Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/6/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Hope you all enjoyed your weekend as much as I did. (Laughter.) There certainly was a lot of exciting playoff baseball to watch on television.
Q Yes, the Orioles won --
MR. EARNEST: I noticed. I noticed. Congratulations to the Baltimore Orioles on their strong performance. It was excellent.
Q Let’s not talk about baseball.
MR. EARNEST: It’s not over yet. It’s not over yet. So we’ll see. Other than a little frivolity around playoff baseball, Julie, I don’t have any announcements, so we can go directly to your questions.
Q Thanks, Josh. I had a couple different topics. First of all, I wanted to see if we could get some White House reaction to the Supreme Court turning away the appeals from five states that were seeking to prohibit gay marriage.
MR. EARNEST: We’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a specific reaction to their decision not to take -- not to grant review in these cases. The President himself has previously expressed his own personal view that it’s wrong to prevent same-sex couples who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry from doing so.
A growing majority of Americans already recognize that marriage equality embodies our American values of fairness under the law. It’s certainly the President’s view here, too. But in terms of the Supreme Court’s specific decision not to grant cert in these cases, I don’t have a specific reaction.
Q Given the number of states that after this decision are now able to legally have gay marriage, does he feel -- and given the statement that you just said about his position -- does he feel like this should just simply be extended to all Americans?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there may ultimately be a role for the Supreme Court to play, and the justices on the Supreme Court will make that decision. But in terms of what the President believes should be the law of the land, we’ve been pretty clear about that, too.
Q The Vice President had to apologize twice over the weekend -- once to Turkey and once to the UAE -- about comments that he made about those countries and others and their role in supporting extremist groups inside Syria. And I’m wondering if you could just be a little more specific about why he apologized. Because some of what he said has been repeated by other administration officials in the past. The President himself has talked about how countries in the region have had a role in allowing money and weapons, foreign fighters to flow into Syria. So what was he specifically apologizing for?
MR. EARNEST: What the Vice President conveyed was an apology for -- as it relates to President Erdogan -- mischaracterizing the President’s views in a private conversation. And that ultimately was the reason for the call.
Q That Erdogan didn’t say what the Vice President said he had said?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t want to characterize what President Erdogan said in his private conversation with Vice President Biden. But what I can characterize is the relationship that the United States has with Turkey and other nations in the region to prevent the flow of weapons and personnel and broader support to extremists in the region, particularly to ISIL. There is no doubt that Turkey and other countries in the region understand the threat that ISIL poses to the region and to these individual countries. And that is why the United States, under the President’s leadership, has had success in building broad, international support for the actions that we’ve taken against ISIL.
I think many people who are examining the situation were surprised at the strong reaction and at the deep involvement of Muslim-governed countries -- or Muslim-majority countries who took part alongside American fighter pilots in taking military strikes against ISIL. That is an indication that ISIL is not at war against the United States; they’re at war against the broader world, including the Muslim world. And what’s so critical to our efforts will be moderate elements in the Muslim world standing up and being clear that the violence and extremism that is propounded by ISIL does not reflect what their religion is all about.
Q But does the fact that these countries are now participating with the U.S. as part of this coalition change the assessment from this administration that, if not their governments directly, then individuals within those countries have had a role in funneling money, weapons, allowing foreign fighters to cross their borders into Syria?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you’ll recall, Julie, that the President did convene a meeting just two weeks ago at the United Nations where Turkey, among others, spoke in support of the proposal that the President put forward as the United States was chairing this Security Council meeting to combat the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL.
We have identified the tightened security at some of these borders, including the border between Turkey and Syria, as a key priority in shutting off support to ISIL and other extremists who are operating inside Syria.
The concern that we have expressed from the very beginning is that extremist groups are attempting to use Syria as a virtual safe haven to exacerbate violence in the region, to carry out attacks against Iraq, and potentially down the line could be using this virtual safe haven to plot and plan attacks against the United States. There’s at least one extremist organization that we believed was nearing the execution phase of a plot just like that.
So we have been focused on making sure that Syria cannot be used as a safe haven. And some of that means ensuring that we can work with other countries in the region to prevent support flowing to extremists who are operating in an area that they hope to establish as a safe haven.
Q If I could just ask on one other topic quickly. The Israeli Prime Minister pushed back against some of your comments from the podium last week on settlements, saying that that criticism goes “against American values.” I was wondering if you have any response to that.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I did see the Prime Minister’s remarks, and it did seem odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response did not reflect American values. The fact is, American policy has been clear and unchanged under several administrations, both Democrat and Republican. We oppose any unilateral actions that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations between the parties that this President has worked hard to try to facilitate.
We would also note that the Prime Minister appeared only to be addressing our concerns about Silwan, and seemed to ignore our concern over reports that the Israeli government had moved forward the planning process in the sensitive area of Givat Hamatos in east Jerusalem. That action is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction.
The fact is, when it comes to American values, it’s American values that lend this country’s unwavering support to Israel. It’s American values that have led us to fight for and secure funding to strengthen Israel’s security in tangible ways. It’s American values that have led us to fund and build an Iron Dome system that has protected the lives of countless innocent Israeli citizens. It’s American values that have led the United States to fully support Israel’s right to defend itself. And it’s American values that have led us to defend Israel in a variety of international forums, including a variety of United Nations forums.
So it’s clear how American values dictate or at least guide our thinking when it comes to our unwavering support for the nation of Israel.
Q On Ebola, how seriously is the administration considering additional screening measures at U.S. airports for people coming from Ebola-source countries?
MR. EARNEST: Roberta, I think you may have been here on Friday when we had some experts from across the administration stand here to update you on our efforts when it comes to stopping the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and continuing to ensure that the American public remains safe from Ebola.
At that time, you heard from Lisa Monaco, I believe -- the President’s top Homeland Security Advisor -- that the United States continues to be assessing and reassessing the procedures that are in place to safeguard the traveling public around the globe, but also the American public here at home.
So we feel good about the measures that are already in place. You heard Ms. Monaco address the fact that the screening measures that are in place in Africa have already prevented dozens of individuals who are exhibiting symptoms of Ebola from boarding an airplane. This is important because -- and I can’t say this often enough -- it’s important for people to understand how Ebola is transmitted. An individual cannot get Ebola through the air -- it’s not like the flu, it’s not like getting a cold. Individuals in the United States cannot get Ebola by drinking the water or eating the food here. Ebola can only be transmitted to another individual if that individual has come into close bodily contact with the bodily fluids of an individual that is exhibiting symptoms of Ebola.
So that is why we are -- our experts continue to be confident that the medical infrastructure that we have in place in this country is sufficient to prevent an Ebola outbreak from occurring.
Q So as the administration assesses and reassesses measures that may or may not be needed, has the administration absolutely ruled out a travel ban or some sort of travel ban from this area?
MR. EARNEST: This is something that I discussed a little bit on Friday in the gaggle, and I know that it was discussed here in this room on Friday as well. A travel ban is not something that we’re currently considering. The reason for that is simply -- I think it’s twofold.
The first is, there already is a multilayered screening protocol in place in our transportation system. There are extensive screening measures on the ground in West Africa, where this outbreak has occurred, to ensure that individuals that have symptoms of Ebola -- in other words, are contagious -- cannot board an international aircraft. There’s guidelines and guidance and training that has been given to flight crews to ensure that they are aware of what the symptoms of Ebola are and can spot individuals who may be suffering from the symptoms of Ebola. There was an incident over the weekend that I know got some public attention about an aircraft that landed at Newark, raising concerns there may be an individual onboard who had symptoms of Ebola. Now, it turned out that this individual did not actually have Ebola, but it was an indication that the flight crews were well-educated in terms of what they should be on the lookout for.
There also is a protocol in place for Customs and Border Patrol officers, who are manning our ports of entry, to be on the lookout for individuals, again, that may be exhibiting symptoms of Ebola -- in other words, that are contagious with Ebola. And we have a lot of confidence in that multilayered system. At the same time, we continue to assess if additional steps would be useful in enhancing the safety of either the traveling public or the American public here at home.
Q I guess in a practical sense, when people see this but then they see what happened in Dallas, the fact that this disease has such a long incubation period -- how practically efficacious are these measures that you could take when somebody could just come in and then develop symptoms within the country? You know what I mean? Like, what do you think is going to be most effective? And are you looking to make decisions in the meeting that’s going to happen today?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is convening a meeting with the members of his team who are working on this issue. There is a whole-of-government approach that this administration is pursuing, and that’s why you have seen the Department of Health and Human Services work closely with the CDC to lead the effort here in the United States to protect the American people here in the homeland. You’ve seen the President order the Department of Defense to deploy significant capability and resources into West Africa to serve as a facilitator of the movement of resources and supplies and even individuals who will bring relief to those communities that are affected by Ebola in West Africa.
You’ve also seen USAID take a leading role on the ground in coordinating with international organizations and with local countries in West Africa to confront this outbreak. So there is a whole-of-government approach that’s underway, and the President will be meeting with leaders of those teams to discuss our ongoing efforts.
Q No matter how much screening you do either entering the country or before they board in the originating country, without a travel ban obviously people could still get into this country with Ebola, and we all know that, right?
MR. EARNEST: That has occurred once since the outbreak first occurred seven months ago. So what we remain confident in is the medical infrastructure in this country -- again, when I say “we,” I mean medical experts. It’s medical experts who have evaluated exactly how Ebola is transmitted, and those medical experts have determined that there are very specific, basic medical protocols that can be applied to contain the spread of Ebola.
Now, the tragedy of this situation is that Ebola is rapidly spreading among populations in West Africa who live in countries that don’t have that kind of medical infrastructure. And that’s why the international response that you’re seeing to this situation means providing rather basic supplies. And that is why the Department of Defense can play such a key role in supporting that effort.
And what we have actually seen in just the last few weeks since the President committed Pentagon resources to assisting in this effort, that that commitment has galvanized the international community; that now that the Department of Defense is invested in providing logistical support to response efforts on the ground, we’re seeing international organizations in countries around the world pledge additional resources and additional personnel to support the effort to contain this outbreak.
The other thing that you heard from Dr. Frieden, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, is that the way that we will solve this problem is by confronting Ebola at the source. And that’s why you’re seeing so much time and attention and resources be dedicated to trying to meet the needs of those individuals in these communities in West Africa.
Q Okay. So just to be clear, the fact that people can still come here from those countries and they can possibly be infected, the administration sees that risk as small enough and our medical response as good enough that that’s a risk we’re willing to take?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what you’ve heard Dr. Frieden say is that that risk is exceedingly low; that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is exceedingly low. And again, there are a variety of reasons for that.
The first is that, specifically, there’s only -- that our medical professionals have assessed that there’s only -- that it’s very clear how one contracts Ebola, and that’s by coming into close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual that already has the symptoms of Ebola. And so it’s not like the flu, it’s not like catching a cold, it’s not transmitted through the food and water here in the United States.
So what that means is that if you have a basic medical infrastructure in place, and the protocol is properly applied, we can act quickly to contain and isolate those individuals who are exhibiting symptoms and limit their ability to -- limit the disease’s ability to spread.
Q And if you don’t mind, can I ask about one more thing? This 19-year-old guy from Illinois who was arrested today wanting to go to Syria. Are you aware of that?
MR. EARNEST: I’m actually not, Michelle. Maybe we can follow up with you after the briefing.
Q Okay. And I also wanted to clarify what you answered to Julie Pace about Biden’s comments. Were you saying that the apology really sprang from the characterization of what went on in a private conversation versus the substance of his comments in general?
MR. EARNEST: Well, those two things aren’t related, because the substance of his comments relate to a -- related directly to a private conversation that he had with President Erdogan.
Q But do you really think that his -- what was said and the way he characterized those other countries’ actions in the past, do you really think that they were so far off the mark? And then today we see a young man enticed by ISIS and wanting to go to Turkey to get into Syria. So were Biden’s comments really that -- were they inaccurate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Michelle, we are keenly aware of the threat that is posed by foreign fighters. So again, when I refer to foreign fighters, I’m talking about individuals from around the world, and including some Americans, who are seeking to travel to the region to take up arms to fight alongside ISIL. That means they would get training, they’d get equipment, they would be battle-hardened, and in many cases these are individuals who have demonstrated a willingness to die for their cause. That makes them dangerous.
That’s why the President convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council just a couple of weeks ago to coordinate the international response to limit the threat that is posed by foreign terrorist fighters. And I would point out that President Erdogan spoke at that meeting and he spoke strongly in support of the initiatives that the President was trying to advance in the context of that meeting that would raise international standards, that would improve our ability to monitor the travel of individuals and, where necessary, to limit the travel of individuals to that region.
It will require the international community’s cooperation on this, and we are pleased to say that we have the cooperation of Turkey and other countries in the region to work alongside the United States to confront the threat that’s posed by foreign terrorist fighters.
Q Josh, on the financial regulators meeting today, the President was checking in on the status of legislation but there’s no new ask being put to these administration officials, is that right?
MR. EARNEST: Jared, I do have a rough readout of the meeting, so let me go through this and see if this answers your question.
The President did host a discussion in the Roosevelt Room today with lead financial regulators and senior advisors on the economy and the ongoing implementation of Wall Street reform. Six years after the depths of the financial crisis, the President commended regulators for their efforts to further strengthen the financial system by continuing to implement the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which includes the most sweeping set of financial regulatory reforms since the Great Depression.
This measure also included the strongest consumer protections in history that have afforded millions of hardworking Americans new rights and protections within the financial sector. The President noted the leadership of U.S. banking regulators in raising capital standards, and urged regulators to maintain focus on ensuring that prudent capital cushions are in place, particularly for the largest and most complex financial institutions and global firms to protect -- to provide further protection for the U.S. financial system.
The President acknowledged the collaborative work of the regulators, specifically recognizing their work in finalizing the Volcker Rule, and also urged participants to consider additional ways to prevent excessive risk-taking across the financial system, including as they continue to work on compensation rules and capital standards.
Q But most of the regulations that were put in place -- the law was signed, yes, and that’s four years ago, six years ago was the crisis -- but we’re still dealing with a situation where a majority of the regulations have not been put into place. The meeting was built, I guess, as a status update, so is the President confident about where the administration is in terms of implementing those regulations, and where does he see the trend line going?
MR. EARNEST: The President has been pleased with the progress that the regulators have made in implementing the law. The implementation of Wall Street -- well, let me start at this place. The passage of Wall Street reform is actually going to be one of the most prominent aspects of President Obama’s legacy; that addressing head-on some of the causes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is serious business and represents a significant accomplishment that will strengthen our economy over the long term and has been good for middle-class families all across the country.
We are pleased with the progress that they’ve made in terms of implementing regulations, including some rather complicated ones, like the Volcker Rule. I will tell you, though, there is one thing that would make this a little easier, which is that if Congress acted in response to existing budgetary constraints for the market regulators and provided them the additional resources and stability of funding that’s necessary to help protect middle-class families, safeguard the financial system, pursue bad actors and fulfill their missions.
So there is more that can be done from Congress in terms of ensuring that these organizations -- or that these agencies have the resources that they need to move forward with implementing these regulations and enforcing the law.
Q Does the White House consider any of that forthcoming from Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ll see. This certainly seems like an area where there should be bipartisan agreement. Ensuring that our lead financial regulatory institutions have the resources necessary to do their job seems important. I think we saw not even six years ago how important it is that these organizations and that these agencies have the resources and the direction that they need to safeguard the financial system. The consequences for them failing to do so are significant to say the least.
Q I wanted to circle back first on Vice President Biden’s comments. We know that he reached out to Turkey and the UAE, but he also had kind of a colorful statement on Saudi Arabia.
MR. EARNEST: I noticed.
Q He was asked about their human rights record and said, “We knew Stalin was a no-good SOB from the beginning…” but there’s something called self-interest. So I’m wondering if the White House sees, I guess, Saudi Arabia as Stalin-esque in their human rights record. And, if not, if that’s another error where the Vice President might need to make a phone call?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any additional conversations or phone calls to read out at this point. As you know, the Vice President’s office has been pretty disciplined about sharing with you readouts whenever the Vice President makes calls to foreign leaders, which he does frequently. So I don’t have any conversations to read out to you at this point.
Q And then the Vice President later this week will be going to Oregon to appear alongside Jeff Merkley. The First Lady has been doing a bunch of campaign events with Democratic governors, but we haven’t seen the President up on stage with a Democratic candidate. He has just been doing closed-door fundraisers for either committees or candidates themselves. And so I’m wondering, are we going to see the President before Election Day actually up on stage with Democratic candidates who are either up for reelection or seeking office?
MR. EARNEST: Well, over the course of the summer you have seen the President make public appearances with Democratic candidates for office. The President traveled to Minnesota a few months ago over the summer. The President traveled to Colorado. He famously shot a couple games of pool with Governor Hickenlooper, who is on the ballot this fall. Earlier this spring, the President traveled to Michigan where a couple of Democratic candidates appeared publicly with him. So the President has appeared publicly with candidates who are on the ballot in 2014. You’re right, however, to point out that the President has not begun a sustained campaign of campaign-related activities, if you will.
But the President has talked in a variety of settings, including in some of the fundraising settings that you have observed, that he feels strongly about how important it is for candidates who share his view about putting in place policies that benefit middle-class families be either elected or reelected to office. And the President has already succeeded in making a pretty aggressive case about why that’s important for the country, and I would anticipate that in the context of the upcoming elections you’ll hear the President make that case again.
Q Thanks. Back to the financial meeting this morning. Did the group discuss the recent cyber-attacks on J.P. Morgan? And is there heightened concern among regulators really about the safety and security of the U.S. financial system in light of these cyber-attacks?
MR. EARNEST: Cheryl, I don’t know if this recent spate of cyber-attacks came up in the meeting that the President convened earlier today with the financial regulators. You mentioned the J.P. Morgan case -- I’m not in a position to comment on an ongoing law enforcement investigation. As you know, both the FBI and the Secret Service are taking a look into that specific matter.
But in terms of concern, the administration and the President himself is certainly concerned about this issue. The President made clear earlier this year, upon the release of the cybersecurity framework, that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers that the United States faces. Our critical infrastructure clearly continues to be at risk from these threats, as this and other incidents over the last year demonstrate.
We urge Congress to move forward on cybersecurity legislation that both protects our nation as well as our privacy and our civil liberties. We have been in contact with members of Congress for a number of years now trying to make clear to them that cybersecurity legislation is a priority of this administration. And I would anticipate that there will be additional conversations along those lines.
In the meantime, the administration will continue to take aggressive action under our existing authority to protect our nation from these kinds of threats.
Q Did the Vice President’s comments help or hurt preservation of the coalition against ISIL?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen any indication that our partners in the Arab world in particular are seeing their passion for working with the United States on this issue to be -- let me say it this way: I don’t get the sense from anybody that this is becoming anything less than a top priority of our partners in that region of the world.
Again, even in the Muslim world, leaders of these countries understand that ISIL poses a destabilizing threat to their country. For a long time, Sunni majority countries considered Shia-led countries, like Iran, to be the greatest threat to their country. But the fact is, even the Sunni-led countries understand that Sunni extremists, like those in ISIL, are having a terribly destabilizing impact on the region, and could eventually have a destabilizing impact on their country.
So there is no reason for their commitment to this issue to be lessened in any way. And the United States is pleased that we continue to have a strong working relationship with them as we execute our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Q Did the administration fear that commitment would labor absent an apology of the formal nature that was delivered this weekend?
MR. EARNEST: No, I think the Vice President was pretty candid about why he owed President Erdogan an apology, because he had mischaracterized his private remarks. But we feel confident in the depth of the commitment that countries in the region feel to this strategy that the President has laid out.
Q You were asked about the Vice President’s comments about Saudi Arabia. Does the administration endorse those comments or characterizations or inferences?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have anything to say more about those particular comments at this point.
Q Okay. The President last week, Thursday, said, “Make no mistake, my policies are on the ballot.” David Axelrod, a friend of this administration, a veteran of this building, said that was a mistake. So invoking the word “mistake” a third time, was it?
MR. EARNEST: I think the -- well, I guess the short answer is no. What the President made clear is that his name is not on the ballot this fall. But the President does believe there is a clear choice for voters across the country between candidates who are supportive of policies that will benefit the middle class, and candidates who are supportive of policies that will benefit those at the top in the hopes that the benefits will trickle down to the middle class.
That choice is clear in race after race, in state after state. And the President is strongly supportive of those candidates -- the vast majority of them are Democrats -- who are supportive of the kinds of policies that benefit middle-class families and that this President himself has long advocated.
Q So even though Democrats are trying not to nationalize this election, the President is happy to do that on their behalf even though they didn’t ask for that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, Major. The President was clear -- he said explicitly that his name would not be on the ballot, but what he also said is that in each of these races there is a clear choice. And the President has been direct about how important that choice is, and he’s also been unambiguous about which side of the equation he falls on.
Q Before I let you go, in USA Today this morning Leon Panetta says the following: “The most conspicuous weakness” -- his words -- of the President is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause…He relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader…He avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.” What’s your reaction?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just say, as a general matter, Major, that the President was proud to have Secretary Panetta serve as a senior member of his national security team both as the Director of the CIA and as the Secretary of Defense.
Anybody in any administration who serves in prominent positions like that has to make a decision about how and when and whether to talk about their experience serving the President of the United States. And I’ll leave it to others to judge the conclusion that Secretary Panetta has reached about sharing his experience.
What I will say is --
Q Having shared it, will you react?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I will say -- well, I think what I will say is that the President has demonstrated I think in a rather public fashion over the last several weeks his success in leading the international community to confront some of the very difficult challenges of our time.
Those of you who traveled to New York to see the President at the United Nations saw that when the President was talking about combating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, or the causes of climate change, or the extremist elements in Syria, that the United States is playing a leading role in each of those efforts; that we see an interest from the international community to get involved, but they do so because of the leadership of the United States and because of the American President.
And time and time again, we have seen the President use that position to lead the international community and ensure that we are making the world a better place in a way that also furthers the core interest of American national security. The President is proud of the record of leadership that he’s demonstrated. It doesn’t mean that the work is done; in fact, the work is still underway. And it is difficult work, but it is work that is critically important to this country, and it’s critically important that we have an American President that is willing to make the case to our international partners and to our allies to get involved in these things.
Again, whether it is confronting the causes of an Ebola outbreak that will only be addressed if we can stop this outbreak at its source, or take the fight to ISIL -- there’s no one else who’s going to sit around and get that done. That’s why the United States is going to step up, under the leadership of this President, to play a leading role in the international community to solve these problems.
Q That’s an answer about the President. Obviously, Leon Panetta was referring to his time serving directly underneath the President. Is that a valid criticism while Panetta was working for this President?
MR. EARNEST: No. No. The leadership that the President has demonstrated over the last several weeks is entirely consistent with the leadership that the President has shown over the last six years.
Q Given the comments the two men made, it complicates at least the President’s effort to lead this coalition. Would he rather Joe Biden not give speeches and Leon Panetta not write books?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Wendell, I think the President himself is the person that is setting the agenda. It’s the President himself who is building this broad, international coalition. Certainly, there’s a very important role for the Vice President, for the Secretary of State, for the Secretary of Defense, even for people like John Allen to play, as they marshal commitments from the international community to strengthen our response to ISIL.
We are pleased with the kind of international coalition that is coming together and gets stronger every day. Just in the last week or so, we’ve seen new commitments from Turkey, but also from countries like Denmark, from the Belgians and others, to lend the support of their military to this broader effort. And we’re confident that this kind of broad, international effort will succeed in implementing the strategy that the President has laid out.
Q A couple of other questions. The Vice President’s comments seemed to be diplomatically tone-deaf given that both the Turks and the Emiratis have moved from policies which may have facilitated some of the ISIS fighters and their funding to more restrictive measures. Should he not have made them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the fact that he called the leaders of those -- or at least senior officials in both of those countries to apologize is an indication that he himself wishes that he had said it a little bit differently.
But the fact of the matter is we are pleased with the degree of coordination and cooperation that we’re getting with countries around the globe, including countries in the region, on this effort. It is critically important that moderate voices in the Muslim world stand up and speak out against the violent extremism that is being advanced by organizations like ISIL. That is critical to our military efforts to take the fight to them. It’s also critical to our broader efforts to shut down the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL.
So there are a variety of reasons why it is critically important that we have the passionate involvement of countries in the region, and that’s exactly what we have thanks to the leadership of this President.
Q On the question of Ebola, I have two questions. On the travel restrictions, you’ve obviously talked about the medical aspect of it. Could you comment to what extent, when the President and his top aides are considering whether to impose further travel restrictions, they think about the message it could send to West Africa to, for example, shut off access overseas? And can you talk a little about what the President anticipates getting in the briefing this afternoon besides simply an update of how the response is going?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as it relates to the meeting, the President is going to speak to the pool at the conclusion of the meeting. So I’ll let him give you an assessment about what he heard from the team that’s focused on this.
As it relates to the prospect of a travel ban, this is something that we’re not -- that’s not being considered right now I think for reasons that were clearly articulated by Doctor -- well, by the experts who were up here on Friday.
Again, the concern that we have is that we’re relying on the commercial transportation system to move supplies and personnel into the region to try to meet the needs of the individuals who are affected by Ebola and to stop this outbreak at the source. That is what will be critical to our broader success here, so we don’t want to obstruct one of the core components of our strategy here.
So we remain confident that we can keep those travel channels open and ensure the continued flow of supplies and personnel to the region while at the same time putting in place screening measures, both on the ground in Africa, in transit, and on the ground here in the United States that will ensure the safety of the traveling public and the American public here at home.
Q And are there any significant expansions of the screening measures here, beyond what you’ve already said, that you would push at?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that we regularly assess and reassess, so I wouldn’t rule out any changes in the future as it relates to screening protocols. Because, again, what we’re looking to do is to review these screening measures and make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the traveling public and the American public.
Q Josh, if I could just come back to the Vice President’s comments. Can you clarify what I believe the Emiratis want clarified? The Vice President cited them and the Saudis, saying that they had poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons to al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements coming from around the world. So just a clarification -- is it the White House view that UAE, specifically, has provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Syria?
MR. EARNEST: The reason for the Vice President’s phone call was that he wanted clarify that his recent remarks regarding the early stages of the conflict in Syria were not meant to imply that the UAE had facilitated or supported ISIL, al Qaeda or other extremist groups in Syria. And that was the message that he conveyed to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Q So is the White House view and opinion that the UAE did not do such a thing?
MR. EARNEST: That is what the -- well, let me just be clear that what the President -- or what the Vice President did was clarify his remarks to indicate that he was not attempting to imply that the UAE had facilitated or supported ISIL, al Qaeda or other extremist groups in Syria.
The fact of the matter is -- and again, the Vice President noted this in his phone call with the Crown Prince -- that the UAE continues to be a strong partner with the United States in this effort. You’ll note that there were UAE fighter pilots who flew alongside American fighter pilots in the strikes against Syria. And we continue to work closely with the Emiratis to shut down financing for ISIL and to limit the flow of foreign fighters to that region. They are critical in all these efforts, and we’re proud to have them as partners.
Q So the Vice President has apologized to the Emiratis. He has apologized to the Turks. He may or may not apologize next to the Saudis. A few weeks ago, he apologized to the ADL for using the term “Shylocks.” He took heat for using the term “Orient” to describe Asia. He praised Bob Packwood before a group of -- before a women’s group. This is all in the past few weeks. What is the President’s response to his Vice President going out and continually needing to apologize for the things he says?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll say a couple things about that. The first is, I think the Vice President is somebody who has enough character to admit when he’s made a mistake.
Q It’s a lot of mistakes in a short period of time, isn’t it?
MR. EARNEST: He did that both publicly when he produced -- when his office generated readouts of these calls, but he also did it privately when he picked up the telephone to clarify and apologize for his comments over the weekend.
So the fact of the matter is, the Vice President is somebody who continues to be a core member of the President’s national security team. He is somebody who has decades of experience in dealing with leaders around the globe. And the President is pleased to be able to rely on his advice as we confront the variety of challenges that are so critical to American national security.
Q Has the Vice President also apologized to the President for any of this?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any conversations between the President and the Vice President to read out at this point.
Q Okay. And then on the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the gay marriage case -- it’s very clearly seen as a victory for the cause of gay marriage, and eventually we’ll see 30 states where gay marriage is legal. But the reverse is that we have 20 states where gay marriage is now -- will still effectively be banned. Given the President’s view on this matter, is he uncomfortable with that fact? And what does he think needs to be done, if so, about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has been clear about what his personal views are on this matter. When it comes to the legal foundation for some of these arguments, this is something that will be properly adjudicated in the courts. But the President’s personal view is one that he has clearly expressed on a variety of occasions.
Q But does he think -- I mean, what -- essentially you have 20 states in the country where what the President seems to be as a fundamental human right has denied people because of their sexual orientation. What does he think should be done about that? Just wait for the courts to adjudicate it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is a legal process that is running its course right now, and I know that there are a variety of cases at least some of which were not granted review by the Supreme Court today. But many observers who know a whole lot more about the machinations of the Supreme Court than I do speculated that at some point this may end up at the Supreme Court, and would have the effect of a more -- of a broader ruling. But again, that will be a decision for Supreme Court justices to decide.
Q Okay. Just kind of a housekeeping question here. There was a -- cameras were allowed in to get photos of the President’s meeting with financial regulators this morning in the Roosevelt Room. Traditionally, when there have been photo ops in the Roosevelt Room, in other administrations -- and, in fact, for most of this administration -- if you’re going to allow a photo spray you’re also going to allow editorial presence, a print reporter or producer. Why did the White House -- why did you feel a need to ban or prohibit any pool editorial presence in there to be with the photographers?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, previous meetings, like the one the President convened in the Roosevelt Room today, were not actually open to press access, and so the steps that we implemented today actually expanded and improved access to that meeting to the White House press pool. And we did that because we believe that’s an important priority.
I’d also note that many of the people who participated in the meeting with the President today are also members of the Financial Stability Oversight committee which met earlier today over at the Treasury Department, and I recognize that there was press access to that.
Later today the President will be convening a meeting with his -- with the team that’s working on the Ebola outbreak, and there will be full pool access for that meeting as well. So you’ll have the opportunity to hear from the President talk about that priority in addition to what you’ve already seen today.
Q I appreciate any effort that you made, and I know you do make efforts to expand access, but what we hadn’t seen in previous administrations is, if you’re going to make a decision to allow cameras in, the precedent has always been to also allow an editorial presence, unless it’s a situation where it’s a space that’s too small and you can’t allow the extra personnel. But the Roosevelt Room is big; there have been ample examples of a full pool being allowed to go in there. Why do you feel it was necessary not to allow -- what’s the reasoning for not allowing an editorial presence to go in along with the cameras? Why no reporters?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, as you know -- that this actually reflects -- this also reflects an effort by the White House to try to reach agreements to provide additional access to those media organizations that are covering the White House. And so what is referred to these days as a “photojournalist spray” is a rather recent innovation that is an outgrowth of an agreement that was struck between the White House news organizations, including television networks, to take those situations where previously only still photographers had been admitted without any other editorial presence, and allow a television camera to be admitted as well. This will allow news organizations like yours to have images, moving images of the President in that meeting.
But I readily concede that that is not the same kind of access that is typically afforded to the full pool. But it does allow for greater access by White House reporters -- in this case by television networks -- to the activities of the President. And that something that we’re always working on.
I would concede that we’ll always be in a situation where there will be a difference of opinion about how much access we provide, but we are always trying to look for ways that we can grant additional access to the White House press corps to get greater insight into the President’s activities. And today’s effort is consistent with that -- even if it may not be, in your eyes, perfect.
Q Josh, you keep talking about what the United States is doing, what the administration is doing when it comes to Ebola. Could you talk to us about what this administration feels when it comes to what the African nations are doing to prevent people from getting on planes who come in contact with Ebola; also to their medical treatment of people with Ebola or those that they suspect have Ebola? Could you talk to us about what the feeling is from this administration about what’s happening in Africa on the ground by the African nations when it comes to Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: April, you’re touching on something that’s really important. What makes this situation so tragic is that we do have a good understanding of what’s necessary to stop an Ebola outbreak in its tracks. But what that solution requires is basic medical infrastructure that allows individuals with the symptoms of Ebola to be isolated and to receive treatment.
And the fact is that the medical infrastructure in the countries where this outbreak is currently occurring are anything but modern. And it means that so many people are losing their lives in a scenario that in a different scenario we could prevent.
And that is why you have seen the international community and the American military step up to try to deploy logistical support to the recovery and response efforts; that what we want to do is -- if we can provide the kind of logistical knowhow that is a specialty of the American military, that we can increase the flow of personnel and equipment to the affected areas and try to bring relief to those individuals who are suffering from this disease to try to make safer those individuals who are at risk and to try to end this outbreak. That’s something that we’ve done on many previous occasions, and we’re confident that we’ll get it done this time.
The other thing that the American military can do is provide some logistical support and some engineering support to build hospitals, to provide venues where individuals who are seeking to volunteer their services can get training.
So there’s a lot that the American military can and is doing to try to speed the flow of relief to that region. But there is no doubt that the lack of a modern medical infrastructure in this region of the world is contributing mightily to a terrible situation.
Q So as you talk about the lack of a modern medical infrastructure there, I’m thinking about the Africa summit, how you pulled corporations like GE in who are working to bring in modern medical equipment as they have very basic -- not even that, in some instances. Is this administration tapping the private sector now to possibly go in there to help fix the issue or help work with them, not just the military, but tap the private sector like GE?
And also, you talked about the medical infrastructure -- what about the security? Because that is a big issue. Is there proper security at these airports in these Western nations and maybe even other nations that could be a concern with to be able to scan and secure those who are getting on board planes to come here or anywhere else in the world? Is there a concern about that as well?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me take your first question first, which is I’m not able to speak to any commitments that were made by private enterprises, although I’m sure there have been some. And we certainly would welcome the contribution of organizations, public and private and even nonprofits, to this effort. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and there are still resources that are needed to combat this outbreak at the source.
As it relates to the security that’s in place at airports in West Africa, there is a very strict screening protocol in place that is done under the supervision of international organizations. The CDC and others have been involved in putting in place and monitoring those screening actions in airports in West Africa.
We already know that dozens of individuals who attempted to board airplanes to the West were denied boarding because they were exhibiting symptoms that may have indicated that they were infected with Ebola. So the screening measures have already made the system safer, but we’re always assessing whether or not additional steps are required to bolster the screening measures that are already in place.
Q You did say a couple times now today that you’re assessing whether additional steps might be useful. What would it take? Would it have to be additional cases of Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: No, what it will take is it will require -- the President’s team will examine the ongoing assessment that we’re always doing of the screening measures that are in place. And if it’s determined that there are other things that could be done that would be efficient in making the system even more safe for the traveling public, then we’ll certainly consider those kinds of steps.
But again, it’s really important for people to understand as they’re listening to this that the medical professionals are clear about how it’s possible to contract Ebola. You can only do that by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an individual that has Ebola. So you can’t get it through the air, you can’t get it by drinking the water or eating food here in this country -- only by coming into very close, intimate contact with an individual that has symptoms of Ebola. And that is why the screening measures that we have in place have made our transportation systems safe. It’s also why we believe that we have the medical infrastructure that’s required to make the risk of an Ebola outbreak in this country exceedingly low.
Q There are some states that, at least they say -- their health departments say that they are taking even greater steps than the CDC. Are they overreacting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, ultimately it’s communities need to make their own decisions about what they can do to keep their community safe. There are specific guidelines that have been circulated and recirculated by the Centers for Disease Control to ensure that medical professionals at facilities all across the country have the latest information. We want to make sure that everybody understands, including medical professionals, what can be done and what needs to be done to keep communities safe from Ebola. And we remain confident that if those guidelines and protocols are followed to a letter, that communities across the country will be safe and that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States would be exceedingly low.
Q And if you look at local coverage -- whether it’s the newspapers or on television -- you see how much fear is out there. Clearly, the administration has made getting out the message a priority. We saw the briefing you had on Friday. We’ve seen a lot of -- the Director of the CDC and NIH. But is there any indication that these efforts to quell these fears are having an impact?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Chris, I think the concern that is being expressed by people across the country I think is understandable. This is -- we’re talking about a deadly disease that has, quite frankly, a pretty scary name. But the fact of the matter is the more that we can educate the American public about what the risk actually is, the more I think that we can reassure people that we have the knowledge and the infrastructure that we need to protect the American public.
But, again, the concern is understandable. It’s also important that people understand what the risk actually is. It’s also important that medical professionals and that our national security professionals, our law enforcement professionals actually do what’s required in terms of implementing the guidelines. And so far, the track record, while not perfect, is pretty good.
Q How much did it hurt your case that the one U.S. case that came into an emergency room was sent home? Do you think that that makes people skeptical about statements that the U.S. is set up -- that localities are set up to take care of this, that the CDC is set up to take care of this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, the thing I will say, Chris, is that given the amount of attention that this particular case has received, I feel confident that more medical professionals across the country are keenly aware of what the protocols are and how important it is to follow those protocols.
So we also remain confident that our response to this incident, while -- I should say it this way: That the local response to this incident, while not perfect, has since followed the protocol and has limited the threat or the risk to people in north Texas. They have benefitted from the assistance of CDC experts that have traveled to north Texas to do what’s called contact tracing to ensure, or at least monitor those who may have been exposed to this individual while he was symptomatic, while he was contagious. And that work is underway.
And I think that response should give people some confidence in knowing that the protocols that are in place are effective and don’t require any sort of heroic steps; that there are some basic steps that can be taken that will protect the American public. And people should take some confidence in that.
Q And real quickly, if I can, on the Secret Service with the new Acting Director starting today. Did the President have any conversations with him over the weekend or today? And can you tell us from the White House perspective what’s first on his list?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that at the end of last week, the President did have the opportunity to speak to the new Acting Director of the Secret Service, Mr. Clancy. The President thanked him for assuming this very difficult job at a very challenging time for the agency. So the President has a lot of confidence in Mr. Clancy, and has confidence in his ability to tackle all of the hard work that lies ahead. But other than that, I don’t have any additional conversations to read out. I understand that Mr. Clancy is beginning in his job just today.
Q Thank you. Will screening at U.S. airports for Ebola be on the agenda this afternoon?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if that will be something that’s discussed in the meeting, but you’ll hear from the President at the conclusion of the meeting, and he’ll give you a little bit of a rundown of what’s on his agenda for that meeting and you’ll get an indication directly from him.
Q And will the CDC people be available at the stakeout after the meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what their plans are but you can certainly check with them.
Q Okay. One last one, kind of a fun one. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: All right. First fun one all day, but okay.
Q A Chinese company is buying the Waldorf Astoria.
MR. EARNEST: I saw something about that.
Q Is the President going to stay there again? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if that’s a fun question. (Laughter.)
Q For international relations --
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any updates in terms of the President’s logistical accommodations for next year’s U.N. meeting, but we’ll keep you posted.
Alexis go ahead. I’ll give you the last one.
Q Just to follow up -- because Lisa Monaco has many other things on her plate and this is such a multidisciplinary -- Ebola -- issue for the President, can you just clarify who is his point person here in the White House who coordinates for him on this issue?
MR. EARNEST: Lisa does have a lot on her plate but she’s a very talented individual, as you saw when she conducted the briefing here on Friday. She is the point person here at the White House who is coordinating the interagency response to this effort. But again, it’s USAID that is the point on the ground; they’ve been dealing with this situation for eight or nine months now, so they have a very good sense of what’s needed there.
You have the Department of Defense that’s responsible for putting in place this logistical infrastructure that reflects their own expertise in this area. We have already seen how that response from the United States military has galvanized the international community in their willingness to commit resources to this ongoing effort.
And in terms of the safety of the American public here at home, HHS and the Centers for Disease Control are the lead in communicating with state and local officials and with public health officials in states all across the country to ensure that they are all aware of the medical protocols that are in place and should be applied in this circumstance.
And again, those professionals continue to be confident that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is exceedingly low.
1:53 P.M. EDT