Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/24/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any announcements at the top, so, Mr. Lederman, would you like to get us started?
Q Thanks, Josh. Let’s talk about Nurse Nina Pham’s visit to the White House this afternoon.
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q It seems like a pretty powerful image having her in the Oval Office really just hours after being discharged. I assume this is designed to reassure people of the President’s confidence that there’s no danger to the public from people who are not symptomatic with Ebola.
MR. EARNEST: That certainly is a medical fact. That's what our experts tell us. I think this also should be a pretty apt reminder that we do have the best medical infrastructure in the world, and certainly a medical infrastructure that's in place to protect the American public. And the track record of treating Ebola patients in this country is very strong, particularly for those who are quickly diagnosed and admitted through the system.
So this is a testament today to a young woman who, over the course of doing her job and treating an Ebola patient, got sick. And she was doing the work that many nurses do on a daily basis, and she did so even though it did put her at some personal risk. And what she did, she didn’t do it because she was promised a raise; she didn’t do it because it was glamorous. She did it because she’s committed to her profession and she was committed to treating an individual who was sick, and she was prepared to use her training to try to meet that person’s needs.
So the fact that she has been treated and released I think is terrific news and I think answers the prayers of many people across the country today.
Q What can you tell us about the federal government’s response to the diagnosis of an Ebola patient in New York City?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you a couple of things about that. We certainly are pleased that so much of the planning that has been done in recent days has proved to be very useful. As you know, there are -- earlier this week, medical professionals conducted a training for health care workers at the Javits Center in New York to ensure that they had all of the training that they needed to understand what was necessary to treat an Ebola patient in a way that was safe for them and safe for the broader community. That certainly looks like prudent planning in hindsight.
The other thing that has been underway for some time is the President had designated five airports where individuals who were traveling from West Africa could enter the country. By funneling these passengers to those five airports we were able to marshal the appropriate resources that were necessary to apply an additional layer of screening for those individuals who had traveled recently in West Africa. In conjunction with that, state and local officials had worked to identify hospitals in the same region of each of these airports where patients who are sick could be directed.
So Bellevue Hospital in New York was the hospital that had been identified as the hospital where patients who -- or where passengers who were detected with a higher fever or otherwise sick would be sent as they’re coming off the airplane. So Bellevue is a place where significant planning had already been done to ensure that protocols were in place to treat Ebola patients. I understand that Bellevue had been designated both by the state and city as one of eight medical facilities in the state of New York that was prepared to treat Ebola patients. So a lot of training and planning went into that.
In fact, I also understand that when Dr. Spencer was admitted to Bellevue Hospital yesterday, there actually happened to be a team of CDC experts already at the hospital evaluating that hospital, making sure that they were up to the needed standards to treat an Ebola patient.
Consistent with the order that the President gave last week for CDC to organize a SWAT team of CDC experts to rapidly deploy to a hospital where an Ebola patient had been identified, I’m told that this SWAT team actually arrived in New York last night, the same evening that this individual was a confirmed Ebola patient.
We had experts on the ground in New York working side by side with hospital administrators and health care professionals at Bellevue Hospital to ensure that the strengthened protocols that the CDC announced earlier this week were in place so that this individual could get high-quality treatment, and that that treatment could be administered in a way that the risk to health care workers was not significantly elevated.
Q You talked about Bellevue being one of these designated hospitals to treat Ebola. Would you like every state to designate hospitals particularly to treat Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this I think is an indication of the solid preparation that was put in place by state and local officials. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio I think deserve a lot of credit for the effort that they put into ensuring that New York was prepared to deal with a situation like this.
We certainly value the strong working relationship that already exists between federal officials and medical experts in the federal government and state and local officials across the country. That working relationship has been important. It will continue to be important as we deal with this situation.
So far, what we have worked with state officials to do is to ensure, as I mentioned earlier, that hospitals are in region -- in the same region as the airports where individuals traveling from West Africa are arriving in this country; that those hospitals are prepared and have the training and information and equipment that they need to receive patients that may test positive for Ebola.
So that is the kind of detailed planning that’s been done. What you’ve also seen is the CDC offer up strengthened guidance to health care workers and public health officials all across the country to give them guidance about what they should do to prepare to treat an Ebola patient.
That all said, we continue to believe to this day that -- and when I say “we,” I mean our medical experts continue to believe to this day that the risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States continues to be exceedingly low.
Q And Dr. Fauci this morning said that a mandatory quarantine for people returning from the Ebola hot zone in West Africa was something that’s under very active discussion. Can you tell us a little bit about those discussions and what that might look like?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that the protocols that guide the restrictions that are placed on individuals that are returning from West Africa are driven by the best scientific advice that we can get. We have our medical experts and our scientists looking carefully at how we treat Ebola patients and how we can do that in a way that protects the American public and in a way that protects health care workers who are rendering lifesaving aid. So we’re going to continue to rely on that advice as we regularly update and review procedures as necessary to protect the American public.
You’ll recall that one of the strengthened measures that was announced just this week was the intention of CDC to share contact information with state and local officials so that state and local officials could take the necessary steps to protect the public when it comes to individuals who have returned to the U.S. after having recently traveled in West Africa. So that’s an example of the kind of beefed-up procedures that the CDC has put in place to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the American public.
Q And briefly, on the President’s plans next week to campaign really across the country for some Democratic candidates for governor, despite this push at the end for governors, the President only did one fundraiser this year for the Democratic Governors Association; I think it was back in February. And really the focus of his fundraising has been for House and Senate. I’m wondering, if governors’ races are so important to the President, to the party this year, why didn’t he do more earlier in the year to help raise money for them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you point out, Josh, the President has done a number of things to boost the candidacy of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot all across the country. And the President has worked to try to boost the candidacy of Democratic governors who are running for reelection or candidates for governor who are Democrats.
In terms of the exact fundraising strategy that’s deployed by the DGA, I’d refer you to them about what sort of requests they made. I, frankly, don’t have off the top of my head about whether or not the President signed the emails to help raise money via the Internet for candidates for governor. I can tell you that certainly Democratic candidates, like others, benefit from the kinds of resources that the President raised for the Democratic Congressional Committee. We have the party working very aggressively to benefit Democrats up and down the ballot, and that’s one way in which they’ll benefit from the President’s involvement. But we also anticipate that the events that the President will be hosting over the course of next week will also significantly benefit those campaigns as well.
Q So does the administration feel that the post-arrival monitoring that the CDC announced earlier this week is enough? Or how much thought is being given to people also needing to agree to stay in some kind of self-isolation or self-quarantine once they arrive back from the hot zone?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we do anticipate that -- we do expect that these active monitoring procedures that are in place for individuals who have recently traveled in West Africa will be in place on Monday. So those measures are being ramped up. But we do continue to have confidence -- as I believe Mayor de Blasio and the public health commissioner in New York stated yesterday -- that the risk facing the people of New York continues to be exceedingly low.
We understand from reports that subway traffic today was typical for a Friday. I think that’s an indication that the people of New York are feeling confident, as they should, about their safety as they go about their daily business. They should, because Dr. Spencer, as we discussed, is somebody who upon return from West Africa was screened at the airport. And when he was screened at the airport, it was determined that he did not have a temperature. And that’s significant because we know that the only way that you can contract Ebola is by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who is exhibiting symptoms of Ebola. Dr. Spencer, when he flew on a plane, did not have any symptoms of Ebola. That’s why we’re not concerned at all about the risk facing people who may have been on that airplane.
Since he returned, Dr. Spencer was regularly taking his temperature and monitoring his health. And as soon as it became clear that his temperature was elevated, he contacted medical authorities. These were medical authorities who, as I mentioned to Josh, had recently been trained in the protocols that are necessary to detect and isolate an Ebola patient. So those medical authorities responded promptly in accordance with protocols. He was transferred to Bellevue Hospital, a hospital that had been preparing for weeks to receive a possible Ebola patient. He was appropriately isolated, and he started receiving treatment while he was being tested for the Ebola virus.
So this is an indication that this kind of planning and preparation will be very important to the successful treatment of Ebola patients and the continued safety of the people of America and, in this case, the people of New York City.
Q Right, so he did all those things as you laid out, but what he didn’t do, it seems that he didn’t self-isolate. He went out into the community to the limited degree that we’ve all been reading about. So is that something that the administration is considering requiring people who come back to do? To self-isolate, to stay indoors or stay in their homes, or some additional measure?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’re always reviewing and assessing the protocols that are in place. But the fact of the matter is the CDC is doing the necessary contact tracing, but our experts tell us that -- and as a result of that contact tracing I think that there are a couple of people that have been isolated. But the fact is that the risk facing the average New Yorker is exceedingly low, and the reason for that is that this is an individual who was monitoring his health very closely.
And again, what we know about Ebola is very clearly about the way that it’s transmitted. It’s only transmitted when an individual comes in close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who has symptoms of Ebola. That is why I think it is instructive for people to take note of the fact that we only have two instances where the Ebola virus has been transmitted inside the United States, and those are instances where you had health care workers who were treating a very sick Ebola patient. And that obviously is very different than the kind of day-to-day encounters that people have as they go about their business in public.
So that is why the risk that is facing the people of New York and people of America continues at this point to be exceedingly low according to our medical experts.
Q Just briefly, is the administration considering requiring people who have been in a hot zone to complete a quarantine before coming back to America?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to get into sort of the ongoing deliberations of our public health professionals. What I can tell you is that these kinds of policy decisions are going to be driven by science and by the best advice of our medical experts, and by our scientists that have four decades of experience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks in West Africa.
So we’ve got teams on the ground at Bellevue Hospital that have experience in infection control, that have experience in limiting infection control inside medical facilities. These are individuals that have an expertise in treating the Ebola virus. We’re going to make sure that they’re taking the necessary steps that they can treat Dr. Spencer in a way that will protect the public and the health care workers who are rendering him aid.
Q Josh, one question and one housekeeping item. The question is, when someone who has beaten Ebola comes to see the President in the Oval Office, are there additional layers of precautions taken? Do they undergo -- is there a White House overseeing medical checkup to double -- just to make sure that they’re, in fact, clear of this?
MR. EARNEST: No. As Dr. Fauci noted in his news conference that I caught part of earlier today, Ms. Pham was tested five different times to confirm that she no longer had the virus. So all the necessary testing that allows her to safely return home with a clean bill of health is the same guidance that she has gotten in terms of meeting the President.
Q And then the housekeeping item -- I would like to ask the White House, through you, to open the 1:30 event -- obviously, I think we’re very, very close now -- open this event to the full complement of print, television and radio reporters who would typically cover an event like this.
MR. EARNEST: In this case, we’re just going to do the still photographers.
Q Could you explain why? I mean, is it out of concern for her? To me, it seems like it reduces the magnitude of this event a little bit. Nothing against our stills brethren, obviously.
MR. EARNEST: Right. I think in this case we determined that the still photographers would provide the access that was necessary to ensure that you and the American people were informed about this event.
Q Hi. I know you can’t get into great details about the policy deliberations on quarantining returning medical personnel, but can you talk about some of the balancing act that you’re trying to do when you’re looking at, for example, whether a quarantine upon return to the United States would affect the ongoing international effort to stop Ebola at its source? Could you just -- there’s a lot of concern among folks that between cutting commercial traffic, changes in insurance policies and something like this, that there aren’t -- it’s becoming more difficult to get volunteers to go to the region.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Juliet, you, as usual, raise a really important point, which is Dr. Spencer is somebody who, as I alluded to earlier, volunteered his time to treat people with Ebola in West Africa. It doesn’t exactly sound like a luxurious vacation. But this is somebody who was prepared to use his skills as a doctor to try to meet the needs of those who are far less fortunate than we are. And that is I think a pretty astounding display of generosity and charity and goodwill. It certainly reflects the spirit of the American people that we are willing to selflessly try to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate.
At the same time, it’s not just charity, though, because we know that the only way that we can entirely eliminate the risk to the American people from the Ebola virus is to stop this outbreak at the source. And in order to stop this outbreak at the source in West Africa, we’re going to need to surge personnel and supplies to stop this outbreak.
So we are certainly appreciative of what Dr. Spencer has done, not because it respects -- not only because it reflects the true spirit of America, but also it reflects the commitment that’s required to stop this Ebola outbreak at the source.
And I guess to answer your question more directly, we do want to ensure that whatever policies we put in place takes as the first priority the protection of the American public. But at the same time, we don’t want to overly burden those individuals who are going to great lengths to try to serve their fellow man and stop this outbreak at the source, which ultimately is in the best interest of the American people.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about how this visit came together? Did the President invite her? Or how it came to fruition and sort of what was the impetus for that? And then also, separately, I’m sure you’re aware there’s a hearing on the Hill today where the administration’s response to Ebola has come under some fair degree of criticism. So can you tell us what Ron Klain has been doing and will be doing in the days to come to sort of get that into a better place and respond to some of the criticism that you’ve been getting that the response has been inadequate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let’s first talk about the visit of Nina Pham today. The White House learned early today that she was going to be released from the National Institutes of Health medical facility that had been treating her for the last week or so. Of course, the NIH is just a few miles from the White House. And White House officials contacted the NIH to let her know that the President was interested in meeting her if she felt up to it. We were certainly pleased to see that she accepted the invitation and all look forward to her arrival here at the White House shortly.
As it relates to the hearing today, I didn’t see much of it. It does seem that most of the criticism was registered by somebody who struggled to pronounce the name of the virus at the hearing, so I think we might not be too concerned about some of the partisan criticism that was on display I think in the hearing. But there was representation from the administration at the hearing. It does reflect our commitment to working with Congress to ensure that the country is working together and pulling in the same direction to respond to this situation, and we’ll continue to do that in the days ahead.
Q What’s Ron Klain doing? And can you tell us anything about how he’ll be spending his time? I know he is supposed to go to Atlanta, to the CDC next week. What else is he doing?
MR. EARNEST: Today is his third day on the job, so I’m pleased that there has been a lot of interest in the work that he is doing here. He is somebody who has been convening meetings and regularly working closely with officials at the CDC and HHS as they put in place some of the protocols that have been announced over the course of this week.
He also was in touch with New York officials last night and over the course of today to ensure that the state and local officials were feeling the kind of support that they’re receiving from the Obama administration as they deal with this latest Ebola case. He is planning to travel to Atlanta next week, where he’ll have the opportunity to meet in person with some of the CDC officials that he has been on the phone with a lot over the course of the last few days.
Q Josh, can you give us some details on the SWAT team that was sent to New York last night -- how many people, what exactly they’re doing?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have specific details about the members of the SWAT team. I know as a general matter, when they are -- members of the SWAT team who are assembled are individuals who typically have an expertise in the area of infection control in hospitals. It typically will include individuals who have dealt with Ebola patients in the past. There has also been talk about the importance of individuals who can be closely monitoring health care workers as they’re donning and doffing personal protection equipment.
There also has been the designation in these circumstances of a site manager, somebody who can be in charge of ensuring that the protocols are very closely followed. Those are the kinds of people that are typically part of a SWAT team. And so I’d refer you to CDC about how many individuals and which individuals fit the profile that I just described.
I can give you a little bit more color on one other aspect of this, which is that there was -- in order to quickly transport the team from the CDC to New York, the President ordered that a Department of Defense aircraft be commissioned to fly them from Atlanta to New York so they could be in place as soon as possible. I do understand that weather briefly delayed their arrival because there was a pretty bad storm in New York last night. But it is because we were able to draw on some DOD resources and because this team was prepared, that they were on the ground within hours, just a couple hours of this individual being -- testing positive for Ebola. And I think that indicates the kind of commitment that CDC has to taking very seriously the responsibilities of acting quickly to support local health care professionals when they’re dealing with an Ebola patient.
Q So how soon after news of the confirmation that that individual in New York had Ebola did the President make that order?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have the exact tick-tock of all of this. I know that there was a -- because of his travel history and because of his close contact with Ebola patients in West Africa, there was a strong suspicion that he would test positive for Ebola. So I think that some of the wheels were put into motion a little earlier than they otherwise would have been because of the specifics of this individual case.
Q And I know you haven’t wanted to comment on the specific plans, whether or not you’re considering quarantine -- forcing a quarantine here in the United States or before folks travel. But as a general matter, does news of the fact that we have another case of Ebola, this time in New York, indicate that something more needs to be done, that more steps need to be put in place?
MR. EARNEST: I think the answer to that is, not necessarily. Because we continue to believe that the risk facing New Yorkers from the Ebola virus today continues to be exceedingly low. There are a small number of individuals who did have close contact with Dr. Spencer upon his return from West Africa who have been isolated. But for the average New Yorker who is riding the subway today or taking a stroll along the High Line, presuming the weather there is better than it was yesterday, those individuals do not face a significantly elevated risk in this situation.
And the reason is -- and this is important -- the reason is that Dr. Spencer was very closely monitoring his own health. And as soon as he noticed that he might be displaying symptoms that are consistent with Ebola, he contacted health care professional who are trained and prepared to respond quickly, and that’s exactly what they did.
Q So the President wouldn’t have any qualms about riding the subway today in New York, or going bowling at the bowling alley, or hitching a ride with Uber?
MR. EARNEST: The President is a big fan of bowling. (Laughter.)
Q He’s not the best bowler, but --
MR. EARNEST: He is an accomplished bowler. (Laughter.)
Q Josh, I think we may need a fact-check on that.
MR. EARNEST: He’s been practicing. I can tell you that the President would have no qualms about riding the subway in New York or taking a stroll on the High Line, which is, I know, something that he would love to do -- or even bowling a few frames at this bowling alley in Brooklyn.
The risk that is facing the average New Yorker, the average person going to those places remains today exceedingly low.
Q And can you just, just one more time -- this is quite an extraordinary event that Nina Pham has just been released, just been cleared of Ebola, and then she’s coming right here to the Oval Office. What is the significance, the symbolic significance of the President’s meeting today with Nina Pham?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it is an opportunity for the President to, first of all, to thank her for her service. Again, this is an individual -- this is a nurse who used her training to treat somebody who was really sick with Ebola. And she dove into treating this individual without regard for her own health. This is somebody who -- she didn’t get a raise because she did it. She certainly didn’t do it for the glory. There are a lot of individuals who treated that first Ebola patient in Dallas who we don’t know about. So this is somebody who displayed the kind of selfless service to her fellow man that I think is worthy of some praise. At the same time, we’re also certainly relieved that she has been successfully treated and has recovered from Ebola. I think that reflects, as I mentioned earlier, that the prayers of countless of Americans have been answered today.
So we’re certainly celebrating alongside her. And the President is looking forward to meeting her.
Q And then just to follow up lastly on what Olivier was asking about. I mean, this is an important meeting. Why ban reporters from this meeting? Why ban video cameras? I mean, countless other events in the Oval Office under this President and other Presidents, there are reporters present, there are television cameras present. Why does this White House decide on a meeting this important to say, no, reporters are not allowed at this event? Why?
MR. EARNEST: The good news is that reporters will be allowed at the event. The photo -- your colleagues, the photojournalists will be in there to take a photograph of the President greeting her.
Q You know what I’m saying. There are no print reporters allowed. There are no television reporters allowed. There’s no editorial presence. You’re only allowing still photographers. Why?
MR. EARNEST: Many of you did have the opportunity to see her deliver remarks at the NIH upon her departure from the hospital.
Q That’s not an answer to my question. Why was this decision made?
MR. EARNEST: Because reporters did have the opportunity to see her speak already. And this is an opportunity for the President to greet her at the White House. And we did want to make sure that photographers could see her do so, but the President, nor Ms. Pham plans to make any comments today.
Q Now, just to follow up on what Olivier and this gentleman is saying, if you had a foreign camera, this is a worldwide story. This is a huge symbol for all of us. I mean, American press or foreign press, to see the President welcoming here this nurse. Yes, why, is the first question.
MR. EARNEST: It’s certainly good news, and I do understand that there will be wire photographers that will be in the Oval Office taking this picture and that image will be beamed around the world.
Q But it’s not a video thing. I mean, for people in Africa at this moment, it would be quite important to see this footage of the President welcoming this woman.
MR. EARNEST: And the good news is that they will see a photograph of the President greeting this woman in the Oval Office. So it will be a really nice event I think.
Q My second question is, was the President briefed on the attack in New York against the police officers yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: The President was informed of the situation by Lisa Monaco last night.
Q And what’s the White House reaction?
MR. EARNEST: This is a situation that is under investigation by the New York Police Department, local law enforcement authorities. Officials here at the White House and other federal law enforcement officials have been in touch with local law enforcement on this matter, but it’s still under investigation so I don’t have too much to say about it at this point.
Q Josh, I wanted to go back to Ebola. You’ve said several times Dr. Spencer was monitoring himself very closely. Why was a doctor who just came from treating Ebola patients in West Africa allowed to monitor himself as opposed to having the government keep a closer eye on whether or not he was getting sick?
MR. EARNEST: He is a highly trained medical professional, certainly had the capacity to take his own temperature. He had been advised by the government that --
Q Right, and he still got Ebola, obviously.
MR. EARNEST: He had been advised by the government about what steps he should take should he notice that symptoms like a high fever, or at least an elevated fever, were evident. And he followed those steps. And because of the preparation of state and local officials in New York, he is receiving treatment already.
Q The President has told the public again and again we don’t need a travel ban because we have these very tough restrictions in place, which include taking people’s temperatures when they come in. And so we did that, and he didn’t have a temperature at that point.
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct.
Q Doesn’t that suggest there is a gap there in the system?
MR. EARNEST: There is not a gap in the system, Ed. And it goes back to the fact that the only way that an individual can contract the Ebola virus is by coming into close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who is already displaying symptoms of Ebola. You can’t catch Ebola through the air. You can’t catch Ebola by drinking food -- or drinking water or eating the food in the United States.
Q I understand that. You said that earlier. I guess I’m not trying to raise a question about the people on the plane -- you made that point earlier. I get that. But I’m saying there’s somebody who was interacting with people who had Ebola in West Africa, so we knew he was high-risk for this. He did heroic work trying to help those people.
MR. EARNEST: Well, he was not high-risk for this, Ed. It’s important for people to understand that there --
Q So how did he get it? He’s a doctor treating Ebola patients.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, there are dozens of health care workers who have treated Ebola patients in West Africa and did that without contracting the Ebola virus. He is at an --
Q A higher risk than you or I.
MR. EARNEST: -- an elevated risk, but not a high risk. And it’s important for people to understand the difference.
Q So then why isn’t he stopped from coming to America until we know for sure he does not have Ebola since he was interacting with people and treating people who had Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: Again, he was somebody who was screened before he returned to the United States. He was screened in West Africa before he boarded an aircraft and he was screened upon arrival in the United States. In both indications -- or in both situations, he did not exhibit any symptoms of Ebola. That means that he was not at all contagious. So anybody who was flying on the plane, anybody who happened to be in the airport at the same time that he was there does not face --
Q He got it later. I understand. I’m just saying but then he still got Ebola later and went out -- we don’t know whether he infected anyone else. Hopefully he did not. But the point is he got through there because he was not showing symptoms. Doesn’t that suggest that you can’t catch everyone on their way in because they might not be showing symptoms?
MR. EARNEST: But what it shows is it shows that people can’t catch Ebola unless they come into the close contact with the bodily fluids of somebody who is already displaying symptoms of Ebola. And because he -- shortly after he started displaying symptoms of Ebola, he contacted public health officials who safely transported him to a hospital where he was isolated and where he was being -- where he started treatment. And that is an indication that the American people and the people of New York City do not face a significant risk from this situation.
Q Okay. I want to go on to another subject. The conservative group, Judicial Watch, has just put out a statement yesterday, I believe, saying when the President, months ago, evoked executive privilege on Fast and Furious, it included 20 emails between the Attorney General, his wife and his mother. And I was wondering, did the Attorney General talk about this sensitive gunrunning operation with his wife and his mother and that’s why you have to invoke executive privilege?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice about this.
Q It wasn’t Justice privilege; it was executive privilege. It was invoked by the President, not the Attorney General.
MR. EARNEST: But I can tell you that it’s the Department of Justice that can discuss those emails with you. What is clear is that this lawsuit that has been filed by Judicial Watch actually doesn’t have anything to do with the actual Fast and Furious operation. It has to do with emails and documents related to the operation. More than 7,500 pages of those documents have already been turned over to Congress, which has obviously thoroughly reviewed this situation and they’ve conducted countless interviews. The Inspector General has as well. This is something that has been thoroughly investigated.
Q But if there was nothing sensitive in the emails that the Attorney General sent to his wife and mom, presumably they could have been turned over.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that, again, 7,500 pages of documents were turned over both to the Inspector General as well as to Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are investigating this issue. So we have demonstrated I think a pretty clear commitment to a legitimate oversight on this matter and others.
Q Okay. Last one, on ISIS. There were reports that the administration is investigating allegations that there have been chlorine attacks by ISIS on the ground in the Middle East. Can you tell us whether that's been in Iraq? Was it also in Syria? And how concerned are you that these terrorists are also using chemical weapons?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, we've seen those reports and we're continuing to investigate them. We, obviously, as we have in the past, take seriously allegations of chemical weapons use, and so we'll have staff on the ground and other places analyze what exactly happened and try to get to the bottom of these reports. But I'm not in a position to confirm them at this point.
Q Josh, just to follow up, if they are true, how would it change the equation in Iraq?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we're going to investigate those reports. I've seen them, but I don't have any comment beyond saying we're looking into them.
Q Would it potentially change the U.S. strategy?
MR. EARNEST: We're going to review those reports before we draw any conclusions.
Q Okay. And during the hearing today, several doctors said to Congressman Issa when he asked if there’s a larger overall failure when it comes to being prepared to fight infectious disease, several doctors said yes. So my question is are there steps being taken beyond Ebola to tighten the system to make sure the U.S. is prepared for these types of eventualities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there obviously have been a lot of steps that have been taken already to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect the American public. And there has been a significant commitment by this administration even before this latest Ebola outbreak in West Africa to ensure that we're taking the necessary steps here in the U.S. but also around the world to try to protect the American people from diseases like this.
What we are typically concerned about are situations that exist in countries like those in West Africa that don't have a modern medical infrastructure, and the ability of an outbreak of a contagious virus is something that we've been focused on for quite some time. I know this was actually the focus of attention in the previous administration as well.
I'll tell you that as recently as September, the United States convened a major global event to garner international commitment and resources for the global health security agenda. So this is something that has drawn the attention of the Obama administration and medical professionals here in this country even before the headlines were filled with reports of Ebola.
Q So just to be clear, does the administration disagree with what those doctors were saying? Do you have confidence right now --
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen the specific testimony of those individuals. But what I can confirm for you, and what is evident from anybody who takes a close look at the track record here is that the United States, under the leadership of this President, has been focused on ensuring we're doing what we can to protect the American public from diseases that may break out anywhere in the world.
Q I want to take one more try at this question that I know you’ve gotten a number of different ways, but Congressman Jason Chaffetz said today, “You can't have someone who’s had direct contact with Ebola patients and allow them to go bowling.”
Isn't there -- do you agree that on some level there is a problem with that, that that exposes a gap in the system?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the problem it's exposed may be related to Mr. Chaffetz’s knowledge of actually how Ebola is transmitted.
Q He was treating Ebola patients, though.
MR. EARNEST: He was. But it sounds like I should go through this again. The only way that you can contract Ebola is by coming into the close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who is displaying symptoms of Ebola.
Q I understand what you're saying, Josh. But now there are two other people who were quarantined because this individual -- and again, this is not to place the blame on him at all, but because this individual was obviously exposed to the disease and then came back here.
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me try to answer this a slightly different way, which is to present an illustration. There are only two known instances in which the Ebola virus has been transmitted inside the United States, and those were to two health care workers in Dallas who were treating a patient who was very sick with Ebola. These are ostensibly individuals who, because of their commitment to serving this individual and because of their commitment to their profession, probably came into close contact with the bodily fluids of this individual who was very sick with Ebola.
The exact details or the exact circumstances that were in place that allowed them to contract the disease is still under investigation, but we know why they were at a higher risk. I think what people should understand is the people who are in Mr. Duncan’s family and living with him even after he was sick with Ebola recently were cleared from monitoring because it had been more than 21 days since they had last been in contact with him.
So that is an indication of the circumstances under which someone can contract Ebola. The fact is that Dr. Spencer is somebody who was closely monitoring his health and at the first indication that he might have the symptoms of Ebola, therefore at the first indication that he might at all be even the slightest bit contagious with Ebola, he contacted health care professionals who responded quickly to his residence, and they transported him under existing, strengthened protocols to the hospital that was prepared to receive him. They quickly isolated him and began giving him treatment.
So, again, I'm not sure if there are people who, for whatever reason, think that it might be in their interest one way or another to try to agitate or provoke anxiety among the American people, but I would strongly encourage anybody who is concerned about this situation to focus on the facts and to focus on exactly what we know about how this virus is transmitted, about how limited the circumstances have been where individuals have contracted Ebola in this country.
It's also important for people to understand that there are circumstances where people did appear to be at an elevated risk of contracting Ebola but they didn’t. And I think that that is a useful illustration that people should keep in mind if they’re concerned about how this disease is transmitted. And I guess that's advice I wouldn't just share to average Americans, I'd even share it with politicians on Capitol Hill as well.
Q You said a moment ago that the reason the President wanted to see Nurse Pham was to thank her for her service. That being the case, wouldn't you want to have him do that in front of a television camera so that the rest of the country could see it?
MR. EARNEST: I think in this case, in order to offer his gratitude the President wanted to do that in person with Ms. Pham, and that's what he'll do in the Oval Office.
Q Let me ask you this. Was there a White House TV camera in that meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know. The meeting has taken place since I walked out here, so I don't know.
Q If there was, would you then put that on the net?
MR. EARNEST: If you're interested in it, we can work with you to get that.
Q No, we're interested in knowing why, if you do, you’d make it available, bypassing us.
MR. EARNEST: We can engage in this hypothetical discussion after the briefing and after I've determined whether or not there was a television camera in there.
Q Let me ask you about the nuclear deal. There’s a report that the White House is pushing a particular deal with Iran with the rest of the P5-plus-1 in order to get something done by the deadline of the end of next month. What can you tell me about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, discussions continue to be underway between the -- I guess among the members of the P5-plus-1 and Iranian representatives about steps that can be taken to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
Q But are we pushing a particular solution -- we, the U.S.?
MR. EARNEST: Well, generally speaking, we’re pushing a solution that would allow the international community to have clear insight into Iran’s ability to resolve everybody’s concerns about their nuclear program. In terms of the details of that agreement, I’m not going to get into that from here. This is something that obviously is being discussed in a very detailed fashion by the United States and our P5-plus-1 partners and the representatives of Iran.
Q I wanted to ask about the President’s meeting this afternoon on ISIS over at the State Department. I guess my first question is why he’s going to the State Department, especially since he’s -- according to the guidance you guys have given us, he’s meeting with his National Security Council, which he routinely meets with here.
MR. EARNEST: He typically does meet with them here. You’ll recall that just a week or two ago the President convened a National Security Council meeting at the Pentagon to discuss these issues. The Pentagon obviously has a very important role in our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. The State Department also has an important role in terms of working through our diplomatic channels to build this broad international coalition in support of this broader effort.
So the President is going to convene the meeting there. I think the meeting will sort of run the gamut of all of the elements of the strategy that’s been put in place, but we’ll have a readout of that meeting when it concludes.
Q Do you anticipate him giving diplomats there guidance on this meeting that’s coming up in Kuwait on kind of combating extremism -- extremists -- extremism and sort of Internet recruitment, especially in light of what’s been going on?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of the specific meeting in Kuwait that you’re referring to. But there are a lot of elements to our strategy. Certainly stopping the flow of foreign fighters is an important part of that strategy. I don’t know whether it’s on the agenda for this meeting, but we’ll try to get you a readout afterwards, and if it’s discussed we’ll try to let you know.
Q And then, one last thing on a totally different topic. Politico had a story yesterday that said Denis McDonough was asking top staff members to say whether or not they’d stay through the remainder of the President’s term after the midterms. I was wondering if that’s true, if that’s a conversation you’ve had with him or that you’re aware that other staff members have had with him.
MR. EARNEST: It’s not a conversation that I’ve had with him. I can’t speak to all the conversations that senior staffers have had with the Chief of Staff. But I don’t know of any regimented schedule of conversations that the Chief of Staff is planning to have.
Q Josh, there were reports today in Israel and now here in the U.S., as well, that the administration rejected the suggestion or the ask of a meeting between the Israeli Defense Minister and the Vice President and the Secretary of State, that it was punitive. Do you have any comment on these reports?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen those reports. I do understand that the Israeli Defense Minister met with his American counterpart, our Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. I can’t speak to any of the meetings that -- so I can speak to the meeting that did occur, and I understand the Department of Defense put out a readout of that meeting. I can’t speak to any meetings that didn’t occur.
Q Do you know if it’s true that the U.S. and the White House rejected the ask for these meetings with the Vice President and the National Security Advisor?
MR. EARNEST: Like I said, I’m not aware of -- I don’t have much information to share with you about meetings that did not occur. I do know that there was a meeting that occurred between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart.
As you know, the United States values the strong security relationship that we have with Israel. It is arguably as strong with Israel as anybody else. And so those kinds of meetings between the Israeli Secretary of Defense and his American counterpart are obviously an important priority; they take place pretty frequently. But you can contact the Department of Defense for a readout of that meeting.
Q If I can just be a contrarian for one moment about the President’s meeting with Nurse Pham. Is it a good idea for the President to meet with Nurse Pham given the fact that she just got out of a specialized hospital being treated for Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: She is somebody who has tested negative five times for the Ebola virus. Her doctors, who are some of the foremost experts in the field, have confirmed that she is virus free.
Q No risk to the President whatsoever?
MR. EARNEST: No. And, in fact, I think the only question that people had was whether or not she would be up for making the trip down here to the White House. And we were pleased to see on television that she looked very healthy when she was delivering her statement, and pleased that she accepted the invitation of the President.
Q And according to the print photographers who went inside the President’s meeting with Nurse Pham, the President did hug Nurse Pham. And is that -- should he maybe just hold off on that a little bit just to be cautious? He is the President.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, he is the President, and he was not at all concerned about any risk that would be associated with him showing his gratitude to her by hugging her.
Q And getting back to Dr. Spencer, his case, does it not present a sort of an interesting discussion about personal responsibility? Because he came back, he was taking his temperature, he was monitoring his own health conditions and so forth. But I mean, I think it could be argued that not every doctor would be as diligent coming back from West Africa, and perhaps some doctors might take more risks than others. Aren’t you sort of leaving it up to the personal responsibility of each and every health care worker who comes back from West Africa to do the right thing, to make sure that you don’t have exposures like what could have happened in New York and may potentially still happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would just posit, Jim, that individuals who have spent time in West Africa certainly understand the seriousness of this disease. And I think that they would take seriously their responsibility to ensure that they weren’t responsible for transmitting it to others intentionally. And so I think it’s not at all surprising that somebody like Dr. Spencer, who was so dedicated to stopping the spread of this disease, that he’d be monitoring his own health very closely, which apparently he was.
It’s also not at all surprising that somebody was so steeped in the details of the treatment of this disease, that he would respond the appropriate way once it became clear that he was experiencing an elevated body temperature and he did contact the medical professionals in New York who were trained and ready to deal with this particular situation. And we were pleased that he was transported so quickly to the hospital and isolated and began receiving treatment quite early.
Q And there’s been some discussion about whether or not an Ebola vaccine has been developed quickly enough. And I know Dr. Fauci talked about that earlier today down at the NIH. Has the President mentioned it at all as a priority to the people meeting in these Ebola gatherings that you’ve had here at the White House? Is Ron Klain prodding the scientists who are developing this vaccine to get things moving? Is the President prodding people to get this moving?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, a lot of these kinds of decisions are driven by science, and there obviously is a sense of urgency associated with dealing with this Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And again, the only way that we can entirely eliminate the risk to the American people from the Ebola virus is to stop this outbreak at the source, and certainly a vaccine could play a key role in doing exactly that.
As a general matter, I can tell you that the President has, on countless occasions, spoken about the value of medical research in this country, both the value in terms of enhancing the safety of the American people, but also the value in strengthening our economy; that this kind of research often leads to important innovations that can be very good for our economy, can lead to elements of job creation. And we have been disappointed that some Republicans in Congress haven’t shared the President’s commitment to this kind of issue that would be good for the American people, but also good for our economy.
Q Josh, how does our current system protect us from a psychopath coming from Africa who would want to do us harm, who would want to infect people? Because it sounds like somebody who is infected could pass through into the United States and then develop a fever later. How do we stop those people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we stop them in a couple of ways. One is, we certainly do have in place screening measures at the airport both in West Africa and in the United States to ensure that individuals who’ve recently traveled in West Africa do not have symptoms of Ebola.
You’ll recall that just earlier this week, the CDC announced a regimen for the active monitoring of all travelers who have recently been in West Africa. What the CDC will do is they will share information with state and local public health authorities so that those authorities have the information that they need to monitor the health of those individuals who have recently traveled to West Africa. And that certainly would account for what I think is probably even the far-fetched hypothetical scenario that you’ve laid out.
Chris, I’ll give you the last one and then we’ll do the week ahead.
Q Thanks, Josh. After the U.S. Supreme Court last struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the administration worked to extend the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples to a great extent throughout the country, regardless of the state in which these couples lived. The exception to that is Social Security and veterans benefits, the Justice Department showing that it could not grant those benefits to couples living in non-marriage-equality states. But now there are some LGBT advocates who say that those benefits can be extended and there’s been multiple lawsuits, including one filed this week to compel the administration to do so. And Senator Dianne Feinstein, herself wrote a letter to the President saying that those benefits should be extended. Is there any consideration at the White House to making a policy change to extend those Social Security and veterans benefits?
MR. EARNEST: I have to admit, Chris, I’m not steeped in the details of this particular case or particularly as it relates to this lawsuit, so I’d refer you to the Department of Justice that may be able to share some more information for you on that.
So let’s do the week ahead.
On Monday, the President will meet with the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee at the White House.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to --
Q What committee is that?
MR. EARNEST: This is the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee.
Q What’s that? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have some more details -- this is a steering committee that’s interested in partnering on issues related to advanced manufacturing. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks for the guidance. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Please tip your waitresses on the way out. (Laughter.)
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend a DNC roundtable and a campaign event for Mary Burke and other Wisconsin Democrats. As you may know, Ms. Burke is running for governor in the state of Wisconsin. Further details about the President’s trip to Wisconsin will be made available over the weekend.
On Wednesday, the President will be here at the White House and will attend some meetings.
On Thursday, the President will travel to beautiful Portland, Maine to attend a DNC roundtable and a campaign event for Mike Michaud and other Maine Democrats. Mr. Michaud, as you guys all know, is a Democratic congressman from Maine who is running for governor there. Additional details about the trip to Maine will be available soon. After those activities in Maine, the President will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, where he will remain overnight.
On Friday, the President will wake up in Providence, Rhode Island, and deliver remarks at Rhode Island College. His remarks will focus on the economy and the importance of pursuing policies that help women succeed. Additional details about the Rhode Island trip will be available in the coming days as well.
The President will return to the White House on Friday after that event. And then in the evening, the President and the First Lady will welcome local children and children of military families to a trick-or-treat on the South Portico of the White House. I know that’s something that a lot of people are looking forward to.
On Saturday -- we’ve got some additional details about the President’s activities next weekend. So this is next Saturday, the President will travel to Detroit, Michigan -- or the Detroit, Michigan area to attend a campaign event for Gary Peters and Mark Schuauer. Additional details on the President’s travel to Michigan will be available soon. Obviously Mr. Peters is a candidate for the Senate and Mr. Schauer a candidate for governor in Michigan.
On Sunday, the President will travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut for an event with Dan Malloy and other Connecticut Democrats. Mr. Malloy is the sitting governor of Connecticut and he is running for reelection. You’ll recall that this was a trip that was originally scheduled for last week, but was rescheduled for next weekend.
After that event in Connecticut, the President will travel to Philadelphia to attend a campaign event for Tom Wolf and other Pennsylvania Democrats. Mr. Wolf is, of course, the Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. We’ll have additional details about next Sunday’s travel to Connecticut and Pennsylvania available soon.
Q Rhode Island then is also a make-up?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, this is -- that’s a good point, Scott. The President’s event in Rhode Island on Friday is rescheduled from the event that had to be canceled last week.
Q This is the most he has been campaigning since the reelect, I guess. That’s probably a fair assessment.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, that’s probably a pretty good one.
Q Is he pretty psyched up about it? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Psyched I think is actually the word the President used. So we’re looking forward to it next week and hopefully you’ll all be able to join us as we travel.
Have a good weekend, everybody.
2:05 P.M. EDT