Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Dallas, TX, 07/09/14
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Dallas, Texas
2:10 P.M. MDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I just wanted to note a couple of things before I get to your questions.
In advance of the President’s meeting with state and local officials in Dallas to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation on the southwest border, I wanted to highlight three recent developments for you. The first is that Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole is on the southwest border today, specifically in McAllen, Texas, to tour the Customs and Border Patrol facility that is literally on the front lines of this situation. He'll also be discussing today’s announcement from the Department of Justice that they are, at the President’s direction, shifting additional resources from the interior of the country to the border. These resources will be refocused on prioritizing the cases of recent migrants that DHS has placed in removal proceedings. Making this process more efficient is an important part of solving this problem, so we're asking Congress for additional resources to do more of the same.
Importantly, the Department of Justice is also adding resources and assets that can be deployed to investigate and disrupt criminal networks that are trafficking people to the border.
Second, I want to give credit where it is due to the government of Mexico that earlier this week announced five new border control centers along its southern border with Guatemala. This will allow the Mexicans to ramp up their effort to tighten security and more effectively monitor border activity. This announcement is the result of a longstanding effort on their part to improve their border security and to crack down on human trafficking and other criminal networks. We've been working with the Mexicans on this issue and will continue to support their efforts moving forward.
Third, and finally, the Vice President today, following up on his June 20th meeting to Central America, telephoned Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. This is part of our ongoing collaboration to stem the flow of illegal migration at the source.
So as you can see, this administration, at the specific direction of the President, is moving forward with a sense of urgency on multiple fronts to address the situation at the border. We're calling on Congress to act with a similar sense of urgency to make sure we have the additional resources to ramp up these efforts.
So, with that, I'll get to your questions.
Q -- give us a little more detail on what the President is planning to do in Dallas as it relates to immigration, who is going to be in this meeting, and whether we should plan to hear from him after the meeting?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, let me give you a sense of what our tick-tock is looking like here. At this point, we anticipate that Governor Perry will meet the President at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when we land there in a couple of hours. From there, the President and Governor Perry will board Marine One and they will fly to Dallas Love Field.
When they arrive at Love Field, there is a building onsite where the President will convene a roundtable meeting with some local elected officials in Dallas, including the county judge and the mayor. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson will also participate in that meeting in addition to the Dallas County judge and the mayor of Dallas.
Q Is Perry on the chopper with the President?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Okay. So he is at both meetings, at the airport and over at Love Field?
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t I start over. The President will arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. When he arrives, the President will be greeted by Governor Perry at the steps of the airplane. The two men, along with some members of the President’s staff, will board Marine One and they’ll helicopter over to Dallas Love Field. It’s about a 15-minute ride. I anticipate that the President and the Governor will have the opportunity to visit while they’re onboard the helicopter.
Q -- one-on-one meeting on the helicopter?
MR. EARNEST: I do anticipate they’ll have a chance to have a conversation there, yes.
Q Is that a separate one-on-one meeting --
MR. EARNEST: If there’s a need after they arrive at Dallas Love Field for them to continue their conversation, then we'll give them the opportunity to do that before they start the roundtable discussion.
Q What does he want to hear from Governor Perry?
MR. EARNEST: Why don't I finish the tick-tock, and then I'll get into that.
So then the President will convene this roundtable meeting
-- it's something that's been in the works for a couple of days. So there will be a range of local elected officials -- the Dallas mayor, the Dallas County judge; Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson will also attend. We’ll get you a full list of the participants of the meeting when we arrive.
In addition, there are some faith leaders from the Dallas area that have been active in mobilizing some resources to meet some of the humanitarian need of those who’ve been apprehended along the southwest border. So this is an opportunity to sort of bring people together who’ve been actively engaged in trying to address this problem at the local level.
At the conclusion of that meeting -- and I should say that as I’ve discussed with some of you, we’ll have a photojournalist spray at this roundtable meeting. So there won’t be any statements from any of the participants, but there will be an opportunity for photographers and at least a television cameraman from the network pool to lay eyes on the meeting briefly at the top. Just cameras.
At the conclusion of the meeting, we’ll move to the lobby of the building where a podium will be set up and you’ll have an opportunity to hear from the President directly about what he heard in meeting. And that’s what we’re looking at.
Q He'll speak to us, or do we get to ask questions?
Q What does he want to hear from Governor Perry?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what you -- the fact that the President invited Governor Perry to participate in this meeting is an indication of this President’s determination to put aside partisan politics and focus on solutions. I mean, after all, Governor Perry is a Republican; Governor Perry ran for President with the aspiration to take on the President in the 2012 election, so they disagree on many issues. But if there is an opportunity for us to set aside partisan labels and focus on solutions, then that’s what the President is going to do.
The focus here is going to be on what common ground can we find to address this difficult challenge. So that’s why he’s going to be meeting with local elected officials, with some faith leaders. The other thing that I would note is I read the comments today of the Republican Attorney General of the state of Texas, who -- and I’m paraphrasing here, but I think I’m being faithful to his intent -- who said that the resources that the President has requested in the supplemental appropriations request is exactly what Texas needs.
So there should be an opportunity for Congress to act with some dispatch to make progress on that supplemental appropriations request. It would be a real shame if that priority request were to get bogged down in ideological amendments that are completely unrelated to the situation at the southwest border.
We need Congress to do something that they don't often do, which is to act quickly to meet this urgent need. After all, if they take these steps, they would be acting in what the President believes is the best interest of the country, and what the Republican Attorney General of Texas believes would be in the best interest of the Lone Star State.
Q -- distinguish between the kind of enforcement resources that you’re asking for and the kind of enforcement resources that Governor Perry has talked about, which I think are sort of more traditional Border Patrol officers, which Jeh Johnson and others have said that's not really what’s needed because the kids are turning themselves in to the first officer they see -- is there a difference between the kind of enforcement you’re talking about and the kind of enforcement that the Secretary has said isn’t really what’s needed?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not intimately familiar with the details of the kinds of resources that Governor Perry suggests should be added to the border. Let me just start by reminding everybody that the compromise immigration proposal that passed the Senate includes an historic investment in resources to continue to secure our border. So it’s important for us to start from the baseline that right now Republicans are blocking what would be an historic investment in the border.
Now, separately from that, there are some resources included in our supplemental appropriations request that I think are the kinds of things that Governor Perry believes would be a good idea. There are some additional surveillance resources that we deploy to the border. I think that this is something that Governor Perry has talked about in the past. That's included in our supplemental appropriations request.
So I can get you some more details about our request in the fact sheet. And you can sort of see for yourself whether or not -- how that aligns with Governor Perry’s recommendations.
That said, the problem that we -- that is most acute right now as it relates to this spike that we’ve seen from Central America is less about the number of Border Patrol officers and more about the kinds of immigration judges and ICE prosecutors and others who can process the cases of those who have been referred by those CBP officers to DHS for removal proceedings. That's where the backlog exists.
And we've, again, devoted some additional resources, including from the Department of Justice, to try to address that backlog. We’re going to prioritize the cases of those who’ve recently been apprehended at the border to try to whittle this down. But a large percentage of the resources that we're requesting in this supplemental appropriations request would allow us to hire additional judges, hire additional asylum officials, and hire additional prosecutors to more efficiently and effectively process those who have been apprehended along the southwest border.
Q There’s been a lot of talk about his not visiting the border today. A number of Democrats today saying -- Joaquin Castro, one of them; Henry Cuellar -- saying they wished the President would visit at some point. Maybe it didn’t fit in this schedule on this trip. Are you guys considering that? And why not, given that this is a humanitarian crisis and the other humanitarian tragedies, human crises he’s visited in the past, wouldn’t he go?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, the President has traveled to the border a couple of times, both as a candidate for President and as President of the United States. You’d also note that the Secretary of Homeland Security who’s responsible for the border has traveled to the border region four or five times in just in the last couple of weeks. Senior White House officials have traveled to the border. The Secretary of HHS has traveled in the last couple of weeks to the border. And I’d point out, as I mentioned at the top, that the Deputy Attorney General is on the border today, as we speak, touring the CBP station and talking about how additional Department of Justice resources can be deployed to assist the ongoing effort there.
So the President’s team is very focused on what’s going on the southwest border. They're very interested in continuing to have a detailed understanding of the flow of illegal migration that we’re seeing. They also are seeking to understand exactly how the federal government response is meeting the need that's evident there.
So the President is well aware of exactly what’s happening. What the President is most focused on is providing the leadership that's necessary to address this problem quickly and give it the urgent attention that it requires.
Q -- seeing firsthand in any way for him, or is that something that's still on the table?
MR. EARNEST: I think the way I would describe it is the President has sufficient visibility to the problems there to understand what kinds of solutions are going to work best, and the kinds of solutions that are going to work best are the same kinds of solutions that are supported by the Republican Attorney General; these are the same kinds of solutions that include -- that are similar to the recommendations that Governor Perry himself has made.
So what the President is hopeful [for] is that we will find partners in Congress who, like the President, are willing to set aside political party identification and focus on common ground and focus on the kinds of solutions that are in the best interests of the country and what many Republican officials [say] are in the best interests of the state of Texas
Q There’s been a report out of Germany about a second person there who may have been spying for the U.S. Can you fill in any details about the U.S. side? And now that there’s a second report of this, does the President have any plans to discuss this with Angela Merkel?
MR. EARNEST: Julie, as you’ve heard me say in recent days, I'm not in a position to confirm or deny or even comment on reports related to reported intelligence activities. It is a longstanding tradition of White House press secretaries when asked about intelligence matters to decline to comment on them. That's true of my predecessors in this administration; it's also true of my predecessors in previous administrations. The reason for that is there’s an important principle at stake, which is declining to comment on them publicly allows for the sufficient protection of our national interests, in some cases the intelligence assets, and more generally, American national security.
So I'm not in a position to comment on those specific reports. I'll repeat what I did say earlier, though, which is that this administration and this country values the important partnership that we have with German national security officials. That working partnership enhances the national security of Germany; it also enhances the national security of the United States of America.
So that relationship continues to be strong and that cooperation is ongoing. As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of conversations between German and American diplomats and law enforcement/intel officials to try to appropriately resolve some of the circumstances that you’ve seen in these recent news reports. But in terms of this case, specifically, I'm not in a position to comment on them.
Q -- Obama and Merkel at this point?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any -- I don't know of any calls with the Chancellor that are on the President’s schedule at this point.
Q -- situation might affect the relationship between these two leaders who have worked very closely together in recent months?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you point out, there is a very strong working relationship, not just between the President and Chancellor Merkel, but between the broader United States government and the German government, on a variety of issues. Certainly as it relates to the situation in Ukraine, U.S. officials have been in regular touch with their German counterparts as we seek to take coordinated efforts to impose economic costs on the Russian regime for their actions in Ukraine.
There are a whole host of intelligence-sharing and national security relationships that exist between the U.S. national security infrastructure and the German infrastructure. Those relationships are very strong, they’re sound, and they continue.
And the reason for that is those relationships are critical to American national security and they’re critical to German national security.
And it's also why we'll take the necessary steps to resolve this situation appropriately.
Q Does it feel like you're getting traction with the supplemental request? What’s been the reaction so far?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we're reading the reaction the same way that you are. There have been some conversations between White House officials and officials on Capitol Hill about this. I think the request the President has put forward is very specific, it's common sense, and as Scott pointed out, I think it overlaps at least a little bit with the suggestions made by knowledgeable leaders in the other party.
So the other thing that we've heard from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill over the last several weeks is widespread acknowledgement that this is a pretty serious problem that needs urgent attention. The President has already used his executive authority to devote additional resources to this situation and we're hopeful that Congress can play a constructive role in ensuring the administration has all the resources that are necessary to deal with the situation.
Let me just reiterate that it would be a real shame if Republicans were to use or try to capitalize on this urgent situation to add the kind of ideological amendments that have nothing to do with immigration reform or meeting this urgent need along the southwest border that would cause this request to be delayed or even derailed.
Q Is that happening?
MR. EARNEST: I think that we're legitimately concerned that that could happen. It's happened in the past, and like I said, given the seriousness of this situation, it would be a real shame if it happened as it relates to this piece of legislation.
Q --on the most recent arrivals, is the hope that you get to a point where you could hold a hearing and deport young people before they’re actually released to the custody of family members, that they might just stay in a detention facility throughout that process?
MR. EARNEST: Well, some of the supplemental appropriations request that we've made has been to open up additional detention facilities. These are the detention facilities that would be used to house not just unaccompanied minors who arrived at the southwest border, but also adults who have arrived at the border with children.
The other thing that the Department of Justice is considering is implementing a range of alternatives to detention, things like ankle bracelets that would allow law enforcement officials to monitor the whereabouts of these individuals as their claims are processed through the immigration system.
So there are a wide range of things that we can do to more efficiently and effectively enforce the law. That, after all, is what this administration is determined to do. It’s very important to respect the basic due process rights to which these individuals are entitled. It’s important to meet the basic humanitarian needs of these individuals. That’s not just in line with the law, it’s also in line with our values as a country.
But the bottom line is those individuals who were apprehended at the border, if they’ve gone through a due process system that determines they don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country, they’ll be removed. And what we are seeking is additional authority that can be exercised by the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct that removal more efficiently. And we’re also seeking the necessary resources to process these claims through the immigration system more quickly, so that when it’s determined that an individual doesn’t have a legal basis for remaining here, they’ll be sent home.
Q One other thing. When you hear these comments from like Henry Cuellar, is the President frustrated by that sort of criticism, insisting that he go to the border? And what -- I mean, what do you say to that? What motivates -- what do you think is motivating these criticisms?
MR. EARNEST: Honestly, I don’t know what is motivating the public comments we’ve seen from some members of Congress. I can certainly tell you what’s motivating this President. And this President is motivated by the need to find some solutions to this urgent humanitarian situation.
We’re focused on solving problems. That’s been a hallmark of this President’s leadership, his willingness to work with Democrats and Republicans who share his interests in addressing some of these urgent matters. It’s clear that there are consequences for the state of Texas, for example, for not giving the administration and the federal government all the necessary resources to deal with this problem.
So we certainly welcome the comments from the Republican Attorney General, and we’d welcome the support of people like Governor Perry. As I mentioned I think in a briefing earlier this week, Governor Perry has a reputation for being a pretty persuasive fellow. And if he wants to use the power of persuasion to encourage House Republicans to support the supplemental appropriations request, that would be welcomed. After all, Governor Perry considers himself to be a leader of the National Republican Party, and we’d certainly welcome him putting that leadership to work and joining the President in encouraging members of both parties to support the supplemental appropriations request. The President is going to make that case, both privately and publicly. And we’d welcome others who are willing to make that case, as well.
Again, this is the kind of situation that I think transcends party politics. The need to meet the basic humanitarian needs of someone who is seeking to enter this country I think is the kind of thing that transcends party lines. The need to follow the law and enforce the law and to allow our removal proceedings to operate more efficiently, that's the kind of thing that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on. Ensuring that the federal government has the resources to confront a humanitarian situation that's having a negative impact on communities along the southwest border, that's something that Democrats and Republicans should be concerned about. And if you listen to their public comments, Democrats and Republicans are concerned about it.
What we need is we need members of Congress to pay more than just lip service to solving these problems. We need to actually see them take action. The President has taken a wide range of actions. We’ve adopted a whole-of-government approach to dealing with this situation, everything from cracking down on human trafficking networks to opening up additional facilities for detaining these individuals. So the President has certainly been leaning forward in confronting this problem, and we’d like to see Congress take the simple, common-sense steps that are required to making sure that the federal government has the resources it needs to do this job.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Okay, thanks, guys.
2:35 P.M. MDT