Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/19/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:12 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. I appreciate you accommodating the slightly later briefing time today.
As you saw just a little over an hour ago, the White House posted a video to the White House Facebook page, where the President announced that he is going to deliver an address to the nation tomorrow night where he will be laying out the details of his executive action to repair our broken immigration system.
Q Is that a thank-you to Zuckerberg?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry?
Q Was that a thank-you to Zuckerberg, announcing it --
MR. EARNEST: No, I think this was an opportunity for us to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. In under an hour, the video reached more than 1.2 million users on Facebook; 227,000 people have viewed it and another 12,000 people have shared it. So this is a pretty effective way of the President communicating with the American public about his intention to try to take the steps that he believes are necessary to fix as much of the broken immigration system as is possible.
The President also mentioned in that video that he intends to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday. He'll be speaking at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. Many of you have been to Del Sol High School because you covered a speech that the President gave there back in January of 2013, where he laid out the principles that he believes should be incorporated into any sort of bipartisan compromise, common-sense immigration reform proposal.
You’ll also recall the United States Senate passed such a proposal in bipartisan fashion in the summer of 2013. And we've been waiting ever since for House Republicans to block their opposition and allow that piece of legislation to come up for a vote in the House.
One last thing I'll mention before I get to your questions is, prior to delivering the speech tomorrow night, the President will be hosting a dinner tonight at the White House for some Democrats from the House and Senate to talk through this immigration executive action he’s preparing to take, as well as a couple of other priorities that he sees on the horizon.
So, with all that, we've got a lot to talk about. Darlene, I'll let you begin the conversation here.
Q Thank you. I think Wendell might have stolen a little bit of my thunder here, but --
MR. EARNEST: Oh, well, good. (Laughter.) Wendell has a tendency to do that.
Q Can you just explain a little bit about why the President is going the route of a primetime address to announce what he’s going to do on immigration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is interested in including as many people across the country in this broader debate about fixing our broken immigration system. And as I mentioned before, there is a bipartisan proposal that was already passed in the Senate, that we've been waiting for more than a year for House Republicans to allow to come up for a vote. We're confident that if that legislation were voted on in the House of Representatives, it would pass with bipartisan support.
So now that Republicans in the House have indicated an unwillingness to drop their opposition, and they’ve also indicated -- or refused to indicate any sort of willingness to bring up immigration reform legislation in the next Congress, the President has decided it's time to move forward. And the President wants to talk to as many Americans as possible about how he intends to move forward.
And 8:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening is an opportunity for people who are sitting in front of their televisions or sitting in front of their tablets or in front of their smartphones to hear directly from the President about what he’s decided and how and why he wants to move forward.
So that explains the reasoning for tomorrow’s time frame.
Q Do you have any of the names of the lawmakers who’ve been invited to dinner tonight? Who’s coming?
MR. EARNEST: I do have that list. It’s about 18 members from the House and the Senate. We'll get you that full list at the conclusion of the briefing.
Q Both parties or just one?
MR. EARNEST: Just Democrats. That’s what I said at the beginning of the briefing.
Q And then yesterday you said that legal opinions for justifying what the President is going to do, that that would be released. Will that be released tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: There will be some material related to the legal justification for the President’s executive action that will be released tomorrow. And we'll have an ample opportunity to discuss that.
What I will point out -- and maybe we'll have the opportunity to talk about this a little bit more in the briefing -- is I think that you will find that it's consistent with actions taken by Presidents of both parties to deal with the immigration system. Presidents from Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes took executive action to deal with what they characterized as some problems with the broken immigration system, and they took some steps unilaterally, using the authority that's vested in the executive branch to try to solve some of those problems. And what you’ll see in terms of the President’s announcement will be generally consistent with that exercise of executive authority.
Q And so there’s the speech tomorrow night. Then he goes to the high school on Friday. Will there be more stops by the President to sort of sell this, if you will, maybe next week? Is Thursday and Friday the extent of it, or will there be more stops with the President talking about this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do anticipate that we'll be having a number of -- a rather lengthy discussion about this decision. And the President, I say in all sincerity, is looking forward to this debate. The President feels very confident both in the steps that he’s taking -- he also feels very confident in knowing that these steps are going to be good for the country; that despite some of the concerns that have been raised by Republicans, we know that these steps are going to strengthen national security, they’re going to strengthen security at the border, they are going to strengthen our economy, and they will do something to address a lingering problem, which is the millions of people who currently live in this country who can come out of the shadows, can get right with the law -- they can pay their taxes, they can go to the back of the line, but also become fully contributing members of communities, large and small, all across the country. And this is an important step that will have a pretty profound impact on the lives of millions of people who live here.
And we'll have an opportunity over the course of the next couple of days, obviously, to talk about this in more detail. But I certainly would not rule out that in the coming weeks, the President would take additional trips or host other events to continue talking about these very important issues.
Q If what the President wants is comprehensive reform, which requires bipartisan action on the Hill, why wouldn't he invite Republicans, or some Republicans, for dinner and talk to them about it, too?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Roberta, sadly, if it were only dinner that was required to get Republicans to act in bipartisan fashion, than we would have passed bipartisan compromise immigration reform legislation quite some time ago. You’ll recall that the President convened a lunch just two weeks ago where he invited Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate to come and talk to him about a range of priorities, including immigration reform.
So tonight’s dinner will be another opportunity to talk about immigration reform -- certainly not the first opportunity, and it won't be the last.
Q Is he worried about some Democrats being nervous about this move and siding with Republicans on whatever Republicans decide to do to try to stop it?
MR. EARNEST: I think the short answer to your question is no. The longer answer to your question is I do think that there is -- again, once we have an opportunity to talk about some of the details related to the executive action that the President has chosen to take it will become clear that there is a solid legal foundation for the President taking those actions.
And, again, we do anticipate that there will be Republican opposition to what the President announces. But the President -- it was pretty clear when he talked about this -- as he mentioned at the news conference that he hosted in Burma, he noted that we shouldn’t allow disagreement over a single issue to become a deal-breaker over every issue. And I think this is a pretty good example. We shouldn’t allow disagreements over immigration to prevent us from finding common ground where it may exist on other issues. And I think the fact that the President signed a bipartisan child care bill in the Oval Office, a ceremony that was attended by Democratic and Republican legislators, is an indication where there’s common ground we should act on it.
Q How worried is he, and the White House, about this sparking a shutdown or some kind of defunding action by Republicans?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we've seen pretty definitive statements from Republican leaders in both the House and Senate indicating that they would not shut down the government. And I take them at their word.
Q Yesterday we heard Cecilia Muñoz a couple of times say that the President will go as far as he can under the law. Obviously we don't know exactly what’s going to be in this, but would you stand by that? And has the President decided to go as far as he can under the law?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we will have an opportunity to talk about that a little bit more. I think it is fair to say that what the President asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to do is to examine what was in the law and to compile -- or at least formulate a strategy for maximizing the authority that is vested in the executive branch to try to address as many of these problems as possible.
There may be some people who, based on their own reading of the law, believe that the President could have done more. That's why I would hesitate to sort of use the formulation that you repeated there. But I do think that by any measure, upon reviewing the actions that the President has chosen to take, an impartial observer would conclude that the President has sought to maximize the use of his authority to try to solve these problems. And frankly, I think that's what the American people expect the President of the United States to do -- to use every element of their authority that's available to solve problems.
Q And to use a more -- you mentioned sort of the way I originally formed the question is kind of broad. To use something more specific, if the President had wanted or does want to expand this to the parents of DREAMers, from the review that was done -- and you know the results of that large-scale review
-- does that fit under the law? So we're not talking about what the President is going to do, but does that one element fit within his bounds under the law?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do want to reserve comment on any of these proposals that have been floated so far until the President has had the opportunity to make his announcement. And then we can spend some more time delving into what the President chose to do and what was the legal justification for doing so, and whether or not legal justification may have existed for him to take other steps. We can talk about that a little bit more easily once the full complement of the President’s proposal has been laid out.
Q Got it. And what the President will announce tomorrow night, will that be able to survive attempts from members of Congress to defund certain elements? I mean, do you think it's defund-proof in any way, or is it still going to be susceptible to those kinds of actions of Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we'll have to see what Republicans choose to do. I do, however, feel confident that there is strong support on Capitol Hill for addressing many of the problems that the President hopes to solve by using executive authority. But we certainly anticipate that we'll have a robust debate about these issues, and I don't anticipate -- again, based on the public comments of Senator McConnell and others -- that there’s going to be a government shutdown that results from this.
Q And lastly, already -- again, we know that it hasn’t been announced and you can't get into details, but already some groups are coming out and saying it doesn’t go far enough. So how do you respond to that ahead of it even being announced?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sure you could comb through your inbox and find some right-wing groups saying that the President has already gone too far. And so I guess there are equal offenders on both sides of the aisle there who are commenting on a proposal that none of them has seen. So, like I said, we'll have plenty of opportunity to debate these issues once the President has made an announcement.
Q Josh, can you tell us what will be the implementation date attached to the President’s executive action?
MR. EARNEST: We'll have more details on the implementation once the proposal has been rolled out tomorrow.
Q Can you talk about the President’s efforts to implement this through DHS and how long it will take? DACA took about two months, I think, roughly, to implement. How long is the implementation phase that's needed?
MR. EARNEST: Once we can look at the proposals that the President has laid out we can talk about the implementation of this.
Q What kind of briefings is the White House having for lawmakers, and maybe the business community that would be very interested in their ability to hire or to employ?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as many of you know who have been covering this closely, the White House has been engaged in a wide range of conversations as the President has been considering what steps to take. And those conversations have been rooted in primarily helping the White House to have a clear understanding of how specific decisions might have an impact on specific communities or, in some cases, even specific businesses.
So there is a desire to have that kind of understanding, and a result, there have been a number of conversations that have been convened by members of the President’s staff to discuss some of these issues. There are a number of conversations that are ongoing today and will continue tomorrow related to communicating to lawmakers and other interested parties in Washington, D.C. about what the President has decided. But the one place where people can expect to get a detailed rundown on the President’s proposal will be in the context of the speech the President will deliver tomorrow.
Q And lastly, when we get briefed or we get information, will there be budgetary numbers attached to it? Will we be able to understand tomorrow what the projected costs or budgetary effect will be?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know if those numbers will be produced, but you certainly are welcome to ask about them. (Laughter.) So we'll see if we can get you some answers.
Q Josh, would the President veto a government funding bill that included a provision to prevent him from taking this action?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly would not be a proposal that the President would support, obviously. But I think we would evaluate these individual proposals on the merits before we made a final decision. So we'll see. I think it will also depend a little bit on what Republicans would choose to do in that situation as well.
Q So I just want to be sure I've got this straight, because there’s been a lot of talk of Republicans saying that they would fund the government but not allow this to go forward, I mean, using that as the leverage. So you don't rule out the President signing into law something that would undo the very thing he’s going to announce tomorrow night?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that seems -- I think we'll have to sort of evaluate for ourselves what sort of proposals Republicans put forward, so I wouldn't want to hazard a guess at this point. But it won't surprise you to hear proposals that are floated like that certainly would not be among the kinds of proposals we’d support.
Q Senator Ted Cruz is already reacting to this. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Let me guess.
Q He says that the Republican Senate that will be sworn in in January, if the President goes forward with this action, should not confirm a single nominee, executive or judicial, outside of vital national security positions so long as the illegal amnesty persists. What would be your reaction to Senator Cruz?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I would merely say is that the President talked a lot over the last couple of weeks about the lesson that he drew from the last midterm election, and it's the President’s view that the American people were interested in their representatives in Washington, D.C. making progress on behalf of the American people. And that doesn’t mean folding on principle, but it does mean trying to find common ground and putting the interests of the nation ahead of partisan political ambition or political interests.
And that certainly is a message that the President has taken to heart, and we hope that Democrats and Republicans will do the same.
Q So, again -- and I know that this has been addressed here, but given exactly what you said there about the message that voters were sending in the election, doesn’t it send the wrong message to have the President bring only Democrats here tonight to talk about what he’s going to do? I mean, you said you hope that this does not -- that this action would not foreclose the possibility of Congress acting to do something more broadly in a bipartisan fashion. So why not start here? Bring Republicans in and say, this is what I'm doing, here are the details, and I know you don't approve of how I'm doing it but let’s try to work together on something else.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn't rule out those kinds of conversations occurring. But, Jon, we've had any number of countless conversations with Republicans, both in the -- mostly in the House, but also in the Senate prior to the passage of the Senate bill, trying to find areas where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate succeeded in that effort, and there were 14 Senate Republicans who joined just about every, if not every, Democratic senator to support a common-sense proposal.
We would like to see the House operate in similar fashion. They’ve had almost a year and a half now to do exactly that. And they would if that bill were allowed to come up for a vote. But the House Republican leadership has concluded that they don't want that bill to come up for a vote, probably because they oppose it and fear it would pass if the House did vote on it.
So you could describe the people who are having dinner with the President as Democrats -- that would be true. You could also describe them as people who are genuine supporters of common-sense immigration reform -- that would also be true. And that would be the principal topic of discussion at dinner. We should not, however, allow disagreement over this issue to be a deal-breaker over all the others, including the appointment of highly qualified professional to serve in important roles in government.
Q John Boehner has said publicly many times, other Republicans as well, that the President taking this action would poison the well not only in terms of immigration reform in this next Congress, but in terms of a whole range of other issues. In other words, it will make cooperation with the White House very difficult on issues far beyond immigration. I'm told he also sent that message directly to the President when they had lunch here. Does the President take John Boehner at his word when he says that the President taking this action will poison the well on a whole range of issues?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, I think you highlight what I think is a pretty stark difference in approach between the House Republican leadership, at least, and those of us who work here for the Democrat President. We've seen House Republicans pass 40, 50, 60 different measures to defund or repeal Obamacare, as they call it. And the fact is it would be easy for the President, after maybe even the fourth or fifth time, to say, well, look, if you guys are just going to be so focused on defunding Obamacare then there’s no reason that we can cooperate or compromise or get anything done for the American people.
There is no suggestion by me or anybody else who works at the White House that repeated efforts by Republicans to repeal the President’s signature initiative was somehow poisoning the well. We just chocked it up to a mere difference of opinion. Now, that difference of opinion happens to rest on a piece of legislation that has ensured that millions of people have gotten health care, that we've slowed the growth in health care costs, and a bunch of patient protections that are pretty popular with the American public.
So we can have legitimate differences of opinion -- and I'm not disagreeing that those differences of opinion exist. They obviously do. The question is, what are you going to do in reaction to them? And the reaction here is we're not going to allow those differences of opinion to interfere with our efforts to try to find common ground.
Q But what I'm asking is, does the President believe John Boehner when he says that if you go forward and take this executive action we will not be able to work with you not just on immigration but on a whole range of other issues, that it will poison the well? Does he believe the Speaker when he says that?
MR. EARNEST: I think that the President always takes the Speaker at his word, but I think the President also is willing to allow the Speaker to change his mind.
Q Following up on that, is the President -- let’s say that Speaker Boehner doesn’t change his mind and says that this is a deal-breaker for a host of other issues -- and I realize that's the wrong approach that you feel to take, but if that is the case, is this immigration reform that the President is so intent on doing tomorrow worth it? Is it a big enough issue as far as legacy, as far as all of the goals of this administration -- is it worth that gamble? Is it worth that risk?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jared, this is something I've said before, but let me sort of pose it to you again. This is the way that the President sees it, that sitting before him right now is a pretty fundamental question: Right now we've got bipartisan legislation that passed through the Senate; we have House Republicans who have blocked it for more than a year and a half, who have indicated that they’re going to block it through the rest of the year, and have also indicated -- in answering a question from one of your colleagues -- that they’re not really willing to commit to bringing it up next year. So the President sits at his desk wondering, should I wait interminably for Republicans to take an action that they say they oppose, or should I use all of the authority that the American people have elected me to exercise to make progress for the American people in a way that would be good for our national security, in a way that would be good for strengthening security at the border, in a way that would be good for job creation, in a way that would be good for economic growth, in a way that would good for middle-class families, in a way that would be consistent with our values as a nation of immigrants -- that when you sort of stack up all of the pros and cons, there, I think that this is one of those decisions -- the President often says that as the President of the United States, only the tough decisions actually reach his desk. This might be the one exception.
Q But isn't one of the cons at least the threat of serious inaction when it comes to nominations, when it comes to a budget, when it comes to a host of other issues that certainly are important to both Republicans and the President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess that is predicated on at least a premise that Republicans have been exceedingly cooperative with the administration when it comes to the budget and nominations and other things too. So it may just be a difference in degree here, not in substance.
Q When you formulated these actions, did you do some kind of analysis on how many illegal immigrants you thought would come out of the shadows to take advantage of this temporary relief?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I anticipate we will be able to do once you see the proposals tomorrow is to talk to you a little bit about the number of people who could be or would be affected by this.
Q I’m actually asking a slightly different question -- not so much how many could be, but how many are willing to do something -- in other words, identify themselves as illegal, which is what coming out of the shadows is, knowing that the next President could take this temporary deportation relief away from them and deport them. I’m just saying it’s a risk. And I'm wondering if you --
MR. EARNEST: That's true --
Q -- considered that.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly is something that was considered when the President made his announcement about DACA, about deferred action for childhood arrivals. And this was an analysis that was done -- about the population of people who would be affected by that decision. There was a discussion about the number of people who were likely -- I think they call it a take-up rate, the number of people who would make themselves available to benefit from this decision. And I would expect that a similar analysis would be conducted in this instance as well. But we’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.
Q Can I ask a question on a completely unrelated topic?
MR. EARNEST: Of course.
Q You might have been asked this in the past. It’s a real segue.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q What is the administration’s position on lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil? I mean, there is a ban on it since the 70’s. I'm wondering what is --
MR. EARNEST: This feels a little like a pop quiz. (Laughter)
Q No, I mean I seriously don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
MR. EARNEST: Just to make sure that I get it right, why don’t we get back to you. I can do that before the end of the day today. Okay.
Q I was really struck by your first answer to Jonathan’s first question.
MR. EARNEST: Is that a compliment? (Laughter.)
Q It sounded like when you were saying -- Jonathan was asking you, well, hey, if there’s legislation defunding this, would you veto it, and you were kind of saying, well, we'll see exactly how it's written. It sounds to me like what you're saying is this is the order, but we’d be willing to negotiate with Republicans over the scale and scope of this order short of them passing new immigration legislation. Am I fairly interpreting your response? Because otherwise why would you say, we'll wait and see?
MR. EARNEST: Mostly because I didn’t want to comment on a hypothetical, so I didn’t want to sort of rule anything out. Obviously we would take a very dim view of any efforts by Republicans to try to curtail the President’s executive authority using a rider on a budget proposal.
Q So let me then propose --
MR. EARNEST: That said.
Q -- the question straightforwardly. Is there room here, after the Republicans scream and cry about this, for them to come back with you and say, well, we're not going to pass legislation, but we might do this for you if you would scale back the order a little bit in this way or that way, or add this or add that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President is always not just open but interested in conversations with Republicans who have a genuine interest in trying to make progress on the kinds of priorities that the President has identified and that the American people support.
Q So it is open to negotiation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we're certainly open to conversations. Does that mean that we’d be -- like I said, I can't imagine a scenario where the President would be interested in curtailing his own authority in a way that didn’t have the kinds of positive --
Q This wouldn't be curtailing your authority. It would be curtailing your use of your authority, that you felt you always had the discretion --
MR. EARNEST: That's true. This is a difficult one, principally because it's a hypothetical situation. So let me just say I think the one thing that I can say that's rooted in fact and will continue to be true is that we're always going to be open to conversations with Republicans who have a genuine interest in trying to strengthen or improve on policy priorities that the President has identified and the American people support.
Q Josh, following up on that line of questioning, just so I understand what the priorities are -- because it's, yes, a hypothetical in a general sense, but it may actually not be that hypothetical. If Republicans put a rider on a continuing resolution in which a lot of other very important funding mechanisms for the government -- Ebola, ISIS, everything else -- are there, and this action is the one item that jeopardizes all the rest, which is the President’s more preferred priority?
MR. EARNEST: Well, if an eventuality like that does occur, then we’ll have ample opportunity to examine it and debate it and discuss it. And if that happens, I’m sure we will. I’m not going to weigh in on it from here, though.
Q Because by the President’s own timing, he intended to do this, made a public promise to do this in September, and then delayed it, signaling to everyone that the timing of this is completely fluid, it is discretionary, it is at the President’s discretion.
MR. EARNEST: That’s right.
Q So in that sense, putting it up against a continuing resolution and a government shutdown scenario is also a discretionary decision of the President’s. It seems like he is intentionally putting it right next to these other things. So I’m just wondering if that’s a signal he’s trying to send that this is more important than anything else that has to get done before the President and Congress wrap up this legislative year.
MR. EARNEST: That’s not the intent. The fact of the matter is, Major, we’d have been happy if Congress had actually passed a budget last year when they were supposed to, as opposed to just moving forward with this continuing resolution that kicked the can to the middle of December. So, again, this is not an effort to provoke a standoff here. In fact, the fact that Republicans have refused to act on immigration reform is why we are where we are anyway.
Q All I’m saying is that if he’d done it in September then you’d had a CR in late September. I mean, it is -- by your choosing, they are closely aligned with one another, these two things now, by the President’s own choice.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, it was Congress’s choice to pass a CR that only extended the budget through December 11th.
Q A bipartisan decision.
MR. EARNEST: I guess, are both parties responsible for the fact that both of these things are happening in relative close proximity? Probably. But again, regardless of when the President had decided to move forward with this action, I’m confident that there are plenty of senators who would have found a way to raise a raucous about this, using legislative process. And I’m sure that will occur this time, too. But I think that would have happened regardless of which season of the year that this decision had been announced.
Q I think you just told Mike that in that context, this authority is negotiable within a conversation about keeping the government open. Is that fair?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t want to leave you with that impression. Again, that was sort of a hypothetical scenario about would the President negotiate. That would, A, assume that Republicans are willing to negotiate, after we just spent a lot of time talking about how they’re not going to be willing to negotiate because the President took this action.
So I don’t want to go too far down this hypothetical road. I will just say, as a practical matter, a couple of things. One is, the President is always open to conversations with Republicans. And two, he’s always open to those conversations when they are in pursuit of strengthening policies that he thinks are good for the country and that the American people support.
Q And a very simple, perhaps blockheaded question, which I sometimes come up with: Is there something the President signs? Is this a new order? Does it have a number attached to it? Or is it something in which he merely communicates to his bureaucracy a set of guidelines that implement authorities in a different way?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have more to explain about this tomorrow. It’s a legitimate question to ask. But once the President has made these decisions, we can talk a little bit more -- once the President has announced these --
Q You must know what the mechanics are.
MR. EARNEST: Let me just clarify -- once the President has announced these decisions, then we can be in a better position to talk about how they are effectively implemented.
Q You can’t even explain the mechanics of it?
MR. EARNEST: I can, once the proposal has been laid out. I don’t want people to read into the description of the mechanics and assume that they know something about what the President has decided.
Q I believe you suggested a couple of times now that one of the goals of the President is to encourage people to come out of the shadows with this executive order. It was my understanding that the way to do that was the path to citizenship that Republicans call amnesty and object to. So given that -- I think the President has made clear that he cannot offer people that within an EO. Do you really expect this order to encourage people to come out of the shadows? And how so?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, once the President has rolled out exactly what he proposes to do, then we can have a discussion about what that intended effect would be.
Q Well, then let me ask you this: Is it possible that the path to citizenship Mr. Obama insisted be part of a comprehensive immigration reform is not necessary to lure people out of the shadows?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss this once the President has made clear what exactly he intends to do.
Q So if he’s meeting tonight with these Democrats, are we to assume that this is a done deal, the decisions have been made, and it’s not likely to change between now and when he speaks to the American people tomorrow night?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding that there continue to be a couple of lingering policy decisions that have to get locked down. But for all intents and purposes, the President will be ready to move forward when he gives his address tomorrow evening.
Q Are those related to legal questions? Or is he in some way waiting to hear what the Democrats’ reaction to it is tonight?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I see what you’re asking now. I think I may have misunderstood your first question. I would anticipate that over the course of the dinner, the President will have a robust opportunity to speak to them about the decisions that he’s made and to communicate to them what impact he hopes that they those decisions will have. I would not anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of horse trading, or negotiating, or back-and-forth in the context of the dinner.
A lot of this -- the vast majority of these decisions have been made. There are still some details to be locked down, but this is more of an opportunity for the President to share his thinking with those who share his values on these issues, not really a negotiating session.
Q Can you give us a little sense of his thinking in terms of the sell he has to make? Our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that 48 percent of people disapprove of executive action on immigration; only 38 percent approve. Now, there is a pretty wide disparity in terms of Republicans versus Democrats, but clearly, almost half the people don’t think he ought to do this. So can you tell us a little bit about the formulation of the case that he’s going to make and how high the hill is that he has to climb?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll say a couple things about that, Chris. I think the first is that -- I didn’t see the exact wording that was included in the poll, but if the wording was something along the lines of, do you believe that this is a policy problem that should be fixed with legislation rather than executive action, then it sounds like you may have called the presidential cell phone, because he would probably answer that poll in the same way as, it sounds like, a plurality of Americans did, which is the President believes that Congress should step forward and take the steps that are necessary to fix our broken immigration system. But they haven’t. And so that is --
Q “Do you approve or disapprove of the President taking executive action on immigration, or do you not know enough to have an opinion at this time?”
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President clearly has an opinion. (Laughter.)
Q He probably approves.
Q I don’t think he got the call.
Q What was that number?
Q Sorry -- the President’s cell phone. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Oh, exactly. I’ll get that to you later. (Laughter.)
So I think the point is the case that the President will make is that we have seen that Congress has not acted, and so the question is, should the President use the authority that’s vested within the Constitution, vested with the presidency, to try to address some of these problems. And the President I think pretty unequivocally believes that the answer to that question is that he should take the steps that are necessary to try to solve some of these problems.
Q But obviously, he also thinks he needs to make his case to the American people.
MR. EARNEST: No question that he needs to explain that to the American public. And some of that explanation needs to involve, what are the consequences for the actions that he’ll be announcing; are there benefits associated with our national security and border security, and our economy and job creation.
The President will -- and all of us will be spending quite a bit of time talking about that not just tomorrow but for the days and weeks ahead.
Q Because he knows that he has a tough job to make this case?
MR. EARNEST: I think because he feels like he has an obligation, as the President of the United States, to explain to the people who elected him precisely why he’s taking the actions that he is taking.
Q Thank you. Is there some political mischief part of the calculation here? In other words, will Republican -- the base of the Republican Party become so incensed in your calculation that they’ll just, after their big victory, just drive the wagon train right off the cliff instead of talking impeachment and shutting down the government? Is that part of the calculation here, and the timing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, are you suggesting that would be the first time that they would do that?
Q Well, certainly this will incite them further.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the intended audience for this message is the American people, and the President is hopeful that the American people will carefully consider exactly the steps that he has announced that he’s going to take. He’s hopeful that the American people will carefully evaluate the consequences for the steps that he’s planning to take. And I think if people do that, I think the vast majority of Americans will share his view that these are steps that he should take, that these are steps that, on par, are good for the country, and that these are steps that if Congress were to take them and essentially make them permanent, that they should supersede any sort of executive action that the President has taken.
So we look forward to having this conversation. It’s an important one.
Q I realize you ploughed this ground a lot yesterday, but I’d like to come back to -- now that we have the concrete schedule here. On a number of occasions, the President has said that he couldn’t act legally without Congress. Notably last year, in the San Francisco speech, where he was heckled, he said he couldn’t violate the law, he had to work with Congress. How do you square that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as it related to the hecklers, they were suggesting that the President should stop all deportations, and that was sort of the thrust that the President suggested he needs to follow the law. And that’s true. And that’s why the White House feels an obligation to fulfill your desire to understand the legal foundation that the White House will be using as the President moves forward with these executive actions.
Q I think it was said in the context of DACA, why couldn’t he do the same thing that he did for DACA for others, to correct or to somehow lessen the spike in deportations that was seen at the outset of this administration.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, in terms of the steps that the President may take, we’ll have an opportunity to evaluate those tomorrow.
Q And I know that Alexis asked this, but I’d just like to press down a little bit. Are you considering an implementation date sometime after the Republicans take control of Congress in order to give them a chance to perhaps move the legislation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just say, as a general matter, to you and Alexis, that the kinds of proposals that the President is talking about are not the kinds of things that you flip a switch and start the next day. But we’ll have an opportunity to discuss what this process of implementation looks like once we have the proposals in front of us tomorrow.
Q Will there be a date certain?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have more on this tomorrow.
Q A question for you on the address. It’s clear he’s not going to be able to cover or protect 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, but in his address tomorrow to the nation, will he have a message for those who will be left out? What is the next step for them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there are a couple of things -- and again, I don’t want to prejudge what the President may have decided here, but I think the President does want to send a pretty forceful case that’s rooted in our nation’s values that the strength of this country comes from our diversity, and that diversity largely comes from the decision that people made generations ago to come to this country and to bring their talents and skills to building this country and creating a place where their family and their community could not just survive but actually thrive.
And talking about those values will be an important part of the speech. And I think that is -- that hearing the American President talk about those values in such personal terms I think will be part of the message that the President hopes everyone will receive. And that will certainly be part of it.
But again, after you’ve seen the speech, or at least the text of the speech, you’ll be able to evaluate for yourself which part of it you believe would resonate with people who may not be directly affected by these actions.
Q Also, Speaker Boehner has just put out a statement saying that if he does go ahead with executive action he will have cemented his governing with lawlessness. However, others have said that it isn’t necessary for the President to take this action; maybe to push Congress to go ahead and approve some type of immigration reform. Is that the purpose of him -- part of it, of taking this step and taking executive action in trying to protect -- or fix what he says is wrong with the immigration system?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll say a couple things about the quote. I happened to see that, too. I mean, the thing that -- there are a couple of things that stuck out to me. The first is -- again, we’ll have ample opportunity to discuss the legal basis for the President’s executive actions once he’s announced them. We’ve heard this kind of rhetoric about lawlessness from House Republicans for some time. I know that their most recent statement referred to “Emperor Obama.” The fact of the matter is the President is somebody who’s willing to examine the law, review the law, and use every element of that law to make progress for the American people. And if that is something that Republicans are critical of, then that’s maybe a criticism that the President wears with a badge of honor, I think.
The other part of the quote that I noticed was that the President taking this action would ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue. I think what’s ruining the chances for congressional action is the Speaker of the House who’s unwilling to bring up a bipartisan proposal for a vote. And frankly, that doesn’t have a lot to do with the President. That’s a responsibility that lies squarely on the desk of the Speaker of the House.
Q A couple days ago, John Podesta had a conference call on EPA regs, and it basically clearly, flat-out said that he didn’t think there was any way House Republicans were going to be able to stop them. Can you make a sort of a Podesta-esque statement about the immigration actions, that you don’t see -- the White House is confident, the President is confident Republicans in Congress are not going to be able to stop it?
MR. EARNEST: Not many people are able to exude the confidence of the senior administration official to which you referred. But let me say that I do retain plenty of confidence that the executive actions that the President will announce tomorrow will have the positive, intended effect that we intend, which is to say that we’re confident that there is a strong legal foundation for the President taking these actions, and we’re confident that even though Republicans object to it, that these are steps that will be fully implemented and will strengthen the economy, create jobs, strengthen our border security, strengthen our national security, and do the other kinds of things that the President believes are in the best interest of the country.
Q And that they won’t be able to stop him?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ll see what Republicans try. But there’s a lot of confidence that’s retained in these proposals by those of us working here at the White House.
Q I want to ask about two things. The first is -- I know that you talked a little bit about why the President is going to Las Vegas, but I know also that that’s obviously Senator Reid’s home state. There’s reports that he’ll be attending alongside the President. So I’m just wondering if this is maybe a public burying of the hatchet after the midterm elections.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that -- you’ve asked me a couple times about this. I guess you work at the Hill; you’re contractually obligated to care about these kinds of issues. (Laughter.) Let me just say that the President continues to value the strong working relationship that he has with Senator Reid. And in previous questions about this, I’ve sort of recited the litany of successful -- the litany of legislation that was passed successfully through the United States Senate because of the stewardship and leadership of Senator Reid. That’s been the view of everybody here at the White House up to and including the President, and that continues to be the view here.
So the President is looking forward to going to Leader Reid’s home state. And I haven’t actually heard whether or not Leader Reid will be able to attend. I just haven’t gotten the update on his schedule. But if he does, we certainly would be pleased to have him there.
Q And then I just wanted to ask about this -- in terms of a lot of actions or announcements from the White House in the last week or so -- there’s been the climate deal, this -- excuse me --
MR. EARNEST: Net neutrality?
Q Yes, exactly -- all of which seem to have really kind of revved up the President’s sort of Democratic base, liberal base. I know that the President spoke after the elections about how he was going to try to change things, work out compromise more. So I’m wondering how you kind of square a lot of announcements that have upset Republicans and revved up Democrats with that kind of new approach that you guys kind of said that you were going to undertake but haven’t yet.
MR. EARNEST: I think this goes back to a question -- I don’t know if it was Robert or someone else -- I think this goes back to the President’s philosophy here that we can’t allow a disagreement over a single issue to become a deal-breaker for every other one. And so, you’re right, the President has talked about things like net neutrality and making progress to cut carbon pollution, and even an announcement to reform our broken immigration system. At the same time, Justin, the President was in the Oval Office just a couple of hours ago signing a piece of legislation that had the strong support of Republicans. The President was pleased to do that.
I would note that in the context of signing that bill, the President also threw in the wastebasket, proverbially -- in the wastebasket an executive order that would have taken the kinds of steps that were already included in that legislation. That’s pretty good evidence of the President’s willingness to allow legislation to supersede any sort of executive action that he takes. That was true of this child care bill. It would also be true of any immigration reform legislation that was able to make its way through the Congress.
But the other point I want to make, Justin, is the President also did a couple of things that presumably Republicans would support, in addition to signing that bill. The President also spent a lot of time on his trip in Asia focused on trying to open up overseas markets for American goods and services. That’s something that the President believes is good for the country, it’s good for American businesses, it’s good for American workers.
He convened a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing with the leaders of countries that presumably would sign onto a TransPacific Partnership trade agreement. This is something that some Democrats support -- certainly not all of them. But we have seen a pretty enthusiastic reception from Republicans for this kind of proposal. So that would be an example of common ground that could be found in a way that sort of highlights how the President’s policy priorities do, at least in some areas, overlap with the policy priorities that Republicans themselves have identified as well.
Q Have there been any of those policy priorities that the President has communicated to Republicans that hadn’t existed before the election? So the things that you mentioned -- the TPP, for instance, or things that even though Harry Reid, for instance, doesn’t support, the President has for a long time now -- and so I’m wondering if, after the election, there’s been any change of policies or areas of compromise that the President has offered to Republicans that we hadn’t heard before the election.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think, Justin, I’ll answer that in a couple of ways. The first is, I think before the election, there were some pretty obvious areas of common ground that could be seized that haven’t been. So in some ways, we don’t have to go looking for new things. There are a bunch of things that are on the table that both sides support that we haven’t been able to make progress on.
A couple of examples beyond the trade example that I just cited -- the President, nearly two years ago now, laid out a pretty common-sense proposal for investing in early childhood education. This is something that very conservative governors across the country, Republican governors, have implemented in their states to great effect. Now, again, these are Republican governors that don’t have a lot to say that’s very nice about the President, I assume; certainly, there’s not a lot of policy agreement. But there is policy agreement on this issue that early investments in early childhood education can have a profound impact on the life of a child. And there’s a strong correlation between participation in a high-quality early childhood education program and lower rates when it comes to things like illiteracy or jail time or teen pregnancy. That’s a positive correlation and a good investment, and could potentially be a pretty fruitful area of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.
The second proposal that's gotten more attention is tax reform -- that both sides acknowledge that tax reform is needed; both sides agree that the tax rate could be lowered; both sides agree that there are at least some corporate loopholes that should be closed; both sides agree -- or at least some people on both sides agree that some of those revenues could be used to invest in infrastructure.
So there are a lot of details, and presumably, a lot of devils in a lot of those details, but there should be an opportunity for us to find some common ground and make progress for the American people in ways that, again, both sides acknowledge would be really good for the business environment and really good for the economy over the longer term.
So there’s plenty of areas for common ground, many of which were identified before the election. But if there is additional work that can be done to try to find new areas of common ground, the President and everybody here at the White House would stand ready to have those kinds of conversations, too.
Q Josh, a couple of “when” questions. When did all this come together on immigration? When did the President get all the advice he needed from the Attorney General and Secretary Johnson and decided to set this time?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I probably won’t get into a really detailed sort of look-back at all of this. But I can tell you that at the end of last week, the President was nearing a final decision. The President didn’t have an opportunity to spend much time working on this while he was in Asia, but after the President returned from that trip, the President has been meeting with his advisors and talking through some of these issues and making some decisions. And by the time the President steps to the podium at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow, I would anticipate that all the decisions will be locked down and made. And we’ll be in a position to talk about them in some more detail.
Q You said in one of the news conferences on the trip that the Attorney General had already, though, outlined to him the legal scope that could be contained in this order. So has he met with the Attorney General since he came back?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe that he has, no.
Q And the other “when” question is, exactly when -- is he going to sign this during the announcement tomorrow night, or in Las Vegas? When is he going to sign the order itself?
MR. EARNEST: What I would anticipate is that the President will make -- just deliver remarks, or deliver an address to the nation on Thursday evening. And then on Friday, he’ll give a speech at Del Sol high school in Las Vegas, and there will be the signing of the necessary paperwork in coordination with that event.
Q At the --
MR. EARNEST: In Las Vegas, yes.
Q So there is paperwork to sign?
MR. EARNEST: Well, if there is, that’s where it will be signed. (Laughter.)
Q Too late.
MR. EARNEST: John.
Q Thank you, Josh. I noticed when you talk about who is going to be at the dinner and you mentioned no Republicans -- you don’t mention --
MR. EARNEST: I think I mentioned they were all Democrats.
Q They’re all Democrats. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Again, glass half full over here, glass half empty over there. But that’s all right. (Laughter.)
Q But I want to know, in the whole process and discussion with members, has the President brought into the discussion Senator Angus King of Maine, who is neither Republican or Democrat but shares his position on immigration, however is very skeptical about executive action? I believe he told reporters that if John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had pursued civil rights the same way, it would have delayed the results for 10 years. Has he brought Senator King in?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there have been a number of discussions between White House officials and Senator King. He is somebody who has focused on this issue quite a bit.
Q And you’re aware of his criticism of the executive action?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not personally aware of that by having talked to him, but I’ve certainly read those reports about his comments.
I will say that he cited an interesting example when he cited President Kennedy and President Johnson. Those are examples of two Presidents who actually took executive action to grant parole to Cuban refugees here in this country. So again, an example of two Presidents who took executive action -- used their executive action to address problems that they perceived in the immigration system.
Q Thank you. To follow on Peter for a second, is it fair to say that the President was reading the recommendations while he was in Asia? Did he have some time to devote to this while he was traveling?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know that he had much of an opportunity while he was in Asia really to do that.
Q And now a theoretical question -- can the President do by executive action something that directly affects millions of people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ll find out tomorrow, I guess, won’t we?
Q Do you know if he has ever done that before? Or can you think of an example wherein the scope was that grand?
MR. EARNEST: You’re putting me on the spot a little bit. No, but we can get back to you if there are other examples like that that my colleagues who are watching this are suggesting that I should say right now.
I mean, in terms of these kinds of executive actions, there are things that the President has done that do impact -- so I’ve just thought of one off the top of my head there -- the President talked about this myRA proposal. This was the effort that the government could support private companies as they provide a retirement benefit to their employees. So these are accounts that -- somebody’s going to correct me if I’m wrong -- but there are at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that would be eligible for those kinds of accounts.
But we can certainly have somebody who’s more recently fluent in those executive actions that can walk you through the scope of some of those things.
Q I’m going to follow on your very first answer to Wendell. You said, announcing this on Facebook was effective because he reached 1.5 million people. You believe that --
MR. EARNEST: In the first hour. Pretty impressive, George, right?
Q -- you reached more people than if you had announced it to the wires, the networks and the press corps?
MR. EARNEST: The good news is that the wires and the networks and the press corps are all on Facebook. And I noticed that even one of the networks, shortly after the video was posted to Facebook, actually broadcast it on their network. So the good news, George, is that we don’t have to choose.
Q Josh, can I ask, Loretta Lynch is in town today. Has she been brought into these conversations yet? And also, do you expect this issue is going to come up in her confirmation hearings whenever they happen?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware that she’s been included in any of these conversations. But I would anticipate that she’ll get asked about it in the hearings and she can probably say definitively for us whether or not she was included. I don’t necessarily know in advance that she would bring this up proactively in the context of her hearings, but I suspect there may be some Republican senators in particular who would be interested in discussing this issue with her.
Q Has she and the President discussed what is planned at all? Was it in the interview that she had for the nomination?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I’m not aware of any of those discussions. But even if I were, I probably wouldn’t be able to talk about them from here.
Q Thanks, Josh. Some are saying that this won’t be a good start to reaching across the aisle with a new Congress, being that President Obama’s complained about the current Congress. So what message is he sending to the new Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what the message the President is trying to send to the new Congress is simply that were going to have our differences of opinion and we shouldn’t paper over those differences, but, again, we can’t allow disagreement over a single issue to become a deal-breaker over every issue; that Republicans are going to try to -- I’m confident in saying that in the new Congress, the Republicans are going to vote to defund Obamacare. The President is going to strongly disagree with that. And the President is going to take other steps that Republicans don’t agree with.
What the President has determined, however, is that he’s not going to allow those differences of opinion to prevent him from trying to find common ground with Republicans. And so that will be hard work. That’s not going to come easily, particularly for groups of people that have such starkly different views. But where that common ground exists the President remains committed to making the most of it.
Q And a follow-up on Christie’s question.
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q What executive actions that were taken in the past regarding immigration would involve millions of people like this upcoming one?
MR. EARNEST: There are a couple of them. President George H.W. Bush -- I believe this was -— I think this would have been-- I'm not sure what year this was, but I can look this up for you -- he expanded the family fairness program to cover more than 1.5 million unauthorized spouses and children. This represented about 40 percent of the undocumented population at the time.
And then there are other steps that have been taken including not quite a million people, but still a substantial number of people were affected. President Reagan provided relief to children whose parents were applying for legal status under the 1986 amnesty law, even though they themselves had been excluded from the statue. And, again, this is the family fairness program and it affected more than 100,000 families.
I referred to Kennedy and Johnson and their treatment of Cuban refugees. If you combine the efforts of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon to grant parole to Cuban refugees, more than 600,000 Cuban refugees were affected by that action.
So there is a pretty long track record of Presidents using their executive authority in a way that has significant consequences for a large number of immigrants in this country.
Q I guess this will be almost twice -- or more than twice as many.
MR. EARNEST: Well we’ll see tomorrow how many people are affected by it.
Jared, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Josh, in your answer to Fox Radio earlier you said that the President is sitting down, he’s got this in front of him, and the question in his mind is, should I act and do this. When the President meets with Democrats tonight -- I know that you’re loathed to give details about the policy -- but about the politics of it -- when he meets with Democrats tonight, is the message to them, I should have done this before the election? Or, aren’t you glad I waited until after the election to do this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, as you often hear me say here, I know that you guys view a lot of these things in the context of elections that are about to occur or recently occurred. The President, as it relates to this one, is really focused on the substance here. And I think that that focus will be shared by others who are attending the dinner.
I think they, like all of you, are pretty interested in understanding what the President has decided and why he decided to take the action that he did, and what the law said about the action that he’s prepared to take. And I think that will be the substance of the discussion at the dinner and it will be the substance of the discussion that we’ll have with all of you tomorrow as well.
Go ahead Jared.
Q Since Republicans aren’t in the room, though, I think that the President could potentially have a more candid conversation about the political impact. You don’t think that it’s going to come up at all? Is that what you’re saying to us, that you don’t think the politics of this is going to be at all a topic of conversation with the President and several Democrats tonight?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know -- I suspect the politics of this decision may come up, because there are clear political consequences for it. I think, as Chris and her poll might suggest, the President is taking this action because he believes it’s the right thing to do, not because the polls are telling him it’s an extraordinarily popular thing to do with people all across the country.
But saying that there is a discussion about politics is different than saying that there is a discussion about the election that took place two weeks ago. There’s a discussion about why the President thinks this is important. There may be some people who have concerns about what this says about the politics. But the President believes that all of these issues, particularly the potential for significant benefit for the country and for the economy and for our national security, trumps any concerns that anybody may have about the politics.
All right? Thanks a lot, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
2:13 P.M. EST