Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/5/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. TGIF. I’ll just do a couple of quick things at the top.
The first is, you may have seen the news today that NASA successfully completed their test flight of the Orion spacecraft. This is a new dawn, and -- while this is a dawn of a new chapter in space exploration, it certainly is an important milestone in achieving President Obama’s bold vision of sending humans to an asteroid in the 2020s and on to Mars in the decade after.
Everybody here at the White House sends along our congratulations to the men and women of NASA and their commercial partners for the successful test launch, and we look forward to future milestones as we send our brave explorers out into the solar system. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is a scheduling update. On Monday, the President will host here at the White House Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, for a meeting in the Oval Office. The Vice President and Dr. Biden will also host the Duke of Cambridge for a separate meeting at the White House. The Duke of Cambridge, who is visiting New York with the Duchess from December 7th through the 9th, will travel to Washington on December 8th to deliver remarks at the World Bank, where he will discuss efforts to fight illegal wildlife trafficking.
The President welcomes the Prince’s work in this global fight against what is both a national security threat and a devastating environmental problem. In February, this past February, in support of the President’s executive order and in conjunction with efforts at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, which the Duke of Cambridge attended, the administration announced its own National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. That strategy mobilizes the entire U.S. government to combat this threat.
This will be the Duke’s first visit to Washington, D.C. The President looks forward to thanking the Duke of Cambridge for the hospitality shown to him by the Royal Family during the President’s recent visits to the United Kingdom. This visit underscores the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Q Will she be with him?
MR. EARNEST: I believe that the Duchess is not planning to travel to Washington.
With that, Nedra, try to follow that up. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks. I don’t know if this news will compare -- the Defense Secretary, first of all. Can you give us some sense of what kind of conversations the President and his nominee had today? Is he looking for a change in direction at the Defense Department to keep things the same? Did they talk about Islamic State, Russia -- anything you can tell us?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe they had the opportunity to have an extensive, detailed discussion prior to today’s event. But I can tell you that, as the President alluded to in his remarks, the President has had a number of conversations with Mr. Carter in the context of his previous service of this administration in this country as the Deputy Secretary of Defense.
The President certainly intends to rely very closely on Mr. Carter’s advice and expertise on a range of areas. His strategic thinking will be very valuable as we consider the range of threats that are facing this country. And the President is looking forward to Mr. Carter receiving careful consideration by the United States Senate, but also swift confirmation in a bipartisan fashion.
Q Is he looking for a change in direction at the Pentagon?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve talked a little bit over the course of the last couple of weeks about the President’s decision that new leadership was needed at the Pentagon. But the challenges that Secretary Hagel has managed quite well are challenges that will endure and will continue to confront this country and the next Secretary of Defense as well.
And so the President is looking forward to having somebody with Mr. Carter’s experience and evident talents to confront many of these challenges, and to lead this large department as they guarantee the protection of the American people.
Q On Ferguson, I saw that the President did an interview today with BET. Can you tell us a little bit about why he wanted to do that, and also give us an update on the timeline for any sort of executive order that he may be putting out that he mentioned earlier this week?
MR. EARNEST: That interview has not been conducted yet; it will be conducted a little later this afternoon. But it certainly is an opportunity to reach an audience that has been closely watching events in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as recent events up in New York City this week as well. And it’s an opportunity for the President to deliver a message that I think to many of you will sound pretty familiar. But it is an opportunity to reach an audience that obviously has been following these developments very closely and has pretty strong feelings about it.
I think there are a lot of Americans who feel strongly about some of these issues, but certainly we would anticipate that the viewers of 106 & Park would have some strong feelings. And it’s a good opportunity for the President to make sure that they understand where he’s coming from on some of these issues.
Q And the executive action?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any update on any timing.
Q And finally, Senator Landrieu -- the President planning to do anything with the election coming up this weekend in support of her?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know of any political activities that the President has planned for the weekend. You’ve heard the President speak on previous occasions about Senator Landrieu’s important independent leadership for the people of Louisiana here in Washington and in the United States Senate. But I don’t know -- I don’t have anything that the President is planning in the next 24 hours in support of her campaign.
Q What are we to take away from the fact that Secretary Hagel didn’t attend this morning?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I saw that the Defense Department put out a statement indicating that Secretary Hagel decided not to attend today’s event because he did not want to distract from an event that was held to honor Mr. Carter, his service to the country and the new opportunity that’s before him. And that was a decision that Secretary Hagel made, and certainly it’s a decision that was respected by everybody here at the White House. And Secretary Hagel put out a pretty clear statement showing his very strong support for Mr. Carter’s nomination.
So for any additional questions about the Secretary’s schedule, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q Was the President disappointed that he didn’t come?
MR. EARNEST: No, I think the President certainly understands the sentiments that were included in the statement that was issued by the Department of Defense, and certainly appreciated the sentiments that were included in the statement from Secretary Hagel about Mr. Carter’s nomination.
Q And did Hagel give the President some advance notice that he wouldn’t be coming?
MR. EARNEST: That’s how we knew, yes.
Q But we shouldn’t view this as a snub of any kind?
MR. EARNEST: I certainly don’t think that Secretary Hagel intends it that way, and I think it’s evident from the statement that he issued in his own name today that he is very strongly supportive of the President’s decision to nominate Mr. Carter for this role.
Q Given that it was announced that Hagel would be attending ahead of time, clearly the White House wanted him to be there, no?
MR. EARNEST: No doubt about that.
Q And the change that happened late then, was that a surprise to the President?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t characterize it as a surprise; I would characterize it as a decision that was made by Secretary Hagel. But he was very clear in the statement that he issued today that he strongly supports the President’s decision to nominate Mr. Carter to succeed him at the Department of Defense. He, like the President, believes that Mr. Carter has all of the qualifications and experience that’s necessary to confront the challenges that no one knows better than Secretary Hagel himself.
Q And he has described it as being a mutual decision, that there would be a change of leadership needed. But it hasn’t really been explained so much why that change of leadership was necessary now, especially since he went on to say that he could have done the job and it wasn’t a problem that he had.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this is the result of a number of conversations between the President and the Secretary of Defense. And I want to protect the privacy of those conversations, and those were also conversations that were held with just the two men in the room. So any sort of account that I could provide would be second or third-hand at best.
I think, again -- Secretary Hagel is somebody who has honorably served this country in a variety of roles. He is somebody who was willing to serve his country overseas in combat, and it is the thing that distinguishes him from every other Secretary of Defense -- that he is a decorated combat veteran who arose from the ranks of somebody who was fighting on the front lines for this country to serving in the top job at the Department of Defense. That is a testament to Secretary Hagel’s talent. It’s a testament to his love for this country. And it’s a testament to his commitment to serving the people of this country. And that is service that the President was pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to here at the White House a week or two ago. And I’m confident that the President will have additional opportunities to pay tribute to Secretary Hagel and to his service to this country.
Q Okay, and given all of that and all that has been said about Hagel’s service by the White House, doesn’t this strangeness of Hagel being announced at this meeting and then not showing up, doesn’t that kind of highlight the tension that’s been reported on so much, surrounding the position, and then continue to cloud it now that there’s a new nominee?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not sure that there’s anything that’s clouded. I think that everybody has been straightforward about what exactly has happened, with the exception of a detailed readout of the private conversations between the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of Defense. I would acknowledge that we’re not being particularly forthcoming about the details of those conversations. But the outcome of those conversations is something that has been discussed extensively by the President himself, by the Secretary of Defense, and certainly by me here on a number of occasions.
So I think there is no doubt about Secretary Hagel’s commitment to the job that he has filled very ably over the last two years. There’s no doubting his commitment to serving this country. And there’s no doubting his strong support for Ash Carter to be the next Secretary of Defense. And I think that certainly is indicative of what continues to be a strong personal relationship between the President of the United States and Secretary Hagel.
Q Thanks, Josh. On the issue of openly transgender service in the military, I asked about this before and you talked about an ongoing review at the Pentagon. What impact does the White House think this change of leadership at the Pentagon will have on those efforts?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t anticipate that any ongoing reviews would face a dramatic change as a result of the new leadership in that building. But for an update on that process, I’d refer you to the Pentagon.
Q You keep talking about ongoing review, but when I ask the Pentagon about this, they say no review has been ordered. Why do you think there’s that discrepancy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't -- I would refer you to them. We can try to get you some more details if you’d like. I’ll be honest with you, I don't know a whole lot about this review. But if there’s more information that you’d like, we can look into it for you.
Q But does the President think that openly transgender service is a policy that can be implemented regardless of whomever is in charge of the Pentagon?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, it’s my understanding -- and maybe I’ll be corrected on this -- but I understand that there is a review ongoing at the Pentagon on this question. But we can look into this a little bit for you -- a little further if you’d like.
Q Britain, from whom we inherited the grand jury system, dispensed with it many years ago because they found it ineffective and that it favored -- obviously favored the prosecutors so much. Do you think it’s time for us to look at and have a review of our justice system and perhaps consider getting rid of the grand jury system?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me make a couple observations. The first is that the grand jury proceedings that have attracted so much attention in the last 10 days or so, I don't think they received attention because the efforts of the prosecutor were significantly advantaged in the context of those proceedings. I think the concern was -- evidently was something else, because ostensibly you had prosecutors who were making the case for an indictment that was not handed down by the grand jury.
So I guess -- that goes to the premise of your question I think.
Q If the prosecutor was really looking for an indictment.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, grand jury proceedings are conducted in private, so I guess it’s hard for us to tell. So in terms of that -- in terms of what their goal was, I’d direct you to those prosecutors for what kind of case they were making.
But I’m frankly not inclined and pretty unqualified to have a philosophical discussion with you about the basis of our legal system and how that's been translated over centuries. But I’m sure there’s somebody at the Department of Justice that might be inclined to have that discussion with you, or not. Who knows? But you can certainly try.
Q Josh, thanks. During his remarks today, Ashton Carter turned to the President and he pledged “candid strategic advice” and “candid military advice,” and a lot of people sort of noted that moment. Is that something that the President felt was lacking before?
MR. EARNEST: No, not necessarily. And I think in my previous comments about Secretary Hagel, and I think even in the President’s comments about Secretary Hagel 10 days ago or so in the State Dining Room, the President talked about how he had relied on Secretary Hagel’s advice as they confronted a wide range of national security challenges.
But certainly the President does expect -- not just from the Secretary of Defense but from every senior member of his national security team -- direct, candid, unvarnished advice based on that individual’s insight and expertise to the challenge.
Q Did he believe he was getting that under Secretary Hagel?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, as I mentioned, I think the President was pretty clear that he -- and I certainly have been -- that the President appreciated the kind of candor and advice that he received from Secretary Hagel during his two years of serving as Secretary of Defense.
Q And some lawmakers and Republicans have noted this is his forth Defense Secretary in six years. They have argued that creates a sense of unsteadiness. Can you speak to that? Is there a concern that changing Defense Secretaries so frequently in some ways destabilizes the agency?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don't think there’s any evidence to support that claim at all. And the President is very pleased with the service and leadership and advice that he’s received from each of the gentlemen who has served this country as Secretary of Defense during the President’s administration. And we anticipate that Mr. Carter will continue in the footsteps of those who have come before him in terms of offering the President the kind of insight and strategic advice that he relies on and certainly expects from his Secretary of Defense.
Q And while we're on the topic of the military, Senator Gillibrand is planning to reintroduce a bill that would take military sexual assault out of the chain of command. Last time this bill was up for a vote, President Obama didn't really weigh in on whether or not he supported it. At this point in the cycle, would he support it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, we would want to take a look carefully at the legislation that she decides to propose.
Q But does he support the broader idea of taking military sexual assault out of the chain of command?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what he supports is making sure that there is keen awareness at the Department of Defense that the Commander-in-Chief will not tolerate the kind of -- the scourge of sexual assaults that we’ve seen in the media over the last few years.
And the President said it himself that even one sexual assault in the greatest fighting force in the world is something that the Commander-in-Chief will not tolerate. And the President has made that very clear to the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon. And we did recently see that the Department of Defense conducted what is at least a lengthy review of the way that sexual assault cases are handled inside the military. And that is a review that is being carefully analyzed here at the White House.
Q Just on something left over from yesterday. I saw the transcript was updated to say the President, in fact, did see the Eric Garner video, that takedown by police. What was his reaction?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t have the chance to speak to him directly about it. We were able to do this electronically. So I still haven’t -- while I am able to confirm for you that he has seen the video, I have not spoken to him about his reaction to it.
Q Do you know anything about his reaction to the non-indictment?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you heard from him a couple of times to discuss this, and I think -- I wouldn't elaborate too much on what he has already said about it.
Q Because after Ferguson, he forcefully came out here and he said this was the grand jury’s decision to make. Would that apply to this case as well?
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly as a legal matter, and, again, as somebody who is not particularly credentialed when it comes to legal matters, but as a legal matter, it clearly is the decision that was handed down by the grand jury that is consistent with the legal process. But what’s also true of the legal process is that that is now subject to an investigation by federal attorneys, both in the Eastern District of New York as well as the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Q But I guess what I mean is, was he -- I mean, so many people were just shocked that this case ended up without an indictment, with that video seemingly so obvious to anybody who saw it. Did the President have a similar kind of shock? I mean, I know he doesn’t want to second-guess -- but was he just surprised?
MR. EARNEST: I have not had a specific conversation with him in terms of his reaction to the video or to the immediate decision beyond what he said in public.
Q And just two other quick things. One, King Abdullah made a comment in an interview before the meeting that the effort against ISIS is World War III. I was wondering what the President thinks of that characterization.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I'd say about that, Jon, is that we obviously have -- the United States has played the leading role in building a broad international coalition to confront, degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL because of the threat that it poses certainly to a number of countries in the region and the threat that it could pose to the world if it were allowed to establish a safe haven in Iraq and in Syria.
So to the extent that you have the world united, alongside the United States, in standing up against these extremists you certainly have a global element here. And it is a threat that the President takes very seriously. It obviously is a threat that our close partners in Jordan take very seriously because this is happening right in their neighborhood, and so they are -- the King has devoted significant resources and energy to ensuring that the humanitarian needs of those who are fleeing this violence have been met. Many have fled to Jordan, and that has posed a significant challenge to that country. And the United States -- and this was one of the announcements that was out of the meeting today -- is committing additional resources to help the Jordanians respond to this urgent humanitarian situation.
And again, I think it's indicative of the role that the United States can play in supporting our partners as they deal with this very difficult situation.
Q Okay, then just one last item, following up on the Mitch McConnell meeting. Obviously this was an afternoon meeting, early afternoon meeting. There was no bourbon served. So just to follow up on the President’s statement after the election that he would look forward to having a bourbon with Mitch McConnell, is that going to happen? Or is this --
MR. EARNEST: I'm confident that will happen at some point, and we'll try to give you a heads-up when it actually does.
Q Josh, this is about the governors meeting today. I know that the White House has said that they want to try and develop some particularly economic partnerships. Can you give me a sense of what you -- if there’s going to be anything specific in mind when the governors are talked to? And just a flavor -- it seems like it’s like a little bit of school for new governors today, given all the officials who they’re going to go see. Can you give a flavor of what you hope might be -- if there’s any concrete things out there? And also, how were the governors selected?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the first impression that we would like to leave is that this White House and this administration more broadly has a strong interest in trying to work with governors across the country to expand economic opportunity for middle-class families. That's something the President has laid out as the top item on his domestic policymaking agenda. He certainly has tried to work with Congress to make progress against that goal.
We have seen that there is an opportunity for us to make significant progress by actually working directly with governors. And so this is a group of newly elected governors, and we certainly want to build the same kind of strong working relationship with them as well.
There are a variety of areas where we feel like progress can be made. There are many governors in both parties that have been committed to making important investments in high-quality early childhood education programs. This is something that the President mentioned in his State of the Union address almost two years ago now. And we certainly are going to look for opportunities to partner with governors across the country to make those kinds of investments.
We obviously have been gratified over the last year and a half or so to see a number of states take action to raise their minimum wage. This, again, is something that the President has urged Congress to do. We’ve seen congressional Republicans block efforts to raise the minimum wage, but we’ve seen states -- including states that are governed by Republicans -- actually take action to raise the minimum wage and give their workers a raise there. The President is supportive of those efforts.
There also are a lot of equities as it relates to the Affordable Care Act, and there’s an opportunity for at least some of these states to provide health insurance to -- by expanding Medicaid -- to a large number of citizens in their state. And this is health insurance that would be, at least for this year, paid 100 percent by the federal government. So at no cost to the governors or the citizens of these states, the federal government for this year would be in a position to provide important health care benefits for them.
I mean, the thing that these governors know all too well -- or if they don’t, they soon will -- is that when individuals who would qualify for expanded Medicare present themselves at the hospital in dire need of medical attention, that medical attention is provided and it’s the state that’s ultimately on the hook for providing that medical assistance in the most -- or I guess in the least cost-effective fashion possible. So there is an opportunity for us to lower costs for states and for the President to get -- or for the federal government to get involved in helping states as they try to meet the needs of working people in their states.
So there’s obviously a lot to talk about, a lot on the agenda, and there will be an opportunity for not just the President to sit down with the governors, but I know that there are other senior White House officials that they’ll be meeting with as well as Secretaries Duncan, Foxx, Burwell, Administrator McCarthy, and others who will be visiting with them while they’re at the White House today.
Q Right, but is there something -- you talked in broad terms. If you can think of something specific, if there is an ask or the governors -- is there something -- because each of these states do have different stages in their Medicaid programs. So could you tell me how these governors were selected and why they were invited?
MR. EARNEST: I believe that all of the newly elected governors were invited to the White House, and these were the ones who were able to attend today.
Q Josh, I know it was early this morning, but did the President watch any of the Orion launch?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if he had the opportunity to see it. I have not spoken to him as yet today.
Q This is the first time in over 40 years that NASA’s satellite or any satellite on the planet has left low Earth orbit. I mean, NASA scientists say that this is the biggest thing since the Apollo program. Is this something the President is excited about?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s something that I described as the dawn of a new chapter of space exploration. And I think that does reflect the enthusiasm and excitement that everybody here at the White House feels. And although I haven’t had a chance to talk to the President about it today, I’m confident that he shares that enthusiasm and excitement for this significant achievement.
Q Because the President wants to focus on STEM achievement for students; he talks about that a lot when he goes out for campus events all around the country. Is there a better ambassador or a better entrée to students’ ambition in the world’s greatest space program? It just seems like we’re not -- could there be more attention from the White House on this issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we certainly welcome all of the attention that is shown to this achievement. The President himself has talked in pretty personal terms about how he was inspired as a kid from some of the innovations that were -- and achievements of the space program when he was a kid. I know that I’ve heard him talk before about having watched it on television as the astronauts were recovered from the capsules that had returned to Earth and splashdowns in the ocean. And we saw something reminiscent of that today when Orion returned to Earth in a splashdown.
So this is something that we are pretty excited and enthused about, and it is a testament to the successful strategy that the President has put in place for our space program. And we look forward to even more exciting results in the years ahead.
Q Josh, on the budget, if the Senate is correct in saying that it’s eager to embrace the House deal on a longer-term omnibus and shorter-term funding for DHS, is the President prepared to sign that if that comes to him that way?
MR. EARNEST: Well, a couple things, Alexis. We are still waiting to see the details that are included in the budget proposal that is supported by House Republicans. There had been a number of conversations between White House officials and administration officials with members and staff on Capitol Hill in both the House and the Senate. But we do continue -- the second thing I’ll say is that we do continue to believe that it’s the responsibility of Congress to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government, and that is what Congress is responsible for doing.
And there are a lot of Americans who on this cold and cloudy Friday got out of bed early and went to work because it was their responsibility to do so. And we certainly would expect -- and I think, more importantly, they expect their representatives in Congress to do the same thing. And what we are expecting Congress to do is to get out of bed early this morning, soldier through the cold and the gray, and take action to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government.
Q If they all lumber out of bed and don’t honor your preference, is the President going to veto whatever they produce? You don’t seem to be in any way indicating that the President is going to block.
MR. EARNEST: I did not come prepared today to issue a new veto threat, but I did come prepared today to make clear that our strong preference is for Congress to do only what they’re supposed to do, and that is to pass a full-year budget for the full federal government. At the same time, we’ll consider what kinds of proposals are passed through the House and the Senate, and we’ll reserve judgment on them. But it is clear what basic responsibility Congress has, and we hope they will take action to fulfill it.
Q One other budget question. To follow on Lynn’s question about the governors -- as we all know, there are a range of governors, 17 at least, who are concerned about the President’s immigration action in the context of their own budgets. So will the President be able to outline to those governors who are concerned about the budgetary impact of his executive action why he feels strongly that this will all work out, or that the federal government is very sensitive to this? Or how will he respond to questions that he may get about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware of any significant or negative budgetary impact on states as a result of the executive action that the President announced a couple of weeks ago.
I know that one of the key reforms that was included in these executive actions was an extensive overhaul, and I think even a replacement of the Secure Communities program. This was part of an effort to try to strengthen the working relationship between local law enforcement communities and the federal government, and that it would actually remove some red tape and make it easier for local law enforcement and the federal government to coordinate their efforts to protect communities large and small all across the country. And I think that’s just one example of how the President’s executive action will actually make it easier for the federal government and local law enforcement, I guess both at the state and local level, to protect communities all across the country.
Q Josh, can you give us the specifics on the Jordan increase in aid? Is this new money? Is this something that needs to be in the CR? What are the details?
MR. EARNEST: I think that we’ll have more details in a factsheet that’s out a little later today. But what the President did announce was a commitment both in terms of resources to help Jordan manage the humanitarian situation in their country. I believe there also was an announcement related to additional economic assistance that would be provided to our partners in Jordan.
As you know, the King has been a pretty strong advocate of some economic and political reforms in his country. He deserves a lot of credit for that. And the United States wants to be supportive of those ongoing reform efforts, and that’s one way that we can be supportive of those efforts. But we’ll have some more details --
Q But do you know if it’s new money that has to be dealt with in the CR?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know the funding details on this, but we can get back to you on that.
Q Related to the comparison that King Abdullah made to World War III, he said this is a generational issue. The President earlier this week talked about tectonic plates shifting in the Middle East. And the larger conversation seems to be between these two leaders that this is not just about degrading and destroying ISIS, but about something that is many decades in duration, or a kind of -- King Abdullah said this transformation in the Middle East about jihad itself. Do you want to elaborate or offer the President’s perspective on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I could try. I probably won’t do it as eloquently as he would, but a couple of things come to mind. The reason that there are 60 countries that have joined this coalition that the President is leading is that countries throughout the region and across the world understand the significant stakes of this conflict. And I don’t think there’s anybody who is attempting to downplay them.
The second is, we have seen -- even before sort of this more recent rise of ISIL -- that the broader Middle East is working through some very tumultuous issues. And the impact on their society and on governments across the region have been significant. And these are the kinds of issues that the people who live in this region of the world won’t resolve overnight; that it’s going to take some time for them to make some decisions about how -- about what kind of government they want to have in their country; about how they want to exercise their preferences about that government; about what kind of economic opportunity is going to be available to them; about how basic human rights are going to be protected.
And that has prompted a lot of questions and a lot of soul-searching, not just among leaders in that broader region, but also among people on the street. And those kinds of conversations and considerations about what kind of country or what kind of society they want to be a part of are important. And sometimes they can be, as we’ve seen, tumultuous. But what the President has tried to do is to be very keenly focused on understanding that even in these roiling waters, that we need to be focused squarely on the core national security interests of the United States. And in these dynamic, rapidly changing times, that can require some nimbleness.
And I think that is evident in some of the policymaking you’ve seen from the President. It certainly is part of the kind of flexible strategy that the President has pursued. I think it also is why we have worked so hard to make sure that we are working closely with partners in the region to align our interests with them and with other countries around the world. And that’s why building this broader international coalition to confront, degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL was so important.
That’s why it’s so important that so many of the members of that coalition are, in fact, Arab countries. And we have seen countries like Jordan join the United States in bombing ISIL targets in Syria. And that, I think, reflects the kind of commitment that the President has to working closely with leaders in the region to align our interests and to get other countries to act with us in pursuit of those interests.
Q Related to that, even those most favorably inclined toward Ashton Carter would say he doesn’t have now and never has had any expertise on some of these underlying issues in the region, militarily or diplomatically. Why was it a good idea -- why is it a good idea to continue that sort of vacuum within the civilian Pentagon leadership for the President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what Mr. Carter does have is a lot of experience in thinking strategically about how to orient the Department of Defense in a way that ensures it is properly positioned to protect the core national security interests of the United States. And that is something that he has spent a lot of time thinking about.
We are going to continue to have a very experienced and very effective Secretary of State. There are obviously very useful intelligence channels that ensure a strong relationship between the United States and some of our partners in the region and around the world. And I would anticipate that the -- well, I’ll say it this way: The President does have complete confidence in Mr. Carter’s ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense, to build a strong military-to-military relationship with our partners and allies around the globe as well.
He is somebody who knows the building inside and out, and he is somebody who has a very keen understanding of, like I said, how to orient the posture of the Department of Defense to best protect the American people. And that’s why we believe he is the right person for the job, and we’ve been gratified by the early signals of bipartisan support that he has already received.
Q Josh, along those lines, though, somebody like Senator McCain -- who will be overseeing the confirmation hearings -- is saying nice things about Ash Carter’s credentials but claiming that previous Defense Secretaries haven’t been able to crack the President’s inner circle; that defense policy is really run here inside the White House and the Defense Secretaries have been railroaded. How do you answer that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I answer that by saying that the President is proud of the leadership and advice that he has received from the men who have served as Secretary of Defense under this presidency. And the President is going to rely on the advice and counsel and expertise of Mr. Carter in the same way that he relied on the advice and counsel and expertise of Secretaries Gates, Panetta and Hagel.
Q But based on their books, it didn't seem like Secretary Gates and Secretary Panetta thought that advice really was listened to very often.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think if you look carefully at their books, I think all of them had very strong things to say and very complimentary things to say about this President’s leadership and the confidence they had in this President’s ability to exercise the authority of the Commander-in-Chief to protect the American people. And I think to a person, Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta and Secretary Hagel would echo that sentiment.
Q Did Ash Carter get any assurances from the President about his personal access, one-on-one, to the President, to the Commander-in-Chief?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll tell you, Ed, that Secretary Carter -- or Mr. Carter -- he hasn’t been confirmed yet, but hopefully he’ll be confirmed soon -- is somebody who will be afforded the privilege that previous Defense Secretaries have had, which is a weekly meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office. And that is extensive access.
And I can tell you that when those Secretaries of State -- or those Secretaries of Defense have needed to communicate with the President outside of that weekly meeting, the President has been very responsive to their communications.
Q A couple other on the Mideast. Yesterday you got some questions, obviously, about the American journalist who is being held by terrorists in Yemen. And on one of them you were asked -- one of those questions, you were asked whether there were delays. And since -- at the time -- I understand yesterday you said some of this is still classified. Since then, there have been more reports laying out more information suggesting there were some delays here. Was it a hesitation inside the White House to move forward and try to get him? Or were there problems, gaps in the intelligence that justifies waiting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are still some significant limits on what I can say about what is still a classified operation. But what I would reject in the strongest possible terms is that there was any delay here at the White House in approving this mission. Once the intelligence and the concept of operations had been developed by military planners and approved by the Secretary of Defense, it was forwarded to the White House.
And while at the White House, it did go through an interagency process that was as rigorous as you would expect it would be. There was careful consideration about the risk that this operation would put -- would pose for our men and women in uniform. There was careful consideration of the intelligence. There was careful consideration of the kind of diplomatic equities that are involved. There are important questions that are raised when an operation like this is taking place in a foreign country. There are important diplomatic questions that are raised when there’s the potential that some of the -- those who may be rescued are of a different nationality, are citizens of another country. There are important equities raised when it comes to either killing or even capturing extremists. And so thinking through all of those things is something that was -- that is important, that's consistent with the way that the process worked in previous administrations.
And it’s not something that only involves White House personnel. It involves, as I mentioned, defense, intelligence, diplomatic channels and others. So there was careful interagency consideration that was given to this plan after it was signed off on by the Secretary of Defense. But I can tell you that it was something that was approved by the Commander-in-Chief after that review in much less than 48 hours.
Q Last one, staying in the Mideast. There are reports that the administration is considering sanctioning Israel over the settlements issue. I wonder if you could say true or false.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ve been informed of some of these reports. And what I can tell you is that I’m not going to talk about any sort of internal deliberations inside the administration, and certainly not inside the White House. But I will say something that I have said many times before, which is that Israel is a close and strategic partner of the United States of America, and I don't need to remind you of the strong and unshakable bonds that exist between the United States and Israel, and the United States’ exceedingly strong commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.
That said, we’ve also been crystal clear about our view of settlement activity. That view has not changed. We believe that settlements are illegitimate, and we have deep concerns about highly contentious planning and construction activities that the Israeli government is pursuing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. We believe that those kinds of activities are counterproductive. We’ve made those views clear in public and we’ve made those views clear in private.
Q So very clearly you're not denying that sanctions are on the table against even an ally?
MR. EARNEST: I’m very clearly not denying that we have strong concerns about settlement activity that's underway in Israel. But it has not and will not affect the United States’ strong commitment to the national security of the nation of Israel.
Q Then how can you be telling Congress don't issue more sanctions against Iran at the same time that you're considering sanctions against an ally in Israel?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on any of those reports about our discussions as it relates to Israel.
Q But you are considering sanctions. You're leaving that door wide open here.
MR. EARNEST: No, I’m saying that I’m not willing to talk about --
Q So there’s no -- you're not considering sanctions?
MR. EARNEST: I’m saying that I’m not willing to talk about those kinds of conversations.
Q It certainly sounded like you were considering.
MR. EARNEST: But what I am saying is that we have been clear about what our strategy is against Iran. And there is a historically tough sanctions regime in place against Iran. And those sanctions that were put in place by Congress and implemented by this administration have been effective both in terms of exacting a heavy toll on the Iranian economy. We’ve seen their economic output been significantly negatively affected by this. We’ve seen a significant decline in the value of their currency. There are a lot of ways to measure the impact of this sanctions regime.
And we do believe that while productive talks continue, that it would be unwise to put in place additional sanctions on Iran only because the success of that sanctions regime depends upon the ability and willingness of our partners around the globe to enforce that sanctions regime.
As we know, there’s not a whole lot of business that's conducted between the United States and Iran directly. We're relying on other countries that actually do more business with Iran to abide by this sanctions regime. So far, we’ve gotten that kind of international buy-in that has really cracked down on the Iranian economy. It has prompted the Iranian leadership to come to the negotiating table with the United States and our P5-plus-1 partners to try to resolve the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program. So we’ve been clear about what our strategy is as it relates to Iran. I’m less willing to talk about any internal conversations about Israel.
Q Cheerier news for you probably.
MR. EARNEST: Okay, I’m for it. (Laughter.)
Q The jobs report today said that there --
MR. EARNEST: I thought you’d never ask. (Laughter.)
Q were 321,000 thousand jobs. It comes as a series of economic data that shows a strengthening economy; investors certainly seem to like it. The Dow is heading toward 18,000 today. Yet Americans remain deeply dissatisfied with the economy. Do you think that that’s partly because the administration has failed to sell this to Americans? Is this partly the administration’s fault that Americans feel unhappy with the economy at this point? Or how does the administration analyze that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll say a couple of things. I would anticipate that today’s job report will have some impact on the public perception of the economy, as it should; that there are a lot of numbers included in this report to indicate that our economy hasn’t just made a lot of progress in recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression but that progress is actually starting to accelerate. And that’s true whether you measure the number of jobs that were created, or even in this instance that the strength included in the wage growth number is encouraging and cause for optimism not just for people here in this building but also for working people all across the country.
A couple of interesting statistics. The first is we’ve now had 10 consecutive months of more than 200,000 jobs created. That’s the longest streak that we’ve seen in 20 years, and I think that is a testament to how sustained this economic strength is. The other thing that I think is notable about this is that we’ve actually experienced more job growth in the last 11 months than we have in any year since 1999. So, again, the strength that we’re exhibiting here is significant and particularly as it relates to the kinds of economic projections that have been in place over the last few years.
As it relates to sort of the public appraisal of the economy, I think you heard from the President directly in the Roosevelt Room just a couple of hours ago that there is more work that needs to be done to make sure that middle-class families are benefiting from our strengthening recovery. There are, as you pointed out, some metrics to indicate that they are benefiting from it as much; that there are -- corporate profits are at an all-time high; the stock market continues to improve. We certainly welcome those signs of strength. We want to make sure that working folks are experiencing those kinds of benefits, too. And that continues to be -- as I mentioned in response to an earlier question -- the focal point of the President’s domestic policymaking agenda.
Q Just very tangentially related -- the administration’s request on the omnibus, does that include more money for the IMF? Last time, you didn’t get it. Are you pushing for it this time as part of this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s my understanding that the United States -- well, that the Obama administration continues to be strongly supportive of Congress acting on proposed IMF reforms that would significantly expand the financial contribution that the United States is able to make to the IMF and to development efforts without a significant increase in the kind of budgetary -- without a significant increase in the budgetary impact.
Q So you are pressing for some more now?
MR. EARNEST: We continue to be strongly supportive of the idea that Congress should act on these reforms to the IMF that -- again, these are reforms that the United States originally proposed. We have seen countries around the world adopt them, and failing to adopt them has had an impact on the kind of influence that we exercise in that multilateral body.
Q But you aren’t pressing for --
MR. EARNEST: We certainly would like for Congress to take action on those IMF reforms.
Q Josh, President Obama went out to dinner last night but the pool was not told who he was having dinner with. Why is that? And will you tell us who he was eating with?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a full list. I know that there were some members of his staff and some friends who happened to be in town. And it was not a working dinner, this was a social dinner.
Q Can you get the list for us?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if -- if there are a couple names we --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I know. (Laughter.) I know you’re a leading advocate. I appreciate it.
Q Who from the staff, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll look and see if we can get you some names.
Q Because that’s -- I mean, that’s business.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess the point is that they weren’t doing business there. It was a purely social occasion.
Q Thanks, Josh. It’s widely expected that the Senate Intelligence Committee will unveil its report on enhanced interrogation techniques sometime early next week. In advance of its release, has the President been given a copy of the report? Has he been briefed on the report?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll say a couple things about that. The President has long advocated the declassified release of this report. So we certainly welcome the news from the committee that they’re planning to do so next week.
The White House has been working closely with the committee and with the intelligence community to resolve some of the differences that have cropped up in the process of declassifying that report. And the President is certainly aware of the contents of that report. He obviously was able to be briefed on the classified version. And the President continues to believe, as he has articulated himself many times, that it’s important for our country to be transparent, as least as transparent as possible when we're talking about classified programs, about what occurred. And we certainly welcome the news that the committee is preparing to release this report soon.
Q One other question. Then forgive me, because I’m not sure anyone else is going to get a chance to ask you before Monday, but what’s the level of expectation in this building ahead of the visit of Prince William on Monday? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the Prince’s visit, as well. We certainly are looking forward to hosting him here in Washington and at the White House for the first time.
And the President has had the opportunity to visit with Prince William on a couple of other occasions. I mentioned -- or at least I alluded to in my opening statement that the President and First Lady had the opportunity to visit with the Duke and Duchess when they were -- when the President and First Lady were in London for a state visit.
The President also had an opportunity this summer at the 70th anniversary of D-Day to visit briefly with Prince William there, as well. So the President has had an opportunity to meet him a couple of times. The President has enjoyed those previous conversations and is really looking forward to Monday’s conversation, as well.
John, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you, Josh. You mentioned the IMF reforms, and it would seem that talking to members of Congress, this has been sitting in Congress for four years now, I believe, and the President and Managing Director Lagarde have repeatedly called for action on it. Yet the attitude, particularly on the Republican side, seems completely the opposite. Not only do they criticize the reforms, but they talk about rescinding the extra $100 billion that Congress voted above what it regularly gives to the fund. That was in ’09. And a couple of years ago this measure got a hundred co-sponsors in the House. Congressman Duncan of Tennessee has talked about reintroducing it. What are you feelings about the attitudes of members which seem to be going in the opposite direction on the IMF?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the White House and the administration and the President have all been very clear about how important these IMF reforms are. Many of the people that you described who are opposed to IMF reforms are exactly the same people who are suggesting we should do more to support the people of Ukraine. Certainly, the IMF has played a very important role in offering economic assistance to the people of Ukraine. And more assistance could be provided if the IMF had access to greater resources. The IMF would have access to greater resources if Congress would follow through on passing these IMF reforms. So I think this is a pretty open and shut case, and we’re hopeful that Congress will -- that Congressional Republicans, I should say, will do the right thing here and act on those IMF reforms.
So let me do a week ahead before we go.
On Monday, we’ve already mentioned what I think will be the highlight of an eventful week, which is the visit of Prince William here to the White House. In the afternoon on Monday, the President will tape an interview for the Colbert Report with Steven Colbert at George Washington University. Set your DVRs.
On Tuesday --
Q Airing that night?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry.
Q Airing that night?
MR. EARNEST: I believe so, yes. He had a great -- I don’t know if you guys saw it, he had a great clip -- you guys are going to get mad at me, but he had a great clip in promoting the President’s participation in the show on Monday. He said that he was traveling to Washington and he was hoping to book his favorite 1990s alternative band, The Presidents of the United States of America. They said that there had been a mix-up and that he’d booked the actual President of the United States of America. So it was very clever. So we’re looking forward to that as well.
Q Why would they get mad at you?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry.
Q Why would they get mad at you?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know. They -- I don’t know.
MR. EARNEST: Maybe that’s it.
Q Gibbs apparently had ruled this out -- your predecessor had said the Daily Show not the Colbert Report. Why the change of heart?
MR. EARNEST: Ah, change you can believe in I guess, right? (Laughter.)
On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks at an event for the Senior Executive Service at the Washington Hilton. The Senior Executive Service is comprised of the senior leadership of the federal workforce. In the afternoon -- on Tuesday afternoon, the President will travel to Nashville, Tennessee -- this is something I mentioned yesterday -- to deliver remarks in his recent actions to fix as much of our broken immigration system as he can, while urging Congress to pass a comprehensive bill to get the job done.
On Wednesday, the President will host the White House Summit on Early Education. This summit will convene prominent business leaders, philanthropist, advocates, elected officials and members of the public, committed to the expansion of high quality early childhood education opportunities for children across the country from birth through school entry. At the event, the President will announce new efforts to enhance and expand the reach of high quality public preschool programs in high-need communities. The President will also highlight new actions by the private philanthropic and public sectors to invest in and expand access to high quality early learning opportunities in communities across the country. The Vice President will also participate and deliver remarks.
On Wednesday afternoon, the President and First Lady will visit Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling where they will deliver toys and gifts donated by the Executive Office of the President’s staff, to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign.
On Thursday, the President will join a meeting of the President’s Export Council. The President’s Export Council advises the President on policies and programs that affect U.S. trade performance and promote export expansion. This is obviously something that the President spent a lot of time talking about on his recent trip to Asia, and the meeting of the President’s Export Council will be a useful opportunity to follow up on some of those conversations.
On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
Thank you all. Have an excellent weekend.
2:04 P.M. EST