Gaggle by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest in Austin, Texas, 07/10/14
10:26 A.M. CDT
MR. EARNEST: Let me just do a little thing at the top and then we’ll get to your questions. In a couple hours, the President will deliver remarks at the Paramount Theater here in Austin where he’ll be introduced by Kinsey Button, a young woman from -- a college student here in Austin, who like some of the other folks that the President spent time with this week, wrote him a letter about her middle-class family’s struggle to get ahead. The President will also give folks an update on the progress we have made in taking action to expand opportunity for families like Kinsey’s over the past six months.
In January, the President said that 2014 would be a year of action, and in the first six months of this year, he’s signed more than 40, 4-0, executive actions to support workers, strengthen middle-class families, and expand our economy. Those actions include steps to create new manufacturing jobs, support workplace flexibility and equal pay, cut carbon pollution, and make student loans more affordable for borrowers to repay.
We’ve seen many folks outside of Washington stepping up to do their part -- from governors and state legislators and even companies that have raised the minimum wage to the tech sector that’s committed resources to help expand digital learning for more of our classrooms. Yet time and time again, despite all this action from states across the country, Democrats and Republicans, and from private sector business leaders, Republicans in Congress continue to block votes on key issues in favor of wasting time and taxpayer dollars on political stunts like suing the President for doing his job.
But they won’t stop the President from doing everything in his power to keep expanding opportunity for all Americans. And he has said many times that he is happy to work with Congress if they’re willing, but he won’t wait for them if they aren’t.
Kinsey and the other letter-writers that he has met this year are a reminder that concrete steps taken by the President can and will benefit middle-class families all across the country.
You’ll hear more from the President on that today. But with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Josh, Germany is expelling the CIA Station Chief over these spying allegations. And I know you guys have been reluctant to talk about this because it’s an intelligence matter, but some of the frustration in Germany seems to be over the fact that the U.S. is taking sort of a nonchalant approach to this. So I’m hoping you can provide us some kind of reaction in response to this decision from the Germans.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julie, it’s precisely because we do take these intelligence matters and reports related to purported intelligence matters into our broader national security very seriously that I’m not in a position to comment on them. Again, any sort of comment on any purported intelligence activity would place at risk U.S. assets, U.S. personnel, and the United States’ national security. So I’m just not in a position to comment on it.
We do continue to be in touch with the Germans at a variety of levels, including through law enforcement, diplomatic, and even intelligence channels. We’re in touch because we recognize the value and the strong partnership that exists between the United States and Germany. That partnership covers a variety of issues, including national security and intelligence-sharing matters. So we value --
Q This is a pretty extraordinary step for the Germans to take -- to expel the CIA Station Chief from Germany.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not in a position to talk about any intelligence matters, including some of these reports. As we discussed in the context of the President’s trip to Afghanistan a couple of months ago, even matters related to the activities of intelligence officials even in leadership positions in countries overseas, I’m just not in a position to talk about from here.
So, again, I don’t want you to come away from this exchange thinking that we take this matter lightly. The strength of our national security relationship with Germany is important to American national security. It’s also important to the national security of the Germans. That’s why we have this open dialogue with them in a variety of channels to resolve this situation appropriately. But when it comes to the specifics of these reports about purported intelligence matters, I’m just not in a position to comment on them in settings like this.
Q You’ve been saying over and over again that U.S. and German cooperation has been strong. Are you still able to say that in light of today’s developments?
MR. EARNEST: I’m still able to say that there is an important, functioning national security relationship and intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Germany. And the reason that that relationship persists is because it is so important to the national security of Germany and to the national security of the United States.
Q Has the President talked to Angela Merkel or have any plans to, to try to smooth things over?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, they spoke last week before the German law enforcement officials made the announcement of the arrest that I’ve read about in reports. Those reports emerged the day after the President spoke to the German Chancellor. I don’t have any update in terms of the President’s schedule about future calls with the German Chancellor, but they speak pretty frequently. But I don’t have any calls to tell you about right now.
Q Can you say that he hasn’t called her?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know of any calls that they’ve had in the last couple of days, since the last call that we read out at the end of last week.
Q So since then there haven’t been any --
MR. EARNEST: I’m saying that I don’t know of any.
Q If there is a call, will you read out?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t guarantee that we’ll read out every call that the President does, even with the German Chancellor, but we have often read out those calls. And, again, if we’re in a position to do that about a future call that, again, I don’t even know is scheduled, then we’ll try to do that.
Q And are you able to say whether there would be any tit-for-tat reaction on our part to this move by the Germans?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to offer any reaction, either in terms of articulating our position or previewing any actions that we may or may not take.
Questions on other topics?
Q Well, on the supplemental, is the President open to negotiating over the size and scope of the border request?
MR. EARNEST: The President has articulated -- and I think he did when he spoke to you last night -- a willingness to work with Republicans on this request. I think it’s important to recognize, however, that the request that was put together by this administration and sent up to Congress earlier this week does reflect a lot of the priorities that Republican members of Congress have themselves articulated. So everything from funding to ensure that public health concerns are addressed, to additional resources on the border, to additional immigration enforcement resources in the form of immigration judges and ICE prosecutors -- all of these were things that Republicans say should be used to address the urgent situation on the border -- all of these things are included as line items in the proposal that this administration has put forward to congress.
And I think that is why you’ve heard the President yesterday say that we can solve this problem if there are people on Capitol Hill and the Republican Party who are actually interested in solving the problem. If they’re interested in just talking about the problem and trying to capitalize on what they may perceive to be a political advantage, that’s going to make this pretty hard to solve. But if there is a willingness to set aside partisan differences and focus on specific solutions to problems that everybody agrees exists, then we should be able to get that done. And the President said if Congress is ready to act quickly the President would be willing to sign it is as early as today.
Q And in the worst case scenario that, say, this doesn’t make it, do you have enough resources to sort of muddle through? What is your plan if it doesn’t work?
MR. EARNEST: Well, right now there have been some steps that the President has been able to take to address this situation. There are already resources that have been moved from the interior to the border. The Deputy Attorney General who was on the border yesterday talked about the tangible impact of some of those steps. The administration has been in close touch with Central American leaders to try to stem the tide of this migration at the source. So there are a number of things that can be done and we’re working through them already, but I think everybody acknowledges that this is a serious problem and that additional resources would contribute in an important way to addressing it.
So, again, if Republicans are actually interested in solving this problem, there is a very specific step that they can take today to back up that talk with action. But, again, if they’re much more interested in playing politics and dragging their feet even on a common-sense proposal, that’s going to make this problem a lot harder to solve.
Q Is it right that HHS is now having to, like, raid the Refugee Resettlement Fund in order to pay for some of the costs it’s incurring to house and care for the young migrants from Central America?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of sort of how they’ve been able to meet their obligations.
Q More generally, are you shifting resources from other needs in order to meet this? I mean, it’s not -- you don’t have infinite resources.
MR. EARNEST: That’s true, and I think there is a concern that that could happen. It’s difficult for me to say from here whether or not that has already happened. I’m sure HHS officials could explain to you how they’re mobilizing the resources that have already been mobilized and what impact that has on their other activities. But there is a clear and urgent need here. We’ve put forward a very specific line-item proposal for what additional resources are needed and how much money those additional resources would cost, and we’ve asked Congress to act on it.
Q House Republicans are working on their own proposal to revise the 2008 law. Are you amenable to some of the things that they’re discussing, or are you not wanting to revise the law in the way that they’re talking about?
MR. EARNEST: I think as a general matter we’re certainly open to discussions about ways that law enforcement officials can better enforce the law -- that is to say, how can this law be enforced in a more efficient way. Right now, what we’re seeing is a backlog in the immigration court system that, in some cases, leads to a very long delay in claims being adjudicated. We’re also seeing a delay in repatriating those individuals whose claims have already been adjudicated in a way that determines they have no basis, legal basis for remaining in the country. But there are a couple other ideas that we’re trying to address and we’re willing to work with Congress to find solutions to them.
We’ve put forward this idea that the Secretary of Homeland Security should be able to exercise some additional discretion in enforcing that law, but if there are other people that have other ideas for how to make the process of enforcing the law more efficient, we’re certainly open to those discussions.
Q Josh, on Ukraine, there’s been some criticism from the Hill that the sanctions are a paper tiger because there have been threats of further action but no further action taken. How do you respond to that criticism?
MR. EARNEST: I think I would respond to them in a couple of different ways. The first is that our goal throughout this crisis has been to support a democratic Ukraine that is stable, secure both politically and economically, and able to determine its own future. So even as we work toward a sustainable, bilateral ceasefire, and urge Russia to deescalate and cease support for the separatists, we shouldn’t forget that our ultimate goal is not just a temporary halt to violence. We want Russia to stop destabilizing its neighbor and allow the people of Ukraine to come together to make their own decisions about their country’s future through the political process.
And, frankly, in the view of the United States, the more we let the Russian-backed separatists and Russia draw out the crisis, the more vulnerable Ukraine will become. The fact is the protracted conflict in the east is not compatible -- and when I say the east, I mean eastern Ukraine -- is not compatible with our efforts to support a more secure, stable, and democratic Ukraine. That would be a situation that’s not in the best interest of Ukraine, it’s not in the best interest of Europe, and it’s not in the best interest of Russia.
So let me say one more thing about this, which is that we’re working in a coordinated fashion with our European partners because it’s our belief that the cost of inaction now only increases the cost of what we might need to do in the future should Ukraine fail due to Russia’s continued efforts to destabilize the country.
Now, many of those efforts, as you point out, have related to our efforts to impose economic costs on Russia. The fact is that sanctions and the uncertainty that they have created in the Russian economy have had an impact. And as those sanctions increase it’s not just that the costs will increase, it’s that Russia’s ability to mitigate those costs will be affected in a negative way for the Russians.
If you just look at the IMF’s economic analysis, they’ve said that the concern about possible escalation of sanctions has increased the uncertainty of doing business in Russia and is having a chilling effect on investment there. That’s one tangible way we can sort of evaluate the impact of sanctions.
The IMF, in the context of that analysis, has actually downgraded Russia’s growth outlook to 0.2 percent this year. That stands in pretty stark contrast to previous IMF forecasts, which as recent as February were projecting 2 percent growth.
The other thing that we have seen is reports of a pretty significant capital flight from Russia and, again, that is the result of the economic isolation that Russia has experienced as a result of the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States in coordination with our allies in Western Europe.
Q Josh, I think some of the criticism from the Hill and other places is that when we were in Brussels in June, you guys set a fairly firm deadline on additional sanctions if Russia didn’t meet certain conditions. They haven’t met those conditions. That deadline passed and there’s no sign that sanctions are coming. So doesn’t that send a message to Russia that these threats might just be empty?
MR. EARNEST: No, it doesn’t. I think it sends a signal to them that they should be concerned about the fact that continued efforts on the part of the Russians to destabilize the situation in Ukraine will lead to greater economic isolation and increased economic costs.
The United States, in concert with our allies, stands prepared to act, if necessary. And it’s important to understand the goal that we’re pursuing here. We’re not just pursuing a temporary halt to the violence -- although we’d certainly welcome that. We want to make sure that Russia understands that the United States and the international community will not stand by as they continue to try to destabilize the political situation and the economy in Ukraine.
And this is the resolute view of the international community and it’s why the prospect of sanctions remains on the table. And it’s why, as recently as earlier this week, the President had a telephone conversation with the President of France to discuss this issue; he was talking to the German Chancellor at the end of last week about this issue. So the prospect of additional economic costs being posed onto Russia is something that remains very much on the table.
Q Do you guys have anything on these reports about Chinese hackers tapping into U.S. government personnel files, or trying to?
MR. EARNEST: Only that I would suggest that you reach out to OPM and DHS regarding the incident. DHS, as you know, is responsible for a lot of the monitoring of the cybersecurity threats. As those two agencies have said, as soon as they learned of a possible intrusion, they took steps to assess and mitigate that intrusion -- I think they have said -- but if they haven’t, I’ll say it -- for the incident that you’re referencing, we have no reason to believe that personally identifiable information was compromised.
But, again, this is part of a -- we have systems in place to deal with these kinds of threats and intrusions, and I know that those systems responded to this incident.
10:45 A.M. CDT