The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Princeton, Indiana, 10/3/2014

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Princeton, Indiana  

1:09 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  I have a couple of different things to do at the top, and then we'll go to questions, okay?  The first is the United States welcomes the Australian government’s deployment of fighter aircraft to participate in airstrikes on ISIL in Iraq, as well as its intention to deploy special forces to Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces.

With these deployments, Australia demonstrates its continued leadership and resolve in addressing the urgent and critical security challenges that threaten Australia, its people, and the broader international community.  Australians and Americans have fought alongside each other in every major conflict over the past century, and we are grateful for Australia’s further contribution against terrorism.

We also welcome the decision by the Danish Parliament to authorize the contribution of F16 fighters to join American, Iraqi, and international forces in countering ISIL positions in Iraq and to provide trainers to advise and assist Iraqi security forces.  Denmark’s contribution is a valued addition to the international coalition that has assembled to counter ISIL and support the Iraqi government.  The United States is proud of our close and longstanding alliance with the Kingdom of Denmark. 

The United States also welcomes the Turkish Parliament’s strong vote recognizing ISIL as a threat to Turkey’s national security and authorizing Turkish military activity against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  We look forward to working closely with the government of Turkey to incorporate Turkey’s unique capabilities to the growing international coalition to counter ISIL.

We will continue to work with our international partners to expand our sustained and comprehensive approach to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL through a variety of means, including military action, efforts to stop terror finances, countering flows of foreign fighters into the region, and delegitimizing ISIL’s extremist ideology.

Second, a brief note about the Warrior Games, which promote athletic reconditioning of wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and veterans.  It concludes tomorrow at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I wanted to take just a brief minute at the top of the gaggle to congratulate the more than 200 wounded, ill and injured servicemembers who took part, and recognize these brave men and women for their extraordinary service and the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our country.  Their commitment to their recovery and to their athletic performance is a genuine inspiration to me and to Americans all across this country.

Finally, I want to note that we're obviously aboard this aircraft because we are traveling to Princeton, Indiana, where the President will tour Millennium Steel.  While at the plant, he'll have the opportunity to visit with workers at the plant about a range of topics but principally focused on those policies that benefit middle-class families all across the country.

Earlier today, we also got new indications from the Department of Labor that our economy continues to demonstrate some resilience and to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.  We are now at 55 consecutive months of private sector job creation.  That's a total of 10.3 million jobs over that span.  Just last month, there were 248,000 private sector jobs created and the unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent.  That is all in addition to upward revisions from the two previous months.  This is an indication that our economy is continuing to strengthen. 

This data is consistent with the case that the President presented in his speech at the Kellogg School of Management just yesterday.  In that speech he laid out how important it is for us to lay a new foundation for our nation’s economy; that building that foundation is critical to our long-term strength and our success as a country.  He noted that a critical part of that foundation is ensuring that the United States continues to be a magnet for good, middle-class jobs.  Our economy is strongest when middle-class families are strong.  And the kind of manufacturing jobs that will be on display during the President’s tour today are a good example of the kind of middle-class jobs that are so critical to a thriving U.S. economy. 

The manufacturing sector, in particular, has been a bright spot.  Over the course of our recovery, about 700,000 manufacturing jobs have been created here in the United States.  That's the fastest rate of growth -- of job growth in the manufacturing sector since the 1990s.  The manufacturing sector is also experiencing job growth at twice the rate of the broader economy.  That is an indication that making important investments in this particular sector of the economy are bearing fruit and starting to create benefits for the broader economy.

The President will have a lot more to say about that in his remarks -- in his conversation with workers later today. 

So with that long wind-up, let’s go to questions.  Jim, do you want to start?

Q    Josh, I wanted to ask you about Ebola, in light of the case in Texas.  What steps is the administration taking to better screen incoming passengers at airports or other ports of entry?  And is there any consideration at this point to some kind of non-essential travel ban?

MR. EARNEST:  There’s no consideration of a travel ban at this point.  But I can tell you that there is -- well, let me explain.  There are a couple of good reasons for that.  The first is there is in place a very sophisticated, multilayered screening system in place to ensure that the traveling public is safe.

Those screening protocols begins at the point of departure; that in West Africa and these counties, under the supervision of international personnel, there are screening protocols in place to ensure that those individuals who are already exhibiting symptoms of Ebola don't board aircraft.  This includes everything from a visual examination of passengers as they're preparing to board aircraft, to giving them questionnaires that they have to fill out.  In other cases, it even involves taking the temperature of passengers before they board aircraft.  So there is screening protocol in place even before individuals enter the transportation system.

Second, there has been clear communication and guidance that's been given to personnel that make up the transportation system.  Pilots, flight attendants, other security officials who are part of the transportation system have been trained and educated about what they should be looking for in terms of ensuring that the traveling public is safe.

And then, third, there is a line of defense at our borders where Customs and Border Patrol officers, again, have been trained to spot individuals that have or are exhibiting symptoms of Ebola to ensure that their cases can be quickly dealt with, consistent with generally accepted medical protocols.

So there is a system in place.  The reason that this system is important is that medical professionals tell us that Ebola is not contagious unless an individual is showing symptoms of Ebola. In other words, no one -- it’s not possible to catch Ebola unless you come into close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who’s already exhibiting symptoms.

So if we can screen through the transportation system to ensure that individuals that are exhibiting symptoms don't have access to a transportation system, then you can keep the transportation system secure. 

The other thing that I’m aware of -- and this is something, again, that those who are principally responsible for responding to this outbreak in West Africa -- is that shutting down the transportation system would limit the ability of the broader international community to mobilize the response; that getting personnel, medical experts, equipment and supplies into West Africa relies on the functioning of the transportation system.  So the strong preference here is to keep the transportation system open, but safe.

Q    On the public health side, you talked about training for transportation workers.  But in Dallas, the patient went to the hospital, wasn’t identified.  Is there an effort to have better preparation on the public health side or with first responders?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll say a couple things about that.  The first is there has been very clear coordination between federal, state and local officials responding to this particular incident. As I understand it, there have actually been daily conference calls for the media in which there are representatives of the state government, the local government, and the federal government.  And that is an indication of the kind of coordination that is underway to respond to that specific effort.

More broadly, in the aftermath of this report, the Centers for Disease Control has recirculated the guidance that had previously been disseminated to medical professionals all across the county to ensure they're prepared to deal with Ebola cases promptly if they are presented.  We continue to have strong confidence in the medical protocols that our professionals recommend for both treating Ebola patients and preventing the broader spread of Ebola.

Let me just restate something I have said a couple of times in other settings, which is that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low.  That's what medical professionals tell us.  The reason for that is simply that Ebola is not like the flu.  You can't catch it through the air.  It is not possible to catch Ebola through the food -- by consuming food or water here in the United States.  We know very clearly that the only way that an individual can catch Ebola is by coming into close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual that is already exhibiting symptoms of Ebola. 

So that's why the protocol dictates that those who are exhibiting symptoms of Ebola are quickly isolated.  But even as they're isolated, they can still be given medical assistance.  And there are several examples of Americans who’ve returned to this county with Ebola who have been isolated, gotten treatment and recovered.  The President has had the opportunity to meet two of them, in fact.

So we have confidence that these medical protocols, if properly implemented, will be successful in stopping Ebola in its tracks in this county.

Q    They certainly were not properly implemented in Texas. That is -- it’s clear that the hospital there did not follow the guidelines that it probably should have to avoid more exposure to this particular patient.  Isn’t that a concern?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, for the handling of this specific case, I’d refer you to the local officials there who will have more information about what exactly happened. 

What I do know is I know that the guidance that the federal government has provided to medical professionals across the county has been recirculated.  I do know that the local officials have indicated that they are changing some basic steps in their admittance procedure to ensure that this specific error doesn't occur again.  And there are already medical professionals from the CDC who are on the ground in north Texas to assist in the response to this case and to do what’s called contact tracing to limit this case and ensure that the Ebola doesn't spread.

Q    -- think recirculating guidelines is enough?

MR. EARNEST:  I think that should be an indication to you that we believe that following the guidelines will ensure that the American public is safe.

Q    These screening procedures you were talking about in terms of the border and travel, and also the medical guidelines you’re talking about, are those things that were put into place after this current outbreak began?  Or have those been in place for a long time?  And is there anything new that the administration is considering doing given the Dallas case?  And now we’re hearing there may be a D.C. case.

MR. EARNEST:  There’s a lot there, so let me say thank you for letting me clarify if I wasn’t clear before.  These protocols have been in place for quite some time, for a number of months now.  So they are not a reaction to this specific incident in Dallas.

Now, the other thing that's important for people to remember is there’s no one who is suggesting that this individual was exhibiting symptoms of Ebola when he flew from West Africa to the United States.  That would explain two things.  One, it explains why the traveling public is not at risk as a result of his travel.  It also explains why he was not stopped in the screening process.  And that is as it should be.

Q    Doesn't it also beg the question of are those protocols enough to prevent people who are infected with Ebola from coming back to the United States?  I mean, if the procedures were followed, and he’s still here and was able to have contact with lots of other people before he was hospitalized --

MR. EARNEST:  Again, just to be really clear about this, right, there’s no risk to the traveling public because he was not exhibiting symptoms when he was traveling, and that means he was not contagious while he was traveling.

What we have done, though, is made sure that we’ve recirculated guidance to public health professionals so that they can quickly respond to individuals who are demonstrating symptoms of Ebola.  And that is what is critical to preventing the spread of this disease and ensuring that the American public continues to be safe.

As it relates to -- I’ve seen these reports of a specific patient in D.C.  I would caution that there has not yet been a confirmed test to indicate that this person does have Ebola.  And there have been a number of other reports of individuals who have had Ebola-like symptoms who have presented themselves to U.S. hospitals where tests indicate that they did not have Ebola. 

So we should let the test run its course.  And I know that the professionals in Washington have indicated that they feel -- that they're completely prepared, if necessary, to implement the medical protocols to prevent the spread of Ebola in D.C., as well.

Q    Is the President aware of this case, regardless of whether it is Ebola or not?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I don't know if the President has been briefed.  But again, this is an individual who has not tested positive for Ebola.  So I don't know if this would rise to the level of a presidential briefing because, again, this person has not indicated that they -- the tests do not indicate that this person has Ebola at this point.  Those tests are still being conducted, and I’d refer you to the local medical professionals at Howard University Hospital who are caring for that individual.

Q    Is there a particular reason why the President was delayed getting of Marine One today?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m glad you asked.  The President had the opportunity to discuss with me and my colleague, Ms. Palmieri, about how pleased he was about the speech that he had the opportunity to give at the Kellogg School of Management yesterday.  He did have the opportunity to make a very clear case in his mind about how the policies that this administration has put in have yielded significant benefits for our economy and significant benefits for middle-class families all over this country.

And the President feels very good about the case that he and others will make about how important it is for voters to understand that the President would like to have people in Congress who will work with him, side by side, to implement the kinds of policies that will allow us to build on the momentum that we have built up already.  And that was the subject of the  conversation on Marine One today.

Q    Chatting about how much he enjoyed giving a speech yesterday?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, and talking about how -- and talking about how the release of the jobs numbers today is a pretty good proof point of the case the President was making.  And the President was articulating his confidence in the strength of that case in the context of the midterm elections.

Q    Are we going to hear from him at all on the Ebola issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Today, you mean?  I don't anticipate that you will today.

Q    And let me ask you also, the Vice President yesterday gave a speech where he said that -- the post-World War II international order is literally fraying at the seams.  Is that a sentiment that the President agrees with?

MR. EARNEST:  I didn't see the entire context of the Vice President’s remarks.  It sounds consistent with something I’ve heard other administration officials say, which is that in certain areas of the Middle East, in the aftermath of some of the conflicts at the beginning and in the middle of the last century, that some of the borders in those counties are fraying a little bit.  And part of that is the sectarian tension that's evident in the region that is causing a lot of violence there.

But another of the legacies of the second world war is the formation of NATO.  And the President and the Vice President and others have talked about how critically important that alliance is to global security.  It’s also critically important to America’s national security. 

So, again, I’d have to see the context of his remarks to delve into that more deeply.  I suspect he was referring to sectarian violence in the Middle East, and not to the strong and enduring partnership that we have with our allies in Europe.

Q    Were there plans for the President to give a speech or something to address on Ebola?  I mean, not today, but are you guys talking about it?  Is it of some concern?

MR. EARNEST:  Nothing that I’m aware of right now.

Q    Does the President have any reaction to Sweden announcing today -- or recognizing Palestine as a state?

MR. EARNEST:  I actually have not seen those reports yet, so let me check with my colleagues at the NSC and we’ll see if we can get you a response.

Q    Josh, on the event today, one of the worrisome spots on the BLS report on jobs today was that wages have remained stagnant -- in fact, they’ve dropped a penny over the past month on an hourly rate -- and also that manufacturing -- which is what the President is touting -- has remained flat for two months.  Is that a worrisome development for the President?  It seems to address one of the issues that he’s concerned, yet there doesn't seem to be any improvement there.

MR. EARNEST:  That's a good question.  I think what I would say is one of those things we’re worried about and one of them we’re not.  The first is we do continue to believe that the manufacturing sector is showing tremendous resiliency in the aftermath of the Great Recession; that over the course of the recovery there have been 700,000 manufacturing sector jobs that have been created.

Now, the President does believe that there is more that we can do to strengthen the manufacturing sector.  And we have floated proposals related to job training.  This will be evident when we do the tour of the Millennium Steel Plant today, that the jobs that we’re talking about in the manufacturing sector in the 21st century are jobs for which significant training is required. These are highly technical jobs. 

And that's why the President believes investing in our workforce and working with businesses and academic institutions to ensure that we have job training programs that are suited for the middle-class jobs in that community is critically important. It’s an effort that would have significant benefits not just for the workers in these communities, but also for the businesses that are looking for employees that can help them grow.

So we do feel good about the substantial progress that the manufacturing sector has made so far.  We believe that with additional investments we can build on that momentum. 

As it relates to wage growth, this is an issue that the President is concerned about, and it is something that he talked about last night -- or yesterday afternoon.  The President is focused on policies that would better align the growth in our economy and job creation that we’re seeing with the wages that are paid to middle-class workers across the county; that we haven’t seen as close a relationship between the strength in economic growth and job creation that we would like to see in wage growth.

So there are a number of policies that the President has put forward that would, both in the short term and over the long term, enhance the wage growth prospects for middle-class families.  This is everything from making a college education more affordable and accessible to middle-class families across the county.  As the cost of -- as a college education becomes more important than ever to a good, solid, middle-class job, the cost of a college education has outstripped inflation significantly.  That is a disconnect that the President is eager to fix.  Early investments in things like early childhood education and in elementary education would ensure that we have kids who are well positioned to benefit from a college education and can compete in a global economy.

It also includes more tangible, immediate things like workplace policies that ensure that women get a fair shot in the workplace, too; that they're not discriminated against; that they have an opportunity to balance their family obligations alongside their professional obligations, and that they are not disadvantaged when it comes to success in their career. 

So there are a number of things that we can do.  The President has put forward a number of common-sense policies on this.  The thing that they have in common is not just that they would benefit middle-class families, they’ve also all been blocked by Republicans in Congress.  And that's the context in which the midterm elections that are scheduled for four weeks from now are taking place.

Q    If I could follow up on that, the President said yesterday that his -- basically that his economic policies are on the ballot on Election Day.  And that had a lot of Republicans crowing about he had nationalized the election.  The fact is that his numbers on handling the economy, if you looked at polls, are not great.  So can you talk about why he thinks that's the right case to make right now, that for Democrats who are running in tough races this fall, they want voters thinking about his economic record?

MR. EARNEST:  The fact is the results speak for themselves, and the policies that the President has put in place have helped our economy recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Obviously, the working men and women of America -- and they are entrepreneurs and innovators -- deserve the bulk of that credit.  But the fact is the President’s policies played a key role in ensuring that that success and recovery could take place.

And the President does believe there’s a pretty fundamental question, which is -- are you going to support candidates who are willing to work with the President to put in place policies that benefit middle-class families -- that's what the vast majority of Democrats across the county stand for -- or are you going to back a Republican agenda that has been focused primarily on obstruction in Washington, but also on putting in place policies that benefit those at the top with the expectation that those benefits will eventually trickle down to everyone else.

The President believes that we have had a pretty good opportunity to fairly evaluate the outcomes of those policies, and the President believes that -- like I said, the results speak for themselves, and that middle-class families would benefit from the kinds of policies that the President is advocating.  And the President is looking for Democrat candidates -- well, he’s looking for candidates in either party, frankly, but so far all we’ve seen are Democratic candidates step up to the plate and indicate their willingness to support an agenda that benefits middle-class families like the one the President is advocating.

Q    Do you have the week-ahead?

MR. EARNEST:  I do have the week-ahead.  Thank you for reminding me.  Let me come through it here, and then we’ll all go put our seatbelts on.

On Sunday, the President will deliver remarks at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication Ceremony in Washington, D.C. 

On Monday, the President will meet with the lead financial regulators at the White House for a discussion on the economy and to receive an update on the implementation of Wall Street reform. In the afternoon, the President will meet with members of his national security team and senior staff to receive an update on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the administration’s response efforts.  In the evening, the President will attend a DNC roundtable in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, the President will travel to New York City to attend DNC events.  Following these events, the President will travel to Greenwich, Connecticut, to attend a DSCC event.  Further details on the President’s travel to New York and Connecticut will be available in the coming days.

On Wednesday, the President will travel to the Pentagon where he will both meet with his combatant commanders and hold a meeting with his national security team to receive an update on the campaign to combat ISIL.

On Thursday, the President will travel to Los Angeles, California, to attend a DNC event.  He’ll spend the night in Los Angeles.

On Friday, the President will travel to San Francisco to attend a DNC event, and the President will spend the night on Friday night in San Francisco. 

On Saturday, while in San Francisco, the President will attend a DNC roundtable.  Following these events, the President will return to Washington, D.C., in the afternoon. 

We’ll have additional details about the President’s California travel early next week.

Q    Why is he doing that meeting at the Pentagon?

MR. EARNEST:  That's an opportunity for him to meet with his combatant commanders.  I believe that combatant commanders from across the globe are in Washington, are in town for a range of meetings and it will be an opportunity for him to also convene a meeting with the national security team to talk about our ongoing efforts against ISIL.

Q    -- on the financial regulators, is the President concerned that the Wall Street regs aren’t being implemented quickly enough?  I know he had expressed that concern before.

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have a detailed agenda for the meeting.  It will be an opportunity for him to receive an update on the status of the implementation of those regulations.  I’ll try to get you some more information that we can talk about on Monday, as the meeting gets closer.

Thanks, everybody.

1:35 P.M. EDT


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