The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 02, 2014
Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/2/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Very festive mood in the briefing room today. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.
Let me do a couple of announcements at the top and then we'll go to your questions.
The President is looking forward this afternoon to visiting the National Institutes of Health, where he will meet with some of the men and women on the frontlines of the fight against Ebola.
In addition to the news you heard yesterday -- I'm sorry -- that you heard last week about the promising results of NIH’s Ebola vaccine candidate, this morning you saw tangible evidence of just how far we've come in our domestic and international Ebola response over the past few months. The administration announced today that we now have 35 medical facilities nationwide prepared to treat an Ebola patient. This is up from three just a couple of months ago. We've similarly increased the number of domestic labs capable of testing for Ebola from 13 up to 42, just as we've introduced new and enhanced screening and monitoring measures to further protect Americans here at home.
Of course, Americans won't be completely safe until we have ended the outbreak in West Africa, which is why we have also focused on stamping out this disease at its source. We now have some 3,000 American civilian and military personnel on the ground in West Africa, up from several hundred a few months ago. These brave men and women have been responsible for constructing Ebola treatment units, building a hospital for infected medical workers, training hundreds of health care workers to serve on the frontlines, and countless other response functions.
In addition, American leadership has helped to galvanize more than $2 billion in contributions from the international community. And in Liberia, where our response has been concentrated, we have seen promising results in the form of declining infection rates, indicating that our strategy is working.
And that is precisely why you’ll hear the President make the case today for Congress to swiftly fund the emergency request that the administration submitted last month. Virtually every initiative underway requires immediate additional funding to be continued or advanced. The President’s request would provide critical resources to build out our domestic facilities, take the next steps on Ebola vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, fund our vital Ebola response in West Africa, and strengthen global health security to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to the spread of Ebola in any other vulnerable countries, and to combat similar infectious disease threats.
So that is what you have to look forward to today. I have one other scheduling update, which is that on Friday, the President will meet with newly elected governors from across the country here at the White House to discuss the ways in which the administration can partner with states to promote economic opportunity for middle-class Americans. The President and the incoming governors will discuss how we can build on our growing economy by creating more jobs and ensuring that every American who works hard has an opportunity to succeed.
I understand that the Vice President will be participating in that meeting as well. The governors who participate, we're talking about the incoming governor of Alaska, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas. So that will be Friday afternoon.
Q Just those?
MR. EARNEST: Just those governors, that's correct.
Q What about Arkansas?
MR. EARNEST: Arkansas is not on the list that I have here, but if Governor-elect Hutchinson is able to make the trip we’d certainly find a seat for him at the table.
Nedra, do you want to get us started with questions?
Q Yes, please. Has the President settled on Ash Carter as the Defense Secretary nominee?
MR. EARNEST: I anticipated that -- (laughter) -- you or one of your colleagues might ask me about this. What I can tell you is not much. I don't have any personnel announcements to make today. But as soon as we're in a position to start making those announcements we'll be sure to let you know.
Mr. Carter is obviously somebody who has generated a lot of headlines today. He is somebody who has previously served the administration as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a position that he filled very ably. He was confirmed by the United States Senate into that position in September of 2011 by unanimous consent. So this is an indication that he fulfills some of the criteria that we've discussed in the past. He’s somebody that certainly deserves and has demonstrated strong bipartisan support for his previous service in government. He is somebody that does have a detailed understanding of the way that the Department of Defense works.
And I personally am a pretty strong advocate of people who have previously performed well in deputy roles being promoted to the top job. (Laughter.) That's been a recipe for success in filling previous personnel positions. (Laughter.)
But that said, I don't have an update at all on the process. I think it's for all these reasons that it's been widely reported that Mr. Carter has been on the short list. But in terms of where things stand in that process, I just don't have any additional information to share at this time.
Q Is anyone else on the short list? And would you describe him as the leading candidate? You seem to have a lot of nice things to say about him.
MR. EARNEST: Well, he is somebody who did serve -- has served the President and the American people well previously in this administration. But I don't have any additional insight to share with you about the process or other people involved in the process, or even any additional information about the timing of that process.
Q But there are reports out there saying that the President has selected him. Are those reports inaccurate?
MR. EARNEST: I've read those reports, but I can't comment on them at this point.
Q On Ebola, while the White House today is talking a lot about some of the progress that's being made, Doctors Without Borders is out saying that the international response has been slow and uneven. And they say the international community has come in and built team management structures, but they’re not providing the hands-on medical care that's needed on the ground. Does the President agree that that's a valid concern, and does he think the international community needs to do more to provide hands-on medical care?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen the precise statement that you're referring to, but I can say as a general matter that the administration, including the President, does believe that additional efforts are going to be required if we're going to stop this outbreak in its tracks in West Africa. There are still a lot of people in West Africa who are suffering. And as long as people are suffering from the Ebola virus, we know that they are at risk of spreading that disease.
While we believe, and continue to believe, that the likelihood of a widespread outbreak in the United States remains exceedingly low, that risk is not zero until we have stopped this disease in its tracks in West Africa. And that is why you're going to hear the President pretty forcefully advocate for additional resources that can advance the efforts that we've already undertaken to try to stamp out this disease in West Africa.
Q Josh, one of the ideas circulating up on the Hill is to pass a spending bill through September that leaves DHS at current levels as a way of getting at the immigration orders. Would the President sign legislation like this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Steve, you're right, that is one of many ideas circulating on Capitol Hill. I know that's something that Republicans have been talking about in a meeting that they convened on the House side earlier today. I don't have a specific reaction to that proposal other than to say that the administration believes that it's the responsibility of Congress to pass a full-year budget for the federal government. And that is what we would like to see them do.
We’d like to see them pass that full-year budget for the full government. That's not -- as I think I said yesterday, we're not asking them to do anything heroic. We're asking them to do their job. And that is a responsibility that has been given to the United States Congress by the founders of this country and we believe it's important for the Congress to fulfill that responsibility for a variety of reasons, including that Republicans themselves have observed that adding some consistency and some certainty to this process is good for the economy. It's good for people who are trying to make business decisions that they know that they don't have to worry about a shutdown of the government or a partial shutdown of the government.
So we're hopeful that Republicans will follow their own advice in that regard and pass a full-year budget for the full federal government.
Q Are you seeing the warning signs of another government shutdown looming in the next few weeks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are people who probably do a better job of reading the tea leaves, so to speak, of the Republican conference than I. But Senator McConnell, as I mentioned yesterday, was pretty declarative shortly after the election that there wouldn't be a shutdown. He obviously is somebody who is going to have pretty significant say over how this process works. So we certainly take some heart in Senator McConnell’s comments.
We also take some heart in the view that's been expressed by people in both parties that a government shutdown is not good for the American economy and a government shutdown, at least in the fall of 2013, was not good for the political prospects of Republicans. I don't think that's everybody’s view, but I think that is -- I feel confident in saying that's the majority view, at least of the majority of Republicans here in Washington. So I hope that that prevailing view will carry the day this time, too.
Q Hearing some of the testimony today for the House Homeland Security Committee that seemed to not bode well for Congress wanting to fund the immigration measure. I don't know if you read any of that testimony, but it seemed to be some -- at least a strong feeling as we've heard in some of the rhetoric prior.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I did not have a chance to watch that testimony firsthand. I did read some of the coverage of it this morning. I was not particularly surprised that people who we’re critical of the President’s announcement a couple of weeks ago reiterated that criticism in the context of Secretary Johnson’s hearing today.
But the fact is Republicans have long adopted the view that is contrary to the view of the vast majority of Americans that we shouldn’t reform our broken immigration system. They think that's a bad idea. The President happens to disagree, and that's why the President acted on his own within the confines of his authority to try to reform as much of the broken immigration system as he possibly could. That's the nature of the step that the President took about 10 days ago; that's what Secretary Johnson discussed on Capitol Hill today. And I'm not particularly surprised that there were some House Republicans who were critical of that effort. But, again, those House Republicans who had pretty negative things to say have a view of immigration reform that stands in stark contrast with the view that has been articulated by the President, the view that's been articulated by Senate Democrats, the view that's been articulated by some Senate Republicans, the view that's been articulated by business leaders all across the country, the view that's been articulated by law enforcement officials all across the country, the view that's been articulated by the Catholic bishops and leaders of the evangelical faith community in this country.
So the harsh words from House Republicans today may have earned them some ink and maybe even some coverage on cable television today, but it doesn’t change the fact that they, because of their views on this issue, remain pretty isolated from the American public.
Q For two days now we've heard you really kind of stridently push for the funding for Ebola. Does the administration feel like there’s any confidence in getting that? It just seems like you feel the need to really stress that.
MR. EARNEST: As I described a little bit yesterday, I think we have seen a recognition on the part of Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill that providing the necessary resources to deal with the Ebola outbreak and to ensure that we have a high level of readiness here in this country is a legitimate national priority. And we certainly are pleased that that seems to be a bipartisan view.
At the same time, even when it comes to issues like immigration reform, we've seen other things that people on both sides of the aisle have identified as a legitimate national priority that haven't made progress in the Congress. So this is an effort to make sure that we are continuing to remind people across the country and Democrats and Republicans in Congress that fully funding these programs that are improving our readiness here in this country and stamping out this Ebola outbreak in West Africa have the resources necessary to succeed. It's clearly in the best interest of the country and clearly in the best interest of the American people.
Q But it seems like you feel like there’s a chance that that won't happen. Do you feel like --
MR. EARNEST: There is a chance that won't happen. It would be a shame if it didn’t happen, particularly because we have seen expressions of support from Democrats and Republicans about how and why this should be a priority. So we're going to continue to work this, and obviously the President is going to spend some time talking about this at the National Institutes of Health later today.
Q Okay. And lastly, on Ferguson. Yesterday, when we did finally get the list of everybody in attendance, I noticed that there weren't any members of the Ferguson Police Department among the law enforcement. Any particular reason for that, why you wouldn't have included that department in particular?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President was interested in gathering stakeholders from across the country, not just one community. So I can't account for sort of who was not a participant in the meeting, but I can tell you those who did participate in the meeting I do think felt like it was a really important discussion, and even debate, in some instances, to have about the importance of building bridges and restoring some trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.
Q The administration didn’t feel like it was necessary to put somebody from that police department on there?
MR. EARNEST: No, that this is the kind of discussion that is taking place not just in Ferguson, but in communities all across the country. And I think the President was able to tap into that broader national sentiment in the context of this meeting even though it didn’t include law enforcement officials from Ferguson, Missouri.
Q Thanks, Josh. There are a couple of different tax extender proposals on the Hill right now --
MR. EARNEST: At least a couple.
Q At least a couple. The House is set to vote on a one-year package. The Senate Democrats are looking at a two-year package. Where is the White House on this? Would you support a shorter term, and do you have a preference?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have been in close touch with Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate to discuss some of these issues. Obviously last week we made it known to all of you and to all of them that the President took a pretty dim view of proposals that would shower significant tax benefits on well-connected corporations without providing much relief to working people in this country.
The President thinks that an approach like that is both unfair and bad economic policy. The President believes that the way that we can really strengthen our economy is to make sure that our economy is growing from the middle out, and we do that by investing in middle-class families and those who are trying to get into the middle class. And that's why we should be focused on policies that do exactly that.
Now, there are some policies that would benefit big businesses but in a way that would actually allow those businesses to create jobs and expand economic growth and opportunity in a way that would be good for middle-class families. So I'm not suggesting that there aren't some things that we can do that would be beneficial to some businesses in this country, but we need to make sure that we're really focused on the interests and concerns of middle-class families. That’s what’s most important both, again, because it's the most fair way for us to run the business of the American government; it also is the best way for us to strengthen the economy.
Q So would you veto a one-year package if that's what the House --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I didn’t bring my -- I didn’t walk out here today planning to issue any veto threats, so I don't think I'm going to. But we'll see what happens over the course of the rest of the briefing. I'm certainly not going to in response to your question.
We are going to evaluate the proposals that are being discussed on Capitol Hill. We're going to continue to participate in those discussions and we're hopeful that we’ll be able to come up with something that we believe is good for middle-class families.
Doug. Nice to see you today.
Q Thanks very much. Wendell is downstairs hacking up his lungs.
MR. EARNEST: I see. Thank you for sparing us all. (Laughter.)
Q You would not appreciate it.
MR. EARNEST: I hope Wendell gets well soon, though.
Q The House is expected to vote as early as next week on overturning the President’s executive action on immigration. If the Senate acts similarly, will the President veto?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have indicated that the President would strongly oppose any sort of legislative effort to undo the executive action that he announced about 10 days ago. The actions that the President is taking are well within the confines of the law and within the authority that he’s been given by the United States Constitution. They also are clearly in the best interest of the American people. We need to restore some accountability to our immigration system, and that's exactly what the President’s executive proposals would do. It would streamline our legal immigration system. It would also do a lot to bring millions of people who are already in this country out of the shadows, make them pay taxes, make them get right with the law.
And the fact is the closest thing we have to amnesty in this country is doing nothing, and that's exactly what House Republicans seem to be advocating.
Q Another subject, different question. As you know, this public interest group, this watchdog group, Cause of Action, sued the IRS last September, seeking all documents from the IRS, taxpayer information that may have been shared with the White House or with the executive branch. A federal judge last September ordered the IRS to turn over those documents by a deadline of yesterday, December 1st. Instead of turning over the documents, TIGTA sent a letter to this group, Cause of Action, saying in effect that they were not going to turn them over, they were going to withhold them because they’re privileged taxpayer information. And the letter to Cause of Action read in part: “All 2,043 pages of documents we have determined to be responsive were collected by the Secretary of the Treasury with respect to the determination of possible liability under Title 26 of the U.S. Code. These pages consist of return information protected by the U.S. Code. Because no such exceptions exist here, we're withholding them.”
Has the United States -- has the White House been given privileged taxpayer information by the IRS that should not have been shared?
MR. EARNEST: Doug, I can tell you that I am not familiar with the specific case that you're raising here. And that's not surprising to me. There obviously is some distance between the White House and the IRS because it's an independent organization that's responsible for collecting taxes, and it conducts that business outside the realm of any sort of political interference. And those are rules that we've adhered to pretty closely.
You're also citing a letter that was written by TIGTA, which is the inspector general, who also is somebody who acts independent of the administration. So I'd refer --
Q -- saying in the letter that the office of the Secretary of the Treasury prevented them from turning over the documents.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to the Treasury Secretary’s office for the explanation for why that may or may not be the case. I'm just not familiar with the specifics.
Q You're saying as a rule, the White House has never been offered privileged taxpayer --
MR. EARNEST: I can tell you that as a rule that the Obama administration has been very rigorous in following all of the rules and regulations that govern proper communication between Treasury officials and White House officials and the Internal Revenue Service.
Q Josh, I want to ask about something else that happened today in the Senate. You had some of your ambassadors confirmed after a long process. One of those, Colleen Bell, confirmed as ambassador to Hungary. If you can remind me, what are Colleen Bell’s qualifications for ambassador? Is it that she was a soap opera producer? Is it that she gave hundreds of thousands of dollars or helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama reelection campaign? Why was she chosen?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, I can tell you first that you're right, that the confirmation of these individuals to these important ambassadorial posts is long overdue and we certainly are pleased that the Senate has finally acted on them.
As it relates to Ambassador Bell, she is somebody who retains the confidence -- well, let me say it this way. Ambassador Bell has the President’s confidence that she will do an excellent job representing the United States and maintaining the important relationship that the United States has with the government and the people of Hungary.
Q But where does the President get that confidence? I mean, in her confirmation hearing, she couldn’t even name a single strategic interest the United States had with Hungary.
MR. EARNEST: Well, she certainly is somebody, again, that has had her own distinguished private sector career.
Q As a soap opera producer.
MR. EARNEST: Well, and as somebody who obviously has succeeded in the business world. And she is somebody that the President has confidence will be able to maintain our relationship with the government and the people of Hungary.
Q Can you tell me that the fact that she helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the President’s reelection campaign had nothing to do with her appointment? You can’t say that, can you?
MR. EARNEST: I can tell you that that’s not the reason that she was chosen. I can tell you that the reason that she was chosen --
Q -- a factor in the decision?
MR. EARNEST: Frankly, I was not part of this decision-making process, but I can tell you that the reason that she was chosen is because the President has complete confidence in her ability to represent the United States in that country.
Q And what does the President think overall of this practice? Obviously it didn’t start with him. There’s a long history of this -- of big donors to political campaigns getting rewards with plum ambassadorial posts. I mean, isn’t this the kind of practice that when he first came to Washington he came to do away with?
MR. EARNEST: Well, all I can say, Jon, as a general matter is that these ambassadors who are representing our country overseas have very important responsibilities. And these are responsibilities that the President, nobody here at the White House takes lightly. I can tell you that these individuals who have been recently confirmed to their post certainly don’t take those responsibilities lightly either. And we certainly are looking forward to Ambassador Bell being a -- moving to Hungary and getting down to the important work that she has in front of her.
Q Clearly the President’s long-term professional relationship, including Senate colleague, with Secretary of Defense Hagel was an important factor in his appointing him as Secretary of Defense. Will this criteria still hold with the President in terms of the next -- whoever the next Secretary of Defense nominee will be -- in terms of the President’s knowledge, the working knowledge of this individual and their long-term relationship, and his confidence in the individual?
MR. EARNEST: Well, J.C., certainly having a personal relationship with the President like Secretary Hagel does is beneficial to him in the role that he has had for the last two years. He’s been a part of a lot of very important decisions and he’s had to give some unvarnished advice to the President in some very difficult situations.
And having a personal relationship like that is helpful, but it’s certainly not a requirement, and there are a number of other individuals who have important positions in this government that did not have a previous personal relationship with the President -- they didn’t serve with him in the Senate, for example. So that is an indication that it certainly is a benefit but it’s not a requirement.
Q Josh, a couple Hill things. One on the Defense Secretary appointment -- I know you’re not ready to say who it is, we’ll keep guessing. But I do want to know -- there have been a lot of complaints from Secretary Panetta, from Secretary Gates, and maybe someday from the next secretary -- also from Secretary Hagel -- about the control from the White House. Can the next nominee expect less micromanagement as previous Defense Secretaries have felt?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, I do think that looking back -- I’m certainly not a scholar in this area but I do believe that if you sort of look back at previous administrations that there’s always some natural tension that exists between the Pentagon and the White House. The President is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief, so he obviously has a significant say over what kinds of things are happening over at the Department of Defense.
That said, I think the President has been proud of the service of the three previous -- or the three gentlemen who have served as the Secretary of Defense in this administration because they have fulfilled a very important responsibility in terms of running a large agency that has a significant impact on the core mission of keeping the American people safe. So the President is pleased with their work and the President has been proud of their leadership, but I think the kind of tension that you’re describing is not at all unique to this administration.
Q And Senator McCain has said since we got in here today that he is favorably inclined toward Ash Carter -- didn’t say he’d vote for him. How does that affect the nomination or the possibility of the nomination?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll just say as a general matter, when Mr. Carter was nominated to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense, he was confirmed with unanimous consent, which means that there wasn’t a single member of the United States Senate who stood up to object to his nomination so I think that is an indication that he is somebody who has succeeded in the past of winning strong bipartisan support for his leadership and government service, and that certainly is part of the criteria for whoever the next Secretary of Defense will be, but having previously served in government is not a requirement for this job.
Q And if I can piggyback on Cheryl. She asked if he would veto a one-year tax extender package. I want to ask the opposite way. Would the President sign a short-term extender package that has less of these business extensions in it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, we’re going to continue to work with members of Congress to examine what’s exactly included in these proposals. So in the same way I didn’t promise to veto anything when Cheryl asked, I’m not promising to veto anything when you’re asking either. But we’ll certainly continue to consult as a part of that process and we’ll see what comes out.
Q Josh, just following that line of questioning. Last week, you were able to articulate objections you had to what was emerging. There’s a House bill that’s on the website. It’s going to go to rules. Do you have objections to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the reason that we were able to express such a clear point of view rather strenuously is that it was the emerging outlines of that deal as it was being reported so clearly violated what the President believes is a core principle of his economic philosophy.
Q What you’ve seen this week would clearly violate it in the same way?
MR. EARNEST: Not necessarily. Again, I don’t want to prejudge the outcome here because this is legislation that, yes, has been posted but it was only posted last night and it’s still being reviewed. So I’m not in a position to --
Q No, I understand. Last week it wasn’t even posted and you were objecting to it.
MR. EARNEST: Right, again, because it was so clearly objectionable and so clearly a contradiction of this core economic --
Q I'm just trying to find where you guys are.
MR. EARNEST: Right, and what I can tell you is that I guess maybe you could interpret that because we’re not right out of the box forcefully promising to veto it. We don’t have as bad a view of it as we did this deal that was being discussed on Capitol Hill last week. The reason I think for that involves a couple of things. One is that there’s a significant difference between taking one element of a tax code and extending it for one year, and making it permanent. And that certainly is a significant factor as we evaluate the proposals that are being generated by both the House and the Senate. So we’re going to continue to consult with that process and we’ll see where we’re at.
Q -- favorably inclined?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think I would go that far. I think still reviewing is where I’d put it.
Q Is the process of choosing a Defense Secretary complete?
MR. EARNEST: Major, there is a lot of interest in this position, as there should be. I’m not asking names. I’m just saying is the process complete?
MR. EARNEST: I know, and there’s a lot of interest in the process, too.
Q As you constantly remind us, that that is a prerequisite to the ceremonial announcement and presentation. I’m just trying to find out --
MR. EARNEST: I’ve been right every time that I said that. (Laughter.)
Q If you can tell us if the process itself is complete.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any updates on the process. So I’m not in a position to give --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I know.
Q You can’t say one way or the other?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything to say about the process itself. When the President -- I guess the one thing I can say about the process is this: When the President is ready to announce a decision, we’ll make sure that all of you are there to hear it.
Q Has he reached a decision?
MR. EARNEST: Again, that’s part of the process that I’m just not ready to talk about.
Q Fair enough. Is the Ebola funding issue of sufficient significance that if it’s not included to the satisfaction of the President, that could jeopardize the entire omnibus being drafted for the remaining one year of the budget cycle?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. I will say -- I’ll describe it this way. Ensuring that we have the necessary resources to meet this important criteria, again, to ensure that we have the proper level of readiness here domestically and that we’re dedicating the necessary resources in West Africa to actually stamp out this outbreak is a top national security priority. The President has articulated that previously, that continues to be a top national security priority today, even if it is getting a little less media attention than it has over the last several months.
So I’m not prepared to issue a veto threat, but I am prepared to say that as the omnibus works its way through the process, we certainly have been in close touch with members of Congress to make sure that they understand that these resources for combatting Ebola should be included in the omnibus, obviously, and will be something -- will be an element of the omnibus package that we’ll be paying very close attention to.
Q Hoping you had a productive conversation with Katie before the briefing on the NDAA. The House has made it clear that it’s going to bring that forward later on this week, looking, hoping that it will be not amended in the Senate. Is that something you’re inclined to support as drafted?
MR. EARNEST: I did have the opportunity to talk to Ms. Fallon and a couple members of her staff about this issue this morning. There are a couple things I can say about it. This is something that administration officials have been working on for quite some time with their counterparts in Congress, both in the House and the Senate, with Democrats and Republicans. This has been a genuine bipartisan process. And that’s the way that this process has worked in the past and we’re pleased to see that that’s the way that it appears to be working again this year.
The nature of these kinds of bipartisan efforts, however, though, is that the legislation is essentially a compromise, which means that neither side gets everything that they want. And certainly in this instance we do not anticipate that the administration is going to be able to get everything that we would like to see included in this package.
As of this morning -- at least mid-morning, the details of this legislation had not been posted yet and we have not seen them -- the final details. We do have some insight about what might be there but I’m going to --
Q Are you encouraged by the direction?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. I mean, there -- let me actually just go one step farther to say that there are a couple things that we’re looking at that we anticipate will be positive, and a couple of things that we anticipate either won’t be in there or will be in there in a way that we find disappointing. When it comes to the positives, we do anticipate -- and we spent a lot of time this summer talking about ensuring that the Department of Defense had Title X authority, that they needed to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters. That is something that we’ve been working closely with Congress to be sure is included in this specific proposal.
We’ve also been working with members of Congress to ensure that some of the reforms to fight sexual assault in the military is also included in this proposal. I believe some progress has been made in that regard as well, and we certainly would welcome that progress. There are a couple of things in there that we are concerned about. The first is, as has been the case for the last several years, we do anticipate that there will be additional language in this legislation that will limit the President’s ability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That is something that we have been, frankly, pretty critical of in the past. If it’s included in there again, it’s something that we’ll be critical of again because, again, the President believes that --
Q Not sufficiently so to veto it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’re going to evaluate the whole package.
Q But in the past, I’m just saying.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, in the past we have gone ahead and signed legislation that included this language, even though we’ve registered our objections with this language at each turn.
The one last thing that I’ll say about this is the other thing that we have strongly advocated is the inclusion of some badly needed budgetary reforms at the Pentagon. These budget reforms have been strongly supported by both the civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon. And they have made the case that these budget reforms are necessary because it has a critical impact on the ability of our men and women in uniform to do their jobs safely and to keep the American people safe.
So we have advocated for the inclusion of these reforms. We have reason to believe that these -- that we may not have gotten nearly as many of these reforms as the administration would have liked. So we’ll review and see what’s in there. I understand that they’re still making some tweaks to this legislation even as of this morning so there is a chance that maybe some of these concerns could be resolved. But somebody did -- I don’t remember who it was -- Jon, I guess maybe it was you who asked about sort of this concern that previous Secretaries of Defense have registered about the administration micromanaging the activities of the Pentagon.
The fact is, you have civilian and military leaders at the Pentagon asking Congress for very specific budgetary reforms that will strengthen national security, but time and time again we’ve seen members of Congress refuse to go along with them. I don’t know if it gets -- if you could do more to micromanage the Pentagon than to refuse to include the budgetary reforms that our civilian and military leadership believe are critically important to the military being able to do their job.
Q So there’s more micromanaging from Congress than you exercise here at the White House?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, we’ll see what the eventual inclusion is in this legislation but certainly if we believe just as a principle that we should give greater freedom of decision-making to military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon, then I would assume we would see strong bipartisan support for some of the budget reforms that those military and civilian leaders say are so important.
Q One last thing. Tuesday, when the President was getting some blowback from the audience in Chicago during his immigration remarks, at one point he said, I just took action to change the law. Did the President misspeak in a moment of sort of passion to try to calm the crowd, or does he fundamentally -- do you fundamentally believe that he has taken action to change the law?
MR. EARNEST: I think he was speaking colloquially, that what he has put in place --
MR. EARNEST: Meaning that obviously --
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, meaning that it’s the responsibility of the United States Congress to pass laws and it’s the responsibility of the executive branch to implement and enforce them. So I guess my point is --
Q -- mean by that when he says I just took action to change the law?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the impact of the law certainly has been changed in terms of the way that it affects millions of people who are in this country, and I think that’s what the President was alluding to. So if there are people who --
Q He did not literally mean he changed the law?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that he was speaking colloquially there -- say that five times fast. Maybe I’ll stop saying it. (Laughter.)
Carrie, how are you?
Q Hi. Good. How are you?
MR. EARNEST: I’m doing great, thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Jeh Johnson this morning spoke up pretty forcefully against the short-term CR for his department, describing how it really tied his hands. And I’m wondering if the White House holds similarly strong views and does that rise to the level of it being enough to not accept that -- vetoing the whole package because of those concerns that DHS is saying it will have a detrimental effect on Homeland Security.
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly this is one of the benefits of Cabinet Secretaries testifying before Congress, is they can make sure the members of Congress are acutely aware of the concerns they may have about steps that Congress may be considering. But again, there are a wide variety of proposals that are being bandied about by Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. I know that this is a proposal that many House Republicans are pretty focused on today. So it is our view that Congress should fulfill their responsibility to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government. I know there are some proposals that are being considered that would stop short of that, and we’ll consider those proposals if and when they are passed by either the House or Senate, or both. But we believe that it's important for Congress to fulfill their responsibility to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government.
Q You’re not ruling it in or ruling it out at this point? Because it's not yet clear.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess because for two reasons -- one, is because, yes, the details of the proposal that House Republicans are focused on are not entirely clear at this point. They haven’t put something forward. But also because that’s not the only proposal that’s being discussed on Capitol Hill for making sure that we fund the government by December 11th. So for those two reasons, I’ll reserve judgment, beyond saying that we do believe that Congress has responsibility to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government.
Q Josh, two subjects, one on Ebola. Since we have not seen any Ebola cases in this country for a while, any new cases, is this country still not out of the woods, as the President said recently, when it comes to Ebola?
MR. EARNEST: Is the country still not what?
Q Still not out of the woods. Remember the President said a couple weeks ago in the Roosevelt Room that we are not out of the woods. Are we still not out of the woods yet?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what the President may have been talking about is a number of people who were on the contact tracing lists of a couple of previous Ebola patients. So I think he was referring to that specific incident. As a general matter I can say that the President does continue to believe that the likelihood of a widespread outbreak in the United States remains exceedingly low, but the President and his administration continue to be vigilant to make sure that we are at an appropriate level of readiness in this country to deal with an Ebola patient if one should present himself or herself at a medical facility in this country. So we’re watching that very carefully.
There obviously are very tight monitoring protocols in place to ensure that individuals who have recently traveled in West Africa and are entering this country are being properly screened both as they enter the country but also for a number of days after they have arrived. Those protocols are in place, are being closely administered -- carefully administered.
And the President continues to believe that the risk to the American public is not entirely eliminated until we’ve entirely eliminated the Ebola virus from West Africa. And we are still seeing -- despite the progress that has been made, there’s still too many communities in Africa that are fighting this deadly disease. And the President wants to make sure that we’re devoting the necessary resources from the United States to combat this outbreak and to try to stop it in its tracks, but were also going to continue to urge the international community to step up and fulfill the responsibility that they have to fight this outbreak as well.
Again, as long as this outbreak is still underway in West Africa it poses a risk to citizens of countries around the globe, and we’d like to continue to see governments and organizations and citizens from countries around the globe assist in the response of this effort.
Q And my last question, I want to tackle a question that I needed an answer for yesterday and will come at it a different way. Reverend Al Sharpton said, as it relates to President Obama going to Ferguson -- he told me on the phone last night, he says an invite -- if the President were to go to Ferguson, an invite would need to come from the family and come from the community leaders there. Is that what you’re waiting for, for the President to go to Ferguson?
MR. EARNEST: No, it's not.
Q What are you waiting for?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, the President wants to have a national discussion because there are communities all across the nation who are grappling with some of these issues, who are grappling with the challenge of having effective law enforcement that also has the trust of the community that their sworn to serve and protect. That is difficult work.
What we do know -- the good news is what we do know is that the more trust that a law enforcement agency has from the community the more effective that law enforcement agency can be in fighting crime. So building those kinds of relationships and facilitating that kind of transparency and accountability is critically important to the basis work of law enforcement. Our men and women in law enforcement have very difficult jobs. These are individuals who walk out the door every morning, kiss their kids goodbye and go to work, knowing that they’re prepared at a moment’s notice to put their life on the line to protect the community. That’s honorable work. And that’s work that is worthy of our respect and appreciation.
But we also know that those individuals are going to be more effective in their job if they do have the trust in the community that their serving. So this is a complicated issue. This is one that communities across this country have been dealing with for decades. So it's not something that were going to solve over the course of a few weeks, or not one that we’re going to solve in the context of one specific trip, but rather something that were going to address through a sustained effort and a sustained dialogue. You heard from the President directly himself yesterday indicate his desire to lead that effort.
Q When you talk about trust and solutions, are you looking at something that could be a short-term solution, a major short-term solution that could really shake up the system or the structure -- the systemic structure that has been there for so long? Maybe January, February, or after Holder leaves, or before Holder leaves -- you keep talking about trust and solutions. What could that be and what could that bring?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that there is one solution that’s going to work for every community across the country. I think what we’re going to need, is were going to need to see a commitment from local leaders and local law enforcement stepping up to the plate and deciding what reforms are going to work best for their agency and work best in their community to try to build this bond of trust that we believe is so critically important to fighting crime.
And this was the nature of the conversation that the President had with law enforcement and civil rights leaders and state and local elected officials over in the EEOB just yesterday. This is difficult work. And there are several ways in which the federal government can support those efforts at the local level, whether it's additional training, grants for new technology, including body-worn cameras -- there might be other equipment that could be of assistance in this effort. There certainly are other resources that can be provided to help implement best practices. Things that work well in one community could be transferred and implemented in another community to have a positive effect on the relationship between the law enforcement agency and the community they serve.
So there are a lot of ways that the federal government can be helpful in this effort, and the President is interested in mobilizing resources at the federal level to do exactly that.
Thank you, Josh. On Sunday, Taiwan had very significant elections in which pro-independence candidates routed the ruling Kuomintang Party. And the call for independence in Taiwan went up. China has long said that independence would mean harsh action from them against Taiwan. Is this something the President is following and -- he talks about hot spots so often -- and is the administration still fully committed to the Taiwan Relations Act to protect the Republic of China on Taiwan?
MR. EARNEST: John, I can tell you that the President has been briefed on the outcome of the elections, but for more details on our policy, let me have one of my colleagues at the National Security Council follow up with you to make sure we get you the right answer to that.
Q Okay. The other thing I wanted to ask was, Congressman Dan Mica of Florida rereleased a report he did four years ago when Democrats were in charge in the House about government assets being mismanaged by so many different government agencies, the General Services Administration and eight others. He recommends selling this to private business to manage some of the government buildings and properties and says he has bipartisan support. Is this something the administration would embrace -- the selling of federal assets to the private sector?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know this is something that the Office of Management and Budget has been focused on quite a bit under this President’s leadership, that there has been a concerted effort to reduce costs, to cut red tape, and to deal with surplus federal government assets. And I know that’s been done to save taxpayers not just hundreds of millions of dollars, but I believe even billions of dollars. And that’s thanks to the cost-cutting efforts of senior members of the Obama administration.
I haven’t seen Representative Mica’s proposal, but it's certainly something we would take a look at.
Q A couple of quick things. First, on Ebola. I just wondered, the fact the President has gone out obviously shows some level of concern. How concerned is the White House that the money might not come through? And can you give us a little sense now, because he’s been quite below the radar, although he’s out there now, on Ron Klain’s role, particularly as it relates to talking to members of Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you, as I mentioned to Michelle, the administration does believe that the funding for these Ebola priorities should be taken very seriously by members of Congress. There are early indications --
Q How concerned are you that it might not get done?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are Democrats and Republicans in Congress who have indicated that they share the administration’s view that these are priorities, that there is a need to redouble our efforts to improve readiness in this country, and a need to redouble our efforts in West Africa to stop that outbreak in its tracks so we can entirely eliminate the Ebola risk to the American people.
These are worthy efforts; the President has called them a top national security priority. I know there are Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill who share that view. Now, as I also mentioned, just because Democrats and Republicans believe something is a priority doesn’t guarantee it's going to get done in Congress.
And so that’s why you’ve seen this administration continue to forcefully advocate for its passage. And we are hopeful, as I mentioned earlier, that it will be included in an omnibus proposal that would pass through the Congress before December 11th.
As it relates to Mr. Klain, I know that he’s accompanying the President to the National Institutes of Health today and will be participating in those activities while the President’s there. I don’t know of any specific calls that he himself has had with members of Congress, although I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
Q Is his role still open-ended?
MR. EARNEST: In terms of, does he plan to leave? Is that what you’re asking? Open-ended in terms of time, or open-ended in terms of something else?
Q Open-ended in terms of time.
MR. EARNEST: I see. No, I don’t know of any plans that are in place for Mr. Klain to leave. I know that there’s still a lot of important work to ensure that we are stamping out this Ebola outbreak that remains to be done. And I am pleased to report that Mr. Klain will be here for the foreseeable future to make progress against that goal.
Victoria, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Yes. Were any U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the reported capture of a wife and son of al-Baghdadi?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports about the Lebanese indicating that they had detained an individual who fits that description. I don’t have much that I can share with you about this. I certainly can’t talk about any intelligence agency activities from here. But I know that the Lebanese government has talked a little bit about what they’ve learned, and so I would refer you to them for that information.
Q Can you talk about whether the U.S. has been involved in any interrogation of this woman and the possible son of al-Baghdadi?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to do that, no.
Q On Ebola, has the President reached out to any lawmakers regarding funding?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if there are any presidential conversations to share with you. I know that there have been
-– well, actually I take that back. I know that this is something that they discussed when the President convened that lunch here with the congressional leaders shortly after the election. This is one of the things that was on the agenda, because, again, the President does believe that this is an important national security priority and the President urged leaders in both parties to be supportive of efforts to dedicate necessary resources to fighting the Ebola outbreak and to improving readiness here in this country. So this is something that the President has discussed with congressional leaders.
Q Was there any thinking that maybe taking the call public might be counterproductive in the sense that there is a sort of naming and shaming element to it?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t think there’s any naming and shaming going on in this instance at least. This is a situation where we’ve seen a lot of Republicans articulate their support for funding these priorities. We certainly would welcome that support, and rather than shame them, we would actually compliment them for focusing on important priorities.
There’s important work that needs to get done, though, in making sure that the necessary resources are included in this omnibus proposal and that an omnibus proposal gets through the United States Congress before December 11th. So there’s important work to be done. It's important for the American people to recognize that work is still on the to-do list, and we hope that Congress will confront that quickly.
Thanks a lot, everybody. Have a good afternoon.
1:57 P.M. EST