Press Briefing

July 07, 2014 | 1:08:32 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/7/2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk.

11:20 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It's nice to see all of your smiling faces on this Monday morning.  I'm joined this morning by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  As you know, he’s preparing to have lunch with the President and a handful of teachers who are here at the White House in a few minutes, and so we thought we’d bring him to the briefing room while he was here to talk about some of the announcements that were made at the Department of Education today to make sure that we have a good, quality teacher in every classroom.

So with that, we'll let Secretary Duncan make some opening remarks.  Then we'll take your questions and then after that we'll move on to our other business today.

So, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Thank you, Josh.

Good morning.  Over the past couple years I've had the opportunity to meet with literally hundreds and hundreds of fantastic educators across all 50 states.  As Josh said, in a few minutes the President and I will meet with a couple more to talk about their experiences. 

Helping all students reach their full potential is quite simply the life work of America’s great teachers and principals, and these educators absolutely know the enormous challenges that students growing up in poverty can face.  Right now, across the country, despite teachers’ and principals’ herculean efforts, students from low-income families and students of color often face daunting achievement gaps. 

On the 2014 NAEP Assessment, only 24 percent of students eligible for free lunch were proficient on the 4th grade math test, compared to almost 60 percent of other students.  And as everyone here knows, access to great teachers has far-reaching positive impacts -- effects for students, including increased achievement levels, increased likelihood of college attendance, and higher wages over their lifetime. 

Other high-performing countries not only understand this profound truth, but more importantly, they act upon it.  In South Korea, for example, according to one study, students from low-income families are actually more likely than students from wealthier families to have access to high-quality teachers.

But we've struggled with that here in the United States, and today, race and family income too often still predict students’ access to excellent educators.  That is simply unacceptable and we must do better, and do better together.

For example, in Louisiana, the percentage of teachers rated effective is 50 percent higher in low-poverty, low-minority schools than in high-poverty, high-minority schools.  Similarly, in Tennessee, low-poverty, low-minority schools have almost 33 percent more teachers who are rated highly effective when compared to high-poverty, high-minority schools.  And in North Carolina, highly effective teachers are 50 percent more likely to leave a disadvantaged school than a school of more privilege.

By no means are these states alone.  Actually, far from it. And I applaud their courage in making this information public and transparent.  Change can only come when we deal openly and honestly with the facts, and we need more states and districts to challenge the status quo.

This problem exists because of systemic inequities that shortchange certain schools, communities and districts across the country.  Teachers and principals are not the problem, and they are absolutely essential elements of the solution.  They devote their lives to preparing our students for college and careers.  And we need to provide the support that they need to succeed and stay in high-need schools where their talent and their commitment is so desperately needed.

Today, in collaboration with our partners, we launched the Excellent Educators for All Initiative, a three-pronged strategic effort to help states and districts support great teachers and principals to come to and stay in high-need schools and communities.

First, we’re asking states to submit comprehensive plans to ensure progress towards educator equity based on data and input from teachers, districts and community groups, and to submit that to our department by April 2015.

Second, this fall we’ll use $4.2 million to launch the new Educator Equity Support Network to provide states and districts real-time support in developing and implementing their plans.
And third, this fall we’ll publish Educator Equity profiles to help states use data to identify gaps in access through expert teaching for low-income and minority students, as well as high-need schools that are consistently beating the odds and that can serve as examples for other schools across the nation.  We will update these profiles every two years, using our Civil Rights Data Collection Project, and monitor states’ progress towards their goals.  And we urge states to publicly report their progress on their own metrics each year, encouraging ongoing public dialogue, input and ideas, and revise their plans as necessary.

This announcement builds on months of outreach to crucial partners at every level, including an inspiring conversation hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers with state and civil rights leaders.  And I want to thank CCSSO for being a fantastic partner.  We’ll keep pushing each other to be bold, to act with urgency, and to meet these tough challenges with thoughtful, creative solutions. 

The simple truth is that all students deserve excellent educators, and all educators deserve our full support.  To reach these goals, there are no magic bullets or quick fixes, and the best ideas, quite frankly, won’t come from any of us here in Washington.  We want to help states and districts to be creative in recruiting, supporting and retaining the excellent educators in high-need schools, and we want to encourage them to involve and listen to the teachers and principals who are doing this hard work every single day.

This is one part of a larger educational equity conversation in which we’re working to promote fiscal equity, as well as equal access to high-quality preschool, rigorous college and career-ready coursework, social and emotional support, and fair and appropriate school discipline policies.
Our department won’t require any particular approach, but I can share some common themes that we have consistently heard from fantastic teachers and principals across the nation who are doing this work.

First, great teachers follow great principals, so we should all work to improve the quality and stability of leaders in high-need schools.  Second, great teachers want to work on a team with other great teachers and need time to collaborate, so we need to help provide flexibility to allow this to happen.  Third, great teachers need extra help and support, particularly early on in their careers, so we should provide high-quality coaching, mentorship and professional learning opportunities to teachers in high-need schools.  Fourth, great teachers want to grow and take on additional leadership responsibilities, so we need to create opportunities that don’t require them to leave the classroom to advance professionally and have greater impact.  Fifth, great teachers absolutely deserve to be well paid for these extra efforts and responsibilities, and for their effectiveness in keeping students on track to succeed in college and career.  And finally, great teachers and principals are in it for the long haul, and we must be as well. 

Meaningful reform will take tireless work and relentless commitment.  The good news here is that across the country, many people are taking real action, showing real courage and creativity in working to challenge the status quo.  In Boston, the district is partnering with Teach Plus to recruit and support and retain teams of effective, experienced teachers, and results for students have been pretty profound.

In Louisiana, the State Department of Education is implementing the TAP System for teacher and student advancement in 66 schools with a high concentration of minority and low-income students.  Teachers there get intense support and differential compensation, and the early results for those TAP schools are very promising.  In fact, the imbalance between highly effective and less effective teachers has basically closed in those schools.

And finally, in Ohio, the state has provided $15 million in a four-year grant to the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative to help 27 rural districts join together in addressing the unique challenges they face in ensuring their teachers have the support that they need. 

Now, together, let’s shape a conversation that is national in scope but local in its solutions.  Let’s find a way that supports students and educators, and let’s keep working together until we make these changes the reality for every single child in the country.

Thank you.  I’ll stop there and take any questions.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, want to start us off?

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The NEA seems to be pinning some of its frustration with the administration’s education policies on you directly.  They’ve voted over the last couple of days to call for your resignation.  And I’m wondering if you could respond both to that call and also their broader concerns about the administration’s policies.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Obviously, I try and stay out of local union politics; I think most teachers do, too.  And we’ve had a very good working relationship with the NEA in the past -- meet every month for breakfast with them, have worked together on a national labor management summit, conference every single year.  They, as you know, elected a new president, and we wish her the best of luck and look forward to working very closely with them as we move forward.

MR. EARNEST:  Major.

Q    Mr. Secretary, you did not mention tenure in your points of emphasis in this initiative, and as you know and commented on, in California they had this sort of earthquake throughout the entire primary school system with removal of tenure.  And you were generally praiseworthy of that at the time and identified that some of the students who brought the suit were victimized by some of the things you’re trying to address here.  Can you talk to us about how tenure fits into that?  And when you said earlier that teachers and principals are not the problem, your complimentary reaction to the tenure decision in California suggested some teachers, in fact, are the problem.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  No.  Again, I'll be very, very clear that I will always support due process rights.  That’s critically important.  I will always support the right to tenure.  We just want that to be a meaningful bar.  I think there in California, I think some folks were getting tenure after 18 months, and this should be something that’s earned by demonstrating effectiveness.

And we think across the country, folks can come together -- they can either litigate this for the next 10 years all over the nation, or we can come together to think about how we absolutely support teachers and how we help make sure that students are supported as well.  And those interests should absolutely be linked, and we think there’s a common-sense way to do that and we hope folks will come together to work on that together.

Q    Mr. Secretary, I’m wondering how or if these education equity profiles will play into states waivers for No Child Left Behind going forward.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, we’ll look at this going forward.  And again, we just really want states to take this very, very seriously; that if we’re serious about closing achievement gaps, I keep saying we have to be serious about closing opportunity gaps.  And we know how critically important great teachers and great principals are to closing those gaps and giving disadvantaged children a chance to be successful.  So shining a spotlight on this, having courageous conversations we think is very, very important to going where we need to as a nation. 

Q    But will you link it explicitly to those waivers?  I know that’s something that the department had talked about before.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  We’ll look at this as a piece of many things we’re considering.  But again, having states focus on this and have public, transparent conversations about where they are, where they’re trying to go, and then publicly, what progress they’re making towards those goals, we think this is a very important exercise for the nation’s undertaking.

Q    Mr. Secretary, last month Governor Jindal of Louisiana became the fourth governor to want to pull out of Common Core.  What do you think of that move on his part?  And how do these new reforms you’re talking about today relate to Common Core?  Are they on top of it, instead of it, in addition to, or what?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, obviously, great teachers are essential to everything we’re trying to do to help students.  So we think it’s essential to moving education forward as a nation.

Across the country, as we go into the fall, over 40 states are moving forward with higher standards.  We think that's very  -- we think that's fantastic.  We think in Louisiana, the Governor is a little bit isolated there.  The state board, the business community, teachers are all moving forward.  Teachers need the support of their statehouses to raise the bar.  And again, having high standards, telling children the truth about where they are in terms of being truly college- and career-ready, we think that's absolutely the right thing to do for the nation.

Q    You're sticking with Common Core?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  I’ve always been for high standards.  High standards, that's what we’re about -- truly preparing students for college and career.

MR. EARNEST:  Anita.

Q    What you’re talking about today has no congressional component it sounds like.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  It does not. 

Q    Is this coming about because you asked Congress to do something they wouldn’t do?  This is more of a pen-and-phone thing that the President is looking at?  Or where does Congress fit in?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, again, we’d love to partner with Congress on any and everything we do.  We obviously would have loved Congress to fix No Child Left Behind, which is broken.  To tie back to the previous question, one of the unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind law is about 20 states dummied down their standards to make politicians look good, and that was bad for children, it was bad for education, it was bad for the country. 

And we want to raise standards, and we want to take on this equity challenge, this equity agenda in a very serious way.  In a perfect world, we would be addressing this in a bipartisan way with Congress and fixing No Child Left Behind.  We stand ready to do that today, tomorrow, next week, next month.  But we just can't continue to wait.  And our children have one chance to get a great education, so we’re going to move now.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter.

Q    The plans that you’re asking the state school chiefs to submit were really started under the 2006 law, right?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Correct, yes.

Q    So you are asking them to update?  Or are there just a lot of states that never sent them in in the first place?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, I think states submitted them before -- again, that's seven, eight years ago -- so asking states to come look at -- be transparent in their data, what’s working, what’s not.  Some places are doing a great job of taking this on.  Others aren’t taking it so seriously, but really giving them a chance to put their best foot forward, their best thinking forward.  And again, the state chief officers have been a fantastic partner here.  There’s a real level of courage and commitment, which makes me very hopeful about where we can go.  No one is trying to sweep this stuff under the rug, and we want them to submit their plans and then, on a forward basis, have clear metrics, measure themselves against those metrics, be transparent in that, and this be part of the business of what they’re doing as we move forward.

Q    You’re also saying in the documents that you released earlier today that inexperienced teachers often are in high-need schools.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Disproportionately, yes.

Q    Okay.  So where do you think inexperienced teachers should go?  Where should first-year, second-year teachers --

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  They should go everywhere, and again, we've had amazing, amazing first-year teachers, obviously.  But when you just have -- like any team, you have a diversity of veterans and some younger players as well.  So when a school or a school district or a set of schools in a disadvantaged community has disproportionate numbers of inexperienced teachers, that's not a good thing.  You want a balance on any team, and what we're looking for is to increase effectiveness in disadvantaged communities.  As a nation, we've had far too few incentives and, frankly, lots of disincentives, for the hardest working, the most committed teachers and principals to go to the communities who need the most help.  And we have to, together, reverse that.

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, I'll give you the last one.  The Secretary has got a lunch he’s got to get to you may have heard about.

Q    I didn’t hear a direct response to Julie’s question.  The NEA has directly called for your resignation, and the AFT have said they appreciate the sentiment behind that call -- the two, obviously, largest teachers unions.  I didn’t hear a direct response to that.  And also, is it an indication that when it comes to the common reforms that you and others have been pushing over the years, whether it be on things like tenure or expanding charter schools, being able to remove ineffective teachers, are the teachers unions simply, then, obstacles to reform?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  No.  Again, the reality is much more complex than that.  For example, today in this announcement, Randi Weingarten, the head of the AFT, is standing with us.  And the NEA is just finishing up their convention; were they not at their convention, I think they probably would have stood with us on this.  And so we agree on many issues.  We disagree occasionally.  Again, I don't get caught in union politics.  We continue to work very closely with both major unions, work very closely with state unions as well, and generally, we've had very good working relationships.

MR. EARNEST:  Mr. Secretary.


MR. EARNEST:  All right.  I don't have anything at the top other than what the Secretary had to say, so, Julie, we'll go straight to questions.

Q    Thanks.  I just wanted to ask about the reports about some possible U.S. spying in Germany, reports that a German intelligence employee spied for the U.S.  Are you in a position to be able to confirm whether that is accurate?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not in a position to do that, Julie.  We've seen those reports and we are aware that a German citizen was arrested over the weekend, alongside the claim that he was purportedly working with a U.S. intelligence agency.

The reason I can't comment on this particular matter is it involves two things, and the first is a pending German law enforcement investigation.  I would not want to get ahead of that or interfere in that investigation.  And additionally, it obviously goes to a purportedly direct intelligence matter as it relates to the United States and that's not something that I frequently comment on from the podium here.

What I can say more generally, though, is the relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important. This is a very close partnership that we have on a range of security issues, including some intelligence issues.  That partnership is built on respect and it's built on decades of cooperation and shared values.  All of those things are high priorities not just of this administration but of this country.

So we're going to work with the Germans to resolve this situation appropriately.

Q    Chancellor Merkel said today that if these reports are true that it would be a “clear contradiction of trust between allies.” 

MR. EARNEST:  That's obviously a big “if.”

Q    But if this were to be true, if this were to be the kind of spying and intelligence work that the U.S. does in a country like Germany, a close ally, is that something that the President would be comfortable with, given that his close ally, Angela Merkel, would see it as a clear contradiction of trust?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I understand the purpose of the question, but it is based on a hypothetical on a matter that I'm not prepared to discuss from this standpoint.  But suffice it to say that doesn’t change the fact that we highly value the close working relationship we have with the Germans on a wide range of issues, but particularly on security and intelligence matters.  That cooperation is very important to the national security of the United States and our allies.  We value that partnership.  Again, it's built on a lot of shared trust.  It's built on friendship.  And it's built on shared values.  And we value that relationship and that's why we're going to work through this matter and ensure that it's resolved appropriately with the Germans.

Q    Is this something that came up in the conversation that the President had with Chancellor Merkel on Thursday?  And if not, has he spoken with her since then or does he have any plans to speak with her?

MR. EARNEST:  It did not come up in the call.  The announcement of the arrest was made by German law enforcement officials on Friday.  The call between the President and the Chancellor occurred on Thursday. 

Q    Has he had a chance to speak with her?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I know of.


Q    Thanks.  You said that the President would prepare a supplemental spending request with regard to the border situation.  Exactly how much money is he going to ask for?  Can you provide some more details about that spending request?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not prepared to offer more details about that right now.  I would anticipate that we'll have an announcement about this tomorrow, and at that point we'll have a lot of details about what exactly is included in that supplemental request.

As you know, it's related to our efforts to add additional resources to the border in the form of immigration judges, ICE lawyers, asylum officials and others that can help us more rapidly and efficiently process the immigration cases that are currently backlogged as it relates to a surge that we've seen at the southwest border.

Q    And with regard to the plan to either move or hire more judges to handle those situations along the border, are there concerns that you will be displacing judges from necessary work elsewhere in the country and creating backlogs elsewhere?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has talked about this a little bit already, but he’s directed that some resources from the interior be devoted to the border region.  I know that it is a view that is shared among both Democrats and Republicans that there is work that we can do to continue to secure the border.  And processing these cases through the immigration system is a part of that.

It also is a part of our commitment, this administration’s commitment, to dealing with these cases in a humanitarian way; that there are due process rights that are afforded to these individuals.  The President believes it’s important for those due process rights to be respected; at the same time we should have a process that is efficient and that reflects the state of U.S. law.  This administration is committed to enforcing that law, and if we can deploy additional resources and ensure that this law is being enforced efficiently, then we’re interested in doing that. 

There is an element of that that the President can do on his own in terms of devoting resources that already exist from the interior and sending them to the border areas.  It also is why we’re seeking additional resources from Congress, again, to further supplement the resources that are being deployed to solve this problem.

Q    And just to confirm, you spoke about this last week, but the President still has no plans to visit the border specifically during his trip to that part of the country later this week.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct. 


Q    A couple of quick clean-ups on this.  So what Chancellor Merkel probably had asked for is a statement from the U.S. about this.  Is what you just gave going to serve as the statement?  Or should we expect in the coming days an additional statement that actually -- I mean, I know why you can’t do it right now from the podium -- but actually addresses some of the specific allegations?

MR. EARNEST:  As of right now, I’m not in a positon to comment any further on this particular matter.  You’re certainly welcome to ask in the days ahead and if there’s additional information that I can share, then I will.

Q    And on the announcement tomorrow about the border stuff, will that actually be the supplemental that’s being announced?  Just to clarify, is that what you’re saying, that it’s going to come tomorrow?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, yes.

Q    And so all the details about how much money, in which tranches, which subcommittees or whatever, that’s all going to be addressed then and you’re not able to talk about it now?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s a pretty detailed compilation.  I don’t know that it goes exactly down to that level, but we will endeavor to make officials available to answer those kinds of questions when we present the supplemental request tomorrow.

Q    A quick 2016 question.  There was a report over the weekend suggesting that President Obama is secretly really interested in having Elizabeth Warren as the nominee and not Hillary Clinton.  I’m just wondering whether you can address from the podium whether there’s anything accurate to that report, or whether he plans on getting involved in choosing sides in the Democratic primary.

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, it’s still in the middle of 2014.  I’m not aware of any particular positions or candidates or all that much thinking, to be honest with you, that the President has done as it relates to the next presidential election.  So I haven’t actually seen those reports.  But the President has got a very full plate in front of him right now in terms of trying to move this country forward and expanding economic opportunity for the middle class.  That’s what he’s focused on right now.  It’s what he will be focused on over the course of the next couple of years.  And if it gets to late 2016 and you guys want to talk presidential politics, maybe we can do that.

Let’s move around a little bit.  Christi.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Last week, the President also asked for more latitude for DHS and deportations of the kids at the border. Have you gotten any signals from Senate Democrats that there is something they might be interested in doing?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in a position to talk about the specific conversations between Senate Democrats and the White House on this particular matter.  I would expect, however, based on the public comments we’ve seen from members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, that we should see some bipartisan support for this. 

There is concern about the urgent humanitarian situation that we see on the southwest border.  Giving the Secretary of Homeland Security additional authority and discretion that he can use to confront that situation more efficiently, making sure that we are acknowledging the humanitarian issues that are at stake while also enforcing the law is a priority.  It’s the priority of this administration, and if you listen to the public comments of Democrats and Republican, it sounds like it’s a bipartisan priority.

So we’re certainly hopeful that when we’re in a position to be more specific about what kind of discretion -- or maybe I should say it this way -- when we’re in a position to be more specific about what kind of authority we’re seeking for the Secretary of Homeland Security to be able to use to confront this situation, we’re hopeful that the response will be, if not unanimous, at least bipartisan in support for him getting that authority.

Q    However it is that you end up crafting that, how do you get around the fact that there are many Senate Dems who don't want to do any little thing without also doing comprehensive immigration reform? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first of all, there’s no reason that -- well, there is one reason that comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t gotten done, and that's simply because we’ve seen House Republicans block a compromise proposal that had already passed with bipartisan support in the Senate from coming to the floor of the House for a vote.  If that common-sense bipartisan proposal that passed the Senate had got a vote in the House of Representatives we’re confident it would pass. 

So we certainly are familiar and even share that sentiment that action on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal is necessary.  What’s also necessary, though, is that we deal with this urgent humanitarian situation that's cropped up in the last few weeks in the form of a spike of illegal migration from Central American countries.  So what we’re seeking is additional authority that can be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to deal with the situation in a humanitarian way, in a way that's in line with our laws, which means that those who seek to stay in this country go through the due process that supported them through the immigration courts.

At the same time, there is a commitment on the part of this administration to enforce the law and to make sure that everybody in this country and people in Central American countries understand that enforcing the law means that if you do not have a legal basis for remaining in this country that you’ll be returned to your home country.  And that is also the case and that's also one of the reasons that we are seeking this greater authority that could be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

George, I'm going to call on you even though your Indians took two of three from the Royals this weekend.  (Laughter.)

Q    Should have taken three.

MR. EARNEST:  You still get the question. 

Q    Okay.  Following up on what you just said, you say there’s an urgent humanitarian situation.  Are you not at all concerned about the optics -- the President can fly to Texas to raise political money but he can't go see this urgent humanitarian situation?

MR. EARNEST:  We're not worried about those optics, George, and that's simply because the President is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border.  Senior administration officials from the Secretary of Homeland Security to the Secretary of HHS, top CBP officials, even some senior White House officials have traveled in the last several weeks to the southwest border. 

What they have seen is troubling.  We've seen this influx of illegal migration from Central America.  What they’ve also seen, however, though, are the efforts of FEMA, working closely with DHS and HHS and the Department of Defense to set up detention facilities, to ensure that while those who were apprehended are detained in a humanitarian way.  The law requires that.  And again, this is something the administration is committed to, is enforcing the law. 

So the President is well aware of what’s happening along the southwest border.  And that is why you’ve seen the wide range of steps from the authority the President already has to enforce the law.  You’ve also seen and we’ll get more details tomorrow on the request the President will make of the Congress to give the administration additional resources that can be used to address this problem.

It’s my view, and I don’t think that this is unreasonable, that those who share the President’s concern about this situation will be supportive of ensuring that the administration has the resources necessary to deal with this situation.  And those who are genuinely concerned about the border more broadly should also be strongly supportive of efforts to make an historic investment in border security, should be supportive of an effort to level the playing field for businesses who hire immigrants.  And those individuals who say that they’re concerned about the border should also be supportive of the kind of compromise, common-sense bipartisan proposal that would be good for the economy and would reduce the deficit.

So all of those things are contained in the common-sense proposal that passed through the Senate.  And those who are concerned about the President’s travel this week should also be concerned about their support for a piece of legislation that would address so many of the problems that they claim to be concerned about.


Q    Sure.  So when you say you want to expand the authority of the DHS Secretary to deal with this problem, I’m assuming you mean expedite and streamline the process by which these folks can be processed.  Or do you --

MR. EARNEST:  To make the process more efficient.

Q    Okay.  But can you do anything about the bottom-line issues here, and that is these young people and their families, they come into the country, they cannot be turned back immediately; they essentially have to be dispersed either with family members who already live here throughout the country -- they have to be dispersed throughout the country.  You can’t expedite the process -- or can you -- to the point where they never are introduced into American society and therefore -- what, some 80, 90 percent of them never show up for their judicial hearing.

Q    Well, Mike, there is a -- the law requires -- this is a law -- this is an anti-trafficking law that was passed by Congress in 2008 and signed into law by the previous administration.  So we should be clear about the law that this administration is enforcing.  That law mandates how children from non-contiguous countries are treated in the immigration system.

What we are seeking is for that process to be made more efficient.  And there are a variety of ways in which that process can be made more efficient -- some of it by exercising authority that the administration already has, and some of it by exercising authority that the Secretary of Homeland Security seeks but doesn’t yet have.

The bottom line, though, is that the law will be enforced.  And what that means is it means that these children who have been apprehended will go through the immigration court process and if they are found to not have a legal basis for remaining in this country, they’ll be returned. 

I mean, it is fair to say that it’s unlikely that most of the kids who go through this process will not qualify -- it’s unlikely that most of the kids who go through this process will qualify for humanitarian relief, which is to say that most of them will not have a legal basis -- will not be found through that court process to have a legal basis to remain in this country.

Q    The real-world problem is, is that many of them don’t submit themselves to the process.  They're never appear in court.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's one of the reasons that we’re seeking these detention facilities that actually can house -- that can house more children in an humanitarian way, that we can deal with this backlog more efficiently.  That's one of the reasons that we’re seeking additional judges and asylum officials and ICE lawyers so that the wait is not so long, so that this whole process can run more efficiently in a way that is consistent with our values about the way that human beings should be treated, but also in a way that's consistent with what the immigration law requires.

We’re committed to fulfilling the tenets of that law, and that is likely to require some children to be sent back to their home countries.  That is why we have spoken in very clear and candid terms that parents who are considering putting their children in the hands of a criminal with only the promise that that child will be welcome with open arms in America should not do so.  The journey is dangerous and the promise is not one that can be fulfilled.  If those children do not have a legal basis for remaining in this country -- and as I mentioned, it’s unlikely that those children will be found to have a -- or unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief -- they’ll be sent home.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I just want to clarify, and pardon for looking at it in a different way.  So you’re saying most of these children who have been in these desperate situations will be returned to their homes in Central America?  That's your estimation?  Because that's not what we heard, certainly not in that clear of a statement, from Secretary Johnson yesterday.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, a couple of things about this.  First of all, there is due process, so we’re going to respect that due process.  So I’m trying to be very careful about the way that I’m phrasing what I’m saying here.  Each case is specific and will be treated on a case-by-case basis.  That's the way that -- that's what the immigration law requires.  That's why again, we’re seeking additional judges and lawyers and asylum officials who can process these claims more quickly to make sure that each case is heard and given the requisite amount of attention.

However, based on what we know about these cases, it is unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief.  And what that means is it means they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned.

Q    We also know that about 600 minors were ordered deported each year from non-border states over the last decade or so.  Ninety-five were deported last year, according to records, even as this flood from Central America -- five times more than two years earlier -- has been pouring across the southwest border.  So why do you think now that more children will be sent back when at least recent indications are that that has not been the case?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, because we’ll have additional resources that we can use in the court system -- additional judges, additional lawyers, additional asylum officers.

Q    So it’s just the speed at which things will be moving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we will do is we’ll be able to put in place a -- we’ll be able to add capacity to the system that will allow these claims to be processed more efficiently.

Again, that is in the best interest of both those who are seeking to enforce the law like this administration is committed to doing.  It’s also in the best interest of the humanitarian concerns that many people have about the treatment of these children.  So additional resources will allow these cases to be processed more efficiently.

The thing that's important for people to understand just from a policy matter is that the overall apprehensions along the border have only risen by a slight amount.  What we have seen, though, is we’ve seen a significant increase in apprehensions and processing of children and individuals from Central America, that there’s one certain segment here that accounts for this spike.

The overall levels are not that far above what we’ve seen over the last few years.  And what we’ve seen over the last few years is a historic low in terms of apprehensions at the border.

Q    You're talking about outside of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m talking about -- in terms of the broader border security situation, we remain near the historic lows that we’ve been at for the last several years.

There is, however, a spike in this specific population.  And we would like Congress to give the administration additional resources to deal with these cases more efficiently, while respecting the basic due process rights that each of these individuals has.

But in terms of enforcing the law against adults who are apprehended at the border, or even adults with children that are apprehended at the border, that hasn’t changed either.  And it’s important for people to understand that the efficiency of that enforcement process has also improved, and that the bottom line is this administration’s commitment to enforcing the law at the same time that we respect the basic humanitarian needs of those who are apprehended.

Let me move around a little bit.  Nadia.

Q    Josh, what do you make of the video over the weekend where the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared to be speaking to his followers in Mosul, which is the second largest city in Iraq?  Is he challenging the U.S.?  And what does it say about your cooperation with the Iraqi government?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve seen the reports of that video, Nadia.  We have not at this point been able to determine the authenticity of that video.  So that is something that's currently being reviewed by the intel community and by the State Department.  Since that video has not been authenticated, I’m not in a position to comment on it at this point.

Q    On another related matter, ISIL mounted an attack across the -- in Yemen, across the Saudi border.  You have been cooperating with the Yemeni government over the years, especially with the drone attack.  What does it say now about this new attack since the President says that al Qaeda leaders are on the run?  Are you reviewing your assessment of their ability now, especially in Yemen?

MR. EARNEST:  I have not actually seen the reports of the situation that you’re talking about so we’re going to have to follow up with you on that matter.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  There are only a few legislative days left until next month, and the Highway Trust Fund is going to be running out of money.  Is there a proposal on Capitol Hill that you’ve seen to pay for that, to replenish that fund?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the proposal that I’ve seen that I like the best is the one that was put forward by this administration. It is a common-sense proposal that certainly deserves the kind of bipartisan support that unfortunately is all too rare in Washington these days.

The proposal put forward by the administration, as you know, Cheryl, involves closing loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well connected.  And closing those loopholes generates some revenue that could then be used to invest in the kind of infrastructure that benefits everybody -- those at the top, and middle-class families all across the country.  It also would create a lot of jobs and would support a lot of jobs that are at risk if the trust fund itself is threatened.

So there are a lot of reasons that what we put forward is a common-sense proposal.  We’re certainly open to reviewing other proposals that others may put forward.  But in terms of how we think this important piece of business should get done, we’ve been pretty clear about what we think is the proper path forward.


Q    Josh, one bit of housekeeping on the budget request on immigration.  Is it only going be immigration?  Or there’s talk on the Hill about dealing with wildfires.  The President has asked for money as well to battle terrorism overseas, these terrorism partnership funds, et cetera.  Is this only immigration?  Or --

MR. EARNEST:  No, it will include some of these other things, as well, I believe.  But we’ll have more details on that tomorrow.

Q    Okay.  You’ve repeatedly said this morning that the administration is committed to enforcing the law --

MR. EARNEST:  That's right.

Q    -- in the immigration situation.  If that's the case, why couldn’t your Homeland Security Secretary say that?  When asked repeatedly on NBC yesterday, he could not say what you said.

MR. EARNEST:  What the Homeland Security Secretary was very clear about is our commitment to enforcing the law and making sure --

Q    He was asked that four times, and he kept talking about other options.

MR. EARNEST:  He was asked very directly about whether or not this administration is committed to enforcing the law, and that's exactly what we are doing.

Q    David Gregory:  “Are they going to be deported or not? Will most of these children we see in this situation be returned to their homes?”  The Secretary:  “There is a deportation proceeding that has commenced against illegal migrants, including children.  We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular.”  What are those additional options?  Is he enforcing the law or just looking for other options?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Ed, what the 2008 law requires, it requires some very specific handling of children who are apprehended on the border, who originated in Central American countries.  And so when he’s talking about additional options, he’s talking about more efficiently processing them through the system.  And in some cases that means sending them back to their home country.

As I pointed out, that once they go through the immigration system, it is our view that it’s unlikely that most of those kids will qualify for humanitarian relief.  If they don’t qualify for that humanitarian relief and don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country, they will be sent back.  Nobody should make any mistake about that.

Q    How do you react when a Democratic congressman, Henry Cuellar, from Texas said yesterday that he thinks the President, the White House has been one step behind and you should have known months ago that this crisis was developing, and basically suggested you hadn’t done anything?

MR. EARNEST:  This administration has been very proactive as we’ve dealt with this situation.  We have increased the amount of resources that are currently deployed to our immigration system to more efficiently process the cases by adding judges and lawyers and asylum officials.  We can more effectively and efficiently process these claims.  We’ve also opened up detention facilities to make sure that those adults who arrive in this country that are accompanied by children have a place where they can stay while their immigration process is playing out. 

And we have improved our efficiency when it comes to apprehending adults at the border, quickly processing their immigration claims, and in most cases sending them back to the country where they originated as well.

So this administration has been working proactively to deal with what I think everybody acknowledges is a very difficult situation with the idea in mind that it’s important to both respect the basic humanitarian needs of those who show up on our southwestern border, but also to enforce the law.

Q    On that question of proactivity, though, the Department of Homeland Security had a contract to bid out as early as January of this year looking for escorts to help unaccompanied minors.  If the administration back in January had a contract out there looking for escorts to help these kids, doesn’t that suggest the administration knew there was a wave coming and was not actually proactive if this contract was out there, but yet you still had the problem developing?

MR. EARNEST:  For questions about the contract, Ed, I’d check with DHS.  I’m not aware of it.

Q    Last one.  Senator Johnson from Wisconsin, as you know, has had this lawsuit out there pressing you on the health care law, suggesting that lawmakers of both parties and staffers should not have subsidies under the new health care law.  It’s getting a hearing in Wisconsin today.  In addition to that, you’ve had Speaker Boehner, the President has pushed back on him in terms of his separate lawsuit dealing with executive actions.  When you see this lawsuit potentially going forward on health care, how do you react to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that there are even some Republican members of Congress who articulated that they both don’t agree with the lawsuit that Senator Johnson has put forward, and they also don’t believe that Senator Johnson’s interpretation of the law is consistent with their interpretation of the law. 

So I know that there is some Republican disagreement about the wisdom of the lawsuit that Senator Johnson is pursuing.  What the President believes is that the whole goal of the Affordable Care Act in the first place was to lower health care costs, to expand access to quality, affordable health insurance for every American, including those who were employed by small businesses.

So we’ve been very clear about what those goals are.  And I recognize that there may be some like Senator Johnson who don’t share those goals.  That’s unfortunate.  But our efforts to enforce this law and to implement this law in a way that maximizes benefits for the American people and expands access to health care is something that we’re moving forward on.


Q    I know you’ve spoken repeatedly about due process, but it also sounds as if you’ve prejudged the due process outcome.  Could you address that?

MR. EARNEST:  It would be inaccurate to interpret the comments that I’ve made here as an effort to prejudge that process.  We are committed to the rule of law.  And as I mentioned I think to Chris, it is important that each of these cases is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, evaluating the specific claims of individuals who have been apprehended. 

That said, our general knowledge about those children from Central America that have appeared at the border in rising numbers over the law few weeks -- that our knowledge, again, as a general matter of those cases, indicates that it’s unlikely that the majority of those children will qualify for humanitarian relief. 

So that is just our effort to convey to you as much information as we have about this situation.  It is in no way an effort to prejudge the due process that each of these individuals is entitled to.

Q    You don’t think there will be a practical or even indirect effect on those who are heading to the border to carry out these due process procedures to hear from the podium that -- before they even heard most of them won’t qualify for humanitarian relief?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  I think that the people that are being sent to deal with this problem are highly trained professionals that have a lot of experience in this case law, and that they will look very carefully at the specific claims of each of these individuals and they will carry out those proceedings in accordance with the law.

That is the instruction that they’ve received from the President and from the Secretary of Homeland Security, and that’s what we have the high expectation that they will do.

Q    Setting aside whether the President goes to the border, is he prepared to say what you have said this morning and let those who might be considering this as an option in Central America know, don’t come because you’re likely to be sent back and I’m going to enforce the law?  I mean, as directly as you’ve said it here this morning?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President was pretty direct when he was asked about this 10 days or so ago in an interview with Mr. Karl’s network. 

Q    He said he would enforce the law.  You said something different.  You said that most of these cases won’t qualify.

MR. EARNEST:  I think that what he said was he said, don’t send your children here, and then he went on to explain why that was the case.  And that explanation is in line with our laws.  And that is -- I mean, the other thing that the President highlighted -- and this is important as well -- the President highlighted that what we’re talking about is a very dangerous journey.  In many cases, this is a journey that is being led by criminal networks that are seeking only to prey upon those who live in increasingly desperate situations.

That is deplorable.  It’s one of the reasons that the administration is also seeking greater authority to crack down on some of those criminal networks.  Hopefully, Congress will give us the ability to enforce the law against those criminal networks as well by handing out even stiffer punishments for those who are caught preying on those in a particularly vulnerable state.

But our commitment here to enforcing the law and the candid message that is being delivered to families throughout Central America is that they should not entrust their children in the hands of a criminal on the promise they’ll be welcomed in the United States of America.

Q    When Julie was asking you about Chancellor Merkel saying if these allegations are true, you volunteered and said, that’s a big “if.”  To my ears, that sounded like a qualified denial.  Why don’t you just deny or say what you --

MR. EARNEST:  No, that’s not what it was.  That’s not what it was.  All I’m saying is --

Q    Okay, what was it then?

MR. EARNEST:  It was an observation about her question, which is that it was predicated entirely on a hypothetical.  Not that it was an unreasonable question, but just that it was predicated on a hypothetical.

Q    No, what she was quoting you was the Chancellor of Germany saying, if this is true, it would constitute a breach and of her understanding of a relationship with this country’s government.  That’s not a hypothetical, that’s a statement from the German Chancellor.  And then you said that’s a big “if.”  And so I’m just wondering what’s the context of the big “if.”  Because it sounded like what you were saying is these allegations are unlikely to be proven true.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s not at all what I’m saying.  That is an assumption based on my effort to be as candid as possible with Julie.  I’m not in a position to comment on this matter at all for the reasons that I cited earlier.  This is an intelligence matter and this is a matter that is under investigation by German law enforcement authorities.  So I’m not in a position to comment on it from here.

As it relates to our relationship with Germany, it is a relationship that is highly valued by this country and this administration for a whole variety of reasons, including the solid cooperation and partnership that we have when it comes to our nation’s national security and our intelligence network.  So we value that strong working relationship, and that is why we’re committed to making sure that we resolve this issue with the Germans appropriately.


Q    Josh, we had an immigration judge on last week who said that in some cases the deportation hearing for these unsupported minors can take years because of the backlog.  And presumably, word of that is also making its way back to Central America.  Isn’t that undermining the President and the Vice President when they try to tell parents, don’t put your kids on this dangerous journey?  I mean, even if it’s two, three years they are, in fact, being welcomed to the United States.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is not the -- let me say a couple of things about that.  That is one of the reasons, again, that the President has directed that additional judges, asylum officials and ICE attorneys be dedicated to dealing with the backlog of cases that we’re seeing at the border.  The other thing that’s important for people to understand is that we’re prioritizing recent apprehensions, and that means that people who are planning to show up in the next few weeks are likely to have their cases processed pretty efficiently through the system.  Again, due process will be respected.  Basic humanitarian responsibilities that are dictated by the law but also are part of our national values will also be respected.  That means that these children, when they arrive, they’ll be housed in a facility that’s maintained by HHS. 

But this administration is committed to enforcing the law and making sure that the immigration claims of these individuals is processed quickly through the immigration court system.  And that’s why we’re seeking additional judges and lawyers to make that process operate as efficiently as we can.

Q    So you’re going to do sort of “last in, first out” and they’ll never leave?  That potentially -- trying to deal with the backlog?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s a little bit more complicated than can be described in my introduction to accounting class.  But people should understand that those cases will move efficiently through the system, and that’s why we’re seeking additional resources, so we can both whittle down that backlog but also address the basic due process claims of those who have recently arrived at the border.

Q    Well, and are you also trying to avoid the situation where the minors are released to family members?

MR. EARNEST:  Right, when those -- it’s my understanding that when those releases take place it’s because of the backlog, and so we’re trying to both trim the backlog but also to prioritize the handling of those more recent arrivals. 


Q    Josh, have you been able to get an answer for me yet as to how many of those that are released with the promise of returning to a court date are actually showing up for their hearing?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific number in front of me, Jon.  There are a couple of things --

Q    I’ve been asking this for a couple weeks. 

MR. EARNEST:  I know.

Q    Is there a reason why you can’t --

MR. EARNEST:  But there are a couple of things that are important for you to understand.  The first is, is that if I did have that number here, it would not necessarily give you an accurate picture of what’s actually happening.  Because what we’re seeing is that we’ve seen this recent surge just in the last few weeks of recent arrivals.  Sometimes, because the backlog is rather lengthy, the notice to appear is, in some cases, a rather lengthy period of time.  So that would not -- those who are given a notice to appear but did not appear for their court date, that might not necessarily give you a very accurate picture of what exactly is happening.

Q    But it’s a pretty small number, right?  I mean, not many are showing up for their hearings, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have the number in front of me, Jon, but what we have --

Q    Can you characterize it?  Or is it closer to 10 percent than 100 percent?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what the number would illustrate, if I had it in front of me, it would illustrate that the court system is not operating as efficiently as we would like it to, particularly in light of the recent surge at the southwest border.  And that’s why we’re seeking additional resources to whittle down that backlog to more efficiently deal with those who have been recently apprehended, and making sure that we are enforcing the law.

Q    So the L.A. Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got some of the numbers for previous years, and it showed that back in 2008 there were more than 8,000 minors who were sent back, who were deported.  And last year, that number had fallen to less than 2,000.  I mean, it was almost a fifth of what it had been.  Doesn’t that show that what you were saying is disinformation when the smugglers promise that they’ll be able to stay?  I mean, effectively, this administration has not really been deporting minors in any significant numbers.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, Jon, what’s important is the difference between 2008 and the more recent statistics that you’re citing is the passage of that law by Congress in 2008 that was signed into law by the previous President.  And what that law mandated was a difference in the way that children who arrive in this country from non-contiguous countries are treated in the immigration system. 

So the numbers that you cite reflect, or at least are the consequence of this administration’s consistent commitment for enforcing the law.  What we are seeking is greater authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise some discretion that would allow him to make that process more efficient, and in some cases more quickly and promptly remove some children from this country if it is found that they don’t have -- that they don’t qualify for humanitarian relief. 

So understanding those numbers that were presented in the Times this morning requires someone to take into account what the enforcement of the law requires.  And what that law required was a longer process for adjudicating the cases of these children from non-contiguous countries.

Q    But the bottom line is -- what it shows is that minors that are coming into this country illegally, by and large, have been able to stay because there have been so few deportations.  I mean, you may blame it on the law, others may blame it on lax enforcement.

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, I’m not blaming it on the law.  I’m merely citing that this is what the law requires.  There are some suggestions from our opponents that the problem here is the President is not enforcing the law.  The fact is, the President is enforcing the law.  And what we are seeking is greater authority to more effectively enforce that law that would allow the administration to act more quickly in some cases to return children from the country where they originated if it’s found that they don’t have a legal standing for remaining here.

Q    And could I ask -- I’ve got a question on another subject.  If you can remind me that the President’s tweets -- those tweets that go out under @BarackObama, I understand those that aren’t signed BO are not directly written by him.  Does he even read the others?  Does he know they’re going out?  Are they reviewed by senior people at the White House?  Or is that just simply OFA doing something on his behalf that he’s not even --

MR. EARNEST:  I suspect you’re going to ask me about a tweet from @BarackObama that I may not have seen, but I’m happy to give you some insight into the process, which is that the @BarackObama Twitter handle is maintained by OFA -- that is the political organization that was the offshoot of the campaign.  And that is a Twitter handle that is maintained independent of the White House.

Q    Okay, so the tweet I’m going to ask you about --

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, good, I knew that was coming.  (Laughter.)

Q    -- is after the Hobby Lobby decision, it did a throw-back Thursday tweet to throw back to last week when a woman, not her boss, made her own decisions about her health care.  Does the President believe that, because of the Hobby Lobby decision, that women are not allowed to make their own decisions about their health care unless they consult with their boss? 

MR. EARNEST:  That's certainly true of women in some cases, and that's the concern that this administration has, that what the Supreme Court ruling -- the consequence of that Supreme Court ruling is it will allow bosses to interfere with what the President believes should be the freedom that any woman has to make her own decisions about her health care.

Q    So he was aware of that tweet, as far as you know?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure if he was aware of that tweet.

Q    Were you aware of that tweet?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, because it was -- because the Twitter handle is maintained independent of the White House, I was not aware of it.

But it sounds like based on your description that it is consistent with a priority that the President and this administration have attempted to advance, which is that women should have the freedom to make their own decisions about their health care without interference from their boss.


Q    An Iraq question.  The administration made it clear from the very beginning during this latest crisis that the priority is for the Iraqis to form an inclusive national government.  We heard overnight that the Iraqi parliament is not even going to reconvene until August 12th, which is more than a month from now.

By all accounts, the process of government formation is paralyzed.  Is the administration satisfied with the efforts so far of Iraqi leaders to overcome these sectarian issues?  And what else can the United States do to prod along that process?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, I’ve been pretty candid I think over the last couple of weeks in articulating our disappointment that Iraq’s political leaders have not been able to move more quickly to unify that country.  That nation faces an existential threat from ISIL right now.  And to confront that threat, the country will need to be united.  This is a message that's been delivered by a range of senior administration officials, particularly the Vice President who has spent a lot of time on the phone with political leaders in that country.

We’ve made clear that that is a necessary step.  We’ve also made clear that the President has made clear that additional military involvement will only be done in coordination with tangible commitments from Iraq’s leaders to pursue a more inclusive governing agenda.  The reason for that is that this existential threat that's posed by ISIL certainly has a security dimension to it, but it only highlights the degree to which Iraq is vulnerable to sectarian divisions.  And it will require Iraq’s political leaders from each of these major communities in Iraq -- the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds -- to put aside those sectarian divisions, to put aside their own political ambitions in some cases, and put the interest of the country first.

And we are urging Iraq’s leaders to do that, and quite frankly to do that more than they have in the last few weeks.

Q    But it seems as if they're going in the opposite direction.  Vice President Biden calls, and rather than move up their date for convening parliament, they're moving it back.  So are they brushing aside what your urgent advice is?

MR. EARNEST:  I think that we’ve seen some constructive words from other leading members of Iraq society.  We saw a representative of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani comment and urge Iraq’s political leadership to do the same thing that this administration has been urging them to do.

We’ve seen other countries in the region urge Iraq’s political leaders to come together and unify that country.  So I think that there is widespread agreement in the region and around the world that the way in which this problem can be solved is pretty clear.  It will require difficult steps.  And I don't think anybody has tried to minimize -- I certainly haven’t tried to minimize the difficulty of making these kinds of decisions and reaching these kinds of agreements.

But to be blunt about it, reaching those agreements and making those difficult decisions are necessary for Iraq to survive.

Q    Thanks, Josh.


Q    Thank you, Josh.  I was talking last week to the other Josh from Missouri, Josh Hawley, who was the co-counsel in the Hobby Lobby case.  He’s a Cardinals fan, by the way.

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, that's unfortunate.

Q    And he noted that there are 50 other cases pending that involve nonprofits, such as Little Sisters of the Poor, Wheaton College and others.  And he said that the President, with the stroke of a pen -- his words -- could set aside all these cases with a new executive order that would either circumvent, using -- strong language the previous executive order on health care that's caused all the cases, or designate third parties such as the government or an insurer to handle health care in which abortion-inducing contraceptives are involved.  He said it would end all cases.  Your comment on that?  And is the President considering an executive order?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, our belief, John, for handling this situation is that Congress *the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby decision struck down one part of a statute that was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by the President.  So our view about the best way to resolve this situation is for Congress to pass a law.

I am not naïve about the difficulty that Congress has in taking steps like this, but in this particular matter our first priority for resolving the situation is the passage of a new law through Congress.

Q    So no executive order.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I said was our first priority is for Congress to take action, and that’s what we would like to see.


Q    So we’ve talked a lot about the core of the immigration problem right now concerning this group of kids is problems in their home countries, but really the problem for our country is that they’re able to get past the border and this law that’s in place that caters specifically to them.  Would you agree that that is our problem right now?  That that’s our root cause of the humanitarian crisis that you’ve mentioned?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if we could enjoy some success and cooperation from some of these Central American countries that would stem the tide at the source, that certainly would be a benefit to our country.  So that’s why we’re engaged in some pretty intensive diplomacy.  You’ve seen just in the last couple of weeks both the Vice President and the Secretary of State traveled to that region to meet with leaders of those countries to try to deal with the situation there.

That involves increasing funding for some USAID programs that would promote community development and in some cases even set up repatriation centers to make it more efficient to move children who left that country back to that country.  It also involves great cooperation with law enforcement officials that we have existing law enforcement relationships that can be leveraged to improve citizen security in those countries.

So we’re engaged in a variety of efforts, some of which are underway in the home countries of those who are seeking to travel to this one.  But it is accurate to point out that there is an urgent humanitarian situation that is in full bloom on the U.S. border, and that’s why you’ve seen the deployment of additional resources to try to deal with that.

Q    So if enforcing the law has contributed to the crisis  -- because we need to house them and deal with them through the courts -- wouldn’t the President then advocate for changing that law?  Or does the administration see some humanitarian value in that law?  Or do you think that expanding the leeway of DHS is going to be enough?

MR. EARNEST:  You’re right that this is basically a multifaceted solution that we’re proposing.  The first is, and we’ll always start with, the bedrock requirement that we’re going to enforce the law as it exists.

Now, what we’re also seeking is additional authority from Congress that can be given to the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise some discretion to more promptly remove children who it is found through the court process that they don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country.

Q    Doesn’t that law need to be changed basically?  I mean, we already know that most of the kids won’t have that remedy within their situations anyway. 

MR. EARNEST:  You’re right that it is our expectation that after going through the legal process that the majority of these kids will not qualify for humanitarian relief.  The law that we’re discussing is actually an anti-trafficking law.  There are some important benefits to this law.  There are some kids who are moved through trafficking networks from Asia, for example, who need to have the kind of guarantees and protections in terms of ensuring that due process is followed.  So that law is important. 
But in light of this recent surge that we’ve seen from Central American countries, there is additional authority that could be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security that would allow us to enforce that law more effectively in a way that’s in the best interests of this country but also in the best interest of those children.

Q    Okay.  And, sorry, last question -- the supplemental request, will that include a piece for border security at all, or is this all remedy once they’re past the border?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the supplemental request that we’re seeking principally focuses on these immigration court resources -- judges, lawyers, prosecutors, asylum officials -- who can make sure that these cases are processed more efficiently. 

The issue right now is -- I mean, I’ve seen reporting on many of your networks and outlets that a lot of these individuals who are traveling from Central American countries aren’t necessarily seeking to get through the border; in fact, they’re seeking out Border Patrol officers so that they can be detained and go through the immigration system.  So we certainly are interested in making sure that we have the additional resources in place in the immigration system to process those claims more quickly, and in most cases, when we’re talking about adults, that they can be returned to their home country more quickly.

For those who are concerned about border security -- and I saw that there were a couple of Republicans who were rather forceful in their advocacy for increased border security on a couple of Sunday morning programs -- the fact of the matter is, comprehensive immigration reform that passed through the Senate, has being blocked by Republicans in the House, includes a historic investment in border security. 

So those who claim that they are against comprehensive immigration reform, but yet are committed to criticizing the President for his lack of effort to secure the border, are open to have their motives questioned.  And I hope that they will be when they do additional interviews on your networks.

Thanks, everybody.  Have a good Monday. 

1:50 P.M. EDT

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