Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 4/20/2015
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. You all seem to be in a good mood this fine Monday afternoon. I assume you all had excellent weekends. It’s nice to see you. We’ll get started to the questions here quickly. I know that some people are closely watching the clock -- I’m looking at you, Chris Jansing -- for the President’s remarks to the National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes this afternoon. So we’ll make sure that we wrap up in advance of the beginning of that event.
Let me do one quick thing at the top and then, Nedra, we’ll go to you first.
This weekend, in his weekly address, the President spoke about his commitment to combatting the threat of climate change and to keeping Americans and future generations safe. As we celebrate Earth Day this Wednesday, the President will visit the Florida Everglades and speak about the threat that climate change poses to our economy and to world in the latest part of his effort to call attention to and act on the threat of climate change.
The effects of climate change can no longer be denied or ignored. Last year was the planet’s warmest year recorded. And 14 of the last 15 hottest years on record have happened in this century. Climate change poses risk to our national security, our economy and our public health. The President has already taken historic steps to address climate change.
Over the last eight years, the United States has cut carbon pollution more than any other country while creating 12.1 million private sector jobs over the last 61 months. The United States has set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And we’re leading both here at home and on the world stage in combatting this global threat.
Recently, the President joined the Surgeon General for a powerful conversation about the real impacts of climate change on the health of our families. And this week, the President and the administration will continue to show how tackling climate change means protecting our local businesses, our economy and our planet.
So that’s just the way that we’ll start the week, and you can expect to hear more from the President and others on this important issue over the course of this week.
So with that, Nedra, why don’t you get us started.
Q Josh, can you give some reaction to the deadly developments we’ve been seeing out of Libya the last few days? Is there anything that the United States can be doing to address the instability there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Nedra, it’s clear that we have seen remarkable turmoil inside of Libya, and that’s led to some pretty terrible incidents of violence there. The U.N. and other international organizations are engaged in trying to reach a diplomatic solution to the turmoil in Libya. The United States is strongly supportive of trying to find a diplomatic resolution to that crisis. But it’s clear that the situation there is one that’s not sustainable, and there are concerns about that kind of instability spreading throughout North Africa and continuing to exact a humanitarian toll on the population there.
Q Should European leaders be flatly putting military options off the table given the seriousness of the crisis there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the concerns about the security situation in Libya are understandable. In fact, we at the United States are concerned about the security situation there as well. However, we’re mindful of the fact that a diplomatic resolution is one that’s required. And there are obviously a lot of parties to that particular dispute, and the United Nations and other international institutions are working diligently to try to bring an end to the violence, or at least reduce the violence such that the parties can come together around the negotiating table and try to work out their differences in a political process.
Q Can you respond to Iran’s op-ed in The New York Times? Zarif is calling for a regional security dialogue. What’s the White House reaction to Iran being involved in something like that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s one element of the op-ed that I think that we can agree on, which is that the situation in Yemen is one that also must be resolved diplomatically. And one of the concerns that we have with Iranian behavior in terms of the destabilizing impact they’re having on the broader region is the fact that they continue to supply weapons and offer support to the Houthis in Yemen.
What the United States and the broader international community has called for is an end to the violence in Yemen with the hopes, again, that the U.N. and a GCC-led process can try to reconcile the rather dramatic political differences that exist in that country. So it’s a little ironic for the Iranian foreign minister to be calling for a diplomatic resolution to that situation while, at the same time, his country continues to supply arms to one party to the dispute so that the violence can continue and, in some cases, even worsen.
So we’re hopeful that the international community will unite behind the U.N.-led effort to try to resolve the political crisis in that country.
Q And one last one on the fence jumper last night. What’s the President’s reaction to that? Is he frustrated that there seems to be no end to these security lapses, and the fence still hasn’t been raised?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Nedra, this is based on the information that I’ve been provided. This is actually the first incident of a fence jumper this year. The individual was promptly detained after jumping the fence. That individual is still in custody and I understand will be appearing before a judge later today.
These kinds of incidents are certainly not unheard of. But what the Secret Service and others are engaged in is an effort to try to strengthen the security posture at the White House, or at least make sure that the security posture at the White House reflects the security threat that exists.
The concern that everybody has, including the Secret Service, is making sure that those security precautions are balanced against the priority of protecting public access to the White House. And whether that is people who work here on a daily basis, like you and me, or tourists who want to have the opportunity to tour the White House and see this symbol of our democracy. And balancing the need to move hundreds of thousands of people a year through the White House gates with the need to protect the White House from those who are not legally authorized to be here is a very difficult challenge but one that the Secret Service, particularly under the leadership of Director Clancy, is committed to. And the President continues to have full confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service that these professionals are capable and committed to this very important task.
Q Thanks, Josh. Afghan President Ghani over the weekend blamed the Islamic State for a suicide bombing in the eastern part of the country. It was big -- it killed 33 and injured more than a hundred. Does the U.S. believe that the Islamic State has that kind of capacity in Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julia, we’ve seen reports that a group linked to ISIL claimed responsibility for that suicide bombing on Saturday in and around Jalalabad, Afghanistan. At this point, however, we cannot verify that particular claim. In general, we remain committed to the objective of ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven from which violent extremists of any form can attack the United States, our interests, or our allies. And that’s why you’ve seen this partnership between the United States and Afghanistan be strengthened. That’s why the security posture or the military footprint of U.S. personnel that the President has discussed publicly and in private with President Ghani is structured to make sure that we’re supporting Afghan security forces so they can be responsible for the security situation in their own country.
They’re obviously relying on not just the United States but on the international community for the kind of broader support that would be critical to their efforts. And the United States remains committed to that partnership, because we recognize that there has, in our recent history, been a circumstance where the security situation in Afghanistan was left unresolved and extremists were able to capitalize on that instability to plot and even carry out attacks against Americans.
So we’re mindful of that threat. The international community is mindful of that threat. But the good news is, is that the Afghan central government is mindful of that threat, and that’s why the United States will continue to partner with President Ghani and the Afghan people to try to address the instability in that country.
Q Okay, but is the scale of something like this enough -- if it is, in fact, linked to the Islamic State, is that enough to change U.S. thinking about dealing with the Islamic State and linked groups in Afghanistan in particular? I mean, is that so far off from what we’ve seen in Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions because we have seen previous incidents where there have been some individuals who have sensed a propaganda opportunity by aligning himself with ISIL and separating from the Taliban in doing so. That, frankly, I think has more to do -- says more about the success that the Afghan government has had in taking the fight to the Taliban than it does about the success of ISIL’s efforts to spread. But, again, I don’t want to prejudge this particular claim because it has not been thoroughly investigated at this point. But it’s why we are going to continue to act in support of the Afghan central government that is fighting extremists and threats from extremists, regardless of the kind of particular extremist threat from which it emerges.
Q Okay. I also wanted to see if you could respond to where Obama’s executive action on immigration now stands in the courts. And on Friday, a federal appeals court heard two and a half hours of debate on this and it’s still unclear whether or not they’ll grant a stay to lift the previous injunction. If the administration has to wait for the appeals process to play out, that could take months. Is there any concern that the launch of the executive action could almost push to the end of the presidency? And is there a plan B for something of a smaller scale or a different legal action?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the thing that’s important to remember, Julia, is -- and this is something we’ve talked about a couple of times before -- there are a number of elements related to the executive actions that the President announced in November that are being implemented as we speak; that were not related to -- many of the actions that were included in that announcement were not subject to this specific legal proceeding.
There is, however, an important part of those executive actions that are in question in front of the Fifth Circuit. And the Department of Justice is acting expeditiously to process these -- or to engage in these legal arguments. We feel very confident in the strength of the legal arguments that we’re in a position to make, and we’re going to make those arguments aggressively, and we’re going to urge the court to act quickly to consider them and rule on them. But it’s not going to prevent the other aspects of the President’s executive actions from moving forward.
Q Josh, I know you didn’t want to comment on what happened in Afghanistan, but what about the killings of these Ethiopians in Libya? The Ethiopian government believes that it was ISIS that executed those people. And just to go back to Julia’s question a little bit, can you speak at all now to the scope of ISIS, beyond where they started in Iraq and Syria? Does the U.S. government believe that they do operate in countries outside of Iraq and Syria? Or are these just groups that seek to be sort of franchises almost in the way that there were groups that sought to be franchises of al Qaeda 10 years ago? Can you pin that one down for us?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start with your first question, which is to repeat something that one of my NSC colleagues said in a written statement over the weekend, which is that the United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder by ISIL-affiliated terrorists of what the murderers claimed are Ethiopian Christians in Libya. We express our condolences to the families of the victims, and our support to the Ethiopian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith points to the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality. That’s why we continue to support the U.N.-led process to establish a national unity government in Libya as the best hope for Libyans to address this terrorist threat. So that’s the first thing.
As it relates to ISIL more generally, there is continued progress being made in Iraq and in Syria to roll back ISIL fighters from territory that they had previously controlled. That is a testament to the ongoing efforts of Iraqi security forces on the ground in Iraq being backed by coalition airpower. There have been recent gains in and around Kirkuk. There have also been recent gains around the Baiji oil refinery; this is something that I think we talked about a little bit last week, but that is a refinery that Iraqi security forces have retaken and there have been some efforts to resupply and refortify those elements around the Baiji oil refinery. So there is continued success to point to on that front.
We have long raised concerns about the efforts of ISIL to use social media in a fairly sophisticated way to propagate their hateful rhetoric and to encourage other people to engage in acts of brutality. And that’s something that we continue to be very mindful of, both in terms of our domestic security here in this country, but also as it relates to the spread of ISIS -- or ISIL and their tactics throughout the region.
Q But do you believe that they’re operating in countries outside of Iraq and Syria? I mean, just to put it simply, are they operating in other countries?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a difficult thing to assess for reasons similar to what I raised with Julia, which is that there are some situations in which we believe individuals claim a link to ISIL without a lot of credibility merely because they sense a propaganda victory embedded in that claim.
Q There’s nobody in the intelligence community who has made that determination?
MR. EARNEST: Maybe they have, but there’s nothing public like that, that I’m aware of. And this is something that we obviously assess, and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising if we did sense that there were some extremist groups that were trying to align themselves with ISIL. And whether there were communications like that that maybe went beyond just seeking a propaganda victory, we’re mindful of this threat and it’s one of the reasons that the President has marshaled so much international support for the effort to try to snuff out this ISIL threat in Iraq and in Syria, and not allow it to continue to spread across the region in a way that could further destabilize an already volatile region of the world.
Q And there’s been another young man who has died in police custody, another high-profile case of that in Baltimore in the case of Freddie Gray. And I know that the White House has the 21st Century Policing Task Force, and the President has spoken out on this from time to time, but we haven't really heard him talking about these cases very much at all lately, and I’m just wondering if we’re going to hear from him again. And what is your take when you see these happening almost once a week? It seems that they are happening once a week. Is this sort of an epidemic of police brutality that we’re seeing right now, or we’re just seeing more of these cases being reported, do you think?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what’s clear is that the public in general is more sensitive to these reports now. And we talked a lot last summer about how the situation in Ferguson was an environment that is not necessarily common all across the country, but at the same time it’s not unprecedented. And that is a testament to the fact that the vast majority of men and women in local police forces across the country do an excellent job of serving the community. And these are individuals who go about their work with a lot of diligence and a commitment to truth and justice and safety. And they do so in a very dangerous environment; in many cases, you have men and women in uniform who on a daily basis are prepared to put their life on the line to try to make those communities more safe. And that is a commitment and a calling that is worthy of our support.
At the same time, there are also people who live in communities across the country that don’t feel that kind of trust and support from local law enforcement. And those unique situations are situations that our task force has developed a set of best practices to try to address. And the good news is that we see local law enforcement officials and local political leaders in communities all across the country participating in these efforts because they understand how important it is to try to build and facilitate that trust between local law enforcement and the communities that they lead, or the communities that they protect. That’s good thing, and that is an indication that people are trying to take the right steps to protect these communities.
But there is obviously a lot of work that needs to be done, and we’re going to continue to be supportive of it. I don’t want these comments to be read as any sort of reflection or rendering any judgment on this particular Baltimore case. I’ve seen some of the news reporting around it, but I understand this is being investigated by local authorities in Baltimore. So I don’t want my comments to be read as a particular judgment on that case but rather as a statement on the broader circumstances that are facing a lot of communities and law enforcement agencies across the country.
Q I’m guessing that every time one of these cases happens, the President’s attention has been raised, I would assume. Now this his attention. Every time one of these happens --
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we’re seeing is we’re seeing that these events get a lot more national media attention than they had in the past. And as an avid consumer of the media, as you know the President is, I’m confident that he reads these news reports and is aware of them, too. Again, I think that that -- I don’t think that anybody is in a position to suggest that these incidents that are getting national attention necessarily represent a spike in more violent police activity. I think it represents a greater awareness and heightened sensitivity in the news media and among people across the country about incidents like this.
Q Two Iran questions -- or Iran-related questions. Could you talk a little bit about the extent to which the President is talking with the Crown Prince today about Iran, about reassuring the UAE and other Gulf States vis-à-vis the Iran negotiations, and what, if anything, in specific he’s promising to the UAE or wanting to get from them? And then second, could you talk a little bit about the Washington Post reporter that was charged today in Iran, and how it is the United States compartmentalizes the negotiations with the country, on the one hand, and the sort of continued holding of a reporter and others in ways that the United States doesn’t approve in the other?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as it relates to the visit of the Crown Prince of the UAE, the President and the Crown Prince are having lunch even as we speak, I believe. And we will have a more detailed readout of the meeting once it has concluded. But yes, it is safe for you to assume that the President is having an extended conversation with him about a range of regional security issues, including the ongoing efforts by the international community to pursue diplomacy and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is obviously an issue of significant concern to a country like the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has been a strong and solid partner of the United States in a variety of areas, including in our efforts against ISIL.
And we certainly appreciate the kind of partnership that we have with the UAE and are interested in making sure that they are aware of our ongoing efforts to address the wide range of security challenges in that region of the world. But we’ll see if we can get you a slightly more detailed update on the meeting after it’s concluded.
Q Do you know if he’s talking about arms sales specifically?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if anything like that will come up, but we’ll see if we can get some information about that included in the readout.
Q And then on the Post reporter.
MR. EARNEST: Yes. Let me start by saying that while the United States is not aware of any official announcement yet from any Iranian judicial authorities, we have seen reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage and other security-related charges. If the reports are true, these charges are absurd, should be immediately dismissed, and Jason should be freed immediately so he can return home to his family. So we’re going to wait until we see some more official announcement from Iranian judicial authorities before we comment further on this case.
More generally, let me repeat something that I said before, which is that the ongoing effort to try to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy will not, if it succeeds, resolve the wide range of other concerns we have about Iranian behavior. I mentioned earlier in response to Nedra’s question our ongoing concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including shipping arms to the Houthis, for example. We continue to be concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Iran’s language that currently emanates from their leadership that threatens our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. And we continue to have concerns about Mr. Rezaian and other Americans who are being unjustly detained in Iran.
One thing that we have done, Mike, that you know, in the context of the talks is raised on the sidelines of those talks our concern about the status of these American citizens. And we’re going to continue to press that case as we move forward here.
Q Josh, on the Jason Rezaian case, why can’t you just say to the Iranians that as a condition of making this deal final, you’ve got to free Jason Rezaian? I understand you’re going to resolve all of your issues with Iran, like supporting terrorism throughout the region -- all of those issues that are very complicated perhaps; some would argue maybe not. But here you have one case of an American who’s been held prisoner since July of last year, now brought up on what you just said were absurd charges. Why not say, look, we’re not going to sign a deal until you let him go?
MR. EARNEST: The reason for that, Jon, simply is that the effort to build the international community’s strong support for a diplomatic resolution, or a diplomatic agreement that would shut down every pathway that Iran has to a nuclear weapon is extraordinarily complicated. And so we’re trying to focus on these issues one at a time. And that’s why you continue to see regular, consistent and pretty forceful statements from the United States that these Americans should be released, while at the same time we are working with our P5+1 partners and other countries around the world to compel Iran to sign on to the dotted line and agree to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, and cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.
Q Can you tell me what the administration’s position is on whether or not sanctions would be lifted immediately or whether or not they would be phased in over a period of time as the Iranians demonstrate that they’re complying with the agreement?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, we’ve been resolute about this -- that any sort of agreement that we reach with Iran will be Iran making specific commitments to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon. And there are a lot of details about those commitments included in the parameters document that we released a few weeks ago. These are steps they would take to overhaul the plutonium reactor at Arak and a whole series of other steps that would shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon. We would also insist on Iran’s cooperation with, as I mentioned earlier, the most intrusive set of inspections that have been imposed on a country’s nuclear program. And in exchange, the United States and the broader international community would take steps to phase in sanctions relief in exchange for Iran taking these steps that would be delineated in the agreement.
It would not make sense, just as a negotiating posture, for Iran to sign at the bottom on the dotted line, and then for all the sanctions relief to be given to them. That would -- I mean, it would largely remove the incentive for their compliance of the agreement. And given their rather shorted history when it comes to candor about their nuclear program, that would be an unwise move. And that’s why we believe that the United States will work with the international community to structure in phased sanctions relief in exchange for specific steps that Iran will take to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon.
Q Let me be sure I understand you. I think you have just said that there will be no deal to lift sanctions immediately; that the only deal that the United States would be willing to sign on would be one that lifts sanctions over time in return for Iranian compliance to the deal.
MR. EARNEST: This is consistent with what the President has said before and it’s what I’ve said before, which is that the best way for us to structure an agreement, and the kind of agreement that we would sign on to is one in which in exchange for Iran making very serious commitments and following through and taking very serious steps to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, in exchange the United States and the international community would begin phasing in some sanctions relief.
What the President has also said, that’s also a critical part of our position, is we believed that the phased sanctions relief also makes sense because we want to leave the underlying architecture of our sanctions in place so that if we do detect that Iran is not implementing their end of the deal, that sanctions can be immediately snapped back into place. And that’s the other virtue of this phased-in sanctions relief strategy, is it allows us to keep the underlying architecture in place, such that if Iran doesn’t live up to its end of the deal or we detect through these inspections that they aren’t living up to the deal, that we can move quickly at the stroke of a pen to snap those sanctions back into place.
Q Okay, one other quick topic. I’m sure you’ve seen there are allegations regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees given to President Bill Clinton while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. The allegations that are being made are that there was preferential treatment given to donors to the Clinton Foundation and to those who gave big speaking fees to former President Bill Clinton. Can you say categorically that no donors to the Clinton Foundation, nobody paying any honoraria to former President Bill Clinton received any favorable treatment from this administration or from the State Department, including from the State Department while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. The first is there has been a lot of talk about this memorandum of understanding that was signed prior to Secretary Clinton taking her office over in Foggy Bottom. This was a memorandum of understanding that did ensure that, given the unique circumstances of her family. Not every Secretary of State came into office with a presidential-level family foundation that was doing excellent work all across the world. So there were some steps that were taken to ensure that she and her office were compliant with all of the existing ethical guidelines that were in place. And in many places, this memorandum of understanding actually went beyond the baseline level of those guidelines to put in place strict ethical requirements. And I know there’s been a lot of accusations made about this, but not a lot of evidence.
So the President continues to be extraordinarily proud of the work that Secretary Clinton did as the Secretary of State. But for the details of some of those accusations, I’d refer you to Secretary Clinton’s campaign.
Q But I just asked what I thought was a pretty simple question: Can you assure us that there was absolutely no favorable treatment given to donors of the Clinton Foundation?
MR. EARNEST: Again, Jon, what I’m saying is that there are lots of accusations like this.
Q You can’t give me that reassurance? That’s a pretty basic -- I mean --
MR. EARNEST: But, Jon, there’s nobody that’s marshaled any the evidence to indicate this, so I don’t want to be in a position of --
Q But you could tell me that it didn’t happen.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not sure there’s anybody that has any tangible evidence to indicate that it did. So I’m not going to be in a position here where every time somebody raises a spurious claim that I’m going to be the one to sit down here and say that that’s not true.
What I can do is I can say clearly what happened, which is that there was a memorandum of understanding that was put in place that went above and beyond the ethical guidelines that the federal government previously had in place. And the President continues to be extraordinarily proud of the work that Secretary Clinton did as a Secretary of State. But for these specific accusations that are presented without any evidence, I’d refer you to the political types that are more well-versed in those kinds of things.
Q You just repeated your call for the ability to snap back sanctions, and yet there’s a lot of skepticism that sanctions could be structured so that particularly sanctions imposed by the U.N. and other nations could be snapped back, as it were, at a moment’s notice if a violation were found. What makes you so sure that that is possible?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me acknowledge on the front end that, yes, what you described is complicated. And that’s why our negotiators, even after establishing a good political framework with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners, have left themselves two and a half months to negotiate the details and make sure that the details for the implementation of that political agreement reflect the commitments that were made in the context of that political agreement. So I’ll acknowledge on the front end that it’s complicated.
The second thing is that the United States and our international partners are committed to the strategy that -- what I described before about the need to preserve the sanctions architecture so that if we detect that Iran is deviating from some of the commitments that they had previously made, that we want to have the ability -- and when I say “we”, I mean not just the United States, I mean the international community wants to have the ability to snap those sanctions back in place.
Now, the mechanics for doing that, again, are admittedly complicated but it’s something that they’re working on. And obviously the Iranians who are sitting on the other side of the table, who are making very serious commitments about their nuclear program in exchange for the sanctions relief are understandably interested in how that situation gets resolved and how it gets written into the agreement. So there’s a lot to work through here, but the strategy that we’re pursuing is one that makes a lot of sense. It’s the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and it is a strategy that the international community signed on to.
Q Do you admit the mechanics are complicated? They are more than complicated when you have a number of nations involved. And if you are talking about releasing cash from bank accounts or delivering shipments of equipment, you don’t just turn that around on a dime.
MR. EARNEST: That’s true. So, again, we’re going to have to structure this in a way that we can satisfy, again, not just the concerns of the United States but concerns that have been expressed by a number of a countries around the globe.
Q Okay. Today is the fifth anniversary of the oil blowout in the Gulf, and there were reports that there are companies seeking to drill even deeper wells in the Gulf. Are there safety protections that the administration is convinced will allow that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s certainly possible. This is something that will be carefully reviewed by the Department of Interior. The other regulatory agencies that have oversight of drilling operations on the Outer Continental Shelf had been reformed in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion five years ago; that there are a number of changes, of reforms that have been put in place at the behest of the White House. These are better emergency response standards for oil and gas companies. These are new standards for well equipment and production systems. There are changes that have been related to clarifying the missions of the regulatory agencies so that there’s no confusion about which regulator is in charge of regulating which aspect of drilling operations.
The administration has also sought better resources and more resources for these regulatory agencies so they can do the important work of monitoring these drilling activities and protecting the environment. So there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this over the last five years, and I do think I can -- I’d feel confident in telling you that those drilling operations are safer than they’ve ever been before.
Q Even at greater depths?
MR. EARNEST: But at the same time, there are also innovations and new technology that some of these drilling companies want to capitalize on. And what we want to make sure is that our regulatory agencies are resourced; that they can keep up with these innovations and continue to ensure that these drilling operations only get safer.
Q First, I just wanted to look back on sanctions really quickly. There’s some vagueness in both, I think, the President’s comments last week and yours. And so what I want to --
MR. EARNEST: -- try to tighten them.
Q Yes. What I wanted to figure out specifically is whether the U.S. was willing to roll back any sanctions on Iran before it fully reduces its stockpile of enriched uranium and disassembles its centrifuges. Those are two things that were in the factsheet. And I think the question is whether we’d start to roll back before that had been fully completed.
MR. EARNEST: What I will say, Justin -- the reason I can’t be specific on this is that we’re not going to negotiate the agreement from here. What we have indicated --
Q So it’s possible?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we have indicated is that Iran has to take steps to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon before the United States is going to consider any sanctions relief. And then once we start to see Iran take important, tangible steps towards shutting down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon and cooperating with intrusive inspections, then we can begin the talk -- or begin the work of starting to phase in sanctions relief.
But that sanctions relief will only commence once Iran has begun taking the tangible, measurable, verifiable steps that they commit to as it relates to curtailing and limiting their nuclear program.
Q Begun but not necessarily completed, right? That’s, I think, where the question is.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that the question lies around how it’s going to be structured -- what are the steps that Iran will take in exchange for what kind of sanctions relief. Because we know and we’ve been clear that Iran is not going to get all the sanctions relief upfront. So the question is, what steps do they have to start taking in order to start receiving some of the sanctions relief. And that is actually the crux of the negotiations that will take place over the next couple of months here.
Q I wanted to ask about trade. Obviously there’s the big push for TPA this week, and there’s also been I think pretty vocal protests and statements from a few Democrats on this. There seem to be two stumbling blocks for Democrats, or two main ones. One is that there is not an enforceable currency provision that’s embedded into TPA, and the other is the Trade Adjustment Assistance, which helps potentially displaced workers, is also not embedded in the Senate bill so it could be potentially struck down when it goes to the House. I’m wondering where the White House stands on both these issues and why the President supporting those two provisions would seem to kind of satisfy his requirements for helping workers here in the U.S., and why he’s not insisting on those being included?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you have understandably asked about two things that are not included in the proposal. The reason that the President is supporting and believes that this is a common-sense, bipartisan compromise is because of the things that are included. This is the most progressive, far-reaching Trade Promotion Authority bill in history. And the reason that it is so progressive is because it includes enforceable labor provisions, it includes enforceable environmental provisions, and it includes some provisions that are related to human rights. These are things that the administration strongly supports and believes should be included in there.
And this is consistent with the President’s view that any sort of trade deal that he signs will be one that he is confident is clearly in the best interest of American workers and American businesses. If it’s not, then he won’t sign it. And the President has been pretty blunt about that. And there are some who have suggested -- have criticized the President by merely saying that he’s just doing the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations that have long been strongly supportive of trade measures like this.
And I think the President was pretty pointed about this when he answered this question from your colleague in the briefing -- or in the news conference on Friday when he said that he’s not doing this because the Chamber of Commerce supports it. The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t usually support the President. They certainly didn’t support him in the last election. The reason the President feels like he has got a strong base of support, and the reason the President is sitting in the Oval Office right now is because he built a campaign around advocacy for working families and fighting for working families. And he is not going to abandon that now in pursuit of a trade deal.
So he’s been very definitive about this. And that’s why the things that are included in the Trade Promotion Authority are things that the President supports, and that’s why those kinds of principles will have to be written into a TPP proposal in order for the President to support it.
Now, you asked about two things that aren’t in there. The first -- as it relates to currency -- currency is a top priority, and the administration has been clear that no country should grow its exports based on a persistently undervalued exchange rate. We have worked hard to promote a level global playing field for American workers and firms, and have all countries play fairly. We’ve made progress and will continue to press for more.
There are a number of tangible results that we can point to as it relates to our efforts to fight for fair exchange rates. And there’s progress that a number of countries made -- have made because of the work and dialogue the United States has been engaged in, in a variety of multilateral fora -- including the G7, the G20, and the IMF. So there is measurable progress that’s made there. That’s a testament to this administration’s commitment to fairness when it comes to currency policies, and it’s one that has not diminished.
As it relates to -- what was the other thing you asked about?
Q The provision that would protect workers, that basically has been the -- the Senate says they’ll take it up. I think it’s called TAA.
MR. EARNEST: Right, TAA. Yes, Trade Adjustment Assistance. The President does believe that a strong Trade Adjustment Assistance package should move along with a TPA bill; that this sort of needs to be part and parcel of what we believe is important. And the President, again, addressed this in the news conference, too, when he talked about the fact that some people point to communities that have not benefitted from previous trade agreements, and that despite the fact that there have been important contributions to global economic growth and even economic growth and job creation across the country, there are some communities that have been hurt by this.
And what the President has said is two things. One is we’re going to include some enforceable provisions in this trade bill that were not included in previous trade agreements that will serve to better protect some of those communities. But the second is we also want to make sure that our communities and workers can benefit from assistance to help them benefit from these trade packages. So a lot of these Trade Adjustment Assistance proposals include things like funding for job training so that when you have workers who may be negatively affected by one aspect of a trade deal, that they can stand to benefit from the upside by going to get some additional training and some additional skills.
So the President does believe that this other package of TAA that’s being negotiated in the Senate right now is a critical part of our overall approach to trade policy.
Q And you’d veto a bill that didn’t include TAA? Because there’s worry that the House would strip it out.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, and you’ve asked a more specific, sort of procedural question, and it’s one I’m not ready to render a judgment on at this point. All I would say is that we believe that these kinds of TAA proposals are an important priority when it comes to our overall approach to trade policy, and we’re going to fight to ensure that they’re included in this broader package. But the procedural aspects about it, whether it’s embedded in the legislation or if it moves at the same time, that’s not something I can confirm from here.
Yes, go ahead, Dave.
Q Same topic. Secretary Clinton has come out I think late Friday and said in a statement that she would support TPP and maybe TPA under certain conditions, including I think adding a currency provision, as we just talked about. I wondered if the President expects the Secretary to get out and really stump for this, considering that she was his Secretary of State, helped launch the idea of TPP and really touted it when she was in office, a cover story for “Foreign Policy” as well as other statements. And is it disingenuous for her to sort of hold back at all if the President himself is onboard with this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, it’s not. I guess my short answer to both your questions is no. The first is, he would have the expectation that she is going to do what other presidential candidates do, which is be focused on the presidential campaign. And two, she is going to make up her own mind about what policy positions that she’ll take. And after all, TPP is something that’s still being negotiated. So that’s the other aspect of this, that, again, I think this is evident from the statement that was put out by Secretary Clinton’s campaign is that she, as we’re encouraging everybody to do, is going to withhold judgment until they have an opportunity to take a look at the agreement that the United States has signed on to, if we’re able to reach an agreement.
Q In other words, she left a couple years ago, these negotiations have continued and she didn’t necessarily know enough as to where the negotiations stood, even though this thing has been negotiated since the Bush days that the general framework and attendance -- even though maybe not all the countries were onboard yet when she was involved -- but I’m just wondering, shouldn’t she have known enough to sort of know where it’s headed and that the other countries might not take a currency provision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think she’s doing what we’re encouraging everybody to do, which is to withhold judgment on this until they have an opportunity to take a look at it. And what the President has said -- and again, I think this is reflected in the statement that she put out or that her team put out -- is that he’s going to aggressively push for a trade agreement that is clearly in the interest of American workers and American businesses.
And because of that commitment, we believe that people should -- even people who might be predisposed to oppose trade agreements -- should withhold that judgment until they have an opportunity to take a careful look at the agreement that President Obama signs on to, again, if we’re able to reach an agreement with the TPP countries.
Q Just a couple different topics if I can. On Friday, the President called the holdup on Loretta Lynch’s nomination “embarrassing.” And Bob Corker said yesterday that he thought there could be some movement in the next 48 to 72 hours. Does the White House have any indication that there could be movement in the next couple of days? And if there isn’t, would the President be supportive of Harry Reid bypassing the Republicans and forcing a vote?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Chris, we have been clear about the fact that Loretta Lynch is a career federal prosecutor -- you guys can basically recite the litany with me now. She’s earned the accolades of law enforcement, of civil rights leaders. She is somebody who has earned a reputation as a tough but fair prosecutor. She has stood up to and convicted terrorist, white-collar criminals, and even public officials who violated the public trust. She takes her job seriously. She’s got a strong reputation for fairness. She’s the right person to be the next Attorney General of the United States. And Republicans in the United States Senate have now for too long blocked her confirmation into that new job, even though she has bipartisan support.
So we certainly would welcome Senate action in the next 48 to 72 hours. But --
Q But have you gotten any indication of it?
MR. EARNEST: -- but that action would be long overdue. And I mean, the indication that we have is from the public comments of people like Senator Corker and others trying to assure the American public that I think is growing increasingly impatient about this situation, to assure them that they’re trying to resolve it.
Now, we certainly would have liked to have seen congressional action on this quite some time ago. We haven't because of the Republican obstruction. But if it is removed in the next 48 to 72 hours, we certainly would welcome that development. At the same time, we might observe that’s quite a ways overdue.
Q Well, I made a presumption that there were conversations going on and you were on top of perhaps whatever move that there might be. So my question is, are you getting any indications that there could be movement? And if not, would the President be supportive of Harry Reid forcing the vote?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn’t rule out any sort of conversations at a staff level between the White House and Capitol Hill. But I would repeat that we’re ready to see some action; I think the American people are too. And I think there is a sense that this highly qualified, highly decorated, independent federal prosecutor has been treated very unfairly by the Republicans in the Senate, and it’s time for them to take action to rectify that.
As it relates to the procedure for resolving this situation, that’s something for members of the United States Senate to figure out. But we’re hopeful that the Senate is going to act quickly.
Q And if I can, the question about the reports over the weekend -- the Justice Department and the FBI acknowledging that there were some serious problems with DNA evidence that, in fact, affected cases that happened over the course of 20 years leading up to 2000. And the head of the Innocence Project said that we need an exhaustive investigation into why the FBI and others allowed this to happen; why wasn’t it stopped a lot sooner. Is the President aware of this? And has he spoken to either Eric Holder, Director Comey about taking some sort of action in this case?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve not spoken to the President about this particular issue. But obviously it is one that has gotten a lot of attention, and I think understandably so. I’d refer you to the Department of Justice about steps that they have taken to correct this problem. It obviously is a problem that has had serious consequences for many people across the country, and the steps that they may be considering are certainly important for them to take.
I did understand from the reporting that many of the practices that were the source of so much concern were practices that had been ended quite some time ago. But I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for exactly how they’re going to take a look at this.
Q And you don’t have anything about conversations he might have had about this -- briefings on this, or conversations he had about looking at how this could be rectified?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any conversations like that.
Q Thanks, Josh. You mentioned a memorandum of understanding in your answer to Jon’s question about the Clinton Foundation. But if my former colleague Josh Gerstein’s reporting is correct on the text of that ethics agreement, the Clinton Foundation’s donation weren’t subject to administration review. With that exception written into the ethics agreement, is the White House confident that the memorandum of understanding was enough to avoid any ethics problems?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, again, there have been a lot of accusations that have been logged in the context of a just-starting presidential campaign. And those accusations have not been accompanied by much evidence. So I’m not going to stand here and respond to accusations. I’m not suggesting that you’re asking an illegitimate question; I’m just saying that for questions about what the actual text of the memorandum required, I’d refer you to the State Department because that’s where that memorandum was signed and where it lives. I’m confident that Secretary Clinton’s campaign would be happy to have a conversation with you about this as well.
Q One tangentially related question. The Clinton campaign said they would accept donations from registered lobbyists and corporate PACs. That is something that the President did not do in both his campaigns. Is he disappointed in that decision? And would he encourage the Secretary, were she to win the presidency, to keep his lobbying ban in place?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to be in a position to comment on those kinds of practices that they announce. The President has been -- the President did set a new standard in his campaign, and it’s one that he’s proud of. But ultimately, every candidate in both parties will have to decide what standard they’re going to set for themselves. That certainly applies to the President’s decision to not accept money from PACs or lobbyists in the context of his campaign, and it also applies to the steps that he took in the first days of the administration to close the revolving door between the White House and K Street.
Q Thank you. What’s the President’s reaction to what happened this weekend with hundreds of migrants dying in the sea?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it is obviously -- these reports are frightening, and early indications are that there may have been hundreds of people who were lost at sea in a pretty scary episode. And it certainly does highlight, even going back to Nedra’s first question, the consequences of the ongoing political instability that we see in Libya. And the United States is obviously concerned about that situation, but it’s allies in Europe that are on the front lines of it. And I’ve seen that Prime Minister Renzi has been talking about this already and encouraging other European countries to work with him to try to address this pretty urgent humanitarian situation.
Q People are saying that they flee Libya because of ISIL. Is there any way for U.S. forces to combat ISIL in Libya? I know that your focus is to combat them in Iraq first, and Syria. But is there any consideration for the American forces at one point to be in Libya?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we’re focused on right now, as it relates to Libya, is trying to reach a diplomatic resolution to the turmoil there. There are a wide variety of extremists that are operating in Libya right now, and they do so because there isn’t the kind of strong, central government there that can impose some order and restore some security to the country. And obviously the international community is very concerned about that; the United States is among them. And we have been wholly supportive of the U.N.-led process to try to bring the parties to that dispute together so that they can try to restore some order to Libya.
And the consequences of continued disorder are many, and they include potential continued humanitarian situations like the disaster that we saw at sea over the weekend. And they also include the efforts of extremists to try to capitalize on the efforts of that unstable area to carry out terrorist attacks and to launch other acts of violence. So we're very mindful of how the instability in Libya is not constructive to the region.
Q But you don't feel that you have a moral obligation to do that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we feel is a need to be engaged with the United Nations and with the international community to try to bring a diplomatic resolution to the turmoil in that country.
Q Thank you, Josh. Before the framework, often you would say, it’s a 50/50 shot if something gets done. Now that a framework has been agreed to -- at least in principle -- and the work continues, given the sort of disconnect between what is being said out of the Tehran and what’s often being said here, would you say there’s a less than 50/50 shot?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, I wouldn’t put a number on it. But I would observe that back in November of 2013, when the United States alongside the international community reached an interim agreement with Iran, a so-called Joint Plan of Action, that there was a similar dynamic in play where a political framework was reached in November, and those negotiators left a couple of months for the technical details to be worked out. And eventually those technical details were worked out, and they laid the foundation for the talks that were recently concluded around this political agreement.
And there was a similar dynamic where after that political framework was reached, there were complaints from Republicans suggesting that this was a terrible deal. These are the same Republicans who now believe that that Joint Plan of Action should remain in place in perpetuity.
But the other dynamic that was at play is we saw that the Iranians were essentially trying to spin their side of the agreement and indicate some difference of opinion with the United States about some of the conclusions of that agreement. And the fact is that in regular order, those negotiations were successful, and the technical details were locked down, and a Joint Plan of Action was finalized.
So that is why I’m not particularly concerned about these particular statements that are emanating from Iran. What we're focused on are the ongoing talks to try to resolve the technical details of this agreement and make sure that we have a technical, finalized agreement that reflects the broad parameters that were agreed to just a few weeks ago.
Q “Liars, dishonest, trickery” -- none of that bothers the administration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would say that you've cited some of the least offensive things we’ve heard from Iran in the last few weeks. (Laughter.)
Q All right. I know we’ll get a readout later, but why is it important, though, to have the UAE’s Crown Prince here? Tell me what his feeling, if it’s been shared at all, of concern about the possible nuclear-armed Iran might be?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, you're right that the Crown Prince of the UAE and the broader UAE government does have concerns about the ability of Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. And that's why the United States is leading the effort with the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And it’s the view of the President that the ongoing diplomacy is the best way, by far, for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. They certainly will be talking about that in their meeting.
The other thing that you can expect is a pretty robust discussion of our ongoing cooperation when it comes to our security efforts. The UAE has been a stalwart partner in this coalition to take the fight to ISIL. And they’ve made important contributions in a variety of areas that include some military contributions. There are UAE fighter pilots that have taken strikes inside Syria. We have worked with the UAE on our counter-finance efforts. We talked about this being a priority in terms of our efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, that we want to shut down their funding mechanism. And the UAE has played an important part of that.
The UAE has also played an important part of our ongoing efforts to coordinate the effort against foreign fighters, and to stem the flow of foreign fighters. So we're certainly appreciative of the significant role that the UAE has played to work alongside the United States and the international community to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Q Last one, very quickly. I want to ask you about the concerns among many -- not just worldwide, but in particular here in the U.S. -- about the increasing persecution of religious Christians. Is the White House doing all it can to protect Christians all over the world from increasing violent attacks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, the White House is working hard to counter any extremist efforts to target anybody because of their religious affiliation. And the administration simply is willing to state unequivocally that that runs directly contrary to the values of this country, but it also runs contrary to the universal human rights that every human being should be able to enjoy.
And that's why you've seen the United States with our coalition partners take steps inside of Iraq to try to protect the Yazidis from the slaughter of ISIL. We’ve taken steps inside of northeast Syria to try to protect Christians, minority Christians in northeast Syria that were at risk from ISIL fighters. So we’ve taken steps regardless of an individual’s religious identity to try to protect anybody who is being targeted because of that religious identity.
Q A little closer to home, Josh, do you have any comment on the six people that were arrested in Minneapolis and San Diego on charges of planning to travel to Syria to join ISIL?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any comment on that. I know that this is something that the Department of Justice has been working, and I understand the U.S. Attorney from Minnesota has done a news conference already today to answer some questions about it. So this is an ongoing legal matter, and so I’d refer any questions you have to the Department of Justice or to the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.
Q Josh, I want to get back on something that Chris brought up -- Loretta Lynch. What’s the number day today?
MR. EARNEST: I think we're like up to like 162 or 163, I think.
Q All right. I missed the count when you were talking to her before.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q So on Loretta Lynch, you always have -- this White House has always had and other White Houses have always had the plan B, C, D, E. What’s your plan B?
MR. EARNEST: We're still on plan A, April, and that is to confirm an eminently qualified career federal prosecutor with a reputation for toughness and fairness to be the next Attorney General of the United States.
Q I understand you're still on plan A, but what if something goes awry with plan A? There is always a plan B.
MR. EARNEST: The only thing that's gone awry so far is we’ve seen unprecedented Republican obstruction to make her wait for a vote on the floor more than seven times -- or more than twice as long as the seven previous nominees combined have waited for their vote. So we have -- and I think a lot of the American people have run entirely out of patience for the kind of Republican obstruction that we’ve seen in this matter.
And I’m hopeful that Senator Corker will do what Chris said, and that's ensure that they take some action here in the next 48 to 72 hours. That would be a welcome and overdue development.
Q Well, let’s say they don't take action in 48 to 72 hours -- and it’s not hypothetical either.
MR. EARNEST: It’s not. We’ve seen them delay for 163 days. So what would be another 72 hours?
Q So since it’s not hypothetical, what other actions could be taken?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, the only action that's required right now is for Republicans in the United States Senate to allow Loretta Lynch to come up for a vote. She’s eminently qualified. Nobody has raised a single objection. And they’ve had ample time to raise their objections as it relates to her qualifications for this job. No one has. And we're to the point now where I’m not even advocating that people vote for her; I’m in a position where, just give her a vote. If you give her a vote on the floor of the United States Senate, she’s going to pass with bipartisan support. And that's what we're encouraging them to do.
Q Are you sure you just meant what you said? Are you sure you just meant what you said?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. Look, if there are Republicans who want to vote against her, then they can vote against her. They’ll have to sort of -- they’ll have to answer for themselves on that. We just want her to get a plain up or down vote. Because I know that if they do, that she’s going to pass with bipartisan support.
Q So again, okay, since you went through all that and you still didn't answer my question, what else could happen if she does not get a plain up or down vote?
MR. EARNEST: There is no plan B, April. This is the thing that Republicans in the Senate need to do.
Q All right, so you won’t bite on that question. (Laughter.) So what’s the --
MR. EARNEST: You spent all that time and you’re going to say I didn't bite?
Q You didn't. So on another subject, was it acceptable that a suspect who had a package got over the fence of the South Lawn?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you're talking about the incident last night. For the details of that incident, I’d refer you to the Secret Service.
Q I’m not talking about the details. Was it acceptable for this White House that the suspect was able to get over the fence with a package? Was it acceptable?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, the fence is there for a reason, and that is to keep out those individuals who are not supposed to be on the White House grounds. And there are -- there’s personnel in place to ensure that if individuals try to get over or through or around or under that fence, that they can be promptly detained. This individual was detained by the Secret Service and is currently in custody.
Q Josh, two quick follow-ups. One on Iran. Because the P5+1 has gone to great lengths to negotiate with Iran to indicate that the negotiations are just about nuclear behavior and not any of the ancillary issues that you described -- whether it’s detention of journalists, or support for terror, or arms sales -- is the President at all concerned that Iran’s behavior going forward -- external to nuclear behavior -- is in some way going to complicate the negotiations before the end of June, or the appearance of support for that in the community, the Middle East community?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Alexis, I’ll just say that the P5+1 remains united as we confront Iran over their nuclear program, and the P5+1 is going to insist that Iran shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon and cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program. That's what a final deal will look like if we can reach it. But it’s going to require Iran to make some very serious commitments to both curtail and in some cases even roll back key elements of their nuclear program.
And I’ve described it this way before: The rap sheet that Iran has when it comes to supporting terrorism, destabilizing impacts -- or destabilizing acts in the region, including sending arms to the Houthis; menacing our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel; or even unjustly detaining Americans -- that list has not gotten any shorter. But that list only includes elements that are more dangerous if we're talking about a nuclear-armed Iran. And that’s why you're seeing such a determined effort on the part of the President and the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q So what -- I just want to make sure, the rap sheet could get longer from now through -- for any month going forward, and nothing that Iran does outside of the discussion about their nuclear behavior is going to affect the outcome of the negotiations or whether they get sanctions relief? Nothing?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t want to entertain -- well, here’s the thing. I don't want people who might be listening to our conversation to assume that that means we somehow don't care that Iran, for example, continues to support terrorist groups around the globe. We do care about that. And we insist that Iran stop.
And there are a whole set of sanctions that are in place against Iran because they support acts of terror and they support terrorism groups. Those sanctions will remain in place even if we reach a nuclear agreement, and even if we reach a nuclear agreement that involves the relaxing of some sanctions related to their nuclear program.
So these other things that are included on the rap sheet are significant, and they matter to the United States. And we're going to continue to press our case to the Iranians about our concerns about their behavior.
But again, this is why we're working so hard to try to reach an agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, because -- to take the terrorism example -- a nuclear-armed Iran and the support that they provide to terrorists would be even more dangerous than the kind of support that they offer now.
Q Second question on Mrs. Clinton. You responded to the first range of questions about complications with the Clinton Foundation by calling them specious claims for which there was no evidence. But then when you were talking to Byron, you suggested that the question should really go to the State Department and maybe to the foundation. So my question to you is, there are going to be lots of inquiries about this going forward; are you going to answer every one and defend every one of these, or not? Because you did both things today.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not sure that that's the case. I think what I did was I tried to be as clear as I could about our position on these issues. I’m not in a position to talk in detailed terms about the memorandum of understanding. And that was a memorandum of understanding that right now rests with the State Department.
And for broader questions about Secretary Clinton, obviously her campaign is the appropriate place to direct those questions. But moving forward, I’m going to do my best to try to stick to the bright line that I’ve drawn here about responding to details of the debates in the 2016 campaign. There will be a time and a place for that. So at some point we’ll have to cross that line. But --
Q Just to be clear, when you said today that they're specious claims, you have enough information yourself to have examined the claims against whatever the agreement --
MR. EARNEST: No, I haven’t. I’m not going to represent that to you. What I’m suggesting is that a lot of these claims -- at least I haven’t seen the evidence associated with the claims. So if somebody presents some evidence -- and if they do, it would probably be the first time -- they can then go and present that evidence to the Clinton campaign and they can help you understand what the facts are. But I will not be in that business. She’s got a very talented and well-paid staff that can be focused on that.
Q Hey, Josh, something just came in.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Scott, I will come right back to you.
Q Forgive me for asking on breaking news, but do you have anything to say about a U.S. warship heading to Yemeni waters to head off Iranian weapons deliveries to the Houthis?
MR. EARNEST: I don't. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense about that. If there’s an announcement to be made on this, it will come from them.
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q It’s apparently been made.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. I don't have anything to add to it then.
Scott, go ahead.
Q How big a push is the administration making this week for trade promotion authority? What does it consist of?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Scott, what we will do and what we have been doing is working closely -- primarily through Democrats but also in conversations with Republicans -- to encourage some bipartisan agreement around TPA legislation. And we were pleased that that effort bore some fruit at the end of last week, and we're going to continue to urge the Congress to act in bipartisan fashion as they advance that legislation.
And again, we're talking about a bill that is the most progressive, forward-leaning trade promotion authority bill that's ever been passed. And it includes important enforceable provisions related to labor protections, environmental protections. And we're hopeful that the Congress will continue to consider this issue in the bipartisan fashion that's characterized this process so far.
Q How many Democrats do you hope to get?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we're going to win over as many Democrats and Republicans as we can, and this is going to have to be a genuine bipartisan effort. And the President addressed this last week when he talked about this bill, that there is a traditional, reflexive opposition in the Democratic Party to the expansion of trade and policies that would facilitate the expansion of trade.
And the President has a very persuasive case to make about the kind of trade agreement that he’s talking about. And the President has got a very strong record -- a good track record when it comes to his support for policies that advance the best interests of American businesses and American workers. And the President is going to use that track record to ensure that this kind of agreement lives up to the record that the President has amassed so far.
And the President has been clear about one other thing, which is that we have to take a longer view of this; that those who are advocating against this kind of trade proposal are essentially advocating for the status quo, and that if we want to signal to the international community -- particularly to economic markets in Asia that are the fastest growing and the most populace in the world -- that the United States is not going to be engaged in writing the rules there, then we're at very real risk of the Chinese government using the influence that they are granted by their large economy to come in and write rules that put American workers and American businesses at a disadvantage. And that would not at all be in the best interest of American workers and American businesses.
So the President is taking a longer view here and advocating for a policy that can have a longer-term impact on our economy and a longer-term impact on the livelihood of American workers.
Q Thanks, Josh. If you're not going to comment on the Iranian weapons shipment specifically, can you comment more broadly on whether the White House is concerned about -- with Iran is increasing its support for the Houthis rebels and what that can mean for the region?
MR. EARNEST: To be clear, the thing that I’m not in a position to comment is what apparently is a recent announcement from the Department of Defense about the deployment of a U.S. ship. But I will speak more generally about our concerns about Iran’s continued support for the Houthis. We have seen -- and you heard the Secretary of State talk about this a couple of weeks ago -- we have seen evidence that they Iranians are supplying weapons and other forms of support to the Houthis in Yemen. That's the kind of support that will only contribute to greater violence in that country, a country that’s already been racked by too much violence.
There’s an urgent humanitarian situation inside Yemen. There is a real risk that continued political instability inside Yemen would allow more extremist groups to flourish. These are exactly the kind of destabilizing activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activity in the Middle East.
We have made those concerns clear publicly in the way that I just have, but we’ve also relayed those concerns in private, as well. And the Iranians are acutely aware of our concerns for their continued support of the Houthis by sending them large shipments of weapons.
Q And on a separate subject, Senator McCain commented I believe today about the Republican Senate’s handling of nominations. And he said that the reason why they're handling it so slowly is retribution for Senate Democrats -- I guess when they invoked the nuclear option in the last Congress. So I’m wondering if you had any response to what Senator McCain had to say about that.
MR. EARNEST: I hadn’t seen those comments. I think what I will just say is that Loretta Lynch is an eminently qualified nominee. She will be an excellent Attorney General. Republicans have delayed her nomination for far too long, and we're hoping that they will change their behavior soon -- hopefully as soon as the next 72 hours.
Mark, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks. On the Everglades trip, does the President risk undermining his message when he flies to the Everglades on a 747 hundreds of miles to make a statement about climate change? (Laughter.)
Q He could drive. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: It’s a provocative question.
Q Take a van.
MR. EARNEST: But, no, he doesn't. The President believes that there are important changes that we can make to reduce carbon pollution in this country, and we can do it in a way that will be good for our economy. That is precisely the case that the President will be making at the Everglades. And he’s looking forward to the trip.
Q Does he try to minimize the carbon footprint that he leaves whenever he goes anywhere?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, the Department of Defense and the Presidential Airlift Group at the United States Air Force is responsible for the President’s transportation. So you can talk to them about any steps that they may have taken.
I can say as a general matter that the Department of Defense has acknowledged that climate change does pose a national security threat to the United States. And there are a lot of practices that the Department of Defense has taken to try to reduce their carbon footprint. I don't know how that intersects with the use of Air Force One, but you could check with the Air Force on that.
All right? Thanks, everybody. Have a good Monday.
2:33 P.M. EDT