Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/7/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:49 A.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Before we get started, at the top of today’s briefing I’ve got the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, with me to talk a little bit about the President’s upcoming trip to China, Burma and Australia next week. So she will have some opening remarks and then we’ll take your questions, at least for a little bit before she has to go and get ready for this congressional meeting this afternoon.
I know that there is a lot of attention around some news reports indicating that the President is prepared to announce his nominee to be the next Attorney General. The President has not made a decision on that. We’re not going to have any personnel announcements on that matter at all today.
So with that, Susan, you want to get started?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m going to go through the top lines of the President’s trip and then I’ll take a few of your questions.
The President remains deeply committed to his Asia rebalancing strategy, and its implementation will remain a top priority throughout this second term. He’s looking forward to his upcoming trip to China, Burma and Australia. As you’ll recall, it’s his second trip to Asia this year. And as you’ve heard us say before, America’s security and our prosperity are increasingly and inextricably linked to the Asia Pacific. The United States is and will remain an Asian Pacific power, and we’re engaged in fostering an open and transparent security and economic order amid what is an increasing and already high demand from the region for U.S. leadership.
Our trade and investment ties to Asia are critical to our future economic growth and to generating American jobs. And the U.S. economy is expanding because of actions that President Obama has taken, including through our engagement with the Asian Pacific region. His leadership and global fora, like the G20, has resulted in a more stable and resilient global financial system and collective agreement among the world’s largest economies to take meaningful actions to promote growth and quality jobs.
The President will arrive in Beijing on Monday, the 10th, for a three-day visit. The first portion of the visit will be focused around his participation in the APEC Leaders Meeting and the APEC CEO Summit, where he’ll deliver remarks on our relationship in the region and the importance we attach to APEC as an institution and our collaborative commercial and economic ties.
The President will also participate in a TPP Leaders Meeting in Beijing, and also have bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Abbott of Australia and President Widodo of Indonesia. Our participation at APEC will highlight several themes. We’re working with our Asian partners to deepen our trade and investment ties through progress on agreements, such as the WTO Information Technology Agreement and the Environmental Goods and Services Agreement. And we’re working to bring China into the rules-based institutional structures in Asia.
The President will participate subsequently in a full bilateral program with Xi Jinping of China over the final day and a half of our visit there. This is an official state visit and it will include some of the formal elements that you are accustomed to seeing in any such state visit, but there will also be several opportunities for more informal and extended conversations between the two leaders.
President Obama appreciates the opportunity to have candid and in-depth conversations with President Xi about our respective priorities, given the breadth and the importance of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. This visit is an opportunity to identify a forward-looking agenda for the next two years of this relationship. And we seek to build a relationship with China that advances American economic and security interests, that solves global problems, and is true to American values and interests.
The next stop will be in Burma, and in Naypyidaw the President will participate in the East Asia Summit and then in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit. President’s Obama participation in these meetings will highlight U.S. leadership in addressing maritime territorial disputes, encouraging regional leadership on challenges such as the counter-ISIL campaign and the Ebola epidemic, as well as on upholding international law and norms.
We will have a bilateral program as well in Burma, and the President will have meetings with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon. He’ll also have the opportunity while in Burma to meet with the Vietnamese Prime Minister.
Our primary message will be that the United States recognizes the progress that Burma has made, but notes that real challenges remain and missteps have been made in the course of this transition. We will stress that our engagement is helping to keep reforms on track, and we’re prepared to continue the support -- we’re prepared to continue to support the government as it confronts its remaining challenges.
So in Burma, we will underscore the United States commitment to the protection of human rights, tolerance and pluralism, as well as sustaining and deepening the democratic transition.
As I mentioned, in Rangoon, in addition to meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the President will participate in a cultural event. He’ll meet with civil society leaders. And he’ll participate in another meeting of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative in a town hall format, as he did in Malaysia in the spring.
Our final stop on the trip will be in Australia, where we’ll be in Brisbane. As you all know, Australia is an unflinching friend and ally of the United States with whom we share a relationship based on shared values, outlook and shared sacrifice. The President will have already met with President Abbott in China; that is a function of the fact that the Prime Minister’s schedule is quite constrained given that he is hosting the G20 Summit.
During the G20 Leaders Meeting in Brisbane, we’ll have the opportunity to highlight how President Obama’s economic leadership has resulted in a significant increase in the resilience and the stability of the global financial system and how the world’s biggest economies continue to take meaningful action to promise growth and quality jobs -- through investment in infrastructure; through labor force participation, particularly that of women; financial inclusion in energy, which will all be key themes of the G20.
Also, in Brisbane, the President will deliver a major policy address and discuss U.S. leadership in Asia, especially on economic issues. And the speech will also provide an opportunity to reaffirm America’s commitment to the Asia Pacific rebalance, and do so irrespective of the other global challenges that are obviously on our plate. The speech will outline our Asia policy priorities for the remainder of the President’s second term.
Thank you, and I look forward to taking some questions.
MR. EARNEST: We have time for about four or five questions here. Ed, do you want to start us off?
Q Ambassador Rice, thank you. In some of the preview pieces for this trip, in the region there is skepticism about the pivot, there’s concerns that the President, rightly so, has been focused on other crises -- ISIS, Ebola, et cetera. And with the change in the election and the new balance of power, there’s concerns maybe you can’t deliver on the money to help with some of the military portions of the pivot. What can you, what can the President do on this trip to prove the skeptics wrong?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Ed, I think if you actually are engaged in the dialogues that I am with our partners in the region, you’ll hear them say, as I heard from the ASEAN ambassadors with whom I met this week, that they recognize that the United States is making an unprecedented commitment to the Asia Pacific region. They note that in a year, with all the issues that we are all facing, the President is now taking his second trip to Asia, which, as you know, is a substantial investment of time and attention. And the preparation that we all put into making such visits a success in terms of substance I think underscores the strong commitment that we have and will maintain to the Asia Pacific region.
So what we’re hearing -- on our first trip back in the spring, it was a trip that focused largely on our bilateral relationships with key allies and partners. I think they were highly successful visits that served to underscore our commitment to our core friendships and alliances in the region.
This trip will deal with the complex and very important bilateral relationship with China as well as multilateral institutions that are playing a critical role in Asia in which we play a very prominent leadership role.
So I think quite the opposite. I think the fact that we are engaged in a very energetic and constructive way in the Asia Pacific region, and are there talking about some of the global challenges that we all share -- whether it’s countering the threat that ISIL poses, or dealing with global health security issues and the Ebola epidemic -- it just shows how integral the Asia Pacific region is not only to our prosperity but to our national security as well as global security.
MR. EARNEST: Jon.
Q I wanted to ask you about something a little different -- the President’s correspondence with the Ayatollah Khomeini. What does he hope to accomplish with this correspondence? And do you see coordination and cooperation with Iran on this campaign against ISIS? And then one other thing, which is, now that the elections are over, do you expect that you will see changes in the national security team? And what are your plans? Are you going to be here until the end?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Let me answer the second question first. I serve at the pleasure of the President, and I will continue to serve as long as he’d like me to.
With respect to potential presidential correspondence, I think you know that I’m not going to comment on any private communication between the President and any world leader. But I will say this: First of all, as I’ve said repeatedly in public, and others have too, we are in no way engaged in any coordination -- military coordination with Iran on countering ISIL. The fact of the matter is that ISIL poses a threat not only to the people of Iraq and Syria, but to the broader region and to the United States and to Europe. And we are dealing with that threat, but we are not doing so in coordination with the government of Iran.
Secondly, there’s no linkage between our efforts to resolve the nuclear issue through the P5-plus-1 negotiations and our counter-ISIL campaign. And we have never made that linkage. So the reports that suggest the contrary are inaccurate.
MR. EARNEST: Darlene.
Q I wanted to go back to Burma and the optics of the President visiting there at a time when the government there has given this ultimatum to the Rohingya people to either prove they’ve lived there for however many years or leave. Are there any concerns about the President visiting while this is going on, and meeting with leaders of the government there who are overseeing this? And what would his message be to them when he sits down with the leader?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, obviously, we are going back to Burma for the second time for the purpose of attending the East Asia Summit, as well as the U.S.-ASEAN Summit. But we do look forward to the opportunity to continue our engagement with the leaders and the people of Burma.
We have real concerns, and we have expressed them repeatedly about circumstances in Rakhine state, and the transition to democracy, which is a challenging one. And we will raise those concerns very directly. And we will have the opportunity to do so not only with the Burmese President, but with Aung San Suu Kyi and with civil society leaders and, indeed, the young people of the ASEAN Leadership Forum.
So these are issues that are high on the agenda in terms of our bilateral relationship with Burma. And as we do in every circumstance, whether these are complex or fraught issues, they will be raised.
MR. EARNEST: Major.
Q To what degree will the President raise cybersecurity and the ADIZ with the Chinese leadership? And what are his goals on those issues? What’s the President’s perspective on Australia’s involvement in the Ebola crisis? And what business will you try to do with Putin at the G20? (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR RICE: All right, let’s start with China. (Laughter.) And you may have to remind me of all your questions.
With respect to China, clearly the issues of cybersecurity will be prominent on our bilateral agenda. This is a source of grave concern to the United States. We have reiterated on every occasion the fact that we oppose any efforts -- official or unofficial -- to engage in cyber-espionage for commercial gain or other purposes. And this has been and will remain a topic of discussion. So no question about that.
With respect to Australia, we have had frequent communications with the Australians and other key allies and partners about the necessity of mobilizing a very effective global response to the Ebola epidemic.
Australia has just recently announced an additional financial contribution to its efforts to counter the Ebola epidemic. And we look to Australia and other partners that we’ll have the opportunity to meet with at the G20 to do -- to fulfill the commitments they’ve made and do more, quite frankly. Because at this stage, there are many needs that remain unmet in the West African region -- whether it’s financial resources, particularly for the U.N. appeal, health care workers, beds, medical supplies. All of those remain key requirements, and the United States has played a very active and prominent leadership role, not only through our own national contributions, but in galvanizing the rest of the international community. But we continue to look to capable partners like Australia to do their part.
Q Does the travel ban complicate that?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, I’ll let the Australians explain their own travel ban. Our view is that it is, in fact, a counter-productive step to impose a travel ban for two primary reasons. One, we need most importantly to be able to flow the personnel and assets into the region to counter the epidemic there, and that would be impeded by a travel ban. And we also, frankly, think that, to the extent that we and others take efforts to preclude travel, what we may do inadvertently is to make it more likely that folks will try to enter our country or others without being properly screened and without going through the kind of scrutiny that we think is working quite well now.
You asked about Putin, and he will obviously be present at the G20. I imagine, as in the past, that there will be an opportunity for the G20 leaders to engage informally on the margins. There’s no formal bilateral meetings scheduled or planned, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they had some informal communication.
MR. EARNEST: Kristen.
QJosh, thank you. And, Ambassador Rice, thank you. How strong will President Obama be when he meets with President Xi on the issue of the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong? And then, on the issue of the TPP, what are the remaining sticking points? I know that there had been an effort to try to get that resolved before the trip. How close is it to being resolved? And is the fact that Republicans now control the Congress, does that actually help get this through more quickly?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, with respect to TPP, obviously this is a top priority for the United States. And it’s an agreement that, if achieved and ratified, will benefit the American people and the American economy in very meaningful ways. And it’s an integral part of our Asia Pacific rebalance strategy.
We continue to be making progress with our partners engaged in the TPP negotiations. I don’t expect, however, that there will be any final announcements or agreements achieved during the course of this trip. Ambassador Froman is over there already in Beijing working on this and a range of other issues, and will continue to do so because we think such an agreement would be beneficial for the United States economy and for creating jobs here.
Obviously, we look forward to consulting very closely with Congress, and obviously both parties in Congress on the importance of this agreement, and will continue to do so.
QAnd on the issue of the pro-democracy protestors, what is his message going to be on that specifically? How firm will he --
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, we’ve been very clear about our views and concerns about Hong Kong and other aspects of human rights and civil liberties in China, as we have been elsewhere. And I fully expect that issues of human rights will be on the agenda.
One last one maybe.
MR. EARNEST: Josh, we’ll give you the last one.
QHi, Ambassador Rice, can you talk about the President’s schedule in China? Is he doing any type of civil society or people-to-people or cultural event? And if not, why not? Would you like to see him doing that during his stay there?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, this trip, unlike his previous trip to China, is obviously framed around the APEC Summit. And then we have, on the other end, the East Asia Summit and the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, so we have a relatively constrained timeframe. So we won’t have the opportunity to do more, frankly, than what we would do in and around the APEC Summit and in and around the bilateral official state visit. And even the state visit is constrained; it’s not as long as it would normally be. It won’t have, for example, a state dinner, given -- it will have a luncheon instead. But the schedule has been relatively compressed.
MR. EARNEST: All right, Susan, I know you have a lunch that you’re looking forward to this afternoon.
AMBASSADOR RICE: Yes, indeed.
MR. EARNEST: So I’ll let you get to that.
AMBASSADOR RICE: Good to see you all. See you on the trip.
MR. EARNEST: All right, good afternoon. Darlene, you want to get us started?
QThank you. I’m not sure I understand why you said at the top that the White House wouldn’t comment on these reports out there about Loretta Lynch possibly being a choice for AG. If it’s wrong, for example, why wouldn’t the White House want to say that it’s wrong?
MR. EARNEST: Darlene, the reason that we’re not commenting on this because we typically do not make personnel comments in advance of the President, who made a decision. And in this instance, the President has not made a decision about who he will nominate to be the next Attorney General.
QOkay. Do you have any more details on the lunch? Yesterday there was some details that you didn’t have; I think one of those was the menu. Did you come with that? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I did not come prepared to talk about the menu. I’ll see if we can get you some more details before the day is out.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, exactly. We can definitely keep the jokes going on that one. (Laughter.) I didn’t say that I would contribute to that effort, but just that -- I can give you a little better sense about what will be on the agenda at the meeting, however, if that would be useful to you.
There will be an active discussion of the additional Ebola resources -- or additional resources that the administration is seeking to fight Ebola in West Africa and to ensure that we’re prepared to deal with Ebola here in this country. So there will be a discussion of that.
The second thing that’s on the agenda is, as I mentioned yesterday and as the President alluded to in his news conference on Wednesday, General Austin, who is the commander of CENTCOM, will give the congressional leaders a briefing on our counter-ISIL campaign. It will be an opportunity for him to give them an update. We have been in regular touch with congressional leaders and with the leaders of relevant committees on this issue, but this will be an opportunity for them to hear from General Austin in person, directly. So that should be a useful component of the meeting.
The third thing on the agenda is the President will look forward to the opportunity to talk about some of the areas that he’s identified for Democrats and Republicans to find some common ground on issues. This includes everything from investing in our infrastructure in a way that creates jobs in the short term and is good for the economy over the long term. They’ll also discuss investments in quality early childhood education; this is something that the President talked about in his State of the Union address not this past year but the year before, I believe.
These are the kinds of investments that are viewed by many academics to be an exceedingly efficient way to prepare the next generation of Americans to succeed; that there’s a strong correlation between participation in early -- quality early childhood education programs and things like higher graduation rates, higher literacy rates, and also things like lower teen pregnancy rates and lower incarceration rates.
So that is an area where the President is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans in years ahead will be able to find some common ground.
And then they’ll certainly talk about this issue of expanding American exports and opening up markets for American goods and services overseas. This is something the President will be focused on quite a bit during his trip to Asia, as you heard the National Security Advisor just discuss. But this will be something that the President will discuss in the lunch because this is something that we know is of interest to a bipartisan group of members in Congress, including some who will be participating in the lunch.
And then the last thing -- and it’s the fourth thing, and it’s also an important part of this lunch -- the President is very interested in hearing from the leaders about their agenda and the priorities that they have identified, both for the next two months but also for the next two years. And the President is eager to give them the opportunity to make clear exactly what their agenda is and what their priorities are, and give them the opportunity to try to identify areas where they see some common ground between the priorities that the President has identified and the priorities that they have.
So as you can tell, this is not something they expect that will be wrapped up in just an hour like you would a typical lunch, but this is something I think will last a couple of hours. And we’ll do our best to try to give you a readout that includes some details about the menu, but also some insight into the discussion beyond what I’ve just said.
QIs that a written readout, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: That’s what I would anticipate, yes. Julia. Nice to see you in the White House Briefing Room.
QHi, thank you. Will Obama be responding to the comments that Boehner made yesterday on immigration that he’d be poisoning the well? And will that in any way urge the President to maybe budge a little bit on his timeline for executive action?
MR. EARNEST: Julia, the President did get this question I think on a couple of occasions at the news conference that he did on Wednesday. The President was pretty clear about his position on this, and I don’t anticipate that it’s going to change.
The fact of the matter is that the President has the opportunity within the confines of the law to take some actions that we know would be good for the economy, good for the deficit, good for border security, and good for the millions of immigrants who are currently living in the shadows in this country. There’s an opportunity for us to address some of these challenges that are caused by a broken immigration system that people on both sides of the aisle acknowledge is broken.
And it should be a -- it shouldn’t, I guess I should say -- it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is something that the President is very focused on. He’s been talking about this for some time. He’s provided ample opportunity for House Republicans to allow the compromise piece of legislation that was passed through the Senate to come to the floor of the House of Representatives.
The legislation that passed through the Senate was supported by 14 Republicans. It’s a compromise proposal. The President himself has acknowledged he didn’t get everything that he wanted in that piece of legislation, but it does reflect the general principles that the President has laid out, and it does reflect the kind of bipartisan common ground that has been the subject of so much discussion in the last 72 hours or so.
So there is an opportunity for Speaker Boehner and his Republican colleagues to prevent the President from taking executive action. What they can do is they can bring up that bipartisan Senate bill to the floor for a vote, and the President would happily use his pen to sign that piece of legislation, instead of the executive actions that Secretary Johnson and others have been so hard at work on over the last several months.
QBut that would have to, of course, come probably within the lame duck. In other words, Obama isn’t taking any hope and possibly moving off this timeline? I know there were reports there were even discussions this summer between Boehner and Obama that broke down over immigration. And now the Republicans have taken back Congress, there’s some talks about what they would do if Obama expanded work permits, or how much they would work to block anything that he passes. Is there any talk on those lines of moving back the timeline, past the holidays?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I saw -- the short answer to your question is no. I saw that Speaker Boehner himself was asked in the news conference that he did yesterday about whether or not he would make a specific commitment to bringing up immigration reform legislation. And he declined to do so.
That has been his posture for well over a year now, and it has been a posture that he’s adopted in spite of the fact that there is bipartisan legislation that's already passed the Senate that shares strong bipartisan support across the country. The business community, the evangelical community, the labor community and others have strongly supported that compromise piece of legislation that passed through the Senate. So it does seem to me that the only people who are opposed to this compromise piece of legislation are certain segments of the House Republican conference. I don't think it’s a coincidence that those same members are encouraging the President -- or at least warning the President, I think in some instances, to not take executive action on immigration reform.
It seems to me that it’s less rooted in some sort of philosophical objection to executive action and more rooted in their opposition to common-sense immigration reform. So the President has the opportunity before him to do something really good for the country.
And I do think the message that the President and other Democrats and even some Republicans heard resoundingly from the voters is that they want their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. to not get bogged down in politics and to actually focus on the kinds of steps that they can take that will be good for the country and good for middle-class families in this country.
And the executive action that the President is considering on immigration reform falls very cleanly in that category.
QAnd we heard you just say that there is no decision on the Attorney General, but we're still hearing rumblings that an announcement is imminent. Can you talk about whether this is close? Are we relatively assured that this is going to happen, the confirmation during the lame duck session? And we're also hearing from some in Congress that, hey, we weren’t given a heads up on this, this possible pick, even as a finalist. Can you talk about that? And to what extent is that going to be discussed during the lunch today?
MR. EARNEST: I don't think the President intends to bring it up during the lunch today, but it could come up. I wouldn’t rule it out coming up. The reason that there hasn’t been extensive discussion with Capitol Hill about the President’s nominee to be the next Attorney General is that the President hasn’t made a decision about who the next nominee to be the Attorney General will be.
That said, whoever it is, it will be somebody that the President is confident deserves careful consideration and swift confirmation in bipartisan fashion by the United States Senate. And whether that occurs in the lame duck or in the early part of next year, both of those are certainly viable option because the President intends to nominate somebody who can be carefully considered and swiftly confirmed.
QAt this point, can we say that the decision is coming very soon?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update for you on timing.
QOkay. And also on the AUMF, we heard McCain say yesterday that he’d like to see the President have broad leeway in this. What do you think about that? And to what extent has the administration already kind of hashed out a framework for what the AUMF will include?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s a good question, and that will be part of the discussion I think that will take place during the lunch. The principal part of the lunch that’s focused on the counter-ISIL campaign will be focused on getting an update from General Austin. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that does include a discussion about the President’s interest in engaging Congress around a right-sized and updated authorization to use military force.
The way that we have described this -- I mean -- well, let me say it this way. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the administration and some of the President’s -- some members of the President’s national security team here at the White House have some ideas about how this authorization to use military force could be right-sized and updated, as the President described.
That said, we’re keenly interested in the view of Congress. After all, this is an opportunity for Congress to do something that is their responsibility and is very important, which is to demonstrate some unanimity of opinion, or at least some unity of opinion, with the President of the United States as we move forward with this counter-ISIL campaign. It will send a very clear signal to our allies around the globe that Congress and the White House are united in this effort. It will send a similarly clear message to the American people. It will also send a clear message to our allies that this is business that the United States and Democrats and Republicans agree is an important national security priority, and it will send a signal of the kind of commitment that the President has indicated is necessary to follow this campaign through successfully and to completion.
QSo is that something you expect to see bipartisan agreement on? And talk a little bit about the funding, too; I mean, there are reports out there of giving exact numbers on what the request will be.
MR. EARNEST: I would anticipate that there is some common ground to be found on authorization -- on a new, right-sized, updated authorization to use military force. Again, the administration continues to believe that Congress has already given the President the authority that he needs to carry out the campaign that is currently underway. It’s the President’s view, however, that it should be updated to reflect the realities of the fight that is currently underway. So that’s the first thing.
I would anticipate that we should be able to find some common ground on this. I know that there are a variety of views on Capitol Hill about the wisdom of Congress passing a new authorization to use military force. There’s also a pretty robust discussion underway about what should be included in that authorization to use military force.
So this is the subject of some discussion. The President indicated in a news conference yesterday that -- or on Wednesday that it certainly is likely that this discussion would extend beyond the lame duck because of the variety of views associated with it.
But again, when there are critically important pieces of legislation that need to be passed and signed into law, by definition they have to be bipartisan, be passed by Republicans and signed into law by a Democratic President. And this is an area where I would anticipate we’ll be able to find some common ground between Democrats and Republicans.
Peter. I recognize since you and I last spoke that you made an important personnel announcement of your own.
QYes, but I’m not a lame duck. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: But let me extend my congratulations to you and your family on your tremendous record of service here at the White House and with CBS. So we’re going to miss you.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if you’ll miss us, but we’ll miss you. (Laughter.)
QSome aspects. (Laughter.)
QGood luck with Attorney General. (Laughter.)
QAs the guy who handles the President’s media relations, what do you make of what the Chinese state-controlled media is saying about the President and his visit today, that U.S. public opinion is reflected in the vote, has downgraded him, and that the outcome of the election will, according to the Chinese state-owned newspaper, thwart him?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, that is not an analysis that I would agree with. I also don’t think, frankly, looking at the comments of people like even Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell, I don’t think those are comments that they would agree with either. Leader McConnell in his news conference on Wednesday indicated that the President was the only Democrat that mattered in Washington, D.C. Now, I’m not sure I agree with that assessment quite as wholeheartedly as he did, but I think that’s a pretty clear indication that at least the incoming leader of the United States Senate considers the President to wield a lot of authority in Washington, D.C.
So it sounds to me that maybe the Chinese didn’t consult with Senator McConnell before those reports were published. But what I would anticipate is that the President of the United States is somebody who continues to have pretty aggressive ambitions when it comes to American leadership around the globe.
And I can tell you that the President is invested in strengthening the relationship between the United States and China. There are a variety of areas where the United States and China can cooperate to the mutual benefit of the citizens of both countries. And we certainly hope, and even anticipate, that in the context of this visit that Chinese leaders will bring a similar amount of creativity and energy to these discussions. The President certainly thinks that the stakes related to these discussions are high, and that the opportunity is great for us to make progress both for the American people, and for Chinese leaders to make progress for the Chinese people.
That’s why the President is very much looking forward to the trip. And frankly, all of that would have been true regardless of the outcome of the most recent elections.
QThis obviously reflects the official view of the Chinese government. What’s the President going to do to try to dissuade them of this, or to respond to it? Or is he?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn’t anticipate a specific response. I think that the President will enter these meetings with a lot of ambition, a lot of energy and creativity to further strengthen and energize the relationship between the United States and China.
We hope and even anticipate that Chinese leaders will bring that same energy and creativity to the discussions. The President certainly believes that these discussions are critically important to the American people and to our country’s national security. And it would be a missed opportunity if Chinese leaders didn’t meet him with that same spirit.
QSo their assertion that he’s going to be thwarted in some way on this trip because of this, what do you say?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate that that’s a danger.
QJosh, back to this question of the executive order -- I know you guys have said for a long time you’re going to do it before the end of the year; you signaled that before the election and all of that. But now that the election has happened, Democrats got trounced pretty much across the board, and we’ve heard from the Republican leadership now saying in various ways it’s poisoning the well, it’s playing with matches, it’s waving a red flag in front of a bill -- a bull, it’s pouring kerosene on a fire. I mean, given that we’re hearing the Republican leadership coming in and practically pleading with the President not to do this, why not listen to them and put it off for a little while, and at least talk to them about it first?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, the President has had countless discussions with Republican leaders and with the American people about the importance of moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform; that there are significant economic and national security benefits associated with putting in place reforms to a system that everybody acknowledges is broken.
There’s been ample opportunity for Republicans to work with Democrats to correct some of those problems in a way that has significant benefits for our economy, that would further reduce the deficit, and that would further strengthen our security at the border.
Senate Republicans took up that challenge, to their credit, worked with Senate Democrats, passed a piece of legislation through the Senate that represented a common-sense offering of reforms. And Speaker Boehner, despite strong bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. and across the country for that piece of legislation, and in the House of which he is the leader, has declined to bring that bill up for a vote.
And again, Jon, the simple question before the White House and before the President himself is, is the President going to use the authority that he has under the law and under the Constitution to take some steps that would be good for the American people? And the simple answer to that question is, yes. That’s what he’s going to do, and he’s going to do it before the end of the year.
Let me just say one other thing about that. There’s no reason that the President doing something that Republicans disagree with, that that should squander an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. I can sit up here -- I can stand up here and say, Republicans to vote once again, for the 50th time, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that that’s playing with fire, or waving a red flag in front of a bull, or -- I’m not really even sure what that means.
QIt was the bull --
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) Exactly. I guess anybody who’s been to a bull fight probably doesn’t want to be the bull in that analogy.
But I think the point is, the message that we’ve heard from voters across the country over the last several elections, but in this election as well, is that Democrats and Republicans need to find a way to identify common ground and make progress for the American people. It doesn’t mean that anybody has to fold on their principles, but it does mean we should not allow our differences of opinion on some issues to affect our ability to find common ground on areas where we actually do agree.
QBut, Josh, everything you just said about immigration is something you could have said and, in fact, did say many times before the election.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, there is virtue in that consistency, isn’t there?
QThere is now a new reality in this town, though. Republicans want a big victory. They are now firmly in charge up on Capitol Hill. And they are pleading with you to take a little time to work with them before doing what is a very provocative action here, a very --
MR. EARNEST: It’s only provocative because they consider it to be provocative. But here’s the thing, Jon --
QChanging the legal status of millions of people without any congressional action is an unprecedented use of executive power in the area of immigration.
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have an opportunity to evaluate just how unprecedented it is once the announcement has been made.
But the Speaker of the House did a news conference not unlike the one that we’ve convened here, and he was asked directly if he would commit to bringing up immigration reform any time soon, and he declined to do so. So I don’t -- it’s hard to take seriously this suggestion that Republicans actually do want to work with the President to pass immigration reform.
But again, for all of -- for the virtue of our consistency, they’ve been remarkably consistent in obstructing common-sense bipartisan efforts to reform our immigration system that everybody acknowledges is broken.
So again, the question before the President is, is he going to do something that is within his authority that is also in the clear best interest of the American people and our economy. The answer to that question is, yes. And I’m surprised, frankly, that Republicans would suggest that for some reason the President shouldn’t.
QBut just to be clear -- and I think you are loud and clear, but I just want to underline that. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I try.
QYou’re saying that the President, even before he’s had a chance to have his first meeting with the new Republican leadership since the election -- new in terms of newly empowered; same faces, but new positions -- even before he’s had a chance to sit down to talk to them about it, he is completely closed to the idea of delaying this executive action, not even willing to talk to them about delaying it.
MR. EARNEST: He’s going to sign the -- he’s going to take that executive action before the end of the year. But there is -- Speaker Boehner and the other members of the House Republican leadership will be arriving at the White House today with a trump card up their sleeve. There is one thing that they can do to prevent the President from taking executive action. The thing that they can do is they can allow that common-sense bipartisan bill from the Senate to come to the floor of the House of Representatives, and if the House passes that Senate bill, the President won’t take executive action. Maybe the Republic will be saved. Maybe the ego of the House Republicans will not be bruised. Certainly, the United States of America would benefit significantly from them taking that step.
Again, this is -- the President believes he has an opportunity before him within the confines of the law to do something really good for the American public. The fact of the matter is, House Republicans have exactly the same opportunity. Even if they decline to take those steps that are clearly in the best interest of the country, the President is not going to miss that opportunity.
QYes. There was a Wall Street Journal piece this morning which I think some of us are referencing. And in it, it said I think that the President in discussions with House Speaker John Boehner about immigration agreed to the piecemeal approach that Speaker Boehner would have wanted on immigration --
MR. EARNEST: But doesn't apparently want anymore. If you heard his news conference, yesterday, right?
QYes. So did the President agree to that? Were there substantive discussions that have happened over these months? Was there more of a chance of something happening than us on the outside realized?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not sure exactly what you are assessing throughout this period. The fact that there was successful bipartisan work in the United States Senate I think was a pretty clear indication that there is a growing majority opinion, at least, on Capitol Hill that common-sense immigration reform would be in the best interest of the country.
There are all these economic analyses that indicated it would be good for the economy, that it would shrink the deficit, that it would expand economic growth. We certainly would increase the resources at the border, so there would be a significant investment in border security. So it’s not surprising to me that there were a lot of Democrats and Republicans who thought that this would be a good thing for the country and something that Congress should act on.
There were a number of conversations that took place between this administration and Democrats and Republicans in leadership positions both in the Senate and in the House. Those conversations were obviously quite fruitful in the United States Senate. But those conversations didn't lead to anything in the House -- at least with House Republicans. That's unfortunate, and it’s the country that pays the price for that kind of intransigence. And it’s what’s going to lead the President to do everything that he can to address as many problems with our broken immigration system as he can.
Now, if Republicans were to decide -- even after the first of the year -- were to decide that, look, maybe there is some legislation that we could take that would address so many of these problems that the President tried to fix on his own, the President would eagerly sit down to work with Republicans to do that. And if we could come to an agreement that passed in bipartisan fashion through the House and in the Senate, the President would be happy to sign a bill, again, that addresses these principles that would supersede his executive action.
So there’s no reason that the President following through and keeping his commitment to sign this executive action before the end of the year, there’s no reason that that has to be the end of this debate.
QThere has been all along coming from the White House -- and you've repeated it today -- sort of this all-or-nothing, we want comprehensive immigration reform, take up the Senate bill. In private, did the President agree to something less than that? Or a different version of that?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to get into any conversations that occurred in private between the President and senior members of the Congress. I think the operative thing simply is just that if those conversations did occur, they no longer reflect the current view of the Speaker of the House, based on what he said at yesterday’s news conference.
QAnd at 12:30 p.m., so like now, according to a press release, about 300 immigration protestors are going to be out there trying to send a message to the President. And obviously, at basically every single event, every speech he’s given in the last several months, he’s been heckled by people who want changes to immigration.
MR. EARNEST: I think it was -- on a number of occasions. I don't think I would say every single event.
QWell, okay, a bunch. How much has that weighed on him? Does that pressure coming from the left, how does that balance with the red-flag-waving pressure coming from the right?
MR. EARNEST: I think in their analogy, it’s the President that's waving the flag. But it’s a poor analogy.
Here’s what I think about that. I do think that the protests reflect a genuine frustration with Washington, D.C. about Washington’s inability to make progress on something that is so common sense. Again, the compromise legislation that was passed in bipartisan fashion through the United States Senate would be good for economic growth, would be good for job creation, would reduce the deficit, would strengthen border security, and would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who are currently living in the shadows after they pay taxes, learned English, went to the back of the line.
So I think -- again, you probably would have to ask them exactly what their message is. My sense is that message is rooted in a lot of frustration with Washington’s inability to make progress on something that seems like such a common dose of common sense.
The President, frankly, shares that frustration, that it hasn’t moved. The President has accepted the view that, as the President of the United States, even though this is a problem that is sitting in front of the House of Representatives, including -- and to be specific, in front of House Republicans, the President accepts that the people assign a greater level of accountability and responsibility to the President of the United States because he’s the most powerful man in Washington.
That all said, I believe that these protestors did choose an opportune day to make their voices heard, because the people who are blocking these common-sense reforms actually will also be at the White House today, so I hope they speak loud and clear.
QHi, Josh. Both the President and congressional Republicans have identified corporate tax reform and trade as two of the most likely areas where they can find some common ground, but neither of those issues speak to the President’s most steadfast supporters. And beyond immigration, what sort of policies do you think the President will pursue in the coming months that will show committed Democrats that he’s still with them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you did cite a couple of areas. And those are the areas that are most commonly cited by Republicans, where common ground could exist. I would concede that they -- or I guess I would grant that I would agree with that assessment. I’d put some other things on that list, things like investments infrastructure and investments in high-quality, early childhood education programs.
Those are the kinds of things that Republicans have also spoken about that the President has made a top priority for some time. So I believe that there a variety of areas where Democrats and Republicans can work together to identify common ground.
Here’s the thing that's interesting about this, and I did this a little at a -- I guess at yesterday’s briefing, although it seems like a lot longer ago than that. I would also distinguish between this idea of compromising and cooperating. In some of the areas that we’ve talked about here, Democrats and Republicans actually have the same position on some of these issues. The best example I can cite on this is actually -- goes to infrastructure. Senator McConnell knows the Commonwealth of Kentucky very well. He’s represented them in the United States Senate a long time. If you were to accost him in the hallway and ask him a pop quiz of the 10 infrastructure projects that are most important to his state and would do the most to strengthen the economy in his state, he could probably rattle them off, off the top of his head. I don't think I’m going out on a limb to say the President would agree that those are 10 projects that are worthy of investment that would be good for the economy in the short term in terms of creating jobs, and good for the economy over the long term.
So that's an opportunity where -- there’s no compromise involved in that. Senate McConnell thinks those 10 projects should be funded. The President thinks that those 10 projects should be funded. So there are plenty of opportunities for us to try to cooperate on things.
I think a similar dynamic exists when it comes to early childhood education programs. Republicans support those programs and believe that they are worthwhile investments for the same reason that Democrats do. So there are opportunities -- at some point, we're going to have to start talking about compromising. And we’ll get to that. And probably it’s issues like the budget and some other things where we’ll have to give a little, they’ll have to give a little, but that's what it’s going to take to find -- to move forward. But there are some areas where we can just cooperate.
And the most important thing -- and I’ll end up here -- but the most important thing is to make sure that disagreements over issues like immigration don't interfere with our ability to find common ground on areas like investing in infrastructure and investing in early childhood education programs.
QAnd just on immigration, what does the President think of the suggestion by David Axelrod that he should hold off on executive actions on immigration and demand that the House have an up-down vote on the Senate bill?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we certainly would welcome an up-or- down vote of the Senate bill in the House of Representatives because we continue to be confident that if that up-or-down vote were held, that it would pass with bipartisan support, in a similar way that the bill passes with bipartisan support in the United States Senate.
But we’ve been waiting for senator -- I’m sorry -- for Speaker Boehner to take that step for a year and a half or so now. And again, based on the answer that he gave at yesterday’s news conference, he’s not willing to bring it up either in the lame duck session, or in the new year.
So the fact is the President has the opportunity to do something really good for our economy and really good for the American people. He can do so using the authority that he has under the law and under the Constitution of the United States. The President is going to take those steps before the end of the year.
QTo follow that, Josh, if Speaker Boehner had some sort of change of heart, if they have a good conversation at lunch today and he says, you know what, we're going to go back to that piecemeal approach that Tamara was talking about before, and showed some good faith, would the President hold back on executive action? Is there nothing the Republicans can do that would lead the President to hold back?
MR. EARNEST: You mean short of taking a vote on the bipartisan legislation that's already passed through the Senate?
QYes, I mean you’ve held up the original Gang bill I suppose when you say a bipartisan bill. But if he went back -- and I know you can't negotiate from there -- but if he showed some good faith, if the Republicans said, we're going to move on any piece of this, would the President hold back if they at least show good faith?
MR. EARNEST: All signs right now point to the Speaker’s unwillingness to do that. So that's a hypothetical situation. I think at this point it’s a pretty unlikely hypothetical based only on what the Speaker himself has said, and based on the track record of their inactivity over the last year and a half.
QRepublican John Barrasso today said that he’s not aware of anybody, Democrat or Republican, running for office in all these elections who said, I want to see the President issue more executive orders. There were TV ads that were quite creative -- hog castration and all kinds of things. Can you name -- is there one TV ad out there, is one candidate who said, I want to see more executive action?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, most of the people who were running these television ads were running for Congress, and so it’s not a surprise to me that these television ads focused on legislation that they support.
QThere were governors out there who might --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, but they were focused on state issues, right? I assure you -- and I think this was pretty clear in the context of the 2012 election when the President was on the ballot, that he talked a lot about the steps that he had taken within the confines of the law, using his executive authority to do the right thing for the American people and to do the right thing for middle-class families.
That's something that the President has spent a lot of time talking about in public. This is an agenda that the President ran on in 2012. And the President -- this is an agenda that was strongly supported by the American people when the President ran for reelection in 2012.
QTwo other quick topics. One, do you think Loretta Lynch, as a prosecutor, has been a good public servant? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That's a creative way to ask about these reports, Ed.
QI’m not asking if she’s the pick. I’m just asking if you think she’s a fine public servant.
MR. EARNEST: I recognize that there are reports that she’s a candidate, and I’m not going to be in a position to talk about any of the candidates from here.
QLast one. Yesterday you got several questions about Harry Reid and his chief of staff’s comments. I won’t repeat those. But since then, there have also been some questions -- I see you smiling --
MR. EARNEST: I was smiling at Jon. (Laughter.) That's all.
QI had a feeling you were. Nancy Pelosi has suggested to her colleagues that she’s going to run again, and there’s been some consternation among Democrats that -- as I think this was referred to by Steven as well yesterday -- that it’s the same faces. It’s the same faces on the Republican side, too, but there are some Democrats who are saying they wish there was some sort of a shakeup there. Does the President still have full confidence in Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi? Does he think they should both be the leaders come January and why?
MR. EARNEST: Well, ultimately, it’s the responsibility of Democrats in those caucuses to decide who their leaders should be. I can tell you that Leader Reid and Leader Pelosi have tremendous track records when it comes to their success of working with this administration to advance legislations that’s critically important to the American people and to middle-class families all across the country. And whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform, the Recovery Act, these are all pieces of legislation that have had a substantial positive impact on middle-class families across the country.
Those bills would not have been possible without the deft and powerful leadership of Leaders Reid and Pelosi.
QJosh, thanks. I want to -- the areas of compromise. The one thing that I haven’t heard you mention recently is the minimum wage. There’s been some discussion about that privately, but does the President think that he can actually get a deal on the minimum wage, and would he be willing to compromise on the initial figure which he laid out, which was $10.10? Would he come down at all if Republicans would meet him somewhere in -- the nine-dollar mark, for example?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President certainly believes that an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. We have seen a number of states take action on their own to raise the minimum wage after the President started this call -- I think we’re up to 13 or 14 states now that have raised the minimum wage after the President first put this item at the top of the agenda.
In this past election, there were five states that passed ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum wage in those states. That’s an indication that there is growing moment for this policy proposal that the President has championed. I will say that there are -- whether this is an opportunity for compromise I think remains to be seen. The last time that a minimum wage passed the Congress it did so with bipartisan support and it was signed into law by a Republican President.
QIs this a priority for him, though, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely.
QIs this something that he’s going to bring up today at the lunch, for example?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if it will come up at the lunch, but giving America’s workers a raise will continue to be a top priority of the President of the United States.
QAnd just to that second point, I mean, he was adamant several months ago it should be $10.10, it should be $10.10. Is he still wedded to that number or would he be willing to come down a little bit?
MR. EARNEST: The President certainly believes that America’s minimum-wage workers deserve a raise to $10.10 an hour. I’m not going to be in a position to negotiate any sort of fine points of this policy proposal from here but, look, if there are Republicans who come to the President and say we want to work with you to raise the minimum wage, I’m confident the President will engage in those kinds of conversations.
We did see that there were a lot of Republicans who were on the ballot in these states where the voters voted in support of raising the minimum wage come out and actually endorse that proposal. So maybe there is an opportunity for the President to work with some newly elected Republicans to make some progress on this idea.
QAnd let me just follow up with you if I could about something that I asked Ambassador Rice about, which is the TPP. Do you think -- what are your thoughts about Republicans now being in control? Does that put the TPP in a stronger position of actually getting through? And has the President figured out politically how to deal with Democrats who are opposed to the TPP or who have problems with some of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start off with a couple of other things. The first is that we do not anticipate that there will be a significant breakthrough in the negotiations that will be announced in the course of this trip. That there are some very difficult negotiations that had been led by the President of the United States’ Trade Representative, Mike Froman. He’s a pretty determined negotiator and there is not an agreement that the United States is going to sign on to that isn’t in the best interest of American workers, American businesses, America’s farmers. There are some important aspects, as it relates to climate change, that are being discussed in the context of these ongoing negotiations.
So there is still a lot of work to be done there. I know that they’ve made a lot of important progress. I think as Ambassador Froman himself would tell you that a lot of the more difficult sticking points in these negotiations get put off until the end. And so while the number of issues that need to be worked through has gone down, some of the more difficult issues still remain. So that’s sort of an update in terms of where we are on TPP. The President is looking forward to the meeting that the National Security Advisor announced that he’ll be convening in Russia -- or in China on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
So in terms of whether this is easy or not to get through the Congress based on the change in the majority, I think that’s hard to say because we knew all along that any sort of congressional approval for this treaty was going to require bipartisan support; that we were going to need both Democrats and Republicans onboard to get this proposal passed.
So is it easier to get bipartisan support when Republicans are in the majority? Frankly, I think that’s the $64,000 question -- not just for this issue but for lots of other issues, too.
QAnd that will be a part of today’s lunch?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if -- well, I would anticipate that generally the President’s support for agreements that open up overseas markets to American goods and services will be a discussion at the lunch. I don’t know if TPP or TPA would come up specifically.
QI’m going to circle back to something that Michelle asked you and I wasn’t sure -- it was among a bunch of questions, but is there going to be a funding request specifically for anti-ISIL campaigns from the President that’s made during this meeting or in the coming weeks?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any funding announcements to make from here, but if there’s something like that, that is required, we’ll keep you posted.
QAre you satisfied, I guess, with the level of funding that you have right now? Do you feel like you’ve got enough money to successfully conduct the anti-ISIL campaign?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the Department of Defense would be in the best position to discuss this. And this is something that they’re carefully evaluating and the option of seeking additional resources to make sure that our men and women have the support that they need to carry out this campaign is something that the President has been focused on for quite some time. It is something that has been the subject of a lot of the discussions the President has had with his national security team. So stay tuned on that.
QAnd speaking of the national security team, I know Ambassador Rice was asked about whether she planned to stay and if there was going to be any shakeup within the national security team. She answered the first part of that question, but the Washington Post reported today that Tony Blinken was headed over to the State Department and that there are various candidates that are being interviewed for his job right now. I was wondering if you could just update us on what’s going on there and what the process is.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I don’t have any personnel announcements right now on that specific issue. Obviously the President and everybody that I work with here at the White House has the highest regard for Mr. Blinken. He has done a terrific job as the Deputy National Security Advisor and I do understand that he is being considered for some other opportunities inside the administration and I’m sure that he’d do well in any of those, too. But I don’t have any announcements to make from here.
QJosh, I also want to follow up on Michelle’s questions about the AUMF. When the President and congressional leaders talk about that today, will they be continuing the work that the President talked about a year and a half ago at National Defense University about revising and repealing the 2001 AUMF or is there some kind of tacit agreement among parties that that’s kind of needed as a safety net for operations like the one against ISIS?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jared, you raise another dimension of these conversations that I glossed over, but you have identified it accurately. There’s the question of, should we have -- should Congress pass an Authorization to Use Military Force that is updated and right-sized to reflect the ongoing counter-ISIL campaign. So there’s a question about whether or not Congress should act in that fashion.
The next question, then, is, what should be included in that Authorization to Use Military Force, what should the language be. And then the next question, which is the one that you’re raising, is a question related to what impact does this have on a couple of the other Authorizations to Use Military Force that Congress passed in 2001 and 2002.
The President in the context of that speech made pretty clear his views on those two pieces of legislation. But I would anticipate that this is a question that will come up and will be, ultimately, something that Congress will have to work through as well as they consider this important question.
QIs the White House position, then, that those 2001, 2002 AUMFs still need to be repealed and revised to reflect current conditions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this will be the subject of discussions between senior administration officials and leaders in Congress. And I don’t want to get ahead of those conversations.
QBecause it’s been I don’t want to say convenient, because we’re talking about terrorism but it’s been legally convenient for the White House to be able to point back to those authorizations and say, we don’t need new ones. And so that has kind of circumvented a question -- what would have probably been a difficult legislative battle over those authorizations. I guess -- so my question is, does the White House think that as part of either in the lame duck session or early work in the 114th, that this authorization needs to be revisited?
MR. EARNEST: Again, Jared, this is something that we have said and the President has said in his news conference that he wants to engage Congress on. And so I do think that if you and I had the opportunity to negotiate this out, we could settle it pretty quickly. Congress doesn’t work quite as efficiently, and there are some benefits to that inefficiency.
But this is the subject of discussion between the President and his national security team and leaders in Congress who have -- obviously have vested interests in this issue. And so I just don’t want to get ahead of those conversations by talking about it from here.
QBut the priorities for the White House you’re saying haven’t changed.
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct. That’s correct.
QJust to follow up on that question, you said the President made his views pretty clear in that National Defense University speech. Would he rule out sending up some language to the Hill? I mean, that’s the way many presidents have done these things, it’s the way the President did this in connection with the Syria chemical weapons situation. Why not just draft something you guys are proposing as legislation or AUMF and if Congress wants to amend it they can? I’m unclear on why the White House wouldn’t just make a proposal.
MR. EARNEST: Well, for a couple of reasons, Josh. The first is, if we’re actually interested in getting legislation through the Congress, sending up legislation that we’ve already written has not exactly been a recipe for success in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, no matter how reasonable that language might be.
That said, ultimately this is Congress’s responsibility. And the administration is committed to engaging with them in good faith to do something that the President believes is really important for the country. And if there is -- if members of Congress conclude that it would be beneficial to the process for the administration to send up language, then I’m confident that’s something that we would consider. So I wouldn’t take that option off the table. But just as -- a pragmatic perspective on this, is that legislation has had more success, at least in the last couple of Congresses, when Congress has taken the lead in drafting it.
QAnd can you also address why --
MR. EARNEST: And when I say “success” I just mean success in actually passing, not in terms of the policy impact.
QAnd can you specify a little bit more about what the President’s lame duck agenda is for the lame duck session of Congress? Obviously, he must want the CR to be passed; I presume he wants the language in there about training the anti-ISIL forces passed. Is there anything else he wants done specifically in the lame duck? And just to tie that also to the AG question, if he’s making an AG nomination, which is the higher priority? Senator Leahy, for example -- might play a role in what happens to the AG nomination -- has signaled that he’d like to go forward with surveillance reform legislation before moving to any nomination of that sort. Does the President share that prioritization?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can’t give you a comprehensive list of every single thing that we would like to see get done. There certainly are a lot of things. I can give you a couple of priorities with the note that this is something that will be discussed -- well, frankly, at this point it’s being discussed right now.
You’ve identified the ensuring that legislation is passed to prevent a government shutdown. Senator McConnell spoke pretty loud and clear when he said there’s not going to be a government shutdown. He’ll find a partner here in this administration to work with them to avoid a shutdown.
We have indicated, the President has indicated that we need to provide additional resources to our public health and military officials to confront Ebola; that we need to augment the resources that are available to the Department of Defense who has resources on the ground in West Africa to try and stop this outbreak at the source. There’s also a benefit to increasing the resources that are available to medical professionals in this country to increase and improve our preparedness. That obviously is a priority.
There is a discussion about our ongoing campaign against ISIL. And as Justin pointed out -- I believe Justin raised this prospect -- that additional resources may be necessary. So that will be a discussion of -- in the context of this meeting, and, if necessary, that would obviously be a priority for obvious reasons.
And I think those are -- at this point, would be the priorities. There are a range of other things that are important. We talked a little bit about the Title 10 authority to extend the authority that the Department of Defense has to carry out this train-and-equip mission to ensure that we are ramping up the capacity of Syrian fighters. That obviously is something that we’d like to see extended. That was -- Congress acted on that in the fall, but right now it is scheduled to end the second week in December, I believe. So we certainly want to see that extended. Ramping up the capacity of these local fighters to take the fight on the ground to ISIL in Syria remains a top priority and a core component of our strategy. So we need to see that extended.
But, again, these are the top priorities. There could be some other priorities that emerge in the next couple of weeks. And obviously -- I guess the last thing I would say, without commenting on any specific nominations, there are a number of nominations that have already been sent up to Congress -- in some cases, there are many that have actually gone through the committee process. And we’d like to see the Senate act on those before the end of the year, as well.
QThanks. There has been a Supreme Court decision here I’d like to get your comment on. There’s a section of the Affordable Care Act that says that tax subsidies for the purchase of insurance can only go to the states that set up exchanges. Most of the states didn’t do that but left it to the feds. It’s a technicality, but it could undermine the law. Do you have a reaction?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I didn’t hear what the Supreme Court announced on this.
QWhat did they announce?
QThey announced that they’re going to take it up, they’ll consider it as a case.
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have been quite clear -- I got asked about this before I believe it was earlier this spring -- and Congress I think -- the congressional intent here is quite clear that they intended for eligible customers who signed up for health insurance through the marketplace to be eligible to receive assistance from the government to make their premiums more affordable. That is, after all, one of the principal goals of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce costs for small businesses and for individuals.
So I think the legislation is pretty clear about that. I saw that there was an op-ed that ran the last couple of weeks from all the committee chairs who worked on this piece of legislation indicating and reiterating what their intent actually was, was to ensure that eligible customers would be eligible to receive the assistance from the government. That was intended to make their health care costs more affordable.
So it’s our view --
QYou’re not concerned -- not too concerned about this?
MR. EARNEST: We’ve been pretty clear what we think -- what our view is of the law. And I would also point out that there is pretty widespread agreement at the district and circuit court levels on this matter. But if the Supreme Court is going to take it up, it sounds like we’ll have the opportunity --
Q-- a conflict between the circuits so there’s --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the conflict that exists is between a circuit in Virginia, I believe, that has ruled in favor of the administration. At the D.C. circuit, there was a three-judge opinion that went against the administration view. But that is something that has been appealed en banc, which means that all of the judges at the D.C. circuit would consider this ruling.
So again, this will work its way through the legal process. We continue to have high confidence in the legal argument -- both from a legal perspective, but also from a common-sense perspective. The fact of the matter is the assistance that millions of Americans have received in paying for their health care premiums has meant that millions of Americans -- in some cases for the very first time -- have access to quality, affordable health insurance. That is -- again, that was one of the principal goals of the Affordable Care Act. This is a law that is working and has generated significant benefits for working families and small business owners all across the country. And that's why you're going to see a vigorous defense here.
MR. EARNEST: Julie, I guess I’ll call on you again.
MR. EARNEST: You got a question.
QYes, one more. We’ve seen a number of social media reports, a lot of traffic about an emir in Kobani has been captured by Kurdish militia, which would be a big step for our allies in the fight against ISIL. Is that anything Hagel talked about at the Cabinet meeting? Or is anything you can even confirm?
MR. EARNEST: No, I haven’t seen those reports. They must have broken while I’ve been up here.
QJosh, on immigration, not to be hyperbolic about it, I guess, but is this sort of a make-or-break moment, this luncheon when you consider what the President said, what you have said? Does he want to get up from that table and realize whether or not he’s going to go through with the threat, pull the trigger?
MR. EARNEST: Bob, it’s not a threat. The President made a promise that he was going to act on immigration reform before the end of the year, and that's exactly what he’s going to do. The one trump card that continues to exist is that House Republicans, if they want to prevent the President from taking executive action, can just bring up the compromise, bipartisan Senate bill for a vote. The President would happily sign that into law instead of signing any executive actions on immigration reform.
Q Can we hear that today?
MR. EARNEST: We certainly would welcome that announcement from House Republicans today. Absolutely.
Alexis, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Two quick questions. A lame duck follow-up: As you know, there’s a variety of interests in the lame duck who would like to attach to the CR the ability of states to collect taxes on Internet sales. There’s legislation -- a moratorium that expires. Is the President in favor or taxes being collected by the states for Internet sales?
MR. EARNEST: I know this is an issue that has been discussed quite a bit on Capitol Hill. I don't have an administration position to share with you, but we can check on it for you.
Q The second thing is the person in this compound who probably has the most experience in dealing with Senator McConnell is the Vice President. Going forward, is the President going to turn to Vice President Biden to work with the new GOP leadership in the Senate in a different way, or more frequently in maybe a more organized fashion?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I will say that Vice President Biden is somebody who throughout the President’s six years in office has worked very effectively with members of Congress. The Vice President is somebody that has extensive personal relationships in Congress, given his own record of service in that legislative body. And I would anticipate that he’ll continue to play an important role as we work with Democrats and Republicans to make progress on priorities for middle-class families.
It’s hard to say whether that will be any different than it’s been in the past. But I think -- I feel confident in saying that his efforts will continue to be integrated into our ongoing efforts to try to find common ground with Democrats and Republicans and move the country forward. So we’re prepared to --
Q Josh, a lame duck follow-up?
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q Quickly, is the President concerned that if he issues an executive order and he takes action without the support of congress, that he’s not going to have the time in this lame duck session to give it life and make sure it’s successful immigration reform?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you do raise a good point, which is that any sort of executive action that the President would announce would require a sustained period of implementation. And that will be something that the President will be focused on.
And, frankly, it’s part of why the administration and his senior advisors, including the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security have spent so long considering exactly what these executive actions should entail. The implementation of this will be critical, and it’s not something that's done in a week or two, but will be done over a longer time period than that.
Q Does the President feel he has enough time with just two years left to make sure it has that structure?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, he does. So with that, we obviously have a big trip to China, Burma and Australia. Susan went through the week ahead in that context. Currently, the President is scheduled to return to the White House on Sunday evening. So it should be an exciting week.
Q Anything Saturday?
MR. EARNEST: Tomorrow, you mean? Nothing that I know of at this point. But we’ll let you know in the guidance tonight if there is.
Q The guidance today said that there was going to be a spray at the top of this lunch.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Did that happen?
Q It just --
MR. EARNEST: I sure hope so.
MR. EARNEST: All right, thanks a lot, everybody. Have a good weekend.
1:05 P.M. EST