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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/9/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:32 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  It's nice to see that some of you made it back from Germany already.  Hope the rest of you missed us -- I'm sure you did. 

I don't have any announcements at the top, Josh, so I'll let you get us started with questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Welcome back.

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you.

Q    The President attracted a little bit of attention during his press conference yesterday for saying that he did not yet have a complete strategy.  And I know he was referring very specifically to a strategy for training Iraqi forces, not the broader fight against ISIL.  But, nonetheless, Republicans have been piling on.  So I wanted to give you an opportunity to do a little bit of clean-up, if you would like. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I think the President was very direct about something that we have actually talked about in here for several weeks now, which is the President has been very clear with his team that we need to be carefully examining the strategy and refining and optimizing it where we can capitalize on lessons learned, apply some best practices, and make sure that we're doing everything we can to make progress against ISIL and make progress in the effort to degrade and ultimately destroy them.

That is the ultimate goal.  The training, equipping, and offering some advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces is merely one element of that strategy.  But this is one area where we can talk with some specificity about how Iraqi security forces that have benefitted from the support of our coalition military partners have performed well on the battlefield.  And what we know is in at least one recent area where we experienced a setback, in Ramadi, those were forces that had not benefitted from being trained by the U.S.-led coalition. 

And so, again, this is an example of the President saying, well, let’s make sure that we're taking the lessons learned.  We know that troops in the Iraqi security forces that have the support of the coalition perform well on the battlefield.  Let’s try to ramp up the numbers and capacity of those individuals in Anbar Province.  And that's exactly the strategy that we're pursuing.

Now, how exactly to implement that is something that we're still working through.  And what we also know that we need for us to maximize that opportunity is for the Iraqi government to do a better job of sending recruits to that program.  And that includes both Iraqi security force units -- essentially units of the Iraqi military -- to get enhanced training from our coalition trainers. 

It also means the Iraqi central government doing a better job of recruiting more Sunni tribal fighters, because ultimately we do know that the only sustainable solution are local security forces in Anbar Province that are willing to take on ISIL, that they can do so knowing that they have the full support of our military coalition, can be backed by military airstrikes, but also know that after they have succeeded in driving ISIL out of Anbar Province that they can then, working with the Iraqi central government, actually govern that region of the country.

Q    Admiral Kirby over at the State Department this morning said that saving Iraq could be a proposition that takes three to five years.  Does the President -- that obviously would put us well into the next White House.  Does the President agree with that assessment?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I wouldn’t put a number on it.  But the President has indicated exactly what Mr. Kirby indicated, which is that this is something that is going to require a significant and long-term commitment from the international community.  This is not a short-term proposition.  And we are in a phase now where we are very focused on degrading ISIL and their capacity to operate inside of Iraq, but that over the long term we're going to need to build up the capacity of the local governments and of the local security forces, and to enhance their capabilities when it comes to working with the central government and, frankly, build up their confidence in the central government -- not just to both function effectively, but also to look out for their interests.

We have been blunt about our assessment that one of the things that created the kind of weakness that ISIL capitalized on last year was the failure of the Maliki-led central government in Baghdad to demonstrate to the diverse population of Iraq that he had their best interests at heart.  And that did cause that country to fracture, particular along sectarian lines, and did create an opening that ISIL has capitalized on.

So what we want to do is we want to make sure that we can address this immediate threat from ISIL, allow Iraqi security forces and Iraqi fighters to take the fight on the ground to ISIL.  But once they’re driven out, we want to make sure that there is a local governing capacity there and that there is confidence in the Iraqi central government to lead that country.

Q    But that three-to-five-year timetable that the State Department put out, that’s not something that you are disputing, is it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we’re saying is that this is going to be -- this is not going to be a short-term proposition.  And again, I think that’s entirely consistent with Mr. Kirby’s assessment as well.

Q    There was an interesting moment yesterday in Germany where Prime Minister Abadi appeared to sidle up to the President for an interaction, and some interpreted it as some type of a snub, or perhaps the President didn’t see that the Prime Minister was there, but they didn’t end up speaking at that time.  Can you clear up for us what was going on at that interaction?

MR. EARNEST:  I think those who concluded that it was a snub were probably telegraphing some insecurities that date back to junior high.  The fact is, the President just completed a long working lunch that included Prime Minister Abadi, and the President was engaged in conversations with the IMF Director and others.

After that photograph, the President did have the opportunity to meet with Mr. Abadi in a bilateral, private meeting, and it actually represented the second time in two months that the two leaders had met.  So I think that’s an indication that the President has all the communication he needs with Prime Minister Abadi.

Q    And I wanted to ask you about these protests that we’ve seen in Texas after a white police officer pulled a gun on a group of black teenagers who were at a party and tackled one girl to the ground.  Has the President seen the video of that incident, and does he feel that race may have been a motivating factor in that incident?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I don’t know that the President has seen the video.  He’s aware of the news coverage of that particular incident.  I think what is clear is that early indications are that local authorities have taken what appear to be appropriate steps.  They have placed that officer on leave.  And again, without knowing any of the details here, but that seems like a prudent thing for them to do.  But ultimately, what steps they need to take and what the investigation yields about what exactly happened there is still something that’s going to take a few more days at least to determine.

But, again, I think this goes back to something that the President has been talking about quite a bit over the last several months, which is that there’s a strong benefit to police forces working effectively to build the trust and confidence of the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And I think understandably, graphic incidents like the one that we saw depicted on that video do have a detrimental impact on the relationship between local law enforcement and the local community.  And I think that’s evident from some of the news coverage and public statements of people who live in that community.

But, again, based on very early evidence here, it appears that local authorities understand the need to protect that trust and are trying to take steps consistent with that priority.  I will say that this is a topic that the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing looked at carefully.  And they put forward a long list of public recommendations of best practices that local law enforcement agencies can implement to enhance the trust with local communities.  And so that obviously is something that we believe doesn’t just enhance the safety and security of the American public and of communities across the country, it actually makes it safer for members of local law enforcement to do their very important work.

Q    A follow-up on that please, Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll come right back to you. 


Q    I want to ask about encryption.  And I know you talked about this a little bit last week, but since then, yesterday, two major industry groups -- technology industry groups sent a letter to the White House saying they oppose policy actions that would undermine encryption, and specifically said they oppose building in work-arounds for government law enforcement to get in through encrypted systems.  And I’m wondering if you have any reaction to what they said, and if you can explain sort of the process, where things are at in the White House consideration of this issue.

MR. EARNEST:  Roberta, I have not seen the letter, so I don’t know if that was something that they sent today.  Maybe it’s still in the mail.  The thing that I -- and I don’t have a new position, frankly, to share with you at this point.  The President --

Q    Can you explain where things are at in the President’s consideration of encryption and allowing law enforcement to --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have an update for you in terms of that policy process.  The President has spoken about this publicly on a couple of different occasions, both in the news conference that he convened with Prime Minister Cameron earlier this year as well as at the cybersecurity summit that the President convened out at Stanford University back in February. So his position on this is clear.  I don’t have an update for you in terms of that policy process.

Q    So there’s no recommendations before him that he’s looking at or considering?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a public update for you on the process.

Q    Lastly, on Turkey.  I was wondering whether the White House has any reaction to the election there, and any concerns about what it might mean for stability in the country or the fight against Islamic State, or if there are any implications for U.S. initiatives that are happening on the borders there.

MR. EARNEST:  The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government, and to continuing our close political economic and security cooperation. 

As you know, Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, and we’re committed to continuing our close political, economic and security cooperation.  One area where the United States is coordinating closely with Turkey in our efforts to try to shut down the flow of foreign fighters that benefits ISIL.  This is really important.  This is a difficult task.  Turkey has a long border with Syria and we know that that is a commonly used route for individuals who are looking to travel to Syria to enter the country and to take up arms alongside ISIL.  And we know that Turkey has taken important steps to try to shut down the flow of those individuals. 

But there is more that we would like them to do.  And I think the President was pretty direct in his conversations -- or in his comments at the news conference yesterday about what more we would like to see Turkey do to shut down the flow of foreign fighters in a way that would benefit the security of not just countries throughout the region but also benefit the security of the people of Turkey.

Q    Did the outcome of the election have any bearing on that -- on what the United States hopes to see Turkey do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States -- again, they’re a NATO Ally.  We have a strong relationship with them, particularly when it comes to matters related to national security.  And, again, we are pleased with the work that Turkey has done so far to address this issue.  But we also believe that there’s more important work that they should be doing.  And we’ve communicated those views directly to them in private and I think the President was pretty blunt in talking about it publicly as well.


Q    In the President’s words yesterday on what was working and not working in the fight against ISIS, I think what really stands out is this lack of recruits in certain areas where the capacity to train is there.  I mean, at this point, Iraq is trying to defend its own country.  I mean, these are people of Iraq whose cities are being overrun.  The fact that those recruits aren’t there now, doesn’t that bode poorly for the future of this?  I mean, in so many ways, the U.S. is picking up every slack.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I think you are making an observation that we have discussed for some time about politics being critically important to the longer-term success of Iraq.  And that is to say the Iraqi central government needs to inspire the confidence of the people of Iraq; that they need to build political support for their ongoing efforts to lead that country and to unify that country to face down the ISIL threat. 

This is, as I mentioned in response to one of Josh’s questions, this is what we had diagnosed as the principal weakness of the previous prime minister -- that Prime Minister Malaki had governed that country in a way that did not demonstrate a commitment to inclusiveness and, frankly, made that country vulnerable to the kind of offensive operations from ISIL that we saw last summer. 

And we are pleased that Prime Minister Abadi has followed through on his early political commitments to try to govern that country in a multi-sectarian fashion, and to demonstrate clearly to every citizen of Iraq that he has their best interest at heart and that the country’s resources will be used to benefit every citizen in the country. 

And that’s a difficult challenge.  You can understand the skepticism among some members of the Shia population who, for a long time, did not feel that the Iraqi central government had their best interests at heart.  And you can imagine that they’re carefully evaluating the policy decisions that are being made by the new Iraqi government.  And I think their hesitation is understandable. 

What’s also clear, though, is that the failure of the Iraqi people to unite behind this goal of facing down the ISIL threat put at risk the very existence of their country.  And so the stakes here are high.  And that’s why, again, our approach to this challenge has always been to insist that Prime Minister Abadi follow through on his commitments to build a multi-sectarian security force to govern the country in an inclusive way.  And so far he’s done that, to his credit, but it will take some time for him to build and strengthen the trust of the population -- the population that’s not Shia, like he is.

Q    But it’s kind of like now is the time to defend their own country from falling apart completely.  Building this inclusive government network is going to take a lot of time.  This seems to be pointing directly to a lack of a will to fight overall.  Isn’t this -- go ahead.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I was going to say, I think that’s an overly broad generalization.  That there have been areas --

Q    Areas, yeah. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, yes, there have been areas where we have seen the Iraqi security forces, when backed with the support of our military coalition, not just demonstrate a will to fight but actually demonstrate some effectiveness when fighting.  And that has succeeded in driving ISIL out of areas like Tikrit and Haditha, even some areas in Anbar like Baghdadi.  That is an indication that there is a strategy -- there is a template for success here. 

And we want to make sure that we essentially work closely with the Iraqi central government to build on that opportunity, and that means a variety of things.  It means putting more Iraqi security forces through our training programs, but it also means recruiting more Sunni local tribal fighters who will benefit from the advice and assistance in training of coalition forces.  And that last element is particularly important because, as you point out, these local Sunni tribal fighters will take the fight to ISIL not just within their own country but in their own neighborhood.  And it means that these Sunni tribal fighters will be fighting for their communities. 

And what’s important is that they carry out those efforts under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  And again, it reflects Prime Minister Abadi’s commitment to governing the country in a multi-sectarian way, and protecting the country in a multi-sectarian way. 

Q    And lastly, what do you think about this bipartisan AUMF that’s being introduced in the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Michelle, several months ago the administration put forward language urging Congress to pass an ISIL-specific authorization to use military force.  We put forward that language at the specific request of Congress so that they could follow through on something the President challenged them to do, which is to pass a specific authorization to use military force that applied in this case.

You’ve seen the administration send up the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to go and urge -- to testify before congressional committees and urge Congress to take action. And in the last several months, we’ve seen very little congressional action.  And you’ve heard some pretty sharp criticism from me because of their failure to act on this.

But I do think that the language that was put forward by Senator Kaine and Senator Flake is an indication that at least some members of Congress are willing to step up and fulfill their constitutional responsibility to be heard on this matter.  And I think that Senator Kaine and Senator Flake deserve credit for that.  The language that they put forward does include some tweaks to the language that we had originally submitted.  But we are also candid about the fact from day one that our legislative language was intended to be a starting point for negotiations. 

So it appears that Senator Kaine and Senator Flake have acted consistent with the spirit of that legislative proposal.  And we’re hopeful that other members of Congress will follow through in a similar way.


Q    On the OPM hack.  We learned that up to 4 million current and former government employees had -- their personal information was vulnerable to these hackers.  Does that universe of people include Cabinet Secretaries?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, there is an ongoing investigation to this specific matter and that investigation includes the scope of this particular intrusion.  So if there’s more information that we have to share about who precisely was affected, that’s information that would come from the FBI who is leading this investigation.

Q    Were the vulnerable personnel files -- did they include the Secret Service, FBI?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, part of this investigation is to determine the precise scope of the intrusion and to get a better sense of exactly what information was put at risk and what information was potentially exfiltrated.  And so that’s work that is ongoing right now.

Q    But we were told this was a universe of up to 4 million, so you must have known what the universe is.  Does that universe of possible vulnerabilities include Cabinet Secretaries, people employed by the Secret Service, FBI and the like? 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the scope of this particular intrusion is something that continues to be investigated by the FBI. 

Q    So what did you mean when we were told it was 4 million -- up to 4 million?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that was a number that was based on our assessment at that time of precisely the number of records that were affected by this particular intrusion.  But this is an ongoing investigation and --

Q    You must information as to -- I mean, that number didn’t come out of the blue.  I mean, it was 4 million who, 4 million what?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ve described them as either former or current federal employees. 

Q    And is there any suggestion that this information that was taken, or feared to have been taken, could be used to either blackmail individuals or to steal the identity of individuals that have sensitive security positions?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, again, the investigation doesn’t just include the scope of this particular intrusion, but it also includes an effort to try to determine the motive of the individuals who may have been acting in this case.  As a precautionary measure, those individuals that are determined to be at risk here will be offered by the Office of Personnel Management some identity theft protection and other advice about steps they can take --

Q    Okay.  So then you’re offering that to somebody.  So is that being offered to Cabinet Secretaries, members of the Secret Service or FBI?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s being offered to individuals who may have potentially been affected in this case.

Q    And so does those individuals include --

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to talk about the individuals who may have been affected.

Q    So you’re not ruling out that the group of people that I just mentioned were included in this group?

MR. EARNEST:  You should check with the FBI, and if they have more information to share with you they’ll share it.

Q    How concerned are you about this?  And what is the nature of the concern?  Is the concern that people might be ripped off because their identities might be stolen?  Or is there a greater concern -- security concern?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the concern that the President has is that this highlights the clear vulnerabilities that exist in many elements of the federal government’s computer architecture.  And this administration, for years now, has been working diligently to try to upgrade our defenses and to put in place measures that would mitigate against those intrusions and respond to them when necessary.  This is --

Q    So is the President upset of the gross failure here?  I mean, supposedly, these people had access to personnel records for months without even being detected.

MR. EARNEST:  the President is concerned about the vulnerabilities that were highlighted here.  But the other thing the President indicated, in talking about this yesterday, is that the reason that this intrusion was detected is that OPM was actually in the process of implementing better defenses of their computer network when this particular intrusion was detected.  So that’s an indication that they’re making progress.  But there’s clearly more important work that needs to be done not just at OPM, but at other government agencies.

But, again, this is not different than the kind of threat that we see in the private sector as well.  And all of you represent news organizations, many of which have been subjected to intrusions like this, and your security professionals are doing the same thing that our security professionals are doing, which is making sure that we’re rapidly adapting to the innovative and persistent adversary that’s out there.

Q    Was China behind this?

MR. EARNEST:  The specific individuals or entities who carried out this particular intrusion is something that’s still being investigated by the FBI.

Q    Do you have reason to believe it was a foreign government or somebody working on behalf of a foreign government?

MR. EARNEST:  What the FBI is doing is trying to determine who those individuals are and if they were acting on behalf of a criminal enterprise or a nation state.  They’re going to do their best to work to determine that.

As is consistent with the strategy that we’ve used in investigating previous cyber intrusions, I can’t promise you that we’ll be in a position at any point in the future to make a grand pronouncement about who may have been responsible for this particular intrusion, but it’s something that we are working hard to try to determine.  And if a response is necessary, then the President, because of steps that he announced a couple of months ago, has more tools at his disposal to respond to this particular incident -- and I’m referring to the executive order the President signed that authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to impose financial sanctions against those who are deemed to be responsible or benefit from a cyber-attack.


Q    Josh, with the al-Abadi meeting yesterday, which leader suggested -- who suggested to who that the United States should speed up or whatever, do more training of Iraqi forces?  Because the President, in the news conference, made a relatively strong statement saying that when Iraqi forces have been trained that they’ve done much better at retrieving land of their country.  Who came up with the idea of speeding this process up, or however you want to put it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is a conclusion that the President’s national security team has reached based on their assessment of conditions on the ground. 

And you have U.S. military personnel that are operating in joint operation centers in Iraq where they’re essentially embedded with Iraqi security forces.  You have some U.S. military personnel and coalition military personnel that are on the ground at -- stationed at bases in Iraq where they’re working directly with Iraqi security forces to train them.  So we’re in a position, based on our knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, to evaluate the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.  And what is becoming clear is that the kind of training that these Iraqi security forces are getting from the United States and our coalition partners is having a positive impact in their performance on the battlefield.  And that’s a good thing.

And again, this is the President wanting to apply this lesson throughout the country, and to encourage the Iraqi central government to ramp up their recruitment both of other military personnel that are already enlisted in the Iraqi security forces, but also to include Sunni tribal fighters and others that will ensure that we have a multi-sectarian security force under the command and control of the Iraqi central government that’s taking the fight to ISIL on the ground in Iraq. 

Q    Was it a request from al-Abadi, or was it a suggestion by the President?

MR. EARNEST:  The President and his national security team reached the conclusion that this was an effective strategy that the President wanted his team to ramp up.


Q    Josh, I want to go back to that question about Texas.  First of all, how did the President find out?  Was he watching the news, or was he informed by the Justice Department as to what was going on?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any formal notification that the President has gotten from the Department of Justice.  This is obviously something that was covered extensively in the news while we were in Germany.

Q    Did he find out in Germany, or did he find out when he came back here?

MR. EARNEST:  The President was aware of this yesterday, soon after it was reported publicly.

Q    So in Germany, or on the plane coming back?

MR. EARNEST:  In Germany.

Q    So also -- well, now since, yet again, another videotape has surfaced showing at the very least the fact that there could be excessive force, is there an expectation at this White House that the Justice Department will go into this and look at what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that would obviously be a decision that would be made by officials at the Justice Department.  That would not be a presidential directive.

Q    And I understand that, but is there an expectation, particularly when, again, this White House is now known for this effort into supporting law enforcement as well as rooting out the bad policing, is this something that there’s an expectation possibly around this White House that this could indeed be something that the Justice Department could be reviewing to see what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, in terms of an investigation, that would be a decision that would be made by Department of Justice prosecutors.  And so I wouldn’t want to say anything that might leave somebody with the appearance that we’re interfering in those kinds of decisions.  But there are also other officials at the Department of Justice that are responsible for administering federal resources that can be used to assist local law enforcement.  And some of those individuals have spent time in places like Ferguson, in Baltimore, and other places, other communities that have experiences this kind of public attention as a result of the conduct of some members of their local police force. 

But, again, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for any decisions they may have about contacting the local law enforcement in that community in Texas.

Q    In the waning months, year or so that you have in office, the President has in office, the President started out his presidency stepping into a situation with racial profiling and then at the end of the first term had Trayvon, and then it kept going second term with issues of policing.  Does this administration embrace the fact that because of how this President has handled the issue of policing, bad policing as well as supporting good policing, that this could be a legacy piece for him -- dealing with the accountability component of video cameras, also rooting out bad policing, pattern and practice reports, and changes in police departments?  Is this President looking at this as a legacy piece?  Are you embracing this as a potential legacy piece for this administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I guess what I would say is that this is an issue that the President has been involved in throughout his career in public service, going all the way back to his service in the Illinois State Senate; that some of the President’s most important legislative achievements in that office were his efforts to broker agreement on racial profiling legislation in the state of Illinois.  And he did that by working closely with civil rights leaders, as well as law enforcement officials in that state.

So this is an issue that the President has been working on for a long time and he spoke in pretty personal terms about why he believes these efforts are so important.  And the President -- I do think he expects that over the course of the next 18 months, that he will spend more time talking about this issue and continuing to make it a priority.

Q    So you do embrace it as a legacy piece?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think it's too early to say sort of what historians will evaluate.  And one of the reasons for that is that so much of what we have seen are -- that have raised concerns have raised questions about the leadership and staff of local law enforcement organizations, and the President has been pretty clear that as the head of the federal government he has limited influence over those particular organizations. 

But the influence and authority that he has is influence and authority that he’s willing to use to do several things.  One is to help communities deal with these particular challenging situations, particularly in a way that supports, as you pointed out, the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement who work really hard and do a really good job of protecting communities all across the country, and doing it in a fair way.  These are professionals who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect.  And these are individuals who are worthy of our praise and our recognition.  But what’s also true is that we can make those individuals more effective if we can bolster confidence that the community has in the broader law enforcement organization.

And, again, I do think this is something the President will spend a decent amount of time talking about over the next year and a half.


Q    Thanks.  Just getting back to the breach of federal employee data.  I know you said, and they’ve said at OPM that the reason they discovered it was because they were installing additional safeguards.  But I'm wondering whether the President thinks that there was a management failure here.  I mean, this is, after all, an agency that handles sensitive personal information for the vast majority of federal government employees.  They had been told by their IG that they had vulnerabilities.  Even though they were addressing those, it wasn’t happening in a quick enough way, obviously, to stop this from happening.  So does he have confidence in the director over there and senior leadership that they have their hands around this issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has confidence that every single member of his staff understands that cybersecurity needs to be a priority.  And, again, in talking about this yesterday, the President was pretty direct about the fact that we've got our work cut out for us when it comes to taking what, in some cases, are pretty old computer systems and making sure that they have modern, adaptable security measures in place to protect against cyber intrusions.

What’s also clear is that our adversaries -- whether we're talking about criminal enterprises or federal governments, or entities acting on behalf of foreign governments -- that these adversaries are persistent and well-resourced, and we need to make sure on our side that we're vigilant and well-resourced to meet this threat.  And it requires an approach that understands that this is a very adaptive environment, that particularly when we're talking about modern technology, we're talking about very complex mechanisms and the need to make sure that our defenses adapt as rapidly as our adversaries do.

Q    So does he feel that the OPM Director is up to that challenge?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President certainly believes that the Director of the OPM is aware that this is a priority.  And this is a message that's been delivered to -- the President convened this Cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago -- two or three weeks ago, I guess it was now -- where this was an item on the agenda, the need to make sure that, institutionally, agencies across the administration understand that these kinds of threats are real and require the attention of the senior-level officials at each of these agencies. 

(Interruption of the briefing.  Secret Service agents announce that they need to evacuate the Briefing Room.)

(Pause at 2:08 P.M. EDT)

  * * * *  

(Briefing resumes at 2:46 P.M. EDT)

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  (Laughter.)  We’ll try this again.  Just to give you an update on what has transpired, as many of you may have heard from the Secret Service, shortly before 2:00 p.m. today, a telephonic bomb threat concerning the room that we are now all in was called into the Metropolitan Police Department.  The local police department contacted Secret Service officials, who determined that for the safety of all of us, they needed to evacuate the room and to sweep it. 

Fortunately, here at the White House, the Secret Service maintains the resources that are necessary to quickly make the room safe and make sure that it’s safe for all of us.  And they did that quickly, and now we’re ready to restart. 

Before I get to your questions, I used our brief respite to gather some more information, Roberta, in terms of answering your previous question about encryption, and I can tell you that officials at the White House have received the letter.  We are aware of it, and we appreciate the input and perspective of these organizations.  The administration firmly supports the development and robust adoption of strong encryption.  The President himself has acknowledged that it can be a strong tool to secure commerce and trade, safeguard private information, and promote free expression and association.

At the same time, we’re also, understandably, concerned about the use of encryption by terrorists and other criminals to conceal and enable crimes and other malicious activity.  But the fact is that even though some people misuse this encryption technology.  We believe here in the administration that responsibly deployed encryption helps secure private communications in commerce, and that’s something that’s worth supporting.

Q    Josh, before the alarm, who covered up the cameras in this room?  Because the cameras were covered up or pointed down. I mean, these are cameras that are owned by news organizations.  I’m just wondering -- we were all escorted out, so it wasn’t anybody with our news organizations, but somebody cut off our ability to see what was going on in this room by turning the cameras down.  Who did that and why?

MR. EARNEST:  I was also evacuated alongside you, Jon, so I was not in the room.

Q    Can you find out?

Q    Because these cameras, again, are owned by the news organizations --

MR. EARNEST:  I understand. 

Q    -- and somebody has gone to every single one of them, even the ones outside were tampered with so that we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on in here.

Q    Josh, was President Obama or his family in any way impacted or evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  They were not.  This was the only room in the White House complex that was evacuated.

Q    But you were evacuated as well, though, so it wasn’t exclusively this room.  Who beyond this room or how far outside of this room did the evacuation go into effect?

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, when I said that I was evacuated, I left the room at the same time that all of you did.

Q    So you stayed in the White House complex, though?

Q    So it was safe to be in the room adjacent to here, but specifically not in here?

MR. EARNEST:  I was not in the room adjacent to here, Peter.  I went back into my office.

Q    Which is --

Q    Is that --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.

Q    So just to be clear, so this room was evacuated.  Was the lower press room adjacent to us evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  So, yes.  It is considered part of the press area that the White House press operates, so the staff that works there came into my office while the room was swept.

Q    Was any staff outside of this room or the adjacent room evacuated?  Was any senior staff or any other staff within the White House evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it is my understanding that no one else was affected by this particular incident.

Q    Concerning the evacuation --

Q    Is this --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.

Q    The call came in at 1:53 p.m., Josh, according to the Secret Service.  The evacuation took place, as you witnessed with us, at 2:14 p.m., so more than 20 minutes passed in that time.  Is there any reason for any concern in that delay before the evacuation took place?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  This is a decision that was made by Secret Service based on information that they had received.  I don’t know how long it took for that information to be transferred -- transmitted to the Secret Service and for the decision to be made to evacuate the room, but, again, the evacuation was conducted to protect the safety of all of us.

Q    And what was the President doing at the time?  Even if he wasn’t impacted, what was he physically doing while we were evacuating?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure exactly what he was doing.  He was here at the White House, but I’m not sure where he was.

Q    Do you know if he was at the Oval Office at the time?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know exactly where he was.  He was here on the White House grounds.

Q    If this was a serious enough threat -- it was a bomb threat, right?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s my understanding, yes.

Q    If it’s serious enough to move us all the way over to the Executive Office Building, why would the President not be moved out of the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, Chip, I can’t -- these are obviously decisions that are made by the Secret Service.  They did that in the interest of keeping us safe.  But I suspect that part of the reason for moving you to the South Court Auditorium was because that was a place where you could be inside and be in the air-conditioning.  But that’s what they’re trying to do, is make sure that they could quickly clear the room, which they did, and allow us to all come back here and go about our business.

Q    The President was never in any danger as far as we know?

MR. EARNEST:  Certainly not that I’m aware of.

Q    Josh, do we know if there’s any indication that this incident was connected to the security incident that we saw on Capitol Hill today?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know.  You should check with the Secret Service about that.

Go ahead, Jon.

Q    And, Josh, you said you were evacuated, but you mean you just went to your office?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.  I was evacuated from this room, like all of you were.

Q    Can you remind us how close your office is?  I mean, it’s right down the hallway.

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not far away.

Q    So it’s just hard to imagine why a bomb threat that would necessitate evacuating this entire room wouldn’t affect the rest of this West Wing complex.  It’s not a very large complex.

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not a very large complex, but, Jon, I can’t account for that.

Go ahead, Julie.

Q    Just quickly, can you tell us how it is that the rest of the West Wing could have stayed in their offices while we had to leave?  I mean, if it had been a bomb, is there some sort of fireproofing, bombproofing that exists between here and there that would allow them to stay while we had to leave? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know all of the security measures that are in place to protect the White House.  Even if I did, I'm not sure I’d be in a position to talk about them from here.  But for a question like that, I’d refer you to the Secret Service. 

Q    Can you tell us what they did in here before they gave us the all-clear and let us come back?

MR. EARNEST:  My understanding is that they swept the room, which, typically, involves the inspection of the room by some experts.  And I know that they had K9 units in here as well.  But for all of the activities that were required to clear the room, I’d refer you to the Secret Service.

Q    Swept it very closely.

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.

Q    Josh, is this --

Q    Josh --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.  Go ahead.

Q    I want to go back to the question I was asking before we were evacuated.  If anyone else --

Q    Could we just say -- could you find out where the President was and where he was moved?

MR. EARNEST:  I know that he was not moved.  And we’ll see if we can get some additional information about where he happened to be at that time.

Q    I want to follow on the line of questioning about the proximity.  So you were told to shelter in place, correct -- in your office?

MR. EARNEST:  No, April, I was asked to leave the room in the same way that you did.

Q    I'm saying, in your office, were you told to shelter in place?  Because you said --

MR. EARNEST:  No, I was not told to shelter in place. 

Q    Okay, so we’re just feet from your office and feet from the Oval Office, and also feet from the Residence.  There’s a close proximity.  Was anyone else told in the Residence maybe to move, or over here, to shelter in place while this was going on? Because it seems like it was a very serious scenario that they had gone in offices, gone under desks, had dogs walking through, and that no one was told to move or shelter in place except for lower press.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I'm sharing with you all the information that I have right now, which is that, based on a threat that the Secret Service received from another law enforcement organization about the press area at the White House, the press area at the White House was evacuated for the safety of all of us.  And the Secret Service, using resources that they keep here on the complex, was able to quickly search this location and conclude that it was safe.  As soon as they did we were able to all come back in the room and pick up where we left off. 

Q    But they moved us.  We went outside.  You say it was to keep us cool, but I don’t think it was.  We were out there -- you were in your office.  We went to Pebble Beach first, and then they moved us further down into the next building on the campus and moved us even further back.  It wasn’t for coolness.  It was because of a fear.  So my question is, with a proximity to everyone and everything here, the seat of power just feet away, and they were not moved, but we had to be pushed all the way back.  I'm trying -- there’s something not jogging and not mixing.  It just seems odd. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, for the questions that you have about decisions that were made by the Secret Service, then I would encourage you to contact the Secret Service and they can maybe get you a more specific answer to your question than I'm able to. 

Q    And the Secret Service to break into a briefing, which they don’t -- they had to think about it coming in -- because I watched them.  They had to think about stopping the briefing because of the severity, and no one was -- it's just, it doesn’t sound right, I'm sorry. 

Q    Did you talk to the President since the evacuation? 

MR. EARNEST:  No, I did not. 

Q    Could you just clarify?  Was he in the West Wing, do you know?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know, but we’ll see if we can get you precise information.  He was here at the White House, but I don’t know exactly what room he was in.

Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  Are we ready to go back to our regularly scheduled programming?

Go ahead, Viquiera.

Q    Can you say any more about the nature of the threat as it relates to law enforcement that would necessitate a limited evacuation here at the White House -- potency, or power, or wherever it may have been?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I'm not.  I don’t know what information was transmitted in the specific bomb threat other than the briefing room was identified as the location of this purported bomb.  But I --

Q    And it was a bomb, though?  Not any sort of agent or -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the Secret Service said it was a threat. 

Go ahead, Michelle.

Q    Does it concern you that if the bomb was in the building, that you were so close to it, potentially?  And does it concern you that if the bomb was called in as a threat that somebody in the press corps might have had on their person that the entire press corps was then kept together in a small area well away from the White House?  I mean, do either of these scenarios raise questions in your mind?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I have complete confidence in the professionalism of the men and women in the Secret Service to make judgments about what’s necessary to keep all of us safe, and that’s what they did this afternoon.  But for questions about why those decisions were made and how they were made, you can direct them to the Secret Service. 

Okay.  All right.  Are we ready to move on to other topics?

Q    Not yet. 

MR. EARNEST:  Okay.  Go ahead, Mark.

Q    Josh, you said the President was not moved today.  Have there been occasions in the past during his presidency when he’s been moved into the EEOB?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d refer you to the Secret Service for answering questions --

Q    Yourself, though?

MR. EARNEST:  Off the top of my head, no.  But it doesn’t mean that it didn’t occur.  So I’d encourage you to check with the Secret Service to confirm.  

Q    And there was no bomb, right?  Just a threat.  They didn’t discover something and deactivate it.  I mean, there was nothing --

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.  That’s correct.  

Q    Josh, were any other members of the Obama family at the White House at the time that this all took place?  The girls, or his -- Michelle, First Lady Michelle Obama --

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have the answer to that, but we’ll check on that for you, too.

Anybody else?  Okay, Julie, back to you.

Q    Just to follow up on what you were saying when we were all evacuated.  You were talking about a Cabinet meeting where the President raised this several weeks ago -- or a couple of weeks ago. 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I was.

Q    I wanted to clarify, was that before or after he had been made aware, and you at the White House became aware of this breach of 4 million people’s identifying information?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know of the precise sequence of those events.  But I will tell you that it is not unusual for the President to spend time at a Cabinet meeting talking to the leaders of his government about the importance of cybersecurity. But I do know that as recently as the most recent Cabinet meeting which occurred two or three weeks ago, that this was an agenda item and the President made clear to members of his Cabinet how seriously he takes cybersecurity and how important it is for the leaders of those organizations to prioritize the effort to upgrade our cyber defenses, put in place software that can mitigate the threat from cyber intrusions, and also make sure that we have the tools that are necessary to adapt to the ever-evolving threat.

Q    And has he talked with the OPM Director since this breach was revealed, as he became aware of it? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t believe so, no. 


Q    You’ve got a few major decisions or events coming up between the health care ruling that's expected to come out of the Supreme Court, the upcoming trade vote, and then obviously the deadline for the Iran talks.  When the President and his top aides look at what’s happening in the next few weeks, how do they view these key issues as influencing his ultimate record while here in office? 

MR. EARNEST:  It’s going to be a busy summer.  It is an indication of just how dominate the President’s priorities have become in the political discussion in Washington.  And that’s an indication that you have a President here who is doing everything that he can to drive his agenda.  And at least one or two of the topics that you cited are pretty good examples where members of Congress, failing to thwart the President’s agenda through the legislative process, have turned their attention to the courts.  And I think that’s an indication, again, of how much progress the President has made to advance his agenda, to advance his priorities.  And hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to implement them.

And when it comes to -- the President spoke at length about the upcoming -- or the recent arguments before the Supreme Court related to the Affordable Care Act, and the President expressed some confidence that the administration would be able to continue to move forward with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in a way that maximizes benefits for millions of Americans, not just the 16 million Americans who got health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, but because of the many other millions of Americans that benefit from the other consumer protections that are written into the law.

When it comes to the ongoing Iran negotiations, the President does believe that negotiations with Iran are the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we have seen a pretty concerted effort by some in Congress to try to undermine those negotiations, but the President remains as determined as ever to try to see that diplomatic effort through because he believes it’s clearly in the best interest of the United States; he believes it’s clearly in the best interest of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel; but also because it is clearly the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

And then the third one you mentioned was --

Q    Well, the Supreme Court ruling on health care.  So, right, I mean -- and trade, in terms of the trade --

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, and then trade, yes.  And the President I think expressed some confidence that we would succeed in building a bipartisan majority in the House for trade promotion authority. 
Q    Should those events not transpire the way you’ve laid out, but, in fact, for example, the trade bill doesn’t pass, the Supreme Court rules against you, or Iran falls through, how much do you think that affects the ultimate impact the President will have while in office?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the way that we think about it is that these are priorities that the President has identified.  And we’re going to put -- I think we’ve already expended significant political capital on each of those things to try to move them forward, and we’ve made really important progress in each of those areas.  And the President is determined to see them through because they are consistent with the kinds of values and priorities that he promised the American people that he would seek to advance as President and this is him making good on that promise.

Q    A couple questions on Iraq.


Q    Number one, when the President says that there aren’t enough recruits for training, what is he referring to -- number one, that overall, there aren’t enough recruits that the Iraqi security forces are getting, or are not enough recruits being made available for training?  In other words, they’re just not presenting enough of them for training?  Or is he simply saying there aren’t enough Sunni recruits and sort of non-Shia majority of recruits?  What is he exactly referring to?

MR. EARNEST:  Mike, I think great minds think alike, because I asked our national security staff this exact question today.  So let me convey to you what I understand to be the case.  And in some ways, I’m going to actually leave the most important thing for last, so stick with me here through the beginning.

The first is we have seen that already-organized units of the Iraqi security forces are able to go through training -- so these are individuals who are already in the military, are already part of a unit, but when this unit has the benefit of coalition training, we see that they perform more effectively on the battlefield.  

And so one of the things that we would like to see the Iraqi government do is to speed the movement of Iraqi security force units into and through the coalition training process.  Now, what that means is it means when you are taking security forces from one area of the country and putting them into training, you need to make sure that you have enough recruits to replace them in what they’re currently doing.  So there is a need for the Iraqi central government to continue to recruit Iraqis into the Iraqi security forces for that reason, to essentially replenish those security forces that are --

Q    And they’re falling short of that?   

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we would like to see them do more of that.  And our sense is, is that that would actually allow us to speed the process through which Iraqi units that are already organized be transferred into the training process.

Now, separate from that, you asked what is a very good question about the effort to train local Sunni fighters.  Here’s why that is really important -- and this goes back to a question that I was answering earlier.  The only enduring solution that we will have to this, what appears to be chaos in many areas in the Middle East, is for local structures to be in place where you have local governments and local security forces that are vested in the protection of their communities. 

And what is evident is that U.S. military personnel, even when fully committed to offensive large-scale ground operations, can be successful in stabilizing a security situation -- even over a large swath of desert in Iraq that essentially the United States military can effectively put a lid on outbreaks of violence.  But what we saw happen is, without a governing structure that has the credibility of the local population to follow on to those U.S. forces, we see that the fabric of those communities starts to break down. 

So what the President has said as it relates to this specific strategy -- and this is true of our broader strategy against ISIL -- is we need to build up the capacity of local forces to take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country.  That’s a phrase you’ve heard me use many times.  I would adapt it here to Anbar, which is, we need local forces on the ground who can take the fight to ISIL in their own communities. 

And so the idea is to essentially recruit local Sunni tribal righters, train them, equip them, have them work very closely with Iraqi security forces, have them all operate under the command and control of the Iraqi central government, and essentially have a multi-sectarian force fighting ISIL on the ground in Iraq.  What this means is it means you will have local citizens fighting ISIL to protect their own community, or in some cases, to take back their own communities.  And they’ll do that with the strong support of the Iraqi central government.

So what this would do is it would inspire the confidence of local citizens in the support that they receive from the Iraqi central government, while at the same time, have individuals who have literally taken up arms to defend their own communities.

And what I have just described is a scenario that we believe could ultimately be successful in trying to bring greater stability to these communities that have experienced so much chaos in recent years.  But what’s also true, from what I just described -- it took me a long time to describe it; it’s going to take even much longer to successfully implement it and to allow that strategy to take root. 

But there’s no time like the present to try to advance that kind of strategy.  And that’s what we’ve been engaged in over the last several months.  And the President believes that there is more that we can do to recruit and train local Sunni tribal fighters.  And that will be a part of this ongoing effort as well.

Q    Yesterday when you said there’s not a complete strategy yet on this training mission, does he have a timeline for when he will have the complete strategy on the training mission?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has asked his team, as he frequently does, to be in a constant state of refining and optimizing the strategy that we have in place.  And it’s clear that one element that is in need of refining is this effort to train, equip, and offer advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces.  And so this will be an ongoing process, but this is something that the President is focused on.

Q    And last question.  At the risk of sounding like a blowhard, when I was in Iraq 10 years ago, Bush administration, they were going to train everyone with American trainers.  Spent a lot of time at combat outposts -- great trainers, but it was very clear to anyone who spent a day there or two days there that the problems were not problems that could be cured by trainers.  They were things like a culture of cowardly leadership at the company battalion level, completely unprofessional NCO corps; that it’s more cronies than professionals; corrupt logistics, they weren’t supplying things correctly; ghost soldiers.  And when you read the descriptions of the collapse of the Iraqi military in places like Mosul, you could see the same sort of elements there that weren’t just political problems, but they were endemic, operational problems in the Iraqi army that can’t be cured just by having trainers train people.

Do you have a sense now whether those fatal operational problems in the Iraqi army have been cured?  Or that this training will actually do more than help a little bit so that it takes a few seconds longer for them to collapse?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mike, I think what I would say is -- I think what you’re asking is a perfectly legitimate question, and many of the problems that you have identified based on your own experience covering this conflict years ago I do think, in the mind of the President, can be traced back to inherent political problems; that if you don’t have a central government that’s committed to pursuing an inclusive brand of leadership that includes a multi-sectarian security force, that you’re going to see the kinds of problems that you have just talked about.  You’re going to see corruption.  You’re going to see fighters who aren’t committed to the safety and security of the entire country, and that’s going to erode morale.

And that’s why the President prioritized from the very beginning the establishment of a central government in Iraq that was ready to not just make promises, but actually live up to the pursuit of a multi-sectarian inclusive governing agenda.  And so far, that’s exactly what we’ve seen from Prime Minister Abadi.  And it’s because of Prime Minister Abadi’s commitment to that inclusive governing style, that’s why you’ve seen a corresponding investment from the United States and the broader international community.

Because the President’s view wa, all of our investments in training a equipping would not have the desired effect if there wasn’t a corresponding commitment from the central government to address the political problems that had plagued the Maliki administration.  But because of the commitment from Prime Minister Abadi, we are optimistic that the kind of investment that the United States and our coalition partners are making in Iraq now are more likely to take root and be successful.


Q    The President’s comments on King v. Burwell yesterday, as we’re waiting for a decision, he said he was optimistic that the court would “play it straight” with regard to the decision on the subsidies.  So what is the implication there if you all don’t win that case?  That the justices are playing politics with the issue, or that they don’t know how to do their jobs?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President’s view is that this is a straightforward case.  And in the mind of the President, as he mentioned yesterday, this is probably a case that the Supreme Court shouldn’t have even taken up.  But as long as they have, the President believes that the reading of the law is quite clear -- and this is a case that you’ve heard me make many times.  Frankly, this is also a case that we’ve heard from Republican staffers on Capitol Hill who have also validated that those who wrote this legislation intended for every single American, regardless of which state they live in, who is eligible to collect tax credits, to do so to make their health insurance more affordable.  So it’s a pretty straightforward reading of the law in the mind of the President and in the mind of many -- the vast majority of legal scholars who have taken a look at this, and that’s why the President indicated that he was optimistic about the outcome.

Q    What are we to do with Jonathan Gruber’s comments then, who has taken credit for participating in helping to draft the ideas behind the Affordable Care Act, saying that essentially the idea was that states that didn’t set up exchanges would not get these subsidies and credits?  Their residence would pay out, but they wouldn’t get the benefit?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I can’t account for his comments. All I can do is I can account for the comments of many Republican staffers on Capitol Hill, who said that the law was intended to ensure that every citizen, regardless of which state they lived in, could collect tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable if, in fact, their income level was at the appropriate level.

Q    So if you lose, what’s the implication about the Court and its reasoning in coming to that decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not in a position where we’re expecting to lose.  Because of the power -- because of the strength of our arguments and because what we believe is the Supreme Court’s commitment to -- as the President mentioned -- playing it straight, we’re confident about the outcome.

Q    Another question.  The administration’s filing June 2nd with the FISA Court regarding renewing collection -- bulk collection of data to reverse the Second Circuit’s decision, the Clapper case, the only federal appellate decision that’s found that the program is being used improperly -- essentially, in this filing, telling the FISA Court to disregard that ruling.  So you think the Second Circuit got it wrong?  Do you intend to appeal it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the thing that we have said -- and this is what we said shortly after the Second Circuit issued their ruling and while the Congress was debating the USA FREEDOM Act -- it’s the view of the administration, speaking generally, that the reforms that are included in the USA FREEDOM Act would address the concerns that were raised by the Second Circuit.  There may be an opportunity for the Second Circuit to eventually reach that conclusion on their own, but because of the kinds of reforms that the President encouraged Congress to pass in the context of this bill, we believe that it does strike an appropriate balance between the need to keep the country safe with the need to protect our civil liberties.

Q    Do you have a time frame for anticipating whether or not you will appeal either to -- hearing of the Second Circuit or the Supreme Court?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a timing for that.  I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on that.


Q    There was some reports that Lisa Monaco and Ash Carter are working on a new plan to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay.  Is that the case?

MR. EARNEST:  Drew, it has long been a priority of the President -- frankly, since his first day in office -- to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The reason for that is -- well, there are many reasons for that.  The first is the President believes that continuing to operate the prison at Guantanamo Bay serves primarily as a recruiting tool for terrorists and extremists around the globe.  The cost of operating that prison is prohibitively expensive and doesn’t serve the best interest of the American people.

The fact is, this administration has demonstrated time and time again that we can bring those individuals to justice, many of them through criminal courts here in the United States.  There are any number of extremists and terrorists that have been convicted of very serious crimes and put away and brought to justice.  But there are also other proceedings through military commissions and others that can dispense with these cases.  And the President believes -- and has believed for a long time -- that the interest of the United States would be best served by closing the prison.  And this is an effort that we have doggedly pursued, even in the face of strident opposition from members of Congress.

Q    You’ve got nothing new to announce?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything new to share with you at this point.

Q    Just on a completely different subject, has anybody told the First Lady about Robert Gibbs going to McDonalds?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure if she has received the news.   Obviously I had an opportunity to work closely with Robert both on the campaign and here at the White House -- and the folks at McDonalds have just hired themselves one of the most effective and articulate communications professionals in the country.


Q    Thanks.  So, Josh, why did the President give a speech on health care today?  Is he still concerned about public opinion, or did he have a different audience in mind?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the first, Cheryl, is he received an invitation from the Catholic Health Association to speak to their group.  He was pleased to accept and he did believe that it was an appropriate venue to talk about the enormous benefits of the Affordable Care Act that has made life better for millions of Americans -- and not just the 16 million Americans who have gotten health care since the Affordable Care Act took effect, but also the millions of other Americans who have enjoyed the benefits of the slowest growth in health care costs in history. 

These are individuals who -- again, millions of Americans who no longer have to worry about being discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition.  This is the millions of women all across the country that don’t have to be worried about being charged more for their health insurance just because they’re women.

So this gave the President an opportunity to make a case that probably was familiar to all of you but one that he obviously enjoys making.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  On health care, one quick one to start with.  The President didn’t mention, speaking to this Catholic group, anything about the HHS mandate, which has obviously been a point of controversy with Catholics.  Why is that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, I can talk to you about lots of things that were included in the speech.  It’s hard for me to account for the things that aren’t.

Q    Okay.  And as far as King v. Burwell, you’ve talked about how this could cause utter chaos.  The President talked yesterday in Germany about the consequences if the Court rules against the administration.  I wanted to get your thoughts.  Should the Court in your opinion consider the social consequences of its ruling, or should they purely stick strictly to the legal argument?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I am confident that the nine justices of the Supreme Court know much more about what it is they should do than I do.  So I would be among the last people to tell them exactly what decision they should make or how they should make it.  They have an independent responsibility to evaluate the arguments and reach a conclusion.  And each of them is eminently qualified to do that.  And I’ll express the same confidence that the President did yesterday about their ability to do that.

Q    And one last one on this.  The President said today that none of the predictions have come true about this, but yet there have been reports about people who have been shifted to new insurance policies through their work, that people have been put in new networks so they’ve had to see new doctors in some cases. That was something that came up -- if you like your doctor, you can keep it, if you like your health plan, you can keep it.  Is that something that was -- was that one of those dire predictions that did come true?

MR. EARNEST:  Fred, that was the circumstance in the health care market before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.  And the fact is that there are a lot of people who had to change their health care plan because they got sick and because their health care plan tried to drop them.  No longer can health care plans do that because of the Affordable Care Act.  And I think that’s a testament to the power of this law and the impact that it’s had -- the positive impact that it’s had on people all across the country.

Yes, ma’am, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Josh -- (inaudible) the deputy head of China central military commission, is coming to visit the White House this Friday.  Would you please disclose some agenda and details -- will he meet with President Obama?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of that particular visit, but let me have one of my colleagues in the National Security Council get back with you and we can give you a better sense of what’s planned for the visit.

Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

3:20 P.M. EDT