Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/22/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Before I go to your questions, there is some sad news out of Canada today I just wanted to talk about briefly. Let me begin by saying that the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House go out to the families of those who were affected by today’s shooting in Canada, as well as to the family of the soldier who was killed earlier this week.
The President was briefed earlier today in the Oval Office by his top Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco. The details about the nature of this event are still sketchy, which is not unusual in a chaotic situation like the one -- like this one.
Canada is one of the closest friends and allies of the United States, and from issues ranging from the strength of our NATO alliance to the Ebola response to dealing with ISIL, there’s a strong partnership and friendship and alliance between the United States and Canada. The United States strongly values that relationship, and that relationship makes the citizens of this country safer.
Officials inside the U.S. government have been in close touch with their Canadian counterparts today to offer assistance. That includes officials here in the White House. We have been in touch with the Canadians about arranging a phone call between the President and Prime Minister Harper at the Prime Minister’s earliest convenience. He obviously is dealing with a lot today, but as soon as we can arrange that call, we'll let you know.
With that, Nedra, do you want to get us started with questions?
Q Yes. Thanks for that, Josh. And can we talk about the announcement that's coming out of the CDC that there will be 21-day monitoring of people coming in from West African countries? Is that a way to try to avoid a travel ban that some have been calling for?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what it is, it’s to try to put in place the kinds of policies that we believe will do the most to protect the American people and to protect the health of the American people.
The President has been clear in his explanation about why he believes a travel ban is not the best policy at this point. He’s not philosophically opposed to a travel ban, but it is his view, based on the guidance that he’s received from medical experts and other scientists, that putting in place a travel ban only exposes the American people to more vulnerability at this point. Right now, because the travel lanes are open, we can have some confidence in our ability to detect those individuals who are traveling from West Africa or who have traveled recently in West Africa as they attempt to enter the United States.
And because of our knowledge about their travel history, we can ensure that the screening measures that are in place in West Africa can ensure that those individuals are not exhibiting symptoms of Ebola -- there are dozens of individuals who, based on those screening protocols that are already in place, have been denied boarding -- and those individuals, when they arrive in this country are also subjected to additional screening measures, again, to determine and to confirm that they are not currently exhibiting symptoms of Ebola. This is important because Ebola can only be transmitted through the close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who’s exhibiting symptoms of Ebola. So that is the focus of our efforts.
The announcement from the CDC today is an additional layer that will be based upon an effort to share information with state and local health authorities so that they can put in place measures that they believe would be most effective in protecting the populations of their states. And that includes giving them the contact information from people who are traveling to their states so that if these state and local public health officials decide to put in place some additional monitoring provisions, that they have the wherewithal to do so, or at least they have the information that they need to do so.
Q And what happens if people don’t self-report their temperatures? Would there be possibly law enforcement coming to look for them? Would it go that far?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this would be the responsibility of state and local officials in their -- in the states where these travelers are located. And ultimately, it would be the responsibility of public health officials and, in some cases, maybe even elected officials to determine what steps are needed to protect the citizens of their state.
Q But as far as this White House is concerned, having police show up to try to find these people wouldn’t be going too far, getting law enforcement involved wouldn’t be going too far?
MR. EARNEST: Again, it will be the responsibility of individual states and localities to make those kinds of decisions.
Q And why just these six states? Why wasn’t this expanded nationwide? Is it a matter of resources?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, what we’re talking about are the six states where about 70 percent of the travelers’ destination -- that essentially these are the states where the vast majority of people who have spent some time in West Africa are headed to in the United States. And I would anticipate that we will continue to coordinate with state and local officials to try to expand the ability to do more of this, but for details on that I’d refer you to the CDC.
Q And on Mr. Klain, today being his first day, can you give us a little bit more detail about what his job will entail? Like does he have a staff? Is he going to be hiring and firing? And are there any details about his salary? Is he being paid like a senior advisor?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll get you some more details in terms of his salary arrangements. He ultimately does have this responsibility to coordinate the Ebola response of the U.S. government both in West Africa but also here in the United States. This is a coordinating function that is typical of other senior officials at the National Security Council where they are responsible for ensuring that the actions of a variety of government agencies that are focused on addressing a specific problem are properly synchronized and integrated to maximize the impact of their efforts. And that’s essentially what Mr. Klain is focused on.
Q And the staff part, hiring and firing?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know of any individual staffers who are reporting directly to Mr. Klain at this point, but I would anticipate that he’ll get the kind of support that he needs to do his very important job.
Q Josh, realizing -- back to Canada -- realizing this is still a very fluid situation, are you able to say whether the United States or Canada considers this a terrorist attack?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to render judgment on that at this point. Obviously, Canadian authorities are still responding to this situation, and I’m confident they will conduct an investigation in which they will consider a range of questions not unlike the question you just asked.
Q Is there any indication whether there is a connection to terror groups or any groups at all that you are able to say now?
MR. EARNEST: There is no conclusion like that that I’m able to share with you at this point. But we’re obviously in the very early stages of determining what exactly happened here. And as I mentioned, a number of U.S. officials in this government have been in touch with their Canadian counterparts to offer some assistance as they respond to and deal with this tragic situation.
Q Is there any reason for U.S. government facilities or other areas in the United States to be on high alert because of what’s happening in Canada?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any decisions that have been made by individual components to change their threat status, but I know there are a number of agencies that are responsible for maintaining that threat status. Here in the United States it’s the Department of Homeland Security that’s responsible for maintaining the terror threat level. There are other agencies, like the Department of Defense, that set the threat conditions. I’m not aware of any changes, but I’d refer you to those agencies to confirm that.
Q And you said there had -- that officials are in touch with Canadian officials. Are the FBI, the CIA offering their assistance in an investigation?
MR. EARNEST: I’d check with those individual agencies. I don’t have a rundown in terms of who has actually made phone calls to their Canadian counterparts, but I know that a number of officials have done that.
Q And on one other topic, can you give us any more details about how the release of Jeffrey Fowle yesterday from North Korea was arranged?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to do so from here. You can check with the State Department and they may have more details on that.
Q Any change to the security measures that are being taken here at the White House as a result --
MR. EARNEST: None that I’m aware of, but you can check with the Secret Service. They’re responsible for maintaining the appropriate security levels here at the White House, and so if they have something to announce they’ll be the ones to do that.
Q And we know that U.S. law enforcement officials have been concerned about there being some kind of a raise in the threat level because of what’s happening in the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria. Has that concern been shared with Canadian authorities? Have U.S. and Canadian authorities been talking about this in recent weeks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the United States -- again, I just want to state that we’re talking as a general matter here. I'm not ready to draw any conclusions about today’s incident. But that said, the United States has been in touch with Canadian counterparts over the last several months to talk about this issue of countering violent extremism and trying to deter foreign fighters who could be radicalized by ISIL.
ISIL has demonstrated a capacity to use social media and other aspects of modern technology to try to radicalize citizens in other countries. I know that the Canadians were active participants in the United Nations Security Council meeting that the President convened last month in New York that was focused on this specific issue of countering foreign fighters.
I believe -- I don’t remember, frankly -- we discussed this and I didn’t check before I came out here -- I don’t recall if Prime Minister Harper himself attended that meeting, but I know that the Canadians were supportive of that process and have been engaged in working with the United States on these broader efforts to counter foreign fighters.
Foreign fighters, again, just to remind folks, are individuals in countries around the world that have been recruited by ISIL to travel to the region to take up arms, to get training, and to fight alongside ISIL in their cause. The concern that the United States and other countries around the world harbors is that these individuals could return to their home countries and carry out acts of violence.
Again, it’s very -- the circumstances around today’s tragic events in Canada are still unknown. But that is a concern that the United States has been focused on for quite some time. We’ve been talking to other countries about steps that we can take in coordination to mitigate that threat, and Canada is one of the countries that has been robustly engaged in those efforts.
Q And any response from the administration on -- to those girls, those teenage girls from Denver who apparently tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS or an Islamist group there in that region? Apparently the girls were picked up in Germany and sent back to the U.S. I suppose it underlines that concern that you just talked about. Any response from the administration to that specific --
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the reports about this particular matter. I know that the FBI put out a statement on it, and I wouldn’t haven't anything to add to their statement.
Q And on Ebola, the fact that Ron Klain starts today, it does seem as though -- that the administration had made some strides in countering this problem. Do you feel like -- does the White House feel like you’ve turned a corner here with Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think those of you -- and, Jim, you’re among those who have been closely watching our response here -- have noticed that there has been a stepped-up level of activity here at the federal level to deal with this issue. That includes everything from the announcement from DHS yesterday about funneling travelers from West Africa to five airports where there already are protocols for secondary screening to occur.
You’ve seen an announcement from the Department of Defense about the military medical professionals that have been mobilized to be at the ready to help assist in treating Ebola patients, if necessary, here in the United States. You’ve seen these additional stronger protocols from the CDC about steps that health care workers can take to protect themselves when they’re treating Ebola patients.
So there have been a number of announcements from the Obama administration and from other aspects of the federal government to dealing with this particular situation. This is something that we continue to be vigilant about. But the guidance that we have received from scientific experts about the extraordinarily low likelihood of an Ebola outbreak in the United States continues to be the operating principle here. And it should be
-- while Americans who are watching this situation recognize that their government is taking the necessary steps to do what’s necessary to protect them, at the same time, the scientific assessment is that the risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States remains extraordinarily low, and therefore the risk to the average American from the Ebola virus remains extraordinarily low.
Let’s move around a little bit.
Q Thank you, Josh. A couple of weeks ago, the Pentagon press secretary talked about the possibility of a U.S. military base in Kurdish region in the near future. Is the U.S. government planning to set up any military base, or maybe more than one, in the Kurdish region? Because there are some reports saying that the U.S. government wants to develop a greater military presence in the region in the wake of recent ISIL attacks in northern Iraq. A source inside the Iraqi-Kurdish regional government says that U.S. government is planning to build up three military bases in the region. One of the bases will be in Erbil, another is in Herir military base, and the third one would be in Atrush, a town close to Dohuk near the Kurdish border, according to sources.
Apparently a delegation of Peshmerga and U.S. commanders visited this territory last month. I assume that this is very strategically important because of its neighboring countries -- Iraq, Turkey, Syria. Could you just confirm? Is this claim true? Or could you give us some details about the project?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t confirm those reports. I’m actually hearing them for the first time from you. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense who can speak to our military planning efforts.
I will say a couple things, though, about those reports. The focal point of our efforts to counter ISIL has been to build up a capacity of local fighters, both in Iraq and in Syria, to take the fight on the ground to ISIL. We are prepared -- the United States and our coalition partners stand prepared to back up those efforts with military airstrikes that could make a difference on the battlefield as those local fighters confront ISIL on the ground.
That is the core component of our strategy. That is consistent with the kind of counterterrorism strategy that we’ve used successfully in other countries. But as it relates to more detailed American military planning, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense. I’m just not aware of those specific reports.
Q The Turkish Prime Minister spoke this morning and the Defense Department confirmed that at least one of the packages of weapons that was dropped to assist in Kobani appears to have ended up in Islamic State hands. Does the White House have a response to that happening? And are there any plans to make sure it doesn’t happen if there’s another drop?
MR. EARNEST: I’d refer you to the Department of Defense for the details about the specific airdrop that was carried out over the weekend. What I have heard from them so far is that they continue to be confident that the vast majority of bundles that were airdropped did reach their target and were recovered by the anti-ISIL forces that we were seeking to assist. But in terms of accounting for each of those bundles, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense for more details about that.
Q Josh, I want to go to the Department of Education. We have now relaxed a bit some of the strict rules when it comes to the Parent PLUS loan program. Last year, that loan program came under fire by the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as HBC presidents throughout this nation because it prohibited a lot of students from being able to go to school because their parents had blemishes on their credit reports. So what -- does this new guideline kind of satisfy the request for the CBC as well as HBCUs in trying to bring students back to school and keep them in school so they can get an education to become middle-class Americans?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess you’d have to ask them if they’re satisfied or not. We certainly feel good about the final rule that was issued today related to the federal Direct PLUS loan program. These are new rules that will allow more parents the opportunity to borrow and send their kids to college, at the same time ensuring that parents are able to repay those loans and ensuring that they have the tools and resources to make informed decisions about financing the education of their children.
This is consistent with other steps that the administration has taken to try to open up the door to a college education to even more students in this country. Never before has a college education been so critical to a good middle-class job, particularly in a modern 21st century global economy. But there are other things -- other steps the administration has taken, again, consistent with today’s announcement, like increasing the maximum Pell grant award to $1,000; creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit that makes it easier to afford a college education. There are a number of steps that have been taken to reform the student loan program to lower costs and make more resources available to more students.
We’ve even talked quite a bit about creating a rating system for college so that students who are considering a college education can be better informed about the offerings that are made available to them to colleges so that we can ensure that they’re choosing a college that matches their own goals and matches their financial ability to afford that tuition and not be weighed down by too much debt when the graduate.
Q Do you believe these changes are ensuring that people are able to stay in school and get in school?
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly these -- the changes that are announced today, consistent with many of the other things that the administration has done, will do even more to open up the doors to a college education to more families and students across the country. Again, our goal here is in recognition of the fact that a college education has never been more important to being able to get and hold a good middle-class job in this country.
Q And lastly, what’s happening in Canada -- does this speak to gun control or does it speak to terrorism, or does it speak to both?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think at this point the details about what exactly has transpired there today is still under investigation, and, in fact, in some cases authorities are still responding to the incident. So I would reserve judgment about what exactly happened or the causes of what happened until we have greater insight into what exactly happened.
Q I wanted to follow up on the Inspector General’s report today about the Secret Service incident in 2011. What was the President’s reaction to that when he first learned of it either today or earlier this week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you -- what I would do is I would actually refer you to the statement from Secretary Johnson that he put out earlier today. He’s asked the Acting Director of the Secret Service, Mr. Clancy, to review the IG investigation into these specific allegations and to take the appropriate disciplinary action that he believes is necessary in this case. So this is something that obviously has attracted the attention of senior officials at DHS, and they’re going to deal with it.
Q So the President doesn’t have a direct role in trying to figure out exactly who should be held accountable or what that accountability should look like?
MR. EARNEST: Well, he’s got a Director of the Secret Service who’s going to be responsible for leading that department and making sure that appropriate accountability steps are taken.
Q Thanks. In Washington, a jury convicts the Blackwater guards in 2007 Iraq deaths. What’s the White House reaction?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen those news reports, Laura, but I’m not prepared to discuss them from here. But we can have somebody follow up with you on that.
Q I noticed in the Wall Street Journal today they reported that the Russian economy has become stagnant and that, in fact, it could be the lowest output since 2009. Apparently the sanctions from the United States have worked in that way. Does that make Vladimir Putin more dangerous or less dangerous?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it does make clear a couple of things. It does make clear, as you point out, that the sanctions regime that was put in place by the United States, in close coordination with our European partners, has imposed a significant economic cost on the Russians for their inappropriate interference in the affairs of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. That is an indication of a successful policy implementation.
The question then goes to has it had the desired effect in terms of getting the Russians to change their behavior. That is a calculation that only the leader of that country can make. And we have not seen as much as we would like in terms of abiding by the terms of the ceasefire and an indication that the Russians are prepared to respect basic international norms and particularly the borders of sovereign countries.
So we continue to have concerns, but it's also clear that the sanctions regime that the United States has put in place has taken a toll on the Russian economy and the Russians are paying a price for their actions in Ukraine.
Q But is the strategy to weaken Russia in this way? Is there a possibility or is there a danger that it could actually backfire and make Putin more dangerous?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess I don't entirely follow your thinking on this. I think the strategy that we've put in place was one that we've been pretty candid about, which is ensuring that the Russians clearly understand that the international community expects that basic international norms will be respected and that the failure to do so will result in significant cost to countries like Russia that sort of flagrantly ignore those basic international norms.
In this case, we've seen the Russians actively support separatists in Ukraine. We've seen -- there’s been ample evidence to indicate that Russian supplies and even personnel have moved across the border into Ukraine. That is an inappropriate interference with the affairs of a sovereign nation. And the Russian government and the Russian people and the Russian economy have sustained costs as a result.
Q So you believe it's been a success, the sanctions have been a success?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think, looking at the numbers that you cited, that is an indication that the sanctions regime has had the intended effect in terms of imposing costs on the Russian economy. We're still waiting to see whether or not those costs on the Russian economy will have an influence over the actions of Russia in that region of the world. I think the jury is still out on that part of it.
Q And just one question on immigration. I know this was tried yesterday, but I'll give you another chance.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q AP reported that there actually have been green cards printed or ordered for printing, as many as 9 million -- 5 million to 9 million. Does that tell us anything about the President’s intent on the number of people that he intends to make legal in this country once the election is over?
MR. EARNEST: I did have a chance to read those reports since yesterday’s briefing and before today’s. It is, I think, a relatively clever way to ask about the policy that the President has not yet announced as it relates to executive actions that he’s prepared to take to address the problems in our broken immigration system.
Q Do you have a clever answer for it? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Beyond that one, no, I don’t.
Q So it is tied to his policy then? It suggests that he is -- but so you are suggesting then that ordering these green cards shows that the government is at least preparing for the President to announce this soon.
MR. EARNEST: No, I would not suggest that that is an indication that that’s what we’re preparing to do.
Q But you’re not denying the cards are being printed up, I guess is my question.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t think that’s what the report is. I think the report is that they ordered some paper.
Q A contract to put it together. So you’d cancel that contract if you’re not planning to print a lot of green cards, I would think.
MR. EARNEST: Well, no -- Ed, what we’re talking about here is an order from the Department of Homeland Security to a contractor related to ongoing operations at the Department of Homeland Security. They’re responsible for issuing green cards. I think those who are trying to read into those specific orders about what the President may decide are a little too cleverly trying to divine what the President’s ultimate conclusion might be.
Q Okay. On Canada, I know you said, understanding you can’t render a judgment, it only happened a few hours ago. However, the FBI obviously has to react, and we’re told -- maybe you have more information. (Laughter.) I’ll give you a moment. Is it related to Canada or do you want to --
MR. EARNEST: It is. The President did connect with Prime Minister Harper just a few minutes ago. They did have the opportunity to speak. And we’ll have more details in terms of a readout of that call later today.
Q Thank you. The FBI obviously has to deal with the fallout of this potentially and has put out a bulletin, we’re told, to various field offices around the United States sort of suggesting “raise your threat posture,” and that there’s been a spike in ISIS-related chatter in recent days, and intelligence officials have been picking up -- I know that does not prove that ISIS was involved in this situation in Canada, but given the fact the FBI has to prepare for that possibility, can you talk about how concerned the President may be about how the campaign against ISIS may be turned around, where ISIS may be trying to wage war not just against us but against our allies?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, I have not seen those FBI bulletins, nor the reports about them, so I can’t comment specifically on them. The FBI may be able to give you a better idea about what’s motivating those bulletins.
I can say as a general matter a couple of things. The first is, the United States for quite some time now has been cognizant of the threat that is posed by foreign fighters or by individuals who could be radicalized in this country. The effort to counter violent extremism is something that the administration has been focused on for years now. And that continues to be an important priority because it’s a critical part of our effort to protect the American people.
The second thing is that the reason that the President has galvanized the international community, built this coalition of more than 60 countries to take the fight to ISIL, is because he is concerned about the risks associated with ISIL establishing a safe haven inside Syria; that if ISIL were to establish a safe haven inside Syria, it would -- or at least it could give them greater space where they could turn more of their attention to planning, plotting and organizing attacks against the United States or our allies, including even the homeland here.
So the fact that ISIL poses a general threat to the United States is something that we have been aware of for some time and is, in fact, the reason that the President has worked so hard to build this broader international coalition to take the fight to ISIL and deny them the opportunity to establish a safe haven in this rather chaotic region of the world.
Q Two short ones on the midterms. First, there’s a release out today saying the Vice President is going -- both related to the Iowa Senate race. Monday, I think the Vice President is going to Iowa. The President hasn’t been there, but the First Lady has. I’m going to give you a chance to talk a little bit about the Vice President’s role in the midterms. He’s taken some shots recently about some of his comments and whatnot. Does the White House still view him as an important asset here in some of these key Senate races?
MR. EARNEST: I guess the important part here is, based on the way that these sorts of travel arrangements are made with the campaigns, it’s the campaigns themselves that believe that the Vice President is an important and effective advocate for Democratic candidates across the country. He certainly is somebody who has established throughout his career over decades a profile of someone who has woken up every morning, gone to work ready to fight for middle-class families. He did that in the Senate, he has done that in the Vice President’s office, as well. I do think that gives him the kinds of credentials that are helpful to Democratic candidates across the country who are trying to make a case about the importance of an agenda that’s focused on middle-class families.
Q And finally, a small mistake, but one that has angered Senate Democrats. The White House put out a transcript last night about the First Lady being with Bruce Braley in the Senate race and referred to it -- referred to him as a candidate for governor. And National Journal has a story out today quoting Senate Democratic aides saying, among other things, that -- at one point, they say that the White House political operation has gone from “annoying to embarrassing.” This came a couple weeks after the First Lady mispronounced Braley’s name several times. What does this say about Senate Democrats feeling like the White House just keeps messing up on these races?
MR. EARNEST: I think the fact that the First Lady was campaigning in Iowa yesterday in support of Congressman Braley’s campaign and that the Vice President is headed there next week says all you need to know about the White House’s commitment to the success of Democrats like Mr. Braley.
Q Let me just follow up, if I can, on the situation in Canada. And again, understanding that we don't really know what happened there, we do know, though, that the issue of security at Parliament had been raised in particular since a vote less than two weeks ago to officially contribute to the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, and contribute fighter jets and other forms of help. And I'm wondering, in the context of the conversations that have been held about foreign fighters, what can you tell us about the concerns or the conversations about the possibility of retaliatory strikes against people who have joined the U.S.-led coalition?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that similar to Ed’s question, and I think I would handle it in similar fashion, which is to say that the United States and our allies have been very mindful of the risk that is posed by foreign fighters -- again, individuals who have Western passports, who have traveled to the region to take up arms alongside ISIL. These individuals have gotten training; they’re battle-hardened; they’ve demonstrated a willingness to die for their cause. And the risk associated with them traveling back to their home country is one that we're mindful of and seeking to mitigate.
Canada has been robustly engaged in broader international efforts to coordinate the response to that risk, and we certainly welcome their continued cooperation on that front.
The second thing I would say about that is the whole reason that the U.S., under the leadership of this President, has worked so hard to build an international coalition against ISIL is because they did pose a broader risk to the United States and our interests and our allies in the region, and there has been a concern about the risk expanding if they were able to establish a safe haven in Syria, and our efforts are motivated to denying them that specific safe haven.
So this is something that we continue to be focused on. We certainly are appreciative of the commitment that Canada has made to this broader international effort alongside some 60 other countries.
Q Can you give us any more specifics -- when you say that officials including White House officials are in close contact with Canadian counterparts -- any more details on who that would be?
MR. EARNEST: I can't at this point. I just know that a number of calls have been placed, including calls here at the White House to our counterparts in Canada. But in terms of who was on the phone, we'll see if we can get you some more details before the end of the day.
Q And finally, just one thing on the midterms -- a comment by Chris Christie that got a lot of attention when he said, “I got to tell you the truth, I'm tired of hearing about the minimum wage. I really am.” He’s talked in the past, though, that this really is about a bigger issue, as he and I think a lot of Republicans see it, of an opportunity gap. Is this really reflective of the problem that the President has and is going to continue to have as he tries to fight for a minimum wage, a higher minimum wage?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll tell you there is a group of people that I do think across the country are pretty tired, and those are probably the 28 million American workers who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to more than $10 an hour. These are, in many cases, individuals who are raising a family of four below the poverty line. And I would anticipate that would make you pretty tired.
That’s why the President has worked so hard to encourage Congress to give those workers a raise. They certainly have earned it. It would have a substantial and beneficial impact on the U.S. economy. It certainly would make a difference in the lives of those hardworking Americans. And the President has been pleased that there are 13 states and the District of Columbia that have acted on their own to raise the minimum wage in their jurisdictions.
We certainly have been pleased to see so many private companies make similar decisions to raise the wages of their workers. Those businesses aren't doing it out of charity; they recognize it's good for their business. And the President believes, and this is backed up with some academic research, that raising the minimum wage would be good for the economy -- the broader economy in this country, too.
Jared. The other Jared. We don't want Jared Halpern to think I was calling on him twice.
Q Just following up on Ed’s question. When we're talking about this Braley event, is it worth doing well if it's worth doing at all? You said it should speak for itself that the First Lady was there. Was this mistake and the previous mistake something that the White House regrets, the First Lady’s office regrets?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jared, I think anybody who heard the First Lady’s comments yesterday indicated -- I think anybody who heard the First Lady’s comments yesterday would come away with the impression that she did a good job advocating for him and motivating voters to support his campaign. So I think it was worth doing and I think she did it well. I think the number of people who heard her remarks is significantly higher than those of you who are closely reading the transcript.
Q So should Senate Democrats who were upset about this get over it, or is it something that's not important from the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I mean, based on the comments that I've seen from Senate Democrats, they’re pleased to have the support of people like the First Lady and pleased that she is out on the campaign trail doing such a good job advocating for their candidates.
Q Josh, the Attorney General has told CNN that he’s cautiously optimistic about the legalization of marijuana in Washington, Colorado, how it's going. The new head of the Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, recently (inaudible) advocating for legal marijuana. Should we take these as signals that the President is himself continuing to evolve on this issue?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don't have any update in terms of the President’s position on this issue. It sounds like the Attorney General might be expressing his own point of view based on his own observation of the implementation of those laws in those states that you identified. But I don't have a position -- a change in position from the President’s perspective to share with you.
Q And on the situation in Ottawa, does that increase the urgency of completing the Secret Service review of White House security at all? And also, the Capitol building, the Capitol complex here is exposed. A former Top Cop, Terry Gainer, today saying that there should be a fence around the Capitol and much more security at the Capitol. Do you have any sense of whether the urgency here and the security situation here should be reevaluated in light of what’s happening in Ottawa?
MR. EARNEST: Steven, I know that there is already a pretty strong sense of urgency associated with completing the review about the security posture around the White House. I don't know if that was further enhanced by the situation in Canada. I just know that it was already operating at a pretty high level.
As it relates to security precautions that are in place at the Capitol, I would, of course, defer to the Capitol Police, who’s responsible for protecting the Capitol for those kinds of assessments. Here at the White House, I know that there is an effort taken to try to balance the need to preserve the White House as the people’s house, that there are thousands of tourists that come through the White House and walk out the front door of the White House on a daily basis. There are hundreds of us who work here, including all of you, on a regular basis, and facilitating the efficient entering and exit of those of us who work here is a key priority.
But at the same time, the top priority needs to be safeguarding the First Family. And balancing those priorities is difficult. And there is a similar dynamic in play at the United States Capitol, and I'm confident that the U.S. Capitol Police is aware of that need and is doing everything that’s necessary to grapple with that challenge. But in terms of recommended changes, we’d obviously defer to them.
Q I was wondering, is Ron Klain going to at all look at this kind of question that’s been out there about whether you guys want more Ebola funding to come through Congress? Is that something that’s part of his portfolio, or does that kind of still reside with OMB?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that will continue to reside at OMB, but certainly, as the person that’s responsible for coordinating the government’s response to this situation, he’ll be included in the discussion about what, if any, additional resources are needed.
Q And then I’d kind of -- you said last week that you guys still haven’t made a determination about if more resources are needed. I’m assuming from your answer that that remains true.
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct.
Q But I’m wondering -- the Senate Appropriations Committee has said that they’re going to hold a hearing on November 6th. Do you guys expect to have a recommendation for them by that point?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t set a timeline on a decision that we would make on our end about additional resources. But we certainly are -- this is something that we’re looking at, but again, it’s still not clear exactly how that question will be resolved.
Q Josh, I wanted to follow up on something you said yesterday when you spoke of an unprecedented level of transparency in --
MR. EARNEST: Yes. Well, would you grant that it actually is an unprecedented level of transparency to ensure that reporters like yourself are admitted to fundraisers that the President convenes in private homes, right?
Q Why doesn’t that transparency extend to the Q&A sessions?
MR. EARNEST: I couldn’t even get a yes out of that, not even an acknowledgement before you asked the question. For somebody who’s so interested in transparency, I would anticipate that you would acknowledge where --
Q I acknowledge --
MR. EARNEST: Okay, good.
Q I stipulate your statement.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you for humoring me. (Laughter.)
Q Why doesn’t that transparency extend to the Q&A sessions with the donors, which would be of great interest to all of us?
MR. EARNEST: Right, right. What we strive to do in those kinds of settings, Mark, is to balance the desire -- and it’s a legitimate one -- of the press corps to hear the President’s pitch to donors about why they should support Democratic political committees, by and large. There is, of course, a legitimate interest there. And I think those who have been close observers of that process have found that the pitch that the President delivers in those more intimate settings is consistent with the pitch that the President delivers in bigger settings like campaign rallies or in fundraisers that have a much larger -- that take place at much larger gatherings.
The goal of those Q&A sessions is to foster a more candid and open dialogue where you have donors who are expressing their views, and the nature of -- in some ways, we’ve got the little -- I think it’s the Heidenberg Principle, right, where --
Q It would change if we were there --
Q Heisenberg Principle.
MR. EARNEST: Heisenberg Principle. Thank you for the correction, Mr. Viquiera. The Heisenberg Principle -- that the fact of someone observing something necessarily changes what is actually being observed. And I think that’s at play in a dynamic like this where you have a relatively small group of individuals who are seeking to have a conversation with the President of the United States.
So what we have done is we have structured this in a way that tries to balance your understandable interests in the pitch that the President makes to donors with the ability of donors to have a frank and candid conversation with the President of the United States in a relatively private setting.
Q So you’re offering the Heisenberg Principle defense to why we can’t cover that Q&A session, right? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s relatively creative, wouldn’t you think?
Q Yes, but that would go to everything we cover any day.
MR. EARNEST: It does, which is why we try to balance them. I think that that’s -- if you’re in a setting where the President is speaking, as he was in Maryland over the weekend, to 8,000 people, it would be hard for me to make the case that letting 12 additional people observe that speech would necessarily change the interaction. But I think the dynamic is different when we’re talking about a smaller group of individuals, a couple of dozen, that increasing the number of people who are participating in that session does necessarily change the interaction.
Q Well, what if we weren’t there but you released the transcript of it? Would that mollify your concerns about the Heisenberg Principle?
MR. EARNEST: I think that would be a different way for you to observe the interaction in a way that still would have a material impact on that kind of conversation.
Q Because they expect privacy?
MR. EARNEST: Not necessarily. Not necessarily.
Q That comes with the process.
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I don’t think that anybody expects -- there are plenty of occasions in which individuals have walked out of a fundraiser and said, I just asked the President this and he told me that. And that’s been reported. And again, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve said that that person should be sanctioned in some way, or that they violated some sort of privacy agreement. I don’t think that there is an implied expectation of privacy. I think what is implied is a little intimacy and the opportunity to have a frank and candid conversation that is different than one that’s observed by journalists.
Q And it would be carried out differently if it were to be transcribed and released?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I think so.
Q Okay. Since we’re in the mood to acknowledge things, will you just acknowledge what we all suspect here, which you’re not going to tell us -- what Ed has asked, what my colleague Mark Miller has asked you about for six years, which is the separation of costs for political travel? You’re not going to -- we’re not going to release this number, you’re not going to answer that question, right?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an answer for that, that’s correct.
Q You're not going to, right? Just acknowledge that. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Much like previous administrations haven’t --
Q No, no, I’m going to get to that.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q Just acknowledge that you’re not going to do it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I will say -- (laughter) -- before I --
Q So we don’t have to go through this charade anymore. Because I know you’re not going to do it, so just say you’re not going to do it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, that is -- there are numbers associated with these costs that are reported to the FEC, right? When there are --
MR. EARNEST: So there is a level of a --
Q But there’s no way to know what they’re for and what proportion they are of the larger whole.
MR. EARNEST: So there is a level of transparency that’s already included in the system that the Obama administration and the Democratic committees that ultimately are responsible for paying for some of these costs is reported publicly. What I will acknowledge is this, that’s it’s not the level of transparency that you seek, but there is transparency that is built into the system.
Q And you’re not going to go beyond it? You’re not going to ask the direct question --
MR. EARNEST: No, I do not anticipate that. I do not anticipate that we will.
Q So what you often fall back on in conversations with Mark and others is, we’re going to stick with the policy that previous administrations have had on this, which is not to disaggregate the numbers and to do anything more than is required by the FEC. That’s what you’ve told Mark for many years.
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I would say about that is --
Q I want to ask you, why is that a defensible position?
MR. EARNEST: Because what it’s related to is it’s related to the law. It’s not just the policy of the previous administration. But there are specific laws that are in place. There are rules and regulations that govern the cost associated with presidential travel to political events.
Now, what the law says is that cost associated with political activities may not be paid for by government funds. And the HATCH Act and the FEC rules set out a very careful system to ensure that political committees pay their fair share of any travel that involves a political event, and those payments are publicly reported to the FEC.
Q And that’s as far as you feel you need to go to explain to the public how these costs are paid and they’re apportioned between what the taxpayers pay for and what the political committees pay for?
MR. EARNEST: This administration feels the need to diligently follow both the letter and spirit of the law, and that’s exactly what we do.
Q Following up on Jim, I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying about this report about the printing of the additional green cards. Are you saying that is unrelated or coincidental?
MR. EARNEST: I’m saying that there are decisions that are made by lots of agencies, including the ordering of specific colored sheets of paper. Those sorts of decisions are not micromanaged by the White House.
Q Don’t be absurd with us. That’s not just an ordinary colored piece of paper. It is central --
MR. EARNEST: I’m not suggesting that it is.
Q -- central to what the President has promised in public to do --
MR. EARNEST: It’s also central to what they’re already doing. It’s also central to what they’re already doing.
Q That’s why I asked you the question. Is it coincidental or it is unrelated?
MR. EARNEST: You would have to ask DHS about orders for green-colored paper that they’ve ordered.
Q The order is coming from the President.
MR. EARNEST: The executive order. But the order of the copier paper is coming from the Department of Homeland Security, right?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
Q And all I’m asking is, coincidental or unrelated?
MR. EARNEST: You would have to ask the Department of Homeland Security. I will tell you that anybody who tries to look at the order -- I mean, this is crazy. (Laughter.)
Q No, it’s not. I mean, you accuse us of being clever, and that would be a rare thing, but it’s not a dot that is unconnected to the underlying policy, okay? If the President has said that I’m going to do this, and there’s a mechanism by which it can be achieved once the executive order is put in commission, and suddenly there’s this contract to print more of them, why isn’t it just obvious that that seems to be related?
MR. EARNEST: The point -- I guess I’ll try this one more time. DHS currently has a responsibility for issuing green cards to individuals who are seeking to legally enter this country. And what they will do is they will order the --
Q Is it related?
MR. EARNEST: -- cards associated with the --
Q -- 5 million more?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, you would have to ask them about the policies that govern their procurement of green paper.
Q Do they go to Office Depot or Staples?
MR. EARNEST: Here’s the thing. I’m really not trying to be clever. I’m really trying to just be, like, as really straightforward as I can, which is the United States -- the White House does not make specific direction to agencies about which supplies they should order.
Q But, Josh, take the question seriously --
MR. EARNEST: Which I do.
Q Okay. You would not want to be in a position, no President would want to be in a position, and no one who works for the President would want to be in a position to have the legal work that DHS has gone through and the Department of Justice has gone through to propound an executive order that the President signs and someone looks up and says, oh, Christ, we don’t have any paper for this. (Laughter.) You wouldn’t want to do that. That would irresponsible. That would be malpractice at a procedural level, wouldn’t it be?
MR. EARNEST: I guess what I don’t -- there are a lot of things that we don’t know.
Q -- got to be prepared for an executive order that the President has said to the public he intends to sign.
MR. EARNEST: The fact of the matter is there are still decisions to be made about what that policy will entail. And when we’re ready to announce that policy we will announce it.
What I would caution you against doing is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.
Alexis. I’ll come back to you, Connie, if you promise that it’s going to be easy. You can think about it a little bit -- just promise it’s going to be easy.
Go ahead, Alexis.
Q A couple quick questions on Ebola. The first question -- I know that you had given us an estimate of the number of travelers coming from the three West African countries. Can you just -- in light of the CDC policy in terms of monitoring them for 21 days in six states, do you think that the number of travelers estimated is going to go down or stay the same? Is there any government estimate of how many people will still come from those three countries into the United States?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen a government estimate. The current estimate is that about 150 a day enter this country from those three West African countries. I haven't seen any projections about whether or not the expectation is that that number will increase or decrease or stay the same. You can check with either CDC or DHS to see if they have any updated projections about that.
Q Would you happen to know how the travelers will be informed before they come that they will be monitored in six states after they arrive?
MR. EARNEST: I’d refer you to the State Department for that, because there is obviously a visa application process for many of them and they would be responsible for notifying travelers of those kinds of requirements, I believe. If it’s not them it’s probably DHS.
Q The other thing is, the President talked to the Prime Minister of Australia. Ebola was a topic they talked about. Can you update us at midweek about how the President is assessing the level of contributions to the Ebola effort in Africa and whether it’s getting up to a level that he’s feeling more confident about, or whether there’s still a lot of work to do?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President, and those of us here at the White House have certainly been gratified by the recent increase that we have seen in contributions. But there is a whole lot more work to be done, and there are efforts that continue to encourage the international community to ramp up their response to this rather urgent situation in West Africa.
Q And the last question is -- over the weekend, Dr. Fauci indicated on television that he thought the United States needed more than four designated high-quality health care facilities that could handle Ebola. Do you know anything more about what the planning is to expand beyond the four, as he thought the United States needed to do?
MR. EARNEST: You should check with CDC about that. The efforts that they have been focused on to this point has been in offering strengthened guidance to health care workers across the country so that hospitals could have in place the procedures that were necessary to treat Ebola patients onsite. Those resources could be augmented by this Department of Defense medical personnel that will soon be ready to deploy to support treatment efforts.
There’s, of course, this CDC SWAT team that is at the ready right now and ready to deploy if a patient tests positive for Ebola. But each of these patients will be treated on a case-by-case basis, that once they are -- what we want to do is we want to make sure that hospitals across the country have the information that they need to detect, to isolate, and ultimately treat Ebola patients. But that treatment regimen and where that treatment takes place will ultimately be sort of guided by the individual circumstances of that patient. So decisions about what sort of protocols should be in place, what sort of experts need to be there, what sort of medicine they should be given, where that treatment should take place are all the kinds of decisions that will be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on decisions that are made by the doctor and the condition of the patient.
Q Josh, at the risk of going over stuff you talked about last week -- I wasn’t here -- in terms of the Ebola czar and sort of going from outside to get somebody, you said that the President wanted someone who could do it 100 percent of the time. Why not pick somebody from within? Since Ron Klain has gotten some criticism for not having public health experience, why not pick somebody from within the Cabinet or the executive branch who could be -- do it 100 percent of the time? Is there concern that it sort of reflects some uneasiness with the executive branch able to pull off something like a czar position?
MR. EARNEST: No, I think what it reflects is it reflects that there are a lot of other executive officials here in the executive branch, including at the Cabinet level, that have very important responsibilities that they’re already working on. And the President felt like it was important for someone who had the kind of management chops that Ron Klain does both inside the government and in his tenure in the private sector to focus 100 percent of his time on this urgent issue.
And, frankly, if we were taking somebody else off of another priority to focus on this, then we’d just have to find somebody to replace them in doing the task they were previously focused on. So it made sense in this case to bring in somebody from the outside who had extensive experience in the federal government, who had strong management credentials from the private sector, and deploy them to spend 100 percent of their time coordinating the government’s response to this situation.
Q Thanks, Josh. Just a quick one on Ebola and then following up on Major. On the military team that was stood up or announced on Sunday and is standing up to augment the request at HHS, was the President involved in that decision? And does it reflect sort of a change in the President’s confidence level in the civilian medical teams that are handling Ebola, that there needs to be a military sort of standby readiness team to deal with any sort of domestic outbreaks?
MR. EARNEST: I think what it reflects is it reflects the President’s team following up on his directive to pursue a whole-of-government approach to this response. And in this case, the government sought out resources that were available inside the federal government that could be used to assist hospitals across the country as they potentially are in a position to treat Ebola patients. So I think this is an example of the President and his team being resourceful and seeking out available expertise that already existed inside the federal government and deploying it in a way -- or at least making it available to be deployed in a way that would benefit the American people.
Q All right. And following up on Major’s line of questioning regarding the President’s travel for political fundraisers, would you concede that this is one area where this administration has -- the most transparent administration in history -- has not increased the level of transparency in what the President -- what Democratic committees pay and what taxpayers pay for the President to go travel for political events?
MR. EARNEST: If you will cite at the same time one example of where this administration has exceeded the transparency standards of previous administrations --
Q -- fundraisers, that’s already been stipulated.
MR. EARNEST: Well, at least the opening remarks. (Laughter.)
Q Previous administrations have had the full pool into private home fundraisers. I’ve been there, repeatedly, myself.
MR. EARNEST: Not consistently, and that’s something that this administration has done.
MR. EARNEST: That’s not true.
Q You’re pointing out these sort of transparency -- the FEC only reports a very small window into how much is paid here and --
MR. EARNEST: What I will concede is that the policy that we have pursued is entirely consistent with both the spirit and letter of the existing law, and is consistent with the policies that were followed by previous administrations.
Q And it's the Counsel’s Office that makes the determination between what is political, what isn’t, what the proper ratios for these trips. And if the White House is so confident in its following the letter of those laws, why not open the books and let the American people see it? What’s the downside for the administration if you’re following the law?
MR. EARNEST: At this case, we are following the law. That is disclosed by the FEC. I don’t know if there’s a downside or not. I’m not sure there’s an upside, either. But there is a specific --
Q Accountability is the upside.
MR. EARNEST: And I think there is accountability in terms of following both the spirit and letter of the law, and particularly when it comes to the disclosure of those sums of money.
Q Does it follow the spirit of a promise by a President for the most transparent administration ever?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Thank you. It’s illegal for American fighters to go over and fight for ISIS, certainly, but fighting on the other side -- is that an act of treason?
MR. EARNEST: You probably have to consult a lawyer in terms of figuring all that out. It sounds like it would be, but I’m not an attorney so I wouldn’t hazard a guess.
Q Could you check and let us know, please?
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t you just check with the Department of Justice and maybe they can give you a legal conclusion there.
Q Is the U.S. getting adequate intelligence assistance from its allies?
MR. EARNEST: We certainly value the kind of counterterrorism partnership that we have with members of our coalition and with countries around the world. Those sorts of strong working relationships and partnerships are critical to American national security, and we have worked aggressively to try to strengthen those partnerships. And they certainly contribute to the safety and security of the American people and our allies around the globe.
Q Josh, can you explain why you said Mark’s statement was not true?
MR. EARNEST: Because we put in place a policy, at the request of the press corps, who came to us and said at the beginning of the administration that reporters in the White House Press Corps would like to have greater access to events in private homes that they previously did not have access to. And so we agreed to put in place a policy where consistent access to those remarks would be granted, and that’s something that we’ve done since the first day.
Q But Mark told you he had been in previous administrations --
MR. EARNEST: That’s not my understanding of the previous policy.
Thank you, guys. Have a good day.
2:20 P.M. EDT