Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/14/2013
Vineyard Square Hotel
Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
11:15 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: So before we get started, I do want to just read a statement about the violence overnight in Egypt:
The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protestors in Egypt. We extend our condolences to the families of those who have been killed and to the injured. We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we’ve urged protestors to demonstrate peacefully.
The violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation. We also strongly oppose a return to a State of Emergency law and call on the government to respect basic human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly and due process under the law. The world is watching what is happening in Cairo. We urge the government of Egypt and all parties of Egypt to refrain from violence and resolve their differences peacefully.
So with that opening statement, we’ll go to you for the first question.
Q Thanks, Josh. These are the kinds of statements you’ve been making for about six weeks now -- calling for calm. Is there anything else the United States can do to apply some leverage here? Is the administration reconsidering its position on labeling this a coup? We’re still sending $1.3 billion to the military. Is there anything we can do to get them to stop the violence?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, Nedra, over the course of the last several weeks, senior officials in the Obama administration have been in touch with their counterparts in Egypt. We read out to you a number of calls that Secretary Kerry has done with his counterpart in Egypt. We’ve described a number of calls between Secretary Hagel and his counterparts and the military leadership in Egypt.
Deputy Secretary of State Burns was just in Egypt last week. He was joined by his counterpart from the EU and diplomats from the UAE and Qatar as well, all having meetings with officials in the Egyptian interim government. Senator Graham and Senator McCain also traveled to Egypt last week. So there are open lines of communication between the United States and Egypt.
And I think as this statement that I just read makes pretty clear, our view that the government should respect the basic universal human rights of their people is unambiguous. We’ve been very direct about that.
We also will continue to hold the interim government accountable for the promise that they have made: to speed the transition to a civilian democratically elected government. That’s what we would like to see in Egypt not just because of our firm belief in universal human rights, but also because it’s the will of the Egyptian people.
So we will continue to be in touch with our counterparts in Egypt and continue to urge them to follow through on their commitment to transition to a democratic civilian government, and to do so through an inclusive process. And those messages are pretty unambiguous and are sent on a regular basis.
Q Are you reconsidering the position on whether or not this was a coup?
MR. EARNEST: As I think we’ve talked about a couple of weeks ago, we have determined that it is not in the best interest of the United States to make that determination. But as we’ve also said throughout that process, we are on a regular basis reviewing the aid that is provided by the United States to Egypt, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q And just finally, how is the President being kept updated? Was he monitoring this overnight? Can you give us some details about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that the President has been briefed on this, on the violence that occurred overnight in Egypt. As you know, the National Security Advisor, Ambassador Rice, is traveling with us this week. And the President will continue to stay updated and has asked to be regularly updated as events warrant. So he is closely monitoring what’s happening there.
Q Josh, you’ve been calling for an inclusive government in Egypt for weeks now. After what’s happened here, why should the Muslim Brotherhood be prepared to talk to the Egyptian military rulers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, part of the conversations that Deputy Secretary Burns and others have had with Egyptian officials is that it’s in the best interest of all sides to pursue reconciliation, to put an end to the violence, to respect basic human rights, and to put in place a government that reflects the will of the Egyptian people.
That is the clear view of the United States, and it’s something that we have, as you point out, urged them to do for quite some time now. But it’s also in the best interest of the Egyptian people. And so we are hopeful that the interim government will begin to take the steps necessary to effect that transition.
Q And we’ve seen a range in the death toll from 95 to 800. Do you have any clear picture on that?
MR. EARNEST: I can tell you that there are -- folks who are monitoring this situation are working to get some more details about what exactly happened. I don't have any more details to share with you specifically about what our knowledge is at this point. But suffice it to say they are trying to get greater clarity about what’s actually happened.
Q And when you say that you will hold the interim government accountable, in what way?
MR. EARNEST: Well, just that we are -- that they have made promises that they -- when the interim government took control of the country, they promised that they would -- that this was only an interim step so they could transition promptly to a civilian democratically elected government. That's a promise that they have made, and that's a promise that we’re going to encourage them to keep.
So when I say “hold them accountable” I mean we’re going to remind them that they made that promise and encourage them to keep it.
Q Can you give us any more specifics about the mechanics and timing of the President’s briefing? And did the National Security Advisor come to see him this morning? Was there anything that required him to be awakened overnight? Can you give us anything more precise about how this happened?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding that he was briefed this morning by Ambassador Rice. I don't know exactly what time that occurred. We can try to get some more details for you if that would be helpful, but he was briefed on this situation this morning.
Q Okay, now this situation has been building. The interim government had been sending signals for the better part of the last 72 hours that it is moving in this direction. Were there any last minute efforts at any level of the United States government to avert this, to warn them, to urge the transitional government not to take these violent steps that have now resulted in so many deaths?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any specific conversations to highlight for you, but all along you’ve heard me and Jay and other senior officials in this government urge the interim government to respect the basic human rights of their people. So there is no ambiguity about what the position is of this government -- of our government, the United States government -- about the importance of respecting basic human rights. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and to peaceful protest. And that is a message that has been communicated directly to the Egyptians at a range of levels, and that is -- our position on that is not unclear.
Q How concerned or anxious is the administration that this situation is not just violent, but is pitching for prolonged civil war, or something that looks like it? Because, following up on Steve's question, the Muslim Brotherhood now has had two episodes of peaceful assembly disrupted by gunfire that's resulted in dozens of deaths of their membership protesting peacefully. How can this end up in reconciliation? Why isn't this headed directly towards a civil war?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think my statement alluded to this concern, which is that violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation.
So there's no question that the violence that we saw overnight is a step in the wrong direction. It is an indication that they're not currently following through on their promise to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government -- that they're not committed to an inclusive process. It's time for them to get back on a path of respecting the basic human rights of their people, to include a variety of perspectives in conversations about what the future government of Egypt looks like. And, again, that’s important not just because of the importance of respecting the basic universal human rights that we in the United States hold so dear. It's also important, because it's what the people of Egypt are demanding.
Q And the stakes are high. Is this provoking a reassessment within the administration about what it's done and what it may do in the future because what you said and how you've interacted with this transitional government is clearly not working?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have said that we are on a regular basis for reviewing the assistance that we provide to the Egyptians, and that review is ongoing. You've heard us say that we're not going to designate the interim government as a coup, because it's not in the best interest of the United States. But we're reviewing our obligations under the law.
We made an announcement a couple of weeks ago about a shipment of F-16s that was delayed. So this is -- the review of our assistance that is provided to Egypt is something that we do on a regular basis and that's something that we are continuing to do.
Q It must be accelerated now after this series of events.
MR. EARNEST: I would concede that it is, that it continues to happen, that we are continuing to review our posture and our assistance to the Egyptians.
Q You have an ally here who, as has been said, who is getting $1.3 billion worth of our aid. You have open lines of communication, you say. Did they tell you in advance in these open lines of communication that they were going to sweep this demonstration and it was going to be violent?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any specific conversations to read you into. We have been, as I've pointed out, in regular touch at a variety of levels with the leaders of Egypt.
Q But was it a surprise, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any conversations to read out at this point. So I'm not able to provide you greater insight into what specific conversations we've had, other than to say that we've had many of them at a variety of levels. And I don't have any calls to read out in terms of what calls have been made today. But I would anticipate that you'd continue to see some interaction between senior representatives of this administration and senior representatives of the Egyptian government.
Q So on the issue of the coup, do you explain to the American people how when a government -- or a military takes over an elected government and now is declared an emergency state where there is a curfew at seven o'clock at night until daybreak, how that is not a coup? Or is it a coup and you just don't want to say the words?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what we announced a couple of weeks ago is that we had arrived at the conclusion that we're not going to make a final determination about the coup; that it was in the best interest of the United States to pursue our conversations with the interim government in Egypt to hold them accountable, or to remind them of the promises that they have made about transitioning to a democratically elected, civilian government and a transition that would occur promptly, and that these are all actions that will encourage them to respect basic human rights to reflect the will of the Egyptian people.
But it's also in the best interest of the national security of the United States. And, ultimately, when the President is making decisions like this, that's what's first and foremost in his mind. But it is certainly in the interest of the United States for there to be a democratically elected government of Egypt that reflects the will of the people there that they were elected to government -- that they were elected to govern, and that respects the basic human rights that we here in the United States hold so dear and that, frankly, people all around the world expect to be protected by democratically elected governments.
Q So to try to cut through some of that language, are you telling the American people that to call it a coup would cut off our influence there? Even though it may be a coup, saying the words will cut off our influence there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I’m trying to say to you is that there are certain legal obligations that go with the designation of a coup. And it has been determined by senior foreign policy officials in this administration to not make a determination, but rather to engage in a dialogue with the interim government of Egypt and encourage them to follow through on their promises to promptly transition to a democratically elected, civilian government.
That’s what the focus of our conversations are and that is what is in the best interest of the United States. And, frankly, it is also what’s in the best interest of the regional instability that’s been created by some of the unrest that we’ve seen there.
Q Just one more on a different subject. Why has the administration changed its position on airline mergers? Why is this airline merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways different than all the others that have gotten to this place?
MR. EARNEST: The determination that was reached about this merger was a determination that was reached by the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice. And I know the head of that division, Bill Baer, hosted a news conference yesterday where he explained the determination that was reached by the Department of Justice. That was an independent enforcement action that was taken by the Department of Justice, and I don’t have anything to add to their conclusion.
Q Josh, you said you couldn’t read out any phone calls, but can you tell us if the President has made any phone calls -- without reading out the specifics -- to leaders in the region?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any calls to read out at this point.
Q Can you tell us if senior administration officials have -- without reading out the content?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I’m not in a position to do that.
Q And on another topic, the President is hitting the road next week; he’s going on a bus tour. Can you give us some more specifics about that trip? And can you respond to Republicans who say this is another example of the President campaigning and not legislating? And to what extent is the President concerned that by tweaking Republicans, he actually makes it harder to get a deal a deal done on the budget?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, there’s a lot there, so let’s start with some basic facts and I’ll get to some of the other points that you made.
As many of you have heard, on Thursday, August 22nd, the President will commence a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania. Along the way, he’ll discuss the importance of ensuring that every American has access to a quality education by reducing costs and improving the value of higher education for middle-class students and their families.
Stops along the way -- I know these were eagerly anticipated details -- the President will make stops in Buffalo, New York; Syracuse, New York; Binghamton, New York; and then an as-yet unscheduled stop somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania. So we’ll have some more details on this as we get it locked down.
MR. EARNEST: Northeastern Pennsylvania.
MR. EARNEST: Possibly. We’ll let you know when we have some more details on that.
In terms of what the President will discuss, I would encourage you and the Republicans that have apparently been talking to you to wait and judge the President’s remarks after he’s delivered them. I would assume that Republicans, at least in principle, would agree with the President that a policy priority of the federal government should be making sure that a college education is both affordable and accessible to middle-class families all across the country.
I think there’s some evidence to indicate that Republicans share that goal. We saw there was some cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in Congress to reduce student loan interest rates that had doubled at the 1st of July. So we did see some cooperation there.
And the President will lay out some ideas that he has about other things that we can do to make sure that we have -- that we can ensure that there’s access to a quality college education beyond just making sure that students have the resources they need to be able to borrow money to afford it. Maybe there are some steps that we can take -- and you’ve heard the President talk about this a little bit already -- some steps that we can take to actually reduce the cost of a college education or at least prevent it from growing at the rapid rate that it’s currently growing.
So we’ll get into this a little bit more, but it’s certainly the President’s view that in a 21st century global economy, a college education has never been more important. So if we’re going to want to make sure that the next generation of American kids has access to the middle class and to living out the American Dream, that hard work will lead to a decent living, we need to make sure that we’re expanding access to college education to more middle-class families.
Q And I have just one more, Josh. The Missouri chapter of the NAACP is apparently going to call on the DOJ and the Secret Service to investigate the rodeo clown who wore a mask of President Obama. Is that something that the DOJ will investigate? And what was the White House’s reaction to that incident?
MR. EARNEST: I have not talked to my colleagues in the White House about this, and I haven’t heard about the President’s reaction or if he had one.
I can tell you as a native Missourian it’s certainly not one of the finer moments for our state, and not the way that I like to see our state mentioned in the news.
In terms of any Department of Justice action, I’d refer you to them.
Q Back to Egypt again, is there any forceful action that's on the table being considered now? You’ve laid out a lot of conversations that are taking place at the highest levels. But what other steps are being reviewed now to deal with the current situation on the ground there?
MR. EARNEST: Dan, I don't have any specific steps to preview for you. Obviously, there are a number of conversations that are ongoing between senior administration officials here in the U.S. and their counterparts in Egypt. And we are on a regular basis and have been for some time now reviewing the assistance that we provide to the Egyptians. And I mentioned to Major the decision several weeks ago to delay the delivery of some F-16s that were scheduled for delivery to Egypt. But in terms of concrete steps, I don't have anything specific to preview for you at this point.
Q But isn’t there -- just to follow on what my colleague said earlier, isn’t there the recognition that these conversations or these threats simply aren’t working?
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly the violence that we saw overnight in Egypt does not reflect the stated commitment of the interim government to pursue a democratic transition. It doesn't reflect their commitment to respecting basic human rights, like the freedom of the right to a peaceful protest. So we’re concerned about them, and I think that the statement that I read at the top is indicative of the serious concern that we have about what’s happened there.
But in terms of figuring out how to encourage the interim government to make good on their promise to transition to a democratically elected government there is something that we’re working on. And hopefully it’s something that they're working on.
We need to see an inclusive process. We need to see an end to the politically motivated tensions. We need to see tangible evidence that the interim government is going to make good on the promise to effectuate this transition promptly. And that's something that we’re still waiting to see, and that’s certainly something that is the subject of regular conversation.
Q Back on the subject of health care, there’s the delay now on the limit of out-of-pocket --
MR. EARNEST: That's not actually correct. The delay -- the caps on out-of-pocket medical expenses will go forward and will be implemented on schedule January 1st, for the first time thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
Q Well, it’s my understanding that it’s going to be delayed until 2015. Is that incorrect?
MR. EARNEST: What is correct is that on January 1, 2014, for the first time, every single American will have access to a health care plan that will limit their out-of-pocket medical expenses. That means that never again will a family go bankrupt because somebody in their family got sick. That is a historic consumer protection that is in place on time and on schedule because of the Affordable Care Act.
So that is just -- that is among the other things. There have been a number of other insurance company abuses that have been ended because of the Affordable Care Act, where no longer -- as of January 1st, no longer will insurance companies be able to discriminate against people that have preexisting conditions. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there will be an end to the lifetime and annual caps on the benefits that insurance companies will pay out. And for the first time, there will be in place caps on the medical costs that families will be forced to pay out of pocket. So there are some significant consumer protections that are ready to go in place on schedule and on time starting at the beginning of the year.
Q Some Republicans are charging that these kinds of delays, including last month when employers did not have to provide -- or delayed -- employers don't have to provide insurance to full-time employees --
MR. EARNEST: Presumably these are Republicans who --
Q -- so it shows that essentially this health care law is just not ready for prime time, that the President has simply over-promised and now can’t deliver. How do you respond?
MR. EARNEST: These are the same Republicans who voted against the Affordable Care Act.
Q How do you respond to the --
MR. EARNEST: The same Republicans who voted 40 times to defund the Affordable Care Act. The same Republicans who are threatening to shut down the government if Obamacare is not defunded.
The point is it’s a little hard to take their criticism seriously considering their opposition to the law in the first place. I was telling some of my colleagues earlier this is akin to Alex Rodriguez complaining that the drug-testing program that Major League Baseball has in place isn’t sufficiently strict. It’s just hard to take -- on its face, it doesn’t -- it’s difficult to take them seriously in their complaints.
Q What if you support the law and are looking forward to some of these benefits, like this exemption on the cap expose you to more costs than you originally thought you might be?
MR. EARNEST: Well, see, there’s been some reporting on this that hasn’t been entirely accurate. The fact of the matter is that as of January 1st -- so just three or four months now -- every single American will have access to a health care plan that will limit their out-of-pocket medical costs. Currently there’s no cap on that.
Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, so they go back to a situation where there’s no cap. But because of the Affordable Care Act, because of Obamacare, on January 1st there will be a cap, and that will be a source of comfort to a lot of Americans who don’t have to worry about going bankrupt just because somebody in their family gets sick.
Q Yes, but the exemption creates a cap for two different kinds of health care expenses -- pharmaceutical care and other medical and doctors’ care. The original assumption was that there would just be one universal cap, and because some companies have two -- have benefit plans that have two forms of coverage, that you’re going to be exposed to two caps instead of just one. Correct?
MR. EARNEST: Partially correct. First of all, let’s clarify about which programs we’re talking about. Through the exchanges through the marketplaces where -- people who don’t currently have insurance or don’t get insurance through their employer can go to a marketplace and sign up for a health care plan that includes out-of-pocket caps. So basically they will limit their medical costs to about $6,300 a year -- out-of-pocket medicals costs to about $6,300 a year. That is something that has never been in place before and will be a source of comfort to a lot of Americans.
And like I said, never again will anyone have to be worried about going bankrupt just because somebody in their family gets sick, because there will be a cap on their out-of-pocket medical expenses. And that is available through the marketplace in all 50 states.
Now, if you get health insurance through your employer, which is, to be fair, the vast majority of Americans, for those -- some of those plans do include caps -- a unified cap, basically through both their medical costs and their drug costs. And that cap will be lowered to about $6,300 a year. And that’s, again, a large chunk of Americans who currently get their benefits through their employers.
Now, there’s a third category of people who get their benefits through their employers but have two different plan administrators -- one for medical costs and one for drug costs.
So if those plans have caps, they will be lowered to $6,350. If they don’t, those Americans still have the opportunity to go into the exchange and can purchase a plan, through the exchange, that has out-of-pocket medical costs -- that caps out-of-pocket medical costs. So there still is the opportunity for those Americans to do that.
So when I say that every single American will have access on schedule and on time on January 1st to a health care plan that limits out-of-pocket medicals costs, that is a promise that the President has made good on, and that is a promise that we are pleased about.
Now, what you’re referring to is the special class of plans where, by 2015, there will be a situation in which the unified out-of-pocket medical costs will be $6,300.
Q But not October, correct?
MR. EARNEST: Correct.
Q Josh, has the President had a chance to see the movie “The Butler”?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. I don’t know whether or not he did.
Q The caveat that you’ve made it perfectly clear he will not be making any announcements on the Fed selection --
MR. EARNEST: I appreciate your stipulation.
Q Has the President had any discussions with possible Fed candidates on this trip or any of his staff about that process? And is something that during his vacation that he’s talking about even with lawmakers or with any of the folks he’s golfing with or sitting on the island?
MR. EARNEST: The President has made clear that he doesn’t intend to make any decisions about his Fed chair nominee until the fall. And I do think that the vast majority of the President’s time this week will be focused on enjoying a little downtime outside of Washington, D.C. on the golf course and with some friends and with his family, of course.
Q Would you rule out for us that he’s speaking with any possible Fed candidates during this trip? Or would you just choose not to answer? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, the only reason I’m reluctant to answer your question is because I don’t want to set a precedent about how open this process is going to be. I don’t think it’s going to be particularly constructive for us to have an open audition, if you will, for the Fed nominee position.
So it is a -- rather, it is a process that the President takes very seriously. And I think you heard him talk about this a little bit in response to your question, Major, on Friday about the criteria that he’s going to use to make this selection. I know that he got a question about a couple of the widely reported potential nominees. I don’t have anything to add to his pretty clear statement, I thought, about the criteria that he’s going to be using to select the next Fed chair.
Q Let me ask you this then. He did say the other day that he wants a Fed chairman who makes sure we’re not seeing artificial bubbles. And I’m wondering if you can kind of shed any more light on whether he is thinking that there may be some new bubbles that are forming, and whether you could talk about any of those areas. And do you think that will be part of the discussions on the bus trip?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that he was trying to send a signal in that question that he was concerned about a specific aspect of the economy. I think what he was trying to do is to indicate his view that there is a dual role for the Fed chair -- to be concerned about inflationary impacts on the economy, but also to be concerned about full employment and ensuring that there’s full employment in the economy -- and that that is a challenge that will be part of the mandate of the next Fed chair. So I don’t think he was trying to relay to you his own analysis of that situation, but rather to describe to you what he thinks the next Fed chair will have to grapple with in that job.
Q A generality but not a specific housing or credit, or anything like that?
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct.
Q The Washington Post is reporting that the President decided to go ahead with ConnectEd and to finance it by instructing the FCC to raise the tax on cell phones. Is that accurate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about this. I think you may have been traveling with the President in North Carolina when he made this announcement back in June. So I certainly would refer you to his remarks that he made there about the importance of expanding Internet access to 99 percent of schools in this country -- that there is an opportunity for us to do something pretty revolutionary, which is to give teachers and students and parents and administrators unique access to the Internet that would revolutionize education and strengthen education in this country.
Over the course of the last four weeks, the President has been talking about what we can do to expand economic opportunity for the middle class, how we can get a better bargain for the middle class. And a quality education is a key component of that. And one way we can strengthen education in schools all across the country is expand access to the Internet.
In the course of those remarks, the President talked about how the percentage of schools that currently have access to the Internet is surprisingly low; I think it was around 20 or 30 percent. So with a relatively modest investment, we could actually make -- connect 99 percent of schools all across the country to the Internet. And that would expand educational opportunities for students in a really important way. It would also give teachers access to materials that would improve the quality of instruction that they're providing.
So the President thinks this is an important priority. And we have seen a little dysfunction in Congress. You would think that connecting schools to the information superhighway would be a pretty noncontroversial topic, particularly when it's something that could be accomplished through a relatively modest investment. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a lot of action in Congress, so the President has advocated an administrative, unilateral action to get this done. We're not going to wait for Congress to act.
Now, one part of your question that I did want to clarify is that the FCC is an independent body. So the President has made his recommendation for what he thinks can be done and should be done, which is updating the E-Rate program to make this investment. But, ultimately, that's a decision that the FCC will have to reach on their own.
Q So the FCC will decide whether or not the tax is applied? You're not making an end-run around Congress in this case?
MR. EARNEST: Well, "end-run" is not the word I would use. What I would say is that there has been -- what we have seen from Congress is we've seen a lot of stagnation and dysfunction, and an inability to act on some rather obvious priorities of the American people. And so we have made pretty clear -- and I think the President has demonstrated a willingness -- to act on his own where he can and where necessary to make progress on those priorities. And that's exactly what we're doing in this case.
Now, the one exception to that is that the FCC is an independent body and they'll have to make their own determination about whether or not they want to update the E-Rate program. If they do, I think we've seen some analysis from them that the impact here on consumers is pretty minimal, that is probably on the order of five dollars or less a year on cell phone owners, on an individual cell phone owner.
Now, for the prospect of connecting 99 percent of American schools to the Internet, the President thinks that's a pretty worthy tradeoff and a worthy investment. We'll see if the FCC reaches the same conclusion.
Q Isn't that, though, an argument that you need to give Congress to agree on?
MR. EARNEST: Not necessarily. The E-Rate program is a program that already exists exactly for this purpose, which is to expand access to telecommunications technology all across the country. So this is a program that's already in place. They just need to make a decision about whether or not they want to update this program so they can wire schools to the Internet. The President thinks that's a no-brainer.
Q I'm going to go back to Egypt for a second. You said earlier you need to see tangible evidence that the interim government is making good on its promise for a transition. Can you finish that sentence? In other words, so we haven't seen that they're doing that. They don't seem inclined to do that. What's the consequence -- if you don't see that, then what?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I was articulating is not issuing an ultimatum, but rather articulating our view that the interim government should make good on their promise. When they took office, when they took power they vowed that this was a temporary interim step to transitioning back to a democratically elected, civilian government. They also articulated a commitment to an inclusive process. These are all priorities or these are all principles that the President thinks is really important, that this administration thinks is really important, again, not just because we believe in the basic respect for human rights, but also because it reflects the will of the Egyptian people.
So these are part of the conversations that we’re having with the Egyptian leadership right now, and there’s no doubt that we’re very concerned about the violence that we saw overnight. That is not evidence that they're making good on that promise, and so we’re eager to see some tangible evidence that they're ready to make good on that promise.
Q But beyond what you’re saying, if you’re not issuing an ultimatum, then what kind of result are you going to get? I mean, you can say that you're making clear your views, but beyond making clear your views, what else are you going to do to get the results that you want? Because what you’re doing now does not seem to be working.
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the things that we’re doing, and this is part of what Deputy Secretary Burns did last week was he was working through our allies in the region, both from Qatar and the UAE. There was a representative from the EU there as well. So there were some conversations there about the intentions of the interim government and the transition back to a democratically elected government. So we can work with our allies and others to put pressure on the interim government to make good on these commitments that they have made, so we’ll continue to do that.
Q -- pressure?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q Would you mean by pressure? What kind of pressure?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll continue to urge them. I think when --
Q Verbal pressure.
MR. EARNEST: -- when they sit around the table, and they see their friends all around the world urging them to make good on their promise, I think that makes them more likely to make good on their promise.
But ultimately, I guess this is the ultimate conclusion here, this is something that Egyptians are going to have to resolve. And what we’re hopeful is that we’re going to have an Egyptian government that actually does reflect the will of the Egyptian people. That's what we see Egyptian all across the country demanding. They're demanding an inclusive process. They're demanding a basic -- respect for basic human rights, and they're demanding a democratically elected, civilian government.
Q Is there a timeframe at all -- or can you put a timeframe on the review on aid? Is this is an indefinite review?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s -- I would describe it to you as an ongoing review.
Q I mean, can you give us any -- is there a cutoff of when you’re going to make some sort of decision? Like what’s it going to take to make a decision on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that's part of what the review will uncover, is that we’re going to monitor the situation in Egypt. We’re going to continue to be in conversations with our counterparts there. And over the course of time, we’re going to continue to review our assistance. And we’re going to make a decision about that assistance based on the best interests of American national security and best interests for stability in the region.
And these are difficult problems. There’s no doubt about that. But this is something that the international community is working on, and it’s something that the United States is fully engaged in. And this is something that we’ll continue to monitor.
Q One other quick thing on the bus tour next week. How did you guys settle on those particular cities to make these stops?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as it becomes clearer what the message will be, we’ll be able to give you a clearer sense of why these locations were chosen.
Q Is it going to be at colleges? Is that what you mean?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have more details. Some of these --
Q Can’t wait.
MR. EARNEST: I know you can't. I can't either. (Laughter.) But as we get the locations locked in, we’ll be able to have a clearer conversation about why we chose those locations.
Q Thank you. Should Egypt listen to your latest statement about an ongoing review and see that as an indication that U.S. aid to Cairo is in jeopardy now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I would describe to you is that when the interim government took power, we expressed our concern about the need for a prompt transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government. We made that very clear to them.
And in the course of those conversations, we made clear to them that the aid that we offer to the Egyptians is something that we review regularly. And I think that that continues to be true today, that we are closely monitoring the situation there. We are committed to making sure that they make good on their promise to effectuate that transition and to do so promptly. And that while that is going on, and while those conversations are going on, we are also at the same time, reviewing the assistance that we provide to the Egyptians. We’re also closely consulting with our allies and partners in the region who also provide assistance to the Egyptians.
So there is not just a bilateral effort and bilateral conversations underway, there are multilateral conversations underway that also have an impact on -- or presumably will have an impact on the decision-making by the interim government in Egypt.
Q How does the administration define “prompt” in this case? A lot of people have died since that original statement had that word “prompt.”
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve said from the -- I mean, you heard me say from the very beginning of this briefing that we’re extremely concerned by the violence that we saw overnight; that that is not an indication that they are moving in the right direction of setting up this interim civilian, democratically elected government. It does not reflect a commitment to basic human rights. And that's something that we’re pretty concerned about.
Q If I can just do a 180 and go back to health care reform, go back for one moment. To what extent is the administration concerned that stories like the one that popped yesterday and other tweaking, if you will, delays, have raised doubts, added to confusion leading up to October 1st? To what extent is the administration concerned about it? And if so, what can we expect in terms of education and presidential involvement between now and October 1st?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President and others in this administration have been pretty clear that when you are implementing a complicated piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act, that there are going to be glitches along the way. And so then the question is, do you try to cover up those glitches? Do you try to paper over the differences? Or do you implement the law in a way that will ensure that the benefits go to the people who need them?
So in this case, we’re talking about -- or at least in the case of The New York Times story that ran a couple of days ago, we are talking about a program that -- or I should say a consumer protection that will make a significant difference in the lives of millions of Americans. There are millions of Americans right now who are worried that they may go bankrupt if somebody in their family gets sick. After January 1st, they won't have to worry about that anymore because they'll be able to enroll in a program -- whether it's through their employer or through the marketplace -- that will limit their out-of-pocket expenses. That will be a welcome relief to middle-class families who are feeling vulnerable.
And our top priority right now is making sure that we get this right, that we implement this in a way that we maximize the benefits to the people who need them. And when I say, "the people who need them," I mean the millions of Americans who don't have health insurance right now. I mean the millions of Americans who are concerned that they could go bankrupt if somebody in their family gets sick. I mean the small business owners who are concerned about the impact that raising health care costs is having on their bottom line. There are a lot of people who stand to benefit from the proper implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that's what we're focused on.
I know that there are some Republicans in Congress who would rather turn this into a political argument and re-litigate some political fights that were fought one, two or three years ago. That is not what we're focused on. What we're focused on right now is making sure that we implement the law on time and in a way that maximizes the benefits for the vast majority of Americans. And that's what we're focused on right now.
Q To jump back to Syria, was the administration surprised not to have been given advanced warning of the security forces' actions?
MR. EARNEST: You mean Egypt?
Q Egypt, sorry.
MR. EARNEST: It's okay.
Q And is there any concern about the upticks? The President is playing golf today while this is ongoing, TV footage of rows of dead bodies.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have any specific details to read out to you in terms of the conversations between the administration and officials in Egypt. In terms of the President's activities today, the President is being kept apprised of the developments and will be briefed as necessary. He has already been briefed this morning by his national security advisor, and he has asked his team to keep him advised as developments warrant. And I anticipate that he will do that over the course of the rest of the day and probably the rest of the trip.
Q Is he getting updates on the golf course?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any details about that.
Q Just to go back to what Peter's question was the announcement of this decision came on a “frequently asked questions” section on the Labor Department website. Do you feel that after acknowledging that there is a grace period for certain insurers, why was the decision announced to delay that -- announce that way?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not sure I would describe it as an "announcement." I think what I would describe it as is guidance to people who are trying to implement the law. And as I've mentioned, what we're trying to do is we're trying to implement the law in a way that maximizes the benefits that people are ready to enjoy, whether that's reducing costs for small business owners, providing some consumer protections for families who need it.
Some of the things that we've already done have been things like making sure that insurance companies are spending 80 percent of your premiums on actually providing health care. And if they don't, then we're going to hold them accountable and they're going to pay a rebate that millions of people have already received. Starting January 1st of next year, people can no longer be discriminated against just because they have a preexisting condition. So there are a whole range of ways in which this law is being implemented to maximize benefits to Americans. The other thing I left out -- millions of seniors have already gotten billions of dollars in assistance in affording their prescription drugs.
This is moving forward in a way that largely maximizes the benefits to the people who are looking for relief. And that's what we're focused on. And what you saw from the Department of Labor was a document that was offering just the kind of information that Peter was asking about, about how the law is going to be implemented.
Q But the lifetime caps is something the President -- or the out-of-pocket caps is something that the President has been touting for quite a long time in almost every speech he gives on health care. And if they’re certain in this third group of people who buy insurance, as you talked about, who were going to see a significantly higher out-of-pocket cap than they might have expected, given what the President has been saying, is there a more effective way to convey that information to them than the Labor Department website?
MR. EARNEST: Well, just to be clear, I don't think it's a higher cap than what they were expecting. I actually think it's a lower cap than what they currently have.
Q But it's two caps.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it's two caps. But these are caps that are lower than what they currently have. So these are people who are already getting benefits right on time on January 1st. Frankly, this is good news. This is delivering on what we're trying to do. We're maximizing the benefits for people here who are looking for it. There are people who are currently wondering, what am I going to do? I either don't have insurance or I have insurance that doesn't have a cap -- or has a cap that's so high that effectively would cause me to go bankrupt if somebody in my family gets sick.
But as of January 1st, every single American in this country will have the opportunity to purchase an insurance plan that has a cap exactly at the level that the President promised on time, on January 1st.
Q So should consumers be monitoring the other agency websites for other possible delays in the specifics on the regulations?
MR. EARNEST: I think what consumers should be able to do is to rely on your accurate, solid reporting of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
I was just going to get a couple of other folks a chance here, and then we'll -- Kathleen.
Q Just a few more lighter vacation questions. There is a little bit of grousing on the island about the President disrupting the busiest week on the island.
MR. EARNEST: The sun came out today. I think everybody is happy about that.
Q He's responsible.
Q Yes, when it was raining there was more grousing. I mean, road closures, more security. Can you just sort of respond to why the President has to come here to vacation, can't go to Camp David or do it in a way that's less disruptive?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll say a couple of things about that. The first is the President and his family have been traveling to Martha's Vineyard since before he became President. And this is a place where they have spent a week or so at the end of the summer together as a family before school starts and before things get busy again in the fall. And so this is an opportunity that the President -- essentially, a family tradition that the Obama family is continuing this year to take advantage of that opportunity.
In terms of the impact on other people who are vacationing on the island this week, in terms of the security measures that are in place, that's something that's determined by the Secret Service. So if you have specific questions about that, you should consult with them. I will say on their behalf -- something I rarely do -- that they do work to minimize the impact that these security precautions have on other people. And that's certainly something that the President and First Lady are concerned about, and it's certainly something that they're concerned about. But, frankly, the President is hopeful that everybody has just as much fun as he does on the island this week.
Q Are the girls here yet?
MR. EARNEST: The President's daughters will be arriving to Martha's Vineyard later this week. So I don't have any details on the exact arrival time, but when they get here, we’ll let you know.
In the back, do you guys want to ask a question? I see a hand up.
Q Sara Brown, the Vineyard Gazette.
MR. EARNEST: Hi, Sara.
Q Hi. I have something -- a question, more local concern. In the town of Oak Bluffs here one of the main roads sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy to the tune of about $12 million. And the town officials have been complaining about a back-and-forth with FEMA and over delayed funding. I was wondering if you had any comment on the general process of getting FEMA funding or the situation in particular.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not familiar with this specific situation so it’s hard for me to comment on it. I know that one of the things that the President has talked about quite a bit is the importance of ensuring that we have an emergency response structure that works closely and successfully with state and local officials to meet these kinds of needs.
And after a devastating storm like the one we saw with Sandy, those recovery efforts take some time, and they take significant resources. But I think what we’ve seen is that in general FEMA, under the leadership of Craig Fugate, has gotten very good reviews for their efforts to work closely with state and local officials. And I’m confident that Craig and his team are working closely with the folks over in Oak Bluffs to try to remedy the situation over there.
But in terms of the specifics and what’s needed, I’d refer you to FEMA, okay?
Steve, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you, Josh. I want to go back to something you said earlier about the Fed search.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q You said that the President does not want an open audition for the job. We’ve seen -- there are some people who want Yellen. Some people want Summers. And it has been very public. Does the President wish that that would just sort of quiet down, let him get on with the decision-making?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’d say people are certainly entitled to their own opinion. And the President acknowledged in his news conference on Friday that this was going to be one of the more important decisions that he’d be making, particularly when it comes to economic policy, in his second term as President.
So I think it’s certainly understandable that there may be people who have their own opinions on this. I can tell you that the President has been very clear, and I think he was pretty illuminating in his description on Friday about what kinds of criteria he’ll apply in considering possible candidates. And I’ll tell you the thing that we’re heartened by is you saw the Senate Majority Leader say that whomever the President nominates, he can count on the Senate Majority Leader to support that person.
And we’re confident -- I’m confident that whoever is standing behind this or whatever podium on the day that this person’s nomination is announced, that we’ll be making a very aggressive case for why that person deserves bipartisan support in the Senate and confirmation in the Senate for a very important job.
Q Does he have a have a formal intent-to-resign letter from Bernanke?
MR. EARNEST: To be honest with you, I don't know if Chairman Bernanke has written any letters. You should probably check with Chairman Bernanke.
Q Hey, Josh, can you respond to the reporting specifically that says that the President, the White House was frustrated by the Senate Democrats who engaged in this process and started voicing their opinions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess -- I saw -- I read the report. I can tell you that it wasn’t a surprise to anybody in the White House, as I assume it wasn’t a surprise to anybody here, that members of the Senate had strong opinions on this issue. That's not particularly surprising.
What we’re focused on, what the President is focused on is carefully considering this very important decision, and I’m -- as I mentioned, I’m confident that whoever is standing here on the day that that decision is made will be in a position to make a very strong case about why Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate should promptly confirm that person so they can get about their very important job.
Q Did the White House express their frustrations to Senate Democrats?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of that. I know that that report included a reference to a meeting between a deputy chief of staff in the White House and Leader Reid’s chief of staff. But those -- frankly, those meetings happen pretty regularly. And I’m assured by the deputy chief of staff that those meetings are usually not that momentous. So we’re in regular consultation with the Senate, and I am confident that whomever the President nominates won’t just have strong Democratic support but will also deserve strong bipartisan support.
Major, I’ll give you the last one here.
Q There is a report that Mohamed El Baradei -- who is familiar to many people in this administration -- has resigned as the interim Vice President of the Egyptian government. So I know you don't have a reaction to that. I’m springing this on you. But the deeper question is, is it time to reassess the whole idea that this transitional government can hold? And is there any thought being given to reversing what has happened bringing Morsi back to power, and bringing the democratically elected government back to power because the interim one appears to be not only committing acts of violence in the street, but internally falling apart?
MR. EARNEST: Ultimately, what we would like to see is we would like to see a government in Egypt that's chosen by the people of Egypt that reflects the will of the people of Egypt --
Q Different than the one they already chose?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me finish. That reflects the will of the people of Egypt -- that reflects the will of the people of Egypt that the government should reflect and respect their basic human rights. And that is what -- that's what we’re focused on, and that's what we think is in the best interest of the people of Egypt and what’s in the best interest of American national security.
We’re not in a position to throw our support behind specific parties or specific politicians. We’re actually trying to be supportive of a process that will lead to a democratically elected civilian government, and a process I should point out that's inclusive, that gives every party the opportunity to participate.
Again, we’re not throwing our support behind an individual party or personality. We’re trying to support a process to the peaceful transition to a democratic civilian-elected government.
Q Has losing El Baradei made that harder?
MR. EARNEST: Like I said, I’m not aware. I just -- you told me about the report, so it’s hard for me to draw any conclusions.
All right, everybody.
Q The 1972 Miami Dolphins, can you shed any light into how that visit came -- it’s just so interesting.
MR. EARNEST: It is.
Q Forty-one years ago. Who brought it to whose attention? And why did the President feel it was important to give them their -- how did it happen?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not sure who brought it to whose attention. I know that the tradition of inviting teams to the White House began after the Miami Dolphins had won the Super Bowl in 1973. So the President felt like it was an appropriate time to honor their perfect season, 1972, and their Super Bowl in 1973. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Super Bowl win. And so it should be a pretty entertaining event at the White House next week.
Q Do you have any tidbits that you’re able to glean on that? I think a lot of sports fans are more interested than I am --
MR. EARNEST: Understood.
Q Like who will be able to come --
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q Like who will be able to come? I can't imagine the entire team will be there.
MR. EARNEST: I think the entire team is invited. In terms of the travel schedule of Larry Csonka, I think you’ll have probably have to check with him. (Laughter.)
All right? Okay, thanks, everybody.
12:10 P.M. EDT