to do.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Can you give me sort of a readout on what we should expect from the President’s conversations with the Mexican leadership tomorrow?  And specifically, is the President satisfied in the job that they’ve done in terms of human trafficking and drug trafficking interdiction at all along the U.S.-Mexican border?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, you’ll have an opportunity to hear from the two Presidents tomorrow after their meeting, so you’ll be able to get a detailed assessment of their conversation.  But let me give you a sense of what’s on the President’s mind as he prepares to meet with his Mexican counterpart tomorrow.

I would anticipate that the two leaders will spend some time talking about the trade relationship between our two countries.  Both the United States and Mexico are signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  The President is quite enthusiastic about this deal because it would represent an upgrade on NAFTA.  For the first time, it would make enforceable higher labor and environmental standards that will create a more level playing field for American workers and American businesses that has the potential to expand economic opportunity here in the United States and give more U.S. companies an opportunity to grow not just here in the United States, but around the world, including with neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico that are signatories to the agreement.

In addition to that, the United States has found Mexico to be an effective partner on fighting climate change.  And I would anticipate that they will continue to discuss additional efforts that both our countries can take in that effort.  Obviously there was a significant announcement that was made at the North American Leaders Summit in Canada last month, and there will be a continued discussion of those commitments.

And there certainly will be a discussion about border security, and fighting narco-trafficking.  We have made progress in that effort over the last couple of years, in part because our cooperation with the Mexican government has improved.  And it will require effective cooperation between the United States and Mexico to crack down on criminal elements — transnational criminal elements, including those that are focused on narco-trafficking or human trafficking.  Our effective cooperation will allow us to bring an end to those organizations that create so much criminal activity and have such a negative impact on communities on both sides of the border.

I should note, under President Obama’s leadership, the United States government has made a historic investment in border security along the U.S.-Mexico border.  In terms of technology, in terms of infrastructure and in terms of staffing, there’s never been a great commitment to border security.  And that’s reflected in the numbers that we see of individuals who are apprehended attempting to cross the border.  Those numbers are lower than they’ve been in a generation.  And that’s a testament to the efforts that we have made under President Obama to strengthen our border security.

Part of that strategy includes effective coordination with the Mexican government.  We certainly have enjoyed that effective cooperation with President Peña Nieto, and their conversations tomorrow will include a discussion about how to deepen that cooperation.

Q    Are remittances on the agenda, do you imagine, Josh, in any way?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if that will come up in their meeting tomorrow, but once that conversation has occurred, we’ll try to give you a more detailed readout.

Q    Okay, good.  Merrick Garland — what’s the very latest on the Chief Judge?  And what, if anything, will be happening in the weeks during the break?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ve reached an unfortunate milestone, as I noted earlier this week, that Chief Judge Garland has now gone longer without a hearing than any other Supreme Court nominee in history that wasn’t later withdrawn.  And that’s rather unfortunate when you consider that Chief Judge Garland has another distinction, which is that he is arguably the most experienced Supreme Court nominee in American history.  He has served more years on the federal bench than any other individual who’s ever been nominated for the Supreme Court.

When you couple that with the highest possible rating that he received from the nonpartisan ABA and from the clear assessment of Republican senators, including Orrin Hatch, who described him as a unanimous — or a consensus nominee, I think that’s an indication that he’s not being treated fairly by Republicans.  I think it’s a clear indication that Republicans are not doing their job.  And that’s unfortunate.

But the President is committed to his pick, and we’re going to make a strong case both in public and in private that the senators should do their job and that they should confirm Chief Judge Garland to an appointment on the Supreme Court.  Because the President is confident that he will serve this country with honor and distinction in that role.

Q    So, no change or no plans that the President would have of withdrawing that nomination?  And has Chief Judge Garland made any comments about the process to the President or the White House about wanting to maybe step away?

MR. EARNEST:  No, there is no chance that President Obama will withdraw his nominee to the Supreme Court, Chief Judge Merrick Garland.  And the President and his team, including Chief Judge Garland, remain 100 percent committed to seeing through his nomination and seeing it result in his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Q    Last one for me.  An interesting dustup on Twitter over the last several days finds a famed blogger who’s now been banned from Twitter for inciting — it has been alleged — inciting hate speech.  What does the White House think about the balance of free speech versus, for lack of a better description, inciteful speech?  And is that a good idea that services like Twitter remove people from their service because of it?  And I ask that question also because we’ve had the conversation previously, you and I, about these hate groups overseas, or these ISIS-sympathetic groups in particular.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, all of these kinds of questions raise important First Amendment considerations.  And the United States government and President Obama and the Obama administration are I think quite obviously strongly committed to First Amendment protections.

At the same time, social media companies like Twitter have to make their own decisions and set their own policies for the use of their technology.  And obviously the U.S. government has been able to work effectively with these social media companies in many instances to combat individuals who might try to capitalize on this technology to propagate a hateful ideology and inspire people to carry out acts of violence.

I think what’s also true with Twitter is they recognize that having some rules of the roads, some terms of use, allows for a more effective tool.  People are more likely to use this social medial tool to connect with their friends or other people around the world if they know they’re not going to be subjected to a stream of hate every time they log on.

So the considerations that Twitter and other social media companies have to make are different than the kind of considerations that the U.S. government has to make.  We’ve got a commitment to protecting people’s First Amendment rights.  Twitter has a commitment to their users and to their customers in fostering an environment that makes people feel comfortable enough to use it.

So I’m certainly not going to second-guess any of the steps that Twitter or any other social media company has to make in this regard.  But obviously these are the kinds of challenging questions that have significant consequences that innovators have to make, and certainly Twitter is among them.


Q    Josh, on the timing of the Mexican President’s visit, can you comment on whether there was an eye towards politics on that, given that he will be visiting and speaking to the press a day after we hear the Republican nominee, whose prime foreign policy platform is about building a wall with this country?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think all of you have made conclusions about the starkly different approach that President Obama has taken to a wide range of issues than the agenda that’s being put forward by the Republican nominee.  So I think it’s fair to say that almost anything that President Obama did on Friday would be viewed as a sharp contrast to the agenda that’s being put forward by the other side.

But in this case, it’s been a while since the President has hosted the President of Mexico here at White House.  And they had an opportunity to discuss a range of issues in Canada last month. The President felt it was an important opportunity to continue those conversations here at the White House later this week, and the President is certainly looking forward to that visit and he’s looking forward to a constructive conversation with our friends in Mexico.

Q    And, I’m sure, looking forward to the chance to speak about something — you’re also giving the Mexican President a platform to speak for himself in the wake of what we can only anticipate are disparaging comments about the issue of illegal immigration to this country from his.  Is that not part of your consideration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, it is not at all uncommon, as you know, for the President to host a news conference when the head of a state of a significant U.S. ally is at the White House. This is not an unusual occurrence.  And I don’t know exactly how President Peña Nieto plans to address the question about the Republican nominee.  But presumably, one of you will ask him and give him the opportunity to do so.  We’ll see what he says.

Q    The Republican nominee made some comments about also withdrawing from NAFTA very, very quickly.  You we’re talking up TPP as really being an upgrade to that trade deal.

MR. EARNEST:  It is.

Q    In calling it an upgrade, are you saying that there is a need for some improvement on the terms of NAFTA?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll let the Republican nominee speak for himself.  President Obama, when he was campaigning for this job back in 2008, included a promise to renegotiate NAFTA.  And the President made good on that promise.  And what he had in mind was raising the standards that were included in the agreement.  And what we’ve been able to do in the context of the TPP agreement that’s quite significant is to not just raise those standards but to make them enforceable inside the context of the agreement.

And that should give American workers and American businesses confidence that this agreement will actually succeed in leveling that playing field in a way that will have important benefits for American workers and American businesses.  The President continues to be confident that if American companies and American workers are given a fair chance to succeed and compete in the 21st century global economy that they’re going to win more often than not.  And that’s among the reasons the President has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership a genuine priority.

Q    On NATO, when we were in Warsaw with the President, he made a point of saying only five countries pay their fair share  — that includes the U.S. — of their dues to NATO.  Does the President think he has been forceful enough in urging allies — very close ones, Canada among them — to pay up when they’re not? That is at the heart of what the criticism is from the Republican nominee that perhaps there hasn’t been enough pressure put on NATO members to pay up.  And the President himself has said he’s irritated by that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has made clear that it’s important for our allies to pay their fair share, and they need to make that a priority.  The President also is aware that he is making that argument in the context of a European economy that is not as strong as we’d like.  So the President is understanding of the cross-pressures here, but it’s important not to take the NATO alliance for granted.

And one significant achievement of the NATO summit that was convened in Wales two years ago — and this is an initiative that was not just prioritized by the British government that was hosts of the summit, but also prioritized by the U.S. government — was to secure a commitment from all of the NATO allies that they would work toward sufficient defense funding over the 10-year budget window.

And there was a commitment on the part of all the allies to work toward ensuring that by 2024, 10 years after signing the agreement, that all of the NATO allies would be committing 2 percent of their GDP to defense spending.  And that would make sure that all of the allies were doing their fair share and prepared to contribute to meeting the defense commitments that are enshrined in the NATO alliance.

So the President has been forceful in making this argument and we have secured specific commitments as a result of the President making that argument in a way that will enhance not just the strength of NATO but also the national security of the United States.


Q    Josh, you’ve noted the irony of the President being accused of something that the Republicans accused him of a global apology tour, and what Trump is sort of advocating — does the President share your sense of irony?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll let the President speak for himself in terms of his observations about that —

Q    We wanted to get on TV today.  Does he share a sense of irony now?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there’s plenty of footage that you have of the President talking about the presidential race.  But I don’t have any desire to be on television today to talk about the presidential race.


Q    On the financial reform issue, Josh, you’ve said in the past that the penalties for the banks that created the whole mess in the first place were really being the punishment rather than people actually going to jail.  Have there been enough reforms to set up laws that in the future if something like this happened again people could actually be criminally prosecuted?  Because that’s one of the complaints, that few, if any, big bank people went to jail.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there have been some complaints.  And the observation made by some is that while the highly irresponsible activity on Wall Street that contributed to the Great Recession were actions that were irresponsible but not necessarily illegal.  And I think some have made the observation that that’s what’s made many of those actions very difficult to prosecute.

And there has been some improvement in the clarification and strengthening of some of those laws to make clear and to better align the incentives in a way that’s consistent with the broader interest of the economy and the American people.  So we’ve made some progress on that front.  I think it’s notable — and we can provide some additional statistics for you about this — that there are a number of settlements that have been reached by the Department of Justice that did allow taxpayers and homeowners and others who were treated unfairly in this process to recoup some of the money that they lost.

So there has been some important work that’s been done both by the Treasury Department, by the Department of Justice and other agencies that have jurisdiction.  But there certainly is progress included in the Wall Street reform legislation that the President signed six years ago today that will toughen enforcement of these kinds of rules and regulations.

Q    Some people think that there are still banks that are too big to fail and that they’re a risk to the economy.  Do you think that that risk is still there despite the reforms?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is confident that because of the way that we have succeeded in implementing Wall Street reform regulations, that we have addressed the problem that was raised in the context of the financial crisis about taxpayers being on the hook for bailing out big banks that make risky bets that go bad.  The good news is that there now is a mechanism for regularly reviewing large financial institutions to assess their health and to assess their ability to weather a difficult financial environment, even a financial crisis.

So regulatory agencies, not just in the executive branch or not just that are part of the Obama administration, but even independent regulator institutions, now have more authority and greater transparency into the inner workings of these financial institutions and a regular schedule for reviewing them.  All of that should be helpful in preventing the kind of crisis that we saw back in 2008.

Q    And just one quick one on Merrick Garland.  When the President announced the nomination, he suggested if the Senate would not give him a hearing that there could be a tit-for-tat kind of situation with Democrats.  Given the fact that Garland has waited so long now for a hearing, do you think that possibility is increasing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what is clearly true is Republicans have, in unprecedented fashion, politicized the process of confirming a Supreme Court nominee.  There’s no denying that.  Some Republicans have even acknowledged that.  Senator Graham acknowledged that what Republicans were doing is unprecedented.  And the President is concerned about the impact that has on our system of justice and on the Supreme Court as an institution.

That’s why he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, basically suggesting that Democrats and Republicans should come together around an idea that was originally put forward by President George W. Bush to establish a timeline for the consideration of obviously qualified Supreme Court nominees.  That would at least do a little something to try to walk the Senate back from the brinksmanship that Republicans have engaged in over the last several months.  And the President believes that would improve the health of our justice system and give people more confidence that people will be treated in our justice system without regard to their political views or their political affiliation.


Q    A couple questions, Josh, on Zika.  One, any updates on the situation in Florida?  And then, two, one of the comments you made yesterday is that Republicans have the seven weeks of recess to think about the consequences of their failure to deal with the situation.  What can you tell us specifically are the consequences at this point?  Has the research been slowed?  Is there less vector control than there would have been had that $1.9 billion been passed?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me start by saying as it relates to the situation in Florida, this is obviously something that our public health professionals at the CDC are closely monitoring.  Public health professionals in Florida have the responsibility for responding to this particular situation.  President Obama called Governor Scott yesterday to assure him that the U.S. government stands ready to offer as much assistance as we possibly can to the state of Florida as they deal with not just this one particular outbreak of the virus but to ensure that we’ve got the resources — that we can mobilize resources to help them respond if there are other outbreaks detected.

But what’s clear is that the U.S. government does not have all the resources available that we would like to use to assist state and local authorities because Congress hasn’t acted on a request that President Obama put forward five months ago now.  This was a request that was essentially written by our public health professionals that outlined all of the things that they need to do everything possible to protect the country from the Zika virus.

Q    So are you saying that that $5.6 million that the President guaranteed to Florida yesterday would have been more if the $1.9 billion would have been passed?  Or is it ultimately bolstering Republicans’ argument that money will be allocated anyway?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there certainly are resources that could be used to help Florida that may not be available right now because the funding isn’t there.  There are also aspects of the response that are being led by public health professionals that are not operating at full capacity because of the lack of congressional response.

So things like lab capacity that would allow diagnostic tests to be processed more quickly and allow diagnostic tests to be more widely available is not at the level that we would like it to be because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding.  So that’s not something that’s just relevant to Florida, that’s relevant to states all across the country.  Florida is certainly affected by that, but other states are, too.

There are additional resources that we would like to be able to make available to states to help them do vector control to fight mosquitoes.  So certainly some of the money that the President discussed in his call with Governor Scott could be dedicated to that effort, but presumably Governor Scott or other governors would say, boy, there’s more help that we would like to have in terms of hiring more people and getting more equipment to help us fight mosquitoes.  But the federal government can’t do as much as we would like to do to help those states, again, because Congress hasn’t acted.

Q    And did the President have a chance to watch the First Lady’s appearance on “Carpool Karaoke?”  Any reaction there?

MR. EARNEST:  I know that the President heard about her appearance that was taped a few weeks ago.  I don’t know if he saw the product that aired last night.  I actually have not seen what aired last night.  I saw the teaser that they released yesterday, I believe.  But it sounds like it must have been interesting.

Q    It was fun.


Q    Josh, for days we’ve been talking about urging Turkey to exercise restraint.  But when you look at the numbers since the coup — and this is days ago — there have been more than 9,000 people detained or arrested, 21,000 teachers’ licenses suspended, more than 9,000 Ministry of Interior people suspended, 1,500 university deans asked to resign, 2,300 ministry of youth and sports people suspended, 21,000 Ministry of Education people suspended, and then 24 radio and TV licenses revoked.  How does that look like restraint in any way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, the numbers that you’ve presented are compelling.  But what’s also compelling are the images that we saw on television of troops being mobilized in tanks rolling through the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, cutting off bridges — in some cases, even firing shots at the parliament building and other law enforcement institutions.  We’ve got reports that the safety and security of the President of Turkey was threatened based on some actions that were taken by the Turkish military.

So the situation in Turkey is serious.  And it’s understandable that people are feeling on edge.  It’s also understandable that both the Turkish government and the Turkish people are keenly interested in getting to the bottom of what exactly happened, determining who was responsible, and holding them accountable for attempting to overthrown the democratically elected government of Turkey by force.

So given that context, and given the fact that that occurred six days ago, it’s understandable that people are on edge.  And even as they’re on edge, it’s important for everybody to understand, including the President of Turkey, that that coup was repelled because of the country’s commitment to democracy.  And even in these times of turmoil, and even in these times when people are on edge, the democratically elected government of Turkey has a responsibility to protect those democratic institutions and to protect those democratic traditions, because it will make the country stronger because that reflects the will of the Turkish people.

And that’s a message that we’re not just delivering publicly in settings like this one, it’s also a message that President Obama has delivered privately and personally to President Erdogan.

Q    I mean, nobody is comparing what’s going on now with the government — arresting and suspending people — to violence and an overthrow of the government.  I mean, there’s not really a comparison there.  But the question is, this is a leader who’s recently been called out for consolidating power, cracking down on the press.  The question is, is this now going to be his chance to change things politically in ways that maybe he couldn’t so broadly before?  So does this not raise flags — because when you’re talking about due process, and we’re looking at something that’s going on six days after a coup, to arrest or fire 50,000 people in the country — that doesn’t look a lot like due process at this point, does it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think what it looks like is a situation where people all across the country are quite on edge, and are quite uneasy.  And it’s why the United States is going to closely monitor the situation moving forward, in part, Michelle, because you make a credible point — the concerns that we have raised about the importance of protecting democratic institutions in Turkey is something that President Obama has talked about with President Erdogan many times over the last several years.

And again, I cited the example earlier this week of President Erdogan’s visit to the United States earlier this year, where there were reports that his security detail was scuffling with independent professional journalists.  That certainly is not the kind of relationship that we would expect a democratic leader to have with journalists who are guaranteed certain rights under their country’s constitution.

So that’s why the United States will be monitoring the situation carefully.  That’s why it should be clear to everyone that even as the United States continues to strongly support the democratically elected civilian government of Turkey, we’re also going to strongly encourage the President of Turkey to protect the rights enshrined in the constitution and the democratic institutions that are so critical to the future success of the country.

Q    That urging doesn’t seem to be working, in the last six days.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think given the tumultuous nature of events in Turkey over the last six days, I think the answer is something that we’ll learn in the weeks ahead.  And that’s why we’ll be monitoring the situation so closely.

Q    Okay.  And just quickly, yesterday, when the vice presidential possible pick for Secretary Clinton came up, you, kind of on your own, mentioned and then lauded Tim Kaine, without being asked specifically about him.  You felt it important to bring up his name.  Why did you want to sort of throw his name out there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly did not intend to signal — and I don’t think many of you saw it this way —

Q    No.

MR. EARNEST:  — but I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to clarify.  I certainly did not intend to signal that the President secretly favors one potential vice presidential candidate over another.  I think what’s also true is I think you also understood that I wasn’t bringing up Tim Kaine’s name out of the blue.  His name was prominently featured in the news reports we saw yesterday, alongside the other two individuals that I was asked about.

So I think the point that I was trying to make is that Secretary Clinton has any number of highly qualified Democrats with a strong record of service to choose from.  And President Obama is certainly proud of the service and relationship that he has with the individuals who are most prominently speculated about.

Yes, sir.  In the back.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Do you know if the President is going to — is lanning to watch the speech by Mr. Trump this evening?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not President Obama will be tuning in tonight.  But, again, he’ll be doing a news conference tomorrow, so you’ll have an opportunity to ask him whether or not he watched.

Q    Is that typically a solo thing, his convention-watching?  Or do White House staff get together for this?

MR. EARNEST:  I would not anticipate — at least for the Republican convention, I’m not aware that any White House staff have made it a social occasion.

Q    I was sort of struck by his remarks yesterday in sort of the hard things are hard speech, where — I think he gave a very historically accurate assessment of how progress gets made in this town, but not necessarily a terribly uplifting version of that in terms of sort of stressing the idea that like things take time to get done in Washington.

My question is, maybe over the past eight years — I think it’s two things — one, has his sort of view of how progress gets done in Washington gotten tempered?  And two, is there any frustration on his behalf about the expectations from others outside Washington?  Meaning does the President think that maybe Americans would benefit from a greater appreciation of maybe how slow progress gets done, and perhaps their expectations on how things get done in Washington are perhaps unreasonably high?

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, the President has talked about this quite a bit.  And his view has been that it’s understandable that people are impatient, that the wheels of democracy intentionally move slowly.  That’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind — that we want to make sure that when we’re making momentous decisions about the country that we’re doing so in a way that carefully considers the diversity of views that are represented in a country as big and diverse as ours.

And sometimes that means the process of making the kinds of changes we’d like to see is cumbersome, is messy, and is not as fast and efficient as we would like.  It’s why the President continues to encourage people to take the longer view.  And even over the course of the last eight years, we’ve made some profound changes in this country.  And the President is quite proud of the progress that we’ve made — everything from reforming our health care system to important reforms on Wall Street to the significant steps that we’ve taken to address climate change; certainly all the progress that’s been made in terms of — in pursuit of equality for LGBT Americans.

There are a variety of ways to evaluate that progress.  And in each of those situations, in some ways, the briefing room is a pretty good measure of that.  We get pressing questions about whether or not the President was frustrated that we weren’t making as much progress on climate change, or we weren’t making as much progress on LGBT rights like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” that we were not going to be able to succeed in getting health care reform done.   All of those things took longer than the President would have liked.  But because of the approach that President Obama took, we’ve made important progress that is now engrained in our democracy, and we’ve built consensus — or at least built a strong majority.  And we’ve had to compromise along the way.  But the progress has been unmistakable.

And it certainly is understandable that people would be frustrated that that progress isn’t happening more quickly, but even just looking at the arc of the last eight years, people who voted for “change we can believe in” eight years ago made a good bet.

Q    Lastly, on a much more serious topic, I was struck by an article in The New York Times today in which Saudi Arabia clerics call it “un-Islamic,” Russian officials say that consequences would be irreversible if continued unchecked.  Does the White House have any advice for Americans enraptured with the Pokémon Go epidemic?  And are there any Pokémons secretly located throughout this White House?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.  Let’s just say I take no special delight in being the first White House spokesperson to say “Pokémon” at a White House briefing.  (Laughter.)  But look, I think there have been, in some instances, legitimate security questions that have been raised about the game.  It’s not one that I’m playing right now.  So those concerns aside, obviously this is — we encourage people to not suspend common sense, even if they look for — turn to Pokémon for a little summer fun.

Yes, ma’am, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  As you know, the United States and South Korea agreed on the THAAD missile deployment in South Korea.  And the South Korean people are against the THAAD deploying in South Korea.  Do you think the THAAD missile is necessary to (inaudible) in South Korea?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, the U.S. government has been working closely with our allies in South Korea to discuss with them what additional steps the U.S. government can take to protect them from the threat emanating in North Korea.  And there has been an agreement recently reached to locate a THAAD battery — this is a highly sophisticated anti-ballistic missile defense system — in South Korea to protect our allies from the missile threat emanating from North Korea.

So we’re certainly going to work closely with the South Korean government to ensure that those protections are put in place in a way that’s consistent with the interests and preferences of the South Korean people.  South Korea is a democracy, so we certainly want to do this in a way that’s consistent with the interests of the South Korean people.  But I think this is a reflection of the strong commitment that the United States has to the safety and security of our allies in South Kora, and we’ll continue these conversations moving forward.  But our priority is going to be on the safety and security of our South Korean allies.

Q    Can the United States provide information about the risk of THAAD —

MR. EARNEST:  Any risk associated with that missile?  I’m not sure what concerns have been raised.  But certainly if there concerns that are raised by the South Korean government, we obviously are interested in working cooperatively with them.  After all, the reason that we have agreed to locate this anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea is for the protection of South Korea.  And so we obviously want to work jointly and cooperatively with the South Korean government to implement that in a way that will maximize the protection that it provides and minimize the inconvenience that it imposes on the South Korean people.

Thanks, everybody.  Enjoy the rest of your day.

11:22 A.M. EDT