Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 22, 2016 – 12:31 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can go straight to your questions.
Darlene, would you like to start?
Q Thanks. So a federal judge has struck down administration regulations on hydraulic fracking, and says the State Department doesn’t have the authority to regulate fracking. Is there any reaction to that from the White House? And do you know at this point if you will — if the administration will appeal that decision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, my understanding is that this is something that will be considered by the 10th Circuit, so I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for the legal procedures at play here. We obviously believe that we’ve got a strong argument to make about the important role that the federal government can play in ensuring that hydraulic fracturing that’s done on public lands doesn’t threaten the drinking water of people who live in the area. That’s a pretty simple proposition.
And it’s indicative of the kind of common-sense approach that the Obama administration has pursued.
This is an approach that seeks to protect public health and public safety while also creating space for innovators to strengthen the economy. And based on the results that we’ve seen in our economy from the dramatic increase in oil and gas that’s produced in the United States, much of which is attributable to developments like fracturing, I think it’s an indication that we’ve pursued this in the right way.
And that’s certainly been our policy approach. But when it comes to the legal authority at stake, we’ll continue to make our case in the courts.
Q On another topic, Senator Marco Rubio — any surprise here that he has done an about-face and decided to run again for reelection?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think everybody is surprised about his announcement. But I’ll leave it to him to explain. Mark apparently wasn’t surprised. (Laughter.) Mark was unpersuaded by the 10,000 times he said publicly — (laughter) — that he was not going to be — that he was going to be a private citizen in January. So the rest of us I think took Senator Rubio’s word, but Mark, ever the skeptic — (laughter) — sniffed this one out.
Q How much does his decision complicate efforts by Democrats to take that seat in November? Because you’re now going from what would have been an open seat to an incumbent defending —
MR. EARNEST: The President has had the opportunity to express his vocal support for Congressman Murphy. The President’s endorsement outlines why the President believes that Congressman Murphy would be an excellent United States senator and why he would do an excellent job representing Florida in the United States Senate. And there will be an opportunity for an aggressive campaign and aggressive debate. I know that Florida has their party primaries rather later in the season, so that’s something that both Congressman Murphy and Senator Rubio will have to contend with. Both of them will have tough primaries and then there will be a general election. But the President has made I think a persuasive case about the credentials of experience and values that Congressman Murphy brings to the job.
MR. EARNEST: Ayesha.
Q So North Korea successfully conducted a missile test today. And it seems like their technology is getting better. They don’t seem to be slowing down in their pursuit of these weapons despite sanctions. I know that you’ve said before that their actions are going to leave them isolated, but it doesn’t seem that isolation and sanctions are leading to any change in what they’re doing or in their behavior. I mean, is there anything that the U.S. can do right now to influence North Korea? I guess what — is there more that China needs to do? What can be done, since it seems like what’s going on right now hasn’t really affected their leaders?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that the United States strongly condemns the provocative actions by the North Korean government that is a flagrant violation of their international obligations. The U.S. Strategic Command did, in fact, detect and track what we assess were two North Korean missile launches yesterday. The missiles were tracked over the Sea of Japan, where initial indications are that they fell. NORAD was also monitoring the launches and determined that they did not pose a threat to North America. But I do think that the impact of these provocations will be to only strengthen the resolve of the international community that has such serious concerns with North Korea’s behavior.
So the United States will do what we have done in the past, which is work with the international community, particularly our allies in South Korea and Japan. We’ll also continue our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese and the Russians about what additional pressure can be applied to the North Koreans. And the key here will be to continue to work with our allies and partners to address this destabilizing threat in Northeast Asia.
Q On another topic, President Putin said today that Russia must boost its combat readiness in response to NATO’s aggressive actions. And this comes after the German foreign minister had warned NATO against war-mongering. What is your response to these latest comments from Putin, and concerns that some NATO actions may actually be heightening tensions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, we’ve been clear as often as possible about the fact that NATO is a defensive alliance, that that alliance is critical to the national security of the United States. It’s the cornerstone of our national security policy. And these are allies and partners who cooperate with us not just to enhance the national security of the United States and Europe, but to actually respond to other situations around the globe, including the situation in Afghanistan. We’ve talked in here before about how we value the contributions that our NATO partners have made to that effort.
So I’m confident that the President will have an opportunity to meet with our allies at the NATO summit in Warsaw next month, and there will be extensive discussions about what additional steps we can take to further strengthen that alliance that’s so critical to the national security of the United States.
Q Thanks, Josh. Are you aware of Donald Trump’s speech on Clinton today? Did you see any of it?
MR. EARNEST: I saw just a little bit of the coverage. I don’t know that I’ll have a whole lot to say about it.
Q Well, saying things like Hillary Clinton has the blood of many on her hands, and he was repeating a quote that she should be in prison. He also said a number of things that seemed on their face to not be true. And of course, the whole thing will be fact-checked to death soon.
MR. EARNEST: I hope so.
Q What do you think of that kind of rhetoric? Because a lot of these statements, even if some are proven to be false on their face, the message still got out today.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think the questions about how to most effectively cover and fact-check and hold public officials accountable for their statements is something that all of you and the executives at your media organizations have to carefully consider. And those are decisions that all of you should make based on your own professional experience and expertise.
I think it’s the responsibility of those who are in the spotlight — and the President has certainly embraced this responsibility — which is to engage in debates that are rooted in fact and evidence and rationality. And our democracy is best served when public officials and those who are seeking power in our democracy willingly engage in that kind of fact-based debate. And those who don’t should be held accountable for that. But that accountability is provided by professional, independent news organizations and ultimately by the American people.
Q I think it surprised a lot of people to hear him say those words, though. I mean, even in some sense, it was a shade of something he had said before, but to say that she has blood on her hands of many and that she should be in prison — does that strike you as more off the mark than other things that have —
MR. EARNEST: When it comes to directly responding to those kinds of charges, I’ll defer to my colleagues at the Clinton campaign and surely many others who I think would have their own view to register about comments like that.
Q And can you respond to the Democratic sit-in that’s going on right now on the Hill over guns, and also your reaction to the fact that Senator Collins’s amendment doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me take the last one first, which is that the Department of Justice and officials at the FBI continue to review the proposal that’s been put forward — or at least that’s been floated by Senator Collins. And the position of the administration remains the same, which is that we believe that everyone who is suspected of having ties to terrorism should be prevented from buying a gun.
Unfortunately, Republicans blocked legislation that would do that. That’s unfortunate. But, look, if there is a step that would prevent some people who are suspected of having ties to terrorism from being able to buy a gun, then we’d support that, too. I don’t really understand why we wouldn’t go for — why we would prioritize the watered-down version over the extra-strength version. But that’s apparently the way the legislative process works.
What we’re working to determine right now is whether or not the current proposal can be shaped to effectively accomplish the goal that it states to set out — or that it sets out to achieve. And that’s something that’s under review at the Department of Justice and the FBI. We’ll continue to remain in touch with members of Congress as they continue to consider it.
As it relates to House Democrats, I think they’re showing the kind of frustration and even anger that people around the country have about the inability of the Republican-led Congress to take common-sense steps that would protect the American people. And I think they’re resorting to what I think even they would acknowledge is an extraordinary step to change the status quo in the House of Representatives that prevents even consideration of common-sense gun safety legislation.
The thing to keep in mind is what Democrats are asking for is neither radical, nor controversial. They’re asking for votes and bipartisan support for policies that are supported by a majority of Democrats, a majority of Republicans, and a majority of gun owners all across the country. These are common-sense proposals that do not undermine the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. But they are common-sense proposals that would, in fact, succeed in at least making it harder for individuals who shouldn’t have guns from being able to get their hands on them.
It’s a common-sense proposition. It’s not controversial. And Democrats I think are rightly frustrated that those kinds of proposals haven’t even been called up for a vote by the Republicans who are in charge of the Congress. And they are taking some extraordinary steps to try to change that.
Q Has the President spoken to Senator Collins or any of the others that were trying to hammer out a compromise?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know that the President has been involved in any of those conversations in the last 24 hours, but —
Q Why wouldn’t he, though?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because this is something that, frankly, is being negotiated in the Senate. There is no ambiguity about the administration position on this. There are some important technical questions that do have to be considered, and that’s exactly what officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI are reviewing. And, frankly, those are questions related to the technical way in which these new rules and procedures and laws would be implemented.
So if we determine that it’s necessary and would be helpful for the President to intervene, I’m sure he would not hesitate to do so. But to this point, that has not been necessary.
Q Josh, I think I know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyhow. What do you think of Paul Ryan’s health care plan?
MR. EARNEST: well, I think a couple of things. How long do you have? Well, I’ll try to keep it brief. I think what I would simply say is that for six years now, Republicans have vowed to put an Obamacare alternative on the floor of the Congress, and for six years now, they’ve broken that promise. The proposal they put forward today does include some more details, but the details they put forward are wildly unpopular, which is why I suspect they will not be put to a vote in the Republican-led Congress.
These are proposals like privatizing Medicare, and specific proposals that even those Republicans acknowledge would raise costs for working families and for older Americans. There are a whole host of other details that are not included in there. I suspect the reason that those details are not included is that they’re even worse than the details that are provided. And these are details that relate to how much the program would cost — because the Republican proposal is to repeal a bunch of the Obamacare measures that actually do have the effect of reducing the deficit, but yet Republicans believe that those should be taken away. They also don’t want to get into too much detail about how many millions of Americans would lose health care coverage as a result of their proposal.
So, again, because they’re making decisions based on politics, not based on actually trying to get something done, it’s not surprising to me that the most unpopular, controversial, unworkable elements of their plan are not detailed in their proposal that was rolled out today.
Q Do you think Speaker Ryan should get some credit for getting consensus on something, though?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what consensus does he have? If he actually has consensus, then why wouldn’t they put it to a vote?
Again, Speaker Ryan is not the chair of some think-tank here in Washington, D.C.; he’s the Speaker of the House of Representatives who presides over the agenda of the House of Representatives and wields the authority of a historically large Republican majority in the House of Representatives. So, no, he doesn’t get any credit for writing a white paper that doesn’t include many details. If he were actually serious about his job and actually serious about trying to improve the health care system in this country, then he’d put forward a legislative proposal that would pass the House of Representatives. But he hasn’t done either one.
Q I knew you’d answer —
MR. EARNEST: I’m glad we could have this entertaining exchange anyway.
Q Any word on the reschedule of the President’s and Secretary’s Wisconsin campaign trip?
MR. EARNEST: Not at this point. But as soon as we have more details we’ll let you know. It’s just a matter of trying to make their two schedules work.
Q Do you think it will happen next week sometime? Sooner rather than later? Or is —
MR. EARNEST: We’re obviously interested in trying to get this on the books as soon as we can. I don’t yet know at this point whether or not we’ll be able to get it done next week. But once we figure that out, we’ll definitely let you know.
Q The meeting this afternoon between the President and Secretary Kerry, is that about the dissent memo on Syria?
MR. EARNEST: It’s not. This is a meeting that the President has with Secretary Kerry on a weekly basis whenever the two of them are in town. Now, the two of them are not in town the same time every week, but when they are, they have a meeting. And so I think they will cover a range of issues. I wouldn’t rule out that this topic could come up, but this meeting is not focused on the so-called dissent cable.
Q What is the President’s view of that? We heard the Vice President basically dismiss it. The President I guess will say that he’s — well, you tell me.
MR. EARNEST: Look, the President approves of this —
Q — of the process.
MR. EARNEST: — well-established process at the State Department. There should be an opportunity for people who do have a dissent to register to do so. And that’s a healthy part of the process. And, look, the President has long acknowledged how difficult the situation in Syria is, and so the President would certainly welcome new ideas that are put forward for confronting it.
Q But there’s no new ideas in that cable, that memo —
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t read the cable, but based on the way that it’s been reported, those are things that had been previously considered. And, look, the President is determined to make sure that the United States does not make the unwise assessment that somehow we can succeed in imposing a military solution on Syria. The United States tried that when President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and that did not lead to results that were in our country’s best interest. So the President wants to avoid that.
And the President believes that we need to be focused on ISIL and that if we take resources that are currently dedicated toward ISIL and redirect them toward the Assad regime, that’s going to not advance our broader goal.
Q — it wasn’t so much to impose a military solution. It was to use the military for more leverage. Is there anything about this — or the whole Cessation of Hostilities process, or is that essentially ended?
MR. EARNEST: No, the Cessation of Hostilities is something that we’re working hard to try to keep from completely falling apart. There are places where the Cessation of Hostilities has frayed in a way that has had a very negative impact on the security situation inside of Syria. In those places where the Cessation of Hostilities has had some positive impact, the benefit has been that humanitarian aid has been able to flow into some of those areas. And some of those are areas that badly needed it.
So I think the latest estimate that I’ve seen is more than 800,000 Syrians have been able to get some form of humanitarian relief in the last few months since the Cessation of Hostilities was put into place. That obviously is a positive consequence of that. But, look, there are far too many places where we have seen the Cessation of Hostilities intermittently observed, and that’s been frustrating.
But I do want to go back to one element of your question — and this is sort of the way that — the way that this is often considered is that somehow the use of the United States military could be used to enhance the leverage of the United States. I’m not really sure what that means. I think what it means is it means that we should direct the force of the United States military against the Assad regime. And I think there are a lot of questions that are raised about that.
First of all, how do you do that without harming innocent civilians? Second of all, I’m not sure exactly what legal authority the President would rely on to do something like that. And, three, it seems like a slippery slope. Does that just mean that there’s one round of missile strikes and then we spend a month trying to negotiate again, and if nothing happens, do we launch more missile strikes? Or then do we have to steadily ramp up the military engagement? And at what point does that stop?
It’s hard to imagine where that stops — that that somehow stops short of a war against a sovereign nation that is being backed by Russia and Iran in a way that’s unclear to me how exactly that is going to apply additional pressure against ISIL, which is the extremist organization that we obviously are quite concerned about.
Q — about the military, and there are proposals obviously like the safe zone and so forth.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess this is the point. So I’m glad you say that, because this, I think, is the point. The President is relying on his military advisors. They have not put forward a specific plan that would address the concerns that I’ve just raised. They acknowledge that. The President is relying on them for the good military advice that he’s getting thus far that is having the tangible impact of applying additional pressure on ISIL. We have made progress, just looking inside of Syria, in terms of regaining more than 20 percent of the territory that ISIL previously controlled. And we’ve done that just by training forces inside of Syria. So we are making progress in encircling Raqqa. We are applying significant pressure against ISIL in Syria. We are making progress in terms of shutting off the border they benefit from.
So the point is the President is relying on the best military advice. He is following that military advice, and it’s showing results. Not as fast as we would like; it certainly hasn’t turned Syria into a Jeffersonian democracy that reflects the pluralism and diversity of that country. But we are making progress. And it’s because the President is relying on the best advice that’s out there.
So it’s important to remember that for all of the criticism about how the President’s policy has not led to the kind of results that we’d all like to see inside of Syria, it’s not because the President has failed to consider or implement an alternative proposal. There is nobody else that has put forward a specific idea — with the possible exception of the safe zone that you referred to. I think the President has laid out in pretty clear terms why he doesn’t think that’s a good idea. And the truth is you don’t hear a whole lot of people talking about that anymore, and I don’t even know if that was mentioned in the speech today from, frankly, the President’s most high-profile critic.
Q Donald Trump.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q I don’t either. I didn’t hear that. Just one on this humanitarian — the concern about the humanitarian situation that’s continuing to be a disaster. Just one — in Fallujah, another situation where there are now tens of thousands of people who are fleeing the city, which is good in that they feel safe enough to do that. How concerned is the administration about what appears to be a developing humanitarian situation there, particularly in the Sunni area? Because you’d said on a number of occasions about the need for coalition partners and others to essentially support those communities once ISIS is removed. How concerned are you about the evolving situation — or devolving situation in —
MR. EARNEST: I actually was asking about this — I posed a question similar to this to some of our national security staff earlier this week. And it’s important to understand that there are sort of two different situations here that we are concerned about. The first is — and the President has talked about this publicly, including when he met with the GCC countries in Riyadh earlier this spring — and that is ensuring that the Iraqi government has the necessary resources to try to stabilize those communities that are liberated from ISIL.
Ramadi is the best example of this. When ISIL controlled Ramadi they essentially destroyed the infrastructure of that city. They destroyed a number of buildings. And the Iraqi central government has been working hard to rebuild that city so that people can return to their homes. That is a way to certainly inspire a lot of confidence in the central government in Iraq. The people of Ramadi know that the central government is looking out for them if the central government is working hard to rebuild their city.
The problem is that the central government of Iraq is rather cash-strapped right now. And so international financial assistance has been critical to ensuring they have the resources to accomplish that goal. And they’ve been working on that. And they will obviously need to use those kinds of resources to rebuild Fallujah once the work has been done to drive ISIL out of that city.
That has primarily been an effort led by the international community to provide resources to the central government of Iraq to accomplish that task.
You’re asking I think about a similarly important situation that’s being handled somewhat differently. You’re asking about a situation as it relates to internally displaced persons. These are essentially individuals who, like you described, have been able now to flee Fallujah because of the fighting there. While that doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing, it probably is a sign of progress because previously those individuals had been holed up in their homes and ISIL hadn’t let them out. But the question is, once they fled their homes and fled their city, where do they go? And it means that there are now tens of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis, residents of the city of Fallujah, who are fleeing violence.
And what the United Nations has done is try to step and collect funding from countries around the world to try to provide for the immediate humanitarian needs of individuals who are in that situation. There are already some refugee camps — or they’re not technically refugees because they’re still inside the country, but camps for individuals who are internally displaced. But the capacity of those camps needs to expand to incorporate the tens of thousands of people who are fleeing the violence in Fallujah.
So the State Department announced yesterday that the United States had made a $20 million commitment to funding those efforts. We’re obviously going to need to see a lot more funding for the U.N.-led efforts from around the world. So the State Department will be hosting a donor conference to consider actually both of these questions — both stabilization funding that can be provided to the central government of Iraq, but also funding that can be provided to the United Nations as they organize efforts to try to meet the basic humanitarian needs of internally displaced people inside of Iraq.
Q Thanks, Josh. Is there a circumstance that you can envision or that the White House can envision whereby the North Koreans stop testing missiles?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly would be in their interest to do so. Right now this is probably the most isolated country in the world. Their economy is suffering under withering economic sanctions that are not just imposed by the United States and our allies, Japan and South Korea, but also have an impact — a significant impact on their economic relationship with countries like Russia and China. So there’s a clear incentive for the North Korean government to start abiding by their international obligations and living up to the U.N. Security Council resolutions that apply in a situation like this.
But the choice is theirs, and it will be a choice that they will have to make. Until that time, they’re going to continue to be isolated. Their economy is going to suffer. And as a result of the decisions made by the North Korean government, unfortunately the people of North Korea will suffer.
Q Does the White House believe that Iran is at least in part helping to fund the missile program in Pyongyang?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an assessment about that situation to share, but we’ll see if we can get you one.
Q Is it your understanding that there is a strong and lasting relationship between Tehran and Pyongyang as it relates to funding some of the missile programs that have been taking place in that country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just say in general that we have previously expressed significant concerns about the degree to which both North Korea and Iran are contributing to the proliferation of weapons technology that’s dangerous. That’s something that we’ve said in the past. I don’t have an updated assessment on that. I don’t have an updated assessment of sort of how those countries have benefitted from the actions of the other. We can see if we can provide you some more information about it, though.
Q The reason I ask is because, if that’s the case — and certainly in the past that certainly appeared to be the case — how is it a good idea that an American company might want to sell the Iranians aircraft technology, for example, while they continue to fund a missile program that threatens not only our allies in the region, but indeed could threaten the United States mainland?
MR. EARNEST: Well, so I think you’re asking about the Boeing deal. And the direct question there is, essentially this is a result — this was written into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was agreed to last year and prevents Iran from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. And the concern that the Iranian government had is that their fleet of commercial aircraft, passenger aircraft, was aging dramatically and it was contributing to a rather unsafe situation inside of Iran. And I think this is a good example of how their desire to reengage with the international community did give the United States and the international community leverage to get Iran to make a bunch of serious commitments as it relates to their nuclear program.
So this is a benefit that Iran got, only after we were able to definitively confirm independently that they had abided by the terms of the deal and that they had essentially rendered harmless their plutonium reactor, that they had disconnected thousands of centrifuges, that they had reduced their highly enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent. Only after we had confirmed that they’d taken all those steps, and only after we have seen them continue to cooperate with independent verification systems did we allow this kind of thing to move forward.
What it doesn’t change, however, are the sanctions that remain in place against Iran because of Iran’s ballistic missile program. And those sanctions are in place. They are occasionally toughened based on the discretion of the Treasury Department, and they are rigorously enforced. And they will continue to be as long as Iran continues to flout their international obligations when it comes to their ballistic missile program.
Q And last, on the Donald Trump comments today, he cited the video that then-Secretary Clinton suggested may have been behind the attack in Benghazi. He cited her comments about landing under sniper fire overseas and previous explanations for why she set up her private server as examples of her being a liar. He called her a “world-class liar.” Your reaction to his description based on those examples?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I think for a direct response to his speech, I’d refer you to Secretary Clinton’s team.
Q Josh, Sunday, June 26th, is going to be the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality nationwide. It’s also going to be the three-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. It’s also the 13th anniversary of the Lawrence v. Texas decision against state laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Is there any consideration on the part of the administration to designate June 26 as a federal holiday as a result of that coincidence?
MR. EARNEST: I was not aware of that coincidence at this point, and so I’m not aware of any consideration of making that day a federal holiday. But obviously after the Supreme Court decision was announced last year, the President went out of his way to acknowledge the historic nature of that decision and the significant impact, positive impact, it would have all across the country. So it obviously is a day that, whether it’s federal holiday or not, is one that the President will long remember.
Q But do you know how the President will observe the anniversary —
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if there will any formal observance on the part of the President this year.
Q Thanks. If I can go back to health care. Donald Trump has said he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare. He’s called it a mess. Speaker Ryan actually rolled out his plan today. Are they any changes to the Affordable Care Act that you would still like to see made?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Cheryl, what we have indicated is that the way that the Affordable Care Act has been implemented thus far has yielded enormous benefits for the American people. Twenty million more Americans have health insurance since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. We’ve seen that the inflation rate of health care costs is at historic lows since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. And there are a wide variety of consumer protections that many Americans enjoy, including ensuring that they’re not discriminated against for preexisting conditions, ensuring that young adults can remain on their parent’s health care until age 26, and ensuring that Americans all across the country can get access to free preventative services, including birth control. That is also a requirement of Obamacare.
So there are a variety of ways in which the American people have benefitted from that historic law. But what the President has said is that we remain open to good-faith efforts by Democrats or Republicans to strengthen the law. We would welcome the opportunity to do that. But unfortunately, what we have seen from Republicans, almost 60 times now, I believe, is an effort to repeal in whole or in part the Affordable Care Act. And that’s not going to keep health care costs low. That’s not going to get anybody health insurance. It also didn’t win them a presidential election in 2012. We’ll see if it does this time.
Q What I was really trying to get at, is there anything in the Ryan plan that you see might be workable?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, basically the details that we have seen I’m not sure that many people support them. I think that’s why Speaker Ryan doesn’t even want to put Republicans in a position of having to vote for it. Because I don’t think they would.
But — and that’s even before we see the details that are so unpopular they don’t want to release them. And look, I understand why. It’s not going to be popular to increase the deficit, which is exactly what would happen if Republicans were to repeal some of the measures included under the Affordable Care Act that they’ve identified. And they would be taking away health care from millions of people. We don’t exactly how many millions because they’ve refused to release some key details that would provide insight into that.
But again, since this is a political document, I understand why they wouldn’t want to release the details. But I think that’s also why it’s not worthy of consideration as a legislative proposal.
Q There’s some signs, Josh, that there might be a deal coming soon on the Zika funding between the House and Senate numbers. You’ve gone over all the numbers. The President wants the $1.9 billion. But that is not in the cards. Are you prepared to accept a number that’s somewhere between the House and the Senate numbers that they’ve agreed on?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s not just the President who wants $1.9 billion in funding. It is the top scientists and public health professionals in the United States who say that we need $1.9 billion in funding to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus. So, again, I don’t really understand why we would stop short of that.
The second thing I would say is that we’ve seen a significant group of Democratic and Republican governors come forward and say that Congress should approve significant resources to fight the Zika virus. But here we are, four months after the administration put forward our detailed, specific legislative proposal for this funding, and Republicans in Congress have not approved it, and we’ve seen half-measures put in place — I don’t even think you could call the House version a half measure. It’s a third measure because it is barely a third of what our public health professionals say is necessary to protect the country from the Zika virus.
So I understand that there are bipartisan negotiations that are ongoing on Capitol Hill. But time’s a wasting. It’s been four months since the President identified this as a significant problem. It’s actually been longer than that because the President met with his national security team back in January to begin discussing this issue because he recognized there’s a significant threat here. But it’s been four months since the administration put forward a very specific proposal backed by our nation’s top public health professionals to outline exactly what’s needed.
And again, I don’t understand why Congress would stop short of providing everything that our health care professionals say is necessary to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus.
Q But is something better than nothing? And if they don’t get something done by recess, then what?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I think if they don’t get anything done by recess, I think you’re going to find members of the — Republican members of the United States Congress facing very tough questions from their constituents about why they are falling down on the job on something that is so critical to the public health of the American people, particularly given the unique threat that this poses to pregnant women and their newborn babies.
Q And a quick one. Hillary Clinton is in town today. She was meeting with Democrats on the Hill. Did she — or is she planning to stop by the White House today?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any meetings that she has at the White House today.
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask about Brexit. The vote is coming up tomorrow. I know you’ve been asked about this a couple of times. But is there any plan for the President to weigh in again in any significant way about this upcoming vote?
MR. EARNEST: No, I’m not aware of any plans on the part of the President to weigh in once again. Obviously, when the President was in London earlier this year, he was asked about it. And he had an opportunity to give a rather robust explanation, or I should say description of his view of this matter.
And look, the immediate impact of his comments were felt across the country — both in terms of the news coverage, but also in some of the public opinion polling over there. But we’ll have to see what the outcome is here. We’ve been very clear about the President’s view that the United States benefits from having the UK as a member of a strong EU. But ultimately it’s the British people who should decide for themselves. They’re a sovereign country. They’re a country with whom we have a special relationship. And the British people are certainly entitled to make these kinds of decisions for themselves and for their country.
Q If I can ask about the Syrian dissenters again —
MR. EARNEST: I understand what you mean. Yes.
Q — on Syria. You mentioned that sort of all the ideas that you understand are in the dissent are sort of ideas that have already been considered. But haven’t — sort of the situation on the ground, hasn’t that changed to a certain extent to where those ideas may be worth revisiting? The Cessation of Hostilities was tried and to a certain extent hasn’t held up. So isn’t it somewhat worth sort of revisiting those old ideas now that the situation on the ground has changed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Toluse, I don’t think so. Again, for many of the reasons that Ron and I were discussing. Again, to the extent that there are specific proposals in there — and again, I’m not sure what it means “the judicious use of military force to enhance the leverage of American negotiators”. I understand what that means in principle, but I don’t really know what that means in application. I’m not sure that such a thing exists.
More importantly I’m not sure that our military leaders know that such a thing exists. I think the real risk of that kind of approach is multifold. It certainly does raise questions about a slippery slope that could lead the United States deep into another ground war in the Middle East, focused on removing the leader of a Muslim country. That didn’t turn out very well the last time we tried that.
It’s unclear to me exactly what sort of legal authority the President would have to do something like that. It’s also unclear exactly how that would have a positive impact on our efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
So again, the President has been quite direct about how challenging the situation is inside of Syria. I think that — but for all of the criticism, with the possible exception of the no-fly zone, our critics aren’t really putting forward specific, tangible alternatives to the policy that the President is currently pursuing.
Q Secretary Kerry met with a group of these dissenters yesterday. I imagine during that meeting they may have put forward some specifics. Does the President have any interest in meeting with any of the people who wrote this dissent?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any sort of meeting like that, that the President would engage in. I think it’s appropriate for the Secretary of State to meet with individuals inside his own agency who have written the memo. But I don’t anticipate at this point that the President would meet with the authors of it.
Q Thank you, Josh. Just to follow up on the Brexit. You’ve stated many times the President’s position on the subject. But can you tell us a bit about the way he approaches tomorrow’s vote? How closely is he monitoring the polls, the debate over there? How worried is he about the outcome?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know the President has been following the campaign and has certainly been aware of the advocacy that’s gone on, on both sides. I don’t anticipate that the President will be watching returns. The President is traveling tomorrow and will be on the West Coast for most of the day. But the President is certainly interested in the results. And once a result has been reached, I’m sure the President will be interested to hear what it is.
The President described, when he was in London, as you recall, that the stakes for the UK are quite high. But there are significant consequences for the United States, as well. So this is a decision for the British people to make. But the outcome matters a great deal to the people of the United States, and it’s something that the President will monitor accordingly.
Q Josh, in the interview with Derek Jeter, President Obama said that he’s looking forward at the end of his presidency to catching up on some sleep. I was wondering if you’ve got any way of quantifying how much sleep does the President get most nights. (Laughter.) And should we be worried that he doesn’t get enough?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what the President would say is that he gets enough, but I think like most of us, he’d be happy to get a little bit more. Look, I think that was mostly a lighthearted exchange about his post-presidency. And —
Q He sounded serious about it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think he would certainly — like I said, I think he would enjoy the opportunity to have some more sleep, and have some more sleep that I suppose would be more restful without the weight of the world on your shoulders. But I think what was also evident from that interview is how much the President has enjoyed being President. He’s deeply enjoyed and derived great pleasure from having the opportunity to serve in this job. And to be the Commander-in-Chief of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known is something that gives him great pleasure and something of which he’s immensely proud.
But the President has also had an opportunity to influence our country and our debates and the world, consistent with his values and consistent with the kinds of things that up to this point he’s been fighting for throughout his career. So his tenure in the White House has been enormously satisfying, but he’s also looking to a life post-presidency that includes more and more restful sleep.
Q Have you ever known him to take a nap during the course of a workday?
MR. EARNEST: Certainly not during the course of a workday. No, I can’t think of a situation in which I’ve observed the President napping.
Q Does he ever tend to sleep in?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have as much detail about the President’s sleep habits as you might think. (Laughter.) I’m not sure why you would think that I would have a lot of details of the President’s sleeping habits. I don’t. I think like most people, I suspect the President does allow himself to sleep in a little later on weekends.
JC, go ahead.
Q I’d like to follow up on the baseball theme, and I’d like to get off the nap theme.
MR. EARNEST: You and me both. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a difference?
Q Is the President doing any yoga? (Laughter.)
Q Will the President sometime in his future consider becoming, if offered, the commissioner of Major League Baseball?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware of any offer like that that’s being considered. Obviously the President is a fan of his hometown Chicago White Sox. But I think the President has discussed previously that he would have an interest, potentially, if the opportunity arose under the right circumstances, to be part of an ownership group of an NBA franchise. So the President is obviously a big NBA fan. So I don’t know if that kind of opportunity will present itself, but I suspect that’s something that he would enjoy.
Q It’s now out there.
MR. EARNEST: I guess it is. I guess it is.
Q Thanks, Josh. So at today’s House Financial Services Committee hearing with Chairman Yellen, Republican Chairman Jeb Hensarling criticized the administration’s close relationship with the Fed. He called it something like a revolving door. What does the President view is his relationship with Chairman Yellen? And is there any merit to a claim like that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I didn’t watch the hearing today, so I don’t know if the Chairman presented any evidence to substantiate his claim. What I will just say as a matter of principle and as a matter of policy is that the President believes that the United States and our economy benefits significantly from having monetary decisions made independently. And this is a principle that I think has been important to our country’s economic success not just over the last seven years, but over the last several generations. So this is an important principle and one that the Obama administration has abided by scrupulously. And, in fact, that kind of independence was part of the criteria that the President has drawn upon in choosing someone to lead the Federal Reserve.
So the President’s decision to re-nominate Chairman Bernanke earlier in his presidency, and then his decision to nominate Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve was in part influenced by both Mr. Bernanke’s and Ms. Yellen’s commitment to the independence of the Fed. They take that quite seriously, and the President does too.
Q If the Zika bill came over and looked more like the Senate bill, had some offsets — you’re not going to get the $1.9 billion — can you rule out a veto of something like that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, John, this definitely falls in that category of things that if it were just you and me, and we had a blank piece of paper here, we could probably sketch out a pretty common-sense proposal just in our negotiations. Maybe we’d get the advice of Dr. Fauci a little bit, and we’d probably hammer out in an hour or two, even though neither you nor I is a public health professional.
So those kinds of negotiations, when they go through Congress, however, takes a bit longer. So it’s hard to judge at this point exactly how it’s going to turn out. And we’ll obviously make sure that our views are known as that process continues. But unfortunately, I just won’t be in a position to negotiate it from here.
Q Given how serious the White House feels about the gun issue and Zika, why hasn’t the President done more? Why hasn’t he picked up the phone, maybe schedule some meetings, had some members over here?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, the President believes that his number-one priority is protecting the country and protecting the American people. He believes that should be Congress’s number-one priority too. I don’t really understand why the President should be in a position where he has to twist arms in Congress to get Republicans to do the common-sense things that would protect the country from the Zika virus.
So again, the President lent his voice and his own legislative — his team’s legislative expertise to putting together and trying to advance the necessary funding to fight Zika that our public health professionals asked for. And we’ve continued to make the case for why that’s important. We’ve certainly given Dr. Frieden and Dr. Fauci and other senior public health professionals in the United States a platform to help all of you understand exactly why this is an important issue. Dr. Frieden and Dr. Fauci and others have spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. Secretary Burwell has as well. Those conversations have been focused on how this money would be spent and why it’s critical to the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and newborn babies.
But, look, at some point, Republicans in Congress just have to decide if they’re going to do their job. And, frankly, this one should be an easy one.
Q But isn’t arm-twisting, or at least trying to twist a few arms part of the job?
MR. EARNEST: Yeah. Look, and I think that’s why we’ve advocated for it. The President has certainly made the case that this is an important thing for Congress to do. The President rolled this out with a lot of fanfare. The President discussed this proposal in an interview — a nationally televised interview with CBS. The President has had individual conversations with members of Congress. We certainly have had — you’ve seen Dr. Fauci and other senior officials at the CDC stand at this podium, making the case for why this is important.
So we’ve made a robust case. I know Secretary Burwell has spent a lot of time talking to individual members of Congress. So we’ve made a substantive case about why this is important. But at some point, Republicans in Congress actually have to do the job that they’ve worked so hard to get.
Q Hi, Josh. Over 100 House Democrats yesterday sent a letter to the President asking him to remove the citizenship requirement for federal aid, especially for DACA recipients who are not eligible for education federal help. Do you know if the President has received a letter and if there will be any consideration on the matter?
MR. EARNEST: I am not aware of the letter, but why don’t I check on it and we’ll see if we can get you a response.
Yes, ma’am. I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you, Josh. President Obama sent a notice and a message to the Congress on the continuation of the national emergency with North Korea. So do you have anything — more detail on it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that is just a regular notification to Congress that significant concerns about North Korea’s provocations persist. And it explains why we continue to have tough sanctions in place to isolate North Korea and the work that we’re doing to try to persuade them to come into compliance with their international obligations.
So that is just a notification to Congress that’s required on a regular schedule to describe why we continue to have significant concerns with the decisions that are being made in North Korea.
Q You don’t have anything — any action to North Korea?
MR. EARNEST: At this point — and it was just yesterday that we did detect two missile launches from North Korea. And we’re going to continue to consult with our allies and partners in the region, and certainly the members of the President’s national security team will review additional information about these tests and consider an appropriate response.
Q One more question. The President played golf every weekend. I’m wondering what is his handicap? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That’s a national security secret. (Laughter.) That’s just a joke. I don’t know the President’s handicap, but his golf game has improved.
Q Jess is a professional golfer.
MR. EARNEST: Well, maybe we’ll have you on the range sometime. Thanks, everybody. Have a good day.
1:29 P.M. EDT
You have used up your free articles for this month. To continue reading click here to login or subscribe.